Four environmental groups sued the California Department of Water Resources today over its approval of the long-term operation of the State Water Project, the massive system of dams, pumps and aqueducts responsible for siphoning water from Northern California to Southern California. The project approval also failed to analyze the environmental harms of building a new diversion tunnel to send water south.
Today’s lawsuit, brought by the Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Restore the Delta, and Planning and Conservation League, challenges the agency’s implausible conclusion that the project, which starves the San Francisco Bay-Delta of freshwater flows and has devastated most of the Delta’s native fish populations, will have no environmental consequences.
“It’s time for the state to be honest about the damage being done to the Delta ecosystem and our native fish by the unsustainable water diversions of the State Water Project,” said Jeff Miller, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We need increased freshwater flows to restore the Delta. The Department of Water Resources can’t pretend that diverting even more water under this project would be benign.”
Just weeks before the department approved the long-term operation of the State Water Project, it announced that it was pursuing the “One-Tunnel Delta Conveyance Project,” the latest version of the enormous tunnel that could increase the siphoning of Delta water. Although the tunnel would be part of the State Water Project, the department failed to consider the tunnel and its effects from water diversion in its environmental review.
“It’s bad enough that the department thinks the State Water Project has no environmental consequences,” said Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California. “But it’s completely absurd for the agency to separate the long-term operation of the State Water Project from the tunnel project, which it’s actively promoting as part of that long-term operation.”
In 2019 Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he was abandoning the California WaterFix project, which would have created two 35-mile long, 40-foot wide tunnels to carry water south without passing through the Delta and nourishing its ecosystems. The Department of Water Resources has subsequently pursued a single tunnel project, but the smaller project still threatens further damage to salmon and other fish runs and the health of the Delta.
“Salmon, Delta smelt, farmers and towns all depend on the continued flow of fresh water into the Delta,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla with Restore the Delta. “The state’s long-term plan for running the State Water Project just hides its determination to close the spigot.”