AquAlliance filed a lawsuit in federal District Court against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) and San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority (SLDMWA) (Agencies) over their second attempt to disclose and analyze impacts from their long term water export plans. USBR and SLDMWA seek significant water from the Sacramento River Watershed and groundwater basins to ship through the Delta to the San Joaquin Valley.
The 2019 Long Term Water Transfer Program’s final approvals were made in April 2020. The Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report (EIS/EIR) describes the Project as north-to-south transfers that could be as high as 600,000 acre-feet (af) per year in the six year project window.
One of the many EIS/EIR failures disclosed in the complaint starts with the Project description. The EIS/EIR complicates something as basic to a project as its description by asserting transfers will differ from the disclosed 600,000 af and only reach 250,000 af per year, yet no legally enforceable element of the Project would compel the purported annual restriction. Further complicating the Project description is one assertion that transfers will take place in only two of the six years.
The lawsuit asks the court to declare that the Agencies’ Environmental Impact Statement/Report was arbitrary and capricious, ignored relevant new information and failed to meet minimum requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). In addition to the wholly inadequate Project description, the Agencies failed to fully disclose the impacts from the Long Term Water Transfer Program and the numerous conditions affecting groundwater, subsidence, and species populations. The Agencies’ review also failed to consider the cumulative impacts from other significant actions such as the 1) Addendum to the Coordinated Operation Agreements of the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project; 2) Water Quality Control Plan for the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Estuary Amendments and Voluntary Settlement Agreements; 3) Sacramento Valley Water Management Agreement; 4) Sites Reservoir project; 5) other water transfers; 6) California Department of Water Resources’ Delta Conveyance Project; 7) amendments to State Water Project water supply contracts.
AquAlliance Executive Director Barbara Vlamis explained, “Not just once, but twice now we find that USBR and SLDMWA refuse to face the real impacts that come from hoping to squeeze ever more water from the streams and groundwater basins of the Sacramento Valley. Clearly, they ignored their losses in the 2018 court ruling and pursued the very definition of insanity – using the same tools to reach the same conclusions. To represent the farms, fish, fowl and communities, we had to pursue our legal options.”
AquAlliance has been joined by the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance and the California Water Impact Network, and they are represented by the Aqua Terra Aeris law firm. Co-plaintiffs in the litigation also include Central Delta Water Agency, Local Agencies of the North Delta, and South Delta Water Agency that are represented by the Soluri Meserve law firm.