California State Water Contractors want to be able kill more fish, sell more water to big agribusiness

  • Published on April 30th, 2020

The California water wars amped up today when the State Water Contractors (SWC) today filed a lawsuit against the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) and California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) over the March 31 Incidental Take Permit (ITP) for the long-term operation of the State Water Project (SWP).

Winnemem Wintu salmon restoration Water is Sacred

By Dan Bacher

The Incidental Take Permit allows the state to take endangered fish species, including Delta and long fin smelt, Central Valley steelhead, winter run Chinook salmon, spring run Chinook salmon and other species, under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) during the long term operation of the State Water Project. The water contractors oppose the revised permit because they believe that it is too protective of fish species and limits water supplies.

 In a statement, the SWP claimed, “The ITP is a permit required under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) to protect endangered and threatened fish species. The SWC object to the revised permit because it imposes significant new conditions that far exceed CESA requirements and legal standards and is not based on the best available science. The ITP was approved without adequate consideration of the objections posed to the Department of Water Resources (DWR) throughout the consultation period as reflected in the SWC’s January 6 letter to DWR.”

The SWR claimed that the current ITP:

  • “Limits water supplies for 27 million Californians without adequate legal or scientific justification
  • Increases costs to California ratepayers
  • Fails to incorporate the latest and best available science
  • Implements overly burdensome and illegal actions for impacts unrelated to SWP operations and geographic range
  • Will make climate change adaption and Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) implementation substantially more difficult
  • Creates operational conflicts between the Central Valley Project (CVP) and the SWP
  • Allows CDFW – rather than DWR – to make wholesale flow decisions over and above the prescriptive criteria included in the permit.”

SWC General Manager Jennifer Pierre issued the following statement regarding the lawsuit:

“In maintaining overly restrictive criteria specific to the SWP despite the best available science, and over the objections of the State Water Contractors and other public water agencies – increasing SWP costs by $22 million annually – the ITP’s approval has left us with no other choice than to file litigation that could and should have been avoided.”

“Even more disappointing, the ITP effectively ends the historic Voluntary Agreement process that brought together water agencies, regulators and conservation groups to tackle decades-old water resource problems. Despite this, the SWC remain committed to working with state and federal partners to resume the Voluntary Agreement process. We must gain alignment between the SWP and CVP operations and increase regulatory flexibility that meets the needs of California’s people and the environment.”

Metropolitan Water District General Manager Jeff Kightlinger also commented on the lawsuit:

“In filing litigation, Metropolitan acted to protect Southern California’s ratepayers from cost shifts and water supply reductions inappropriately assigned to the State Water Project. While Metropolitan remains committed to working with the state and Governor Newsom to find a comprehensive solution to improve the ecological health of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, that solution must be based on the best available science and not overly burden Southern California. We have made extraordinary progress in the historic voluntary agreement process, including commitments from water users across the state for enhanced flows, which would produce more water for the environment than this state permit, as well as for habitat restoration and funding. The voluntary agreement process continues to be the only productive path for a solution that balances the water supply needs of the environment, our communities and our farms.

“A lengthy legal battle will not produce a sound solution for the Delta ecosystem. We need a state permit that uses the best available science to address the environmental impact of operations and strikes a balance in providing water supply to California’s farms and cities.”

As I receive comments from fishing, Tribal, conservation and other organizations regarding the litigation, I will post them here.

(Photo by Winnemem Wintu tribe)

About the Author

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento who focuses on California's water issues, a healthy environment for the salmon fishery of the Northwest, and the attempts by big agriculture and big oil to hog all the water.