Photo credit: Daniel Parks/Flickr
Lawsuit Challenges Delta Plan's Water Exports to Southern California
SACRAMENTO, CA — A coalition of environmental groups today sued the California Delta Stewardship Council for amending the state's Delta Plan to back construction of two enormous tunnels to divert water that would otherwise nourish the Bay-Delta to Southern California. The twin tunnels — also known as "California WaterFix" — would cause enormous harm to fish, wildlife and people who depend on the Delta.
Today's lawsuit, filed in Sacramento County Superior Court, notes that the council violated the Delta Reform Act and the California Environmental Quality Act by amending the Delta Plan to give the tunnels priority over restoring the Bay-Delta. The council also failed to comply with a state law declaring that access to safe, clean, and affordable water is a basic human right.
The new suit follows a 2016 legal victory in which a judge invalidated a previous version of the Delta Plan for failing to balance environmental protection with water supply reliability.
"History is repeating itself, but this time the Delta Stewardship Council made an even more environmentally damaging mistake," said John Buse, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity. "The Delta Plan is supposed to be the blueprint for restoring the Delta. Instead, it's become a ratification of the tunnels boondoggle, which would wreak havoc on one of California's richest and most beautiful ecosystems."
"Instead of planning the Delta's recovery as the Delta Reform Act requires, the council has done everything possible to aid and abet the Delta's destruction," said Bob Wright, attorney for Friends of the River, Sierra Club California, Planning and Conservation League, and Restore the Delta. "They have done so by amending the Delta Plan so it is focused on taking more water away from the Delta instead of increasing freshwater flows through the Delta that would finally begin Delta restoration. This is a terrible missed opportunity for the Delta to get the protective long-term management plan the council was supposed to develop."
"Watching the state agency tasked with protecting the Delta become a WaterFix enabler is disturbing," said Adam Keats, senior attorney with the Center for Food Safety. "It goes to show how thoroughly Big Ag and Big Money own our state agencies, and it's time the people — and our elected representatives — rise up and end it."
The 2009 Delta Reform Act charged the council with developing the Delta Plan, which was supposed to be a comprehensive management plan for the Delta that promotes the "coequal goals" of environmental protection and water supply reliability.
In 2013, after the council adopted a Delta Plan that fell short of these goals and instead laid the foundation for the Delta tunnels, some of the same groups sued the council and successfully invalidated the Delta Plan.
In 2016, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny ruled that the plan failed to "promote options for new and improved infrastructure relating to the water conveyance in the Delta, storage systems, and for the operation of both to achieve the coequal goals" as required by the Delta Reform Act. These "water conveyance options" include less environmentally damaging alternatives to the Delta tunnels.
But in 2017, the California Department of Water Resources approved the Delta tunnels project, which is the subject of multiple other lawsuits, intense public controversy, and escalating cost estimates.
When the council amended the Delta Plan, it followed the department's lead and incorporated the tunnels project in its plan for meeting the Delta Plan's coequal goals, despite the 2016 ruling that invalidated the plan for not considering alternatives to the tunnels.