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California State Water Project History / Timeline

Center for Food Safety

1960 - California voters narrowly pass Proposition One, the Burns-Porter Act, authorizing the issuance of bonds for the building of the State Water Project.

The Department of Water Resources starts signing long-term contracts for the delivery of State Water Project water with local and regional water agencies and districts.

The contractors agreed to make fixed annual payments to DWR to have access to SWP water. The annual payments are calculated based on each contractor’s maximum “entitlement” to SWP water, as indicated in “Table A” of the contracts. DWR, in turn, agreed to seek to deliver the Table A water to each contractor, subject to regulatory, environmental, and supply constraints. Under this system, contractors are required to make their payments even if their maximum Table A amounts are not delivered.

The contracts’ Table A amounts total 4.2 million acre-feet per year (4.1 MAF/yr).

Construction begins on the State Water Project.

1964 - Most long-term contracts between the state and the SWP contractors are amended to include Article 21(g)(1), the prohibition on the delivery of surplus water that might be used to encourage the development of an economy dependent upon the sustained delivery of surplus water. Surplus water is defined as any water over and above the Table A amounts.

1972 - Governor Ronald Reagan signs the California Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, providing protection to several northern California rivers, including the Eel, Mad, and Van Duzen, preventing future build-out of State Water Project facilities on those rivers.

1981 - The Eel, Mad, and Van Duzen Rivers obtain federal Wild and Scenic River status.

1982 - California voters reject the Peripheral Canal, a planned component of the SWP that would enable water flowing in the Sacramento River to bypass much of the Bay-Delta on its way to SWP pumping facilities.

The Table A amounts in the long-term contracts were originally based on the expected full build-out of the SWP system. But due primarily to the wild and scenic protection of the northern rivers, and to a lesser extent due to the failure to build out the Peripheral Canal and other facilities, the actual reliable annual yield of the SWP has been far less than originally anticipated. Rather than delivering 4.2 MAF/yr, the SWP can now reliably deliver only between 2 and 2.5 MAF/yr.

Yet the long-term contracts are all still based on Table A amounts that add up to 4.2 MAF/yr. The difference between these figures is known as the SWP’s paper water.

1988 - The Department of Water Resources acquires 20,000 acres of land in Kern County with the intent of creating a water banking operation. The water bank is intended to serve as crucial south-of-the-Delta water storage for the entire SWP system.

1987 – 1992
– California experiences its longest drought in modern history, with SWP deliveries plummeting by 1992 and 1993.

1992 – 1994
– Escalating tension between agricultural contractors and urban contractors (primarily KCWA and Met) over the distribution of scarce SWP water resources lead to threats of lawsuits.

– Five SWP contractors, one sub-contractor, and DWR secretly negotiate the Monterey Amendments. The amendments amount to a wholesale rewriting of the SWP long-term contracts.

– An Environmental Impact Report for the Monterey Amendments is completed and certified by the Central Coast Water Agency, a sub-contractor of SWP water who acts as the lead agency for the statewide project. DWR certifies the EIR as a responsible agency.

Carolee Krieger of Santa Barbara learns of the EIR and of the Monterey Amendments during a meeting in Buellton, Santa Barbara County, and alerts environmental organizations and lawyers.

1996 – DWR signs the agreement to transfer the Kern Water Bank to the Kern County Water Agency and signs over the deed to the property. On the same day, KCWA deeds the property to the Kern Water Bank Authority.

Planning and Conservation League, Citizens’ Planning Association of Santa Barbara County, and Plumas County Flood Control and Water Conservation District (a SWP contractor) sue DWR over its approval of the Monterey Amendments and the environmental review.

2000 - The Third District Court of Appeal rules in favor of the Planning and Conservation League in PCL v. DWR, determining that the EIR was improperly prepared and certified by the incorrect lead agency (Central Coast Water Agency, rather than DWR), and that the EIR failed to analyze the impacts of the deletion of Article 18(b) (the provision for reducing Table A amounts in the event of a permanent shortage in the system).

– The parties to the PCL v. DWR lawsuit, including DWR, the plaintiffs, and the contractors, settle the litigation. The settlement agreement permits DWR to continue to operate the SWP pursuant to the Monterey Amendments, pending an entirely new EIR to be prepared, reviewed, and certified by DWR.

– DWR completes and certifies the Monterey Plus EIR, but “decides” to continue to operate the project pursuant to the earlier project approvals (by CCWA as lead agency and DWR as a responsible agency) in 1995.

A new coalition of groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, California Water Information Network, and two Delta water agencies, sue over the Monterey Plus EIR (Central Delta Water Agency, et al. v. Department of Water Resources). The new lawsuit challenges DWR’s failure to make a proper decision on the project (that by merely confirming the earlier decisions, DWR revealed the new environmental review to be a sham) and challenges the lawfulness and constitutionality of several of the Monterey Amendments and the Kern Water Bank transfer.

2014 – The Hon. Timothy M. Frawley of the Sacramento Superior Court rules in favor of the environmental groups on one critical claim, determining that the environmental review for the transfer, use, and operation of the Kern Water Bank was deficient and must be re-done. The plaintiffs’ other claims were rejected and DWR was allowed to continue operating the SWP pursuant to the Monterey Amendments, again pending completion of the new environmental review.

– The Central Delta plaintiffs appeal their unsuccessful claims to the Third District Court of Appeal. Some SWP contractors, primarily those affiliated with the Kern Water Bank, cross-appeal on the one successful claim.

2016 – DWR completes and certifies its new environmental review for the Kern Water Bank transfer and operation. Most of the Central Delta plaintiffs, now joined and represented by the Center for Food Safety, file a new lawsuit challenging this EIR (Center for Food Safety et al. v. Department of Water Resources).

2017Water and Power, a California Heist, an in-depth look at the Monterey Amendments and the subsequent litigation, debuts at the Sundance Film Festival and airs on the National Geographic Channel.

Now – As of March, 2017, a hearing has yet to be set for the Central Delta appeal, while the Center for Food Safety case works its way through the trial court.

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