Water Transfer Challenged in Court
Published on May 8, 2012 - 6:58:40 AM
CHICO, Calif. May 7, 2012 - AquAlliance filed a lawsuit against Butte Water District (BWD) to challenge the obfuscation of impacts, both short and long term, from water transfers out of the northern Sacramento Valley to Kern County water districts. The lawsuit seeks compliance with environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
BWD proposes to transfer 16,850 acre-feet ("af") of Feather River Water (about 60% of the City of Chico's annual demand) to State Water Project Contractors Dudley Ridge Water District, Kern County Water Agency, and Palmdale Water District. BWD will accomplish this by idling rice fields (3,350 acres) and/or by ground water substitution (5,350 af), which allows a grower to sell surface water while still producing rice. This project continues a decades-old pattern that defers the establishment of baseline conditions, fails to conduct comprehensive monitoring, and denies the potential for project specific and cumulative impacts. The BWD project is also part of a much larger 2012 plan to transfer 250,000 af of north state water from the area of origin to south of Delta interests (BWD Initial Study/Negative Declaration p. 30).
AquAlliance alleges that the project's environmental review violates CEQA because, among other things, it: Fails to support BWD's finding of no significant impact, Fails to comply with the most essential review and disclosure requirements of CEQA , thereby depriving decision makers and the public of the ability to consider the relevant environmental issues in any meaningful way, and Inadequately analyzes the project level impacts and the cumulative impacts from the planned 250,000 af water transfers.
"Water contractors south of the Delta continue to see the Sacramento River's watershed as the last exploitable solution to continue business as usual," stated Barbara Vlamis, AquAlliance's executive director. "Our lawsuit seeks compliance with that most basic of all environmental and moral laws: comprehensive analysis and full disclosure of impacts and alternatives," she concluded.
AquAlliance was founded in 2009 to protect waters in the northern Sacramento River's watershed to sustain family farms, communities, creeks and rivers, native flora and fauna, vernal pools, and recreation.
State Water Project Contractors Seeking Water in 2012 from Butte Water District and Others Dudley Ridge Water District (4.8 % of the total water transfer), Kern County Water Agency (93.2% of the total water transfer), Palmdale Water District (2.0% of the total water transfer)
Water transfers from the Sacramento Valley are not just one or two year transfers as often claimed, but many actions in multiple years by state and federal agencies, sellers, and buyers without the benefit of comprehensive environmental analysis under CEQA. It is important to highlight that the BWD project does not stand in isolation, but is part of ongoing programs made up of water transfers in eight out of ten years (BWD Initial Study/Negative Declaration p. 30) and a much larger effort to cure the ills of California's past mistakes by mining more water from its last, somewhat healthy watershed: the Sacramento River watershed. Here is a partial list of projects and programs:
- 1991, 1992, and 1994 Drought Water Banks.
- The Sacramento Valley Water Management Agreement was signed in 2002 and the need for a programmatic environmental review was clear and initiated, but never completed. BWD is a signatory to the Agreement.
- In 2000, the Governor's Advisory Drought Planning Panel report, Critical Water Shortage Contingency Plan promised a programmatic CEQA document on a drought-response water transfer program, but it was never undertaken. BWD has participated in Drought Water Bank Transfers.
- Sacramento Valley Integrated Regional Water Management Plan (2006). BWD serves on the Joint Powers Authority.
- Northern Sacramento Valley Integrated Regional Water Management Plan (under development)
- The Delta Stewardship Council's Plan.
- The Bay Delta Conservation Plan.
DWR, the state's overseer of the State Water Project, has ignored its statutory responsibility to provide programmatic CEQA review for water transfer for over a decade and only deals with the issue when sued (2009 Drought Water Bank). Rather than follow state law, DWR provides its contractors with guiding documents for individual project review at http://www.water.ca.gov/watertransfers/.
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