Delta Interests File Lawsuit Against State and Federal Agencies Alleging Violations of Water Quality Standards

The California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (“CSPA”), California Water Impact Network (“C–WIN”), AquAlliance and Restore the Delta (“RTD”), (collectively “Petitioners”), filed a lawsuit against state and federal water managers on June 3, 2015.  The Petitioners argue that by violating state and federal laws the agencies are causing detrimental harm to the Delta’s anadromous and pelagic fish species, many of which are threatened or endangered.  Included among the Petitioners’ charges are violations including the federal Clean Water Act, the Bay-Delta Plan, Central Valley Project Improvement Act (“CVPIA”) and the Delta Protection Act.

The defendants to the lawsuit are the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (“BOR”), U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell; State Board Executive Director Thomas Howard; State Board members Felicia Marcus, Frances Spivy-Weber, Tam M. Dudoc, Steven Moore and Dorene D’Adamo; and the California Department of Water Resources (“DWR”).

A State Water Resources Control Board (“State Board”) order approving a Temporary Urgency Change Petition (“TUCP”) was issued in February 2015.  The order allows adjusted flow and water quality objectives in the Delta for two months so that State Water Project (“SWP”) and Central Valley Project (“CVP”) supplies could be conserved in upstream reservoirs allowing for drought-related adjustments to project operations.

Upon issuing the order, State Board Executive Director Tom Howard emphasized the need for flexibility and foresight to meet water supply needs during the drought.

“Persistent drought conditions and our experiences last year in balancing water supply and environmental requirements require us to work nimbly together,” said Howard.  “The projects are initiating part of their plan to prepare for these events ahead of time.

The Petitioners protested the State Board’s through oral and written comments, but maintain that “The State Board refused to respond to Petitioner’s protest, reconsider the matter or schedule a requested evidentiary hearing.” In addition, they claim urgency to the matter arguing that irreparable harm will result from continued operation under the relaxed standards.

“We bring this lawsuit in an effort to prevent the impending extinction of fisheries that thrived for millennia.  Delta smelt, once the most abundant species in the estuary, are on the precipice of extinction and longfin smelt and winter—run and spring—run Chinook salmon are close behind,” said CSPA Executive Director Bill Jennings adding “we cannot stand aside and watch species go extinct simply because special interests have captured our regulatory agencies and they refuse to comply with laws enacted to protect fish and water quality. The situation is critical and we’re left with no alternative but the courts.”

“Extinction is forever,” said AquAlliance Executive Director Barbara Vlamis.  “We cannot shut the door on our fisheries because the state and federal water projects drain reservoirs during a drought on the hope that the next year might be wet.”

The court is being asked to make various declarations and judgements about the alleged violations of water quality standards and laws and the State Board’s order, enjoin the federal defendants from further operation in violation of water quality standards and issue a writ of mandate setting aside the State Board’s order.
Written by Marta L. Weismann