CSPA, C-WIN File Suit to End Wasteful Delta Diversions, Protect Public Trust Resources
December 1, 2008 -- Calling it “the biggest lawsuit about the biggest ecological and legal catastrophe in California today,” the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) and the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN) filed suit in Sacramento Superior Court Monday, December 1, 2008, to protect Delta public trust resources—including endangered migratory fisheries of salmon and open water fish species—and to end wasteful and unreasonable diversions of water from the Delta by big state and federal water projects.
The suit also asks the court to halt irrigation of several hundred thousand acres of selenium contaminated lands on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, the drainage from which pollutes wetlands, the San Joaquin River, and the Delta.
“California has regulated its waters like the feds have regulated Wall Street and the result has been a collapse of fisheries and aquatic ecosystems,” said CSPA Chairman and Director Bill Jennings. “Given bureaucratic paralysis, we have little alternative but to turn to the courts to prevent the extinction of our historic fisheries.”
The suit names as defendants the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), the United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR), and the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB).
Specifically, the seven-count lawsuit charges that the huge export pumps near Tracy in the south Delta kill thousands upon thousands of smelt and small salmon fry every year, at different times of year, and are the main threats to public trust resources in the Delta. DWR and USBR, operators of the two largest water storage, pumping, and canal systems in California, violate numerous federal and state water quality and fish protection laws, the state’s public trust responsibility, water rights orders, and the terms of their appropriative water rights permits through excessive pumping—all illegally allowed by the SWRCB, the state’s water regulator, and the third defendant charged in the suit.
“The State Water Board hasn’t applied one significant measure to protect fisheries in over a decade and the Governor’s Delta Vision and Bay-Delta Conversation Program processes are little more than smokescreens to justify the status quo,” added Jennings.
“It took lots of people all over California to protect the public trust resources and protect the rivers of northern California as it did at Mono Lake,” said Carolee Krieger, executive director and board president of C-WIN. “We must stop the carnage in the Delta now.”
After construction and operation of the federal Central Valley Project and the California State Water Project, runs of migratory salmon went extinct below Friant Dam on the San Joaquin River near Fresno in the early 1950s. The Delta smelt, an open water fish native to the Delta estuary, has almost gone extinct, and desperate biologists may try to cultivate an artificial smelt refuge.
“Our state government has utterly failed to enforce the public trust and obey the constitution,” said Krieger. “In our suit, we petition the court to force the State Water Resources Control Board to enforce the letter and spirit of the water laws and the State constitution.”
“A lot of people don’t realize that the voters of California passed a constitutional amendment in 1928 to ban wasteful water use and harmful diversions from streams,” said attorney Michael Jackson who represents both C-WIN and CSPA in this case. “Even the federal government must adhere to state water law and the constitution, and we intend to show the court how they haven’t time and again, and to persuade the court to end the lawlessness of water exports from the Delta.”
Wasteful water use harms the Delta, argues the suit, when water exported by the Central Valley Project is used to irrigate western San Joaquin Valley lands that are naturally contaminated with selenium, boron, arsenic, and even mercury in some areas. These lands then drain to the San Joaquin River, the Delta, and Suisun Marsh. Settling in sediments where clams and other aquatic organisms feed, the toxins concentrate through the food chain, resulting in embryonic deformities and dead offspring for many fish, bird, and mammal species in the Valley.
“These two projects pump water from the Delta to irrigate impaired lands and recycle contaminated drainage back via the San Joaquin River to an increasingly polluted estuary thereby accelerating the decline of fisheries,” adds Jennings of CSPA. “Enough is enough!”
“We’re getting our slingshots ready,” said attorney Jackson with a smile. “And we know who won the last meeting between David and Goliath.”
Read the July 8th Comments on the Draft Strategic Workplan for the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Estuary
March 19-CSPA News: Unreasonable Use Complaint Filed With State Water Control Board. Groups will Sue in 60 Days if Board Fails to Schedule Evidentiary Hearing