Two good water decisions in California

Attorney General Xavier Becerra said raising the dam was bad for the environment.

“The court has stopped Westlands Water District from moving forward with a project that would hurt the people and environment in our state,” Becerra said in a news release.

 “Maybe others believe they’re above the law and can get away with it. But, in California, we’re prepared to prove otherwise,” he said. – Arthur, Redding Searchlight, Aug. 1. 2019

8-1-19

Redding Searchlight

Judge orders Westlands to stop work on Shasta Dam raise

Damon Arthur

https://www.redding.com/story/news/2019/07/31/judge-orders-westlands-sto...

A judge has ordered a Fresno-based water district to stop working on plans to raise the height of Shasta Dam.

The Westlands Water District, which provides irrigation water to farmers on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, was working on a report assessing the environmental impacts of raising the height of the dam.

But a judge ruled that Westlands' work violated a state law that prohibited local and state agencies from participating in any projects that would have an adverse impact on the McCloud River.

The state Attorney General's Office and several environmental groups had filed a lawsuit against Westlands arguing that raising the height of the dam also would raise the level of Lake Shasta and further inundate the McCloud River.

The Shasta County Superior Court issued the preliminary injunction Wednesday.

Lawyers for Earthjustice, one of the groups that sued Westlands, said it was important to stop the project because the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation had planned to award construction contracts on the project by the end of this year.

"Westlands has been planning for a long time on this dam raise and it's high time the court stopped them," said Nina Robertson, a lawyer for Earthjustice.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra said raising the dam was bad for the environment.

“The court has stopped Westlands Water District from moving forward with a project that would hurt the people and environment in our state,” Becerra said in a news release.

 “Maybe others believe they’re above the law and can get away with it. But, in California, we’re prepared to prove otherwise,” he said.

Westlands attorney Daniel O'Hanlon argued in court this week that the district wasn't violating the law because the agency hadn't yet determined whether it wanted to support the dam raise project.

He said doing an environmental study of the project under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) would help district officials determine whether it wanted to help pay for the cost to raise the dam 18½ feet.

"As far as CEQA being planning, I strongly disagree with that," O'Hanlon said in court Monday.

John McManus, president of the Golden Gate Salmon Association, said he was happy with the judge's decision because raising the height of the dam would not be good for salmon spawning in the Sacramento River downstream of the dam.

The salmon association was part of the group that sued Westlands.

"This is a good day for all of the salmon and other wildlife in the Central Valley that would have been pushed towards extinction by raising Shasta Dam," he said.

"Those like Westlands that view the Sacramento River as nothing more than a reservoir and canal to provide water for orchards in deserts hundreds of miles away got a strong reminder today that Californians value our natural resources, especially our salmon runs," McManus said.

Federal officials have long considered raising the height of the dam. In 2013 the bureau did its own environmental analysis of raising the dam. That report noted the state law prohibiting local and state agencies from participating in any project that would harm the McCloud River.

In 2015, the bureau said it would only pay for 50% of the project. The rest of the $1.4 billion would have to come from local and state partners.

Westlands stepped up as a cost-sharing partner and began work on an environmental impact report to comply with state law.

Bureau spokesman Jeff Hawk said Wednesday he hadn't reviewed the court ruling, but said the project would likely continue to go forward.

“We have not reviewed the ruling, however such a ruling would not prevent reclamation from moving forward with the Shasta Dam and Reservoir Enlargement Project,” Hawk said.

Despite the state law protecting the McCloud River, Congress in 2018 authorized spending $20 million on pre-construction work and engineering drawings on the project.

However, since approving the initial $20 million for the dam raise, control of Congress passed from Republican to Democratic control. 

U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Arcata, said earlier this year he opposes the project and believes Congress isn't likely to approve further funding for construction.

"You can't really justify any money for this because of this legal roadblock," Huffman said.

Even if there weren't legal issues standing in the way of the dam project, he said he would rather see other water projects built, such as Sites Reservoir in Colusa County.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, also from California, supported last year's bill providing $20 million for pre-construction and design work on the project, with the caveat that the project comply with state law.

Water agencies have been trying for many years to either change the law protecting the McCloud or protect their interests in raising the height of the dam.

In 2012, the directors of the Metropolitan district — a wholesale water supplier to about 19 million Southern California residents — voted to lobby to change the law so the state could help pay for raising the dam.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan district said at the time the board approved the measure because in general it supports creating more water storage statewide.

In 2007, the Westlands district paid about $33 million to buy about 3,000 acres bordering the McCloud River, including the Bollibokka Fly Fishing Club. Its property extends south to just downstream of the McCloud River bridge at Lake Shasta.

 

 

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who has opposed the project for years, accused the company of trying "to skirt federal permitting and rob the Mojave Desert of its most precious resource, water."

"If Cadiz were allowed to drain a vital desert aquifer, everything that makes our desert special - from bighorn sheep and desert tortoises to Joshua trees and breathtaking wildflower blooms - would have been endangered," she said in a news release. – Beam, AP/US News, July 31, 2019

 

7-31-19

US News

California Governor Signs Law Impacting Desert Water Project

California Governor Signs Law Impacting Desert Water Project

By ADAM BEAM, Associated Press

https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/california/articles/2019-07-31/c...

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California's governor signed a law on Wednesday that could delay a project to pump billions of gallons of water out from under the Mojave Desert.

Cadiz Inc., an agriculture company in Southern California, wants to take the water and sell it to 400,000 customers in the Los Angeles region. The project has passed all of the required environmental reviews dating back to at least 2002.

But Wednesday, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law that adds another step by requiring the State Lands Commission to review the project before it can go forward.

"This fragile ecosystem has existed, in balance, for centuries. Prior to allowing any project to move forward there must be certainty that it will not threaten the important natural and cultural resources," Newsom wrote in his signing statement.

In December, state regulators said new information showed the project would dry up a nearby spring that provides water for bighorn sheep, which are protected under state and federal endangered species laws.

Company officials have disputed that, noting reviews under the California Environmental Quality Act found that claim impossible. The company says the project has been upheld at least 12 times by the courts.

Cadiz Inc. CEO Scott Slater said while the company opposed the bill, they will comply with the law and submit the project to the State Lands Commission for approval, adding: "We don't expect any different outcome."

"It's a shame for California that we have to go through this," Slater said, noting the new source of water could spur development of new development in the country's most populous state facing a critical housing shortage. "The question is can (the state) put in place the procedural hurdles that will tire us out. But they don't know us very well. We've been at it for a while, and we haven't gotten tired out."

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who has opposed the project for years, accused the company of trying "to skirt federal permitting and rob the Mojave Desert of its most precious resource, water."

"If Cadiz were allowed to drain a vital desert aquifer, everything that makes our desert special - from bighorn sheep and desert tortoises to Joshua trees and breathtaking wildflower blooms - would have been endangered," she said in a news release.

The company says more than 20 million acre feet of water sits in an aquifer beneath the Mojave Desert. The water eventually flows to low-lying areas called "dry lakes" and either evaporates or becomes too salty to drink.

One acre foot of water (43,560 cubic feet) is more than 325,000 gallons, the amount of irrigation water that would cover an acre to the depth of a foot.

State Sen. Richard Roth, a Democrat from Riverside who authored the bill, said he's concerned the company would remove billions of gallons of water more than nature puts back in every year.

The company, citing a model developed by the U.S. Geological Survey, says the project would remove about 50,000 acre feet of that water each year while nature would replenish about 32,000 acre-feet per year.

But Roth said other studies from the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service suggest the aquifer naturally replenishes between 2,000 acre-feet and 10,000 acre-feet per year.

"We cannot afford to get this wrong. It is critical to allow independent scientists to review the scientific evidence in order to resolve the conflict," he said.

 Since the outcome of this issue will depend on the decision of the State Lands Commission, about which few know much, a little background:

State Lands Commission

Since 1938, the Commission has consisted of these same members: the Lieutenant Governor, the State Controller, and the Governor’s Director of Finance.

The Lieutenant Governor is Eleni Kounalakis, the Ambassador to Hungary under the Obama administration, a position reserved for large donors; former president of AKT, the major land developer in the Sacramento region; daughter of developer Angelo Tsakopolous.

The State Controller is Betty T. Yee, formerly served two terms on state Board of Equalization and he 35 years of experience serving as staff with agencies focused on finances and taxes.

Governor’s Director of Finance is Keely Bosler, who has held a number of important positions in state finance.

 

 

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