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Environment & Energy Report

California Fights Back Over Proposed Trump Water Rules (1)

Nov. 21, 2019, 8:39 PMUpdated: Nov. 22, 2019, 1:22 AM

California said it plans to sue the Trump administration over water-use proposals the state says are inadequate and don’t protect imperiled species like salmon, smelt, and sturgeon.

The Nov. 21 move is the latest in the California-versus-Washington, D.C., tussle over water allocations of a shared resource.

The California Department of Water Resources also released a draft environmental review Nov. 21 about changes the state wants to make to how it runs its more than 700-mile system that supplies water to 27 million people and irrigates 750,000 acres of farmland. It address water flow and other rules for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

“We have to find ways to protect our environment and build water security for communities and agriculture,” Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot said in a news release. “We have to become much more creative, collaborative, and adaptive.”

In addition to the State Water Project operated by California officials, the federal Bureau of Reclamation runs the Central Valley Project, which serves 75% of the state’s irrigated lands.

Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman called the state’s decision to file a lawsuit disappointing, saying it will move decisions to judges rather than career professionals.

“From the beginning, we’ve been focused on cooperative solutions with the state of California to bring reliable water supplies to farms, families, communities, and the environment,” Burman said in a news release. “If that’s their choice, we’ll see them in court.”

The state and federal projects use a series of dams, reservoirs, canals, and other facilities to move water mostly from the water-rich northern part of the state. In many cases, state and federal pumps operate side-by-side and often in coordination.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service on Oct. 21 released biological opinions assessing potential changes to those operations.

The state’s review of how much water will be taken from the region differs from the federal proposal.

“The move reflects the state’s assessment that operating rules recently proposed by federal agencies are not scientifically adequate and fall short of protecting species and the state’s interests,” Natural Resources and the California Environmental Protection Agency said in a joint news release.

How and when the water flows through the region can affect the health of the ecosystem.

“It is imperative that these biological opinions are challenged to ensure that stronger protections are put in place if there is any hope of reversing the current decline in the Bay Delta system,” Defenders of Wildlife California Program Director Kim Delfino said in a news release. “It is also imperative that the State Water Project is operated with science-based protections for fish, wildlife and water quality.”

California has relied on federal biological opinions for authority to incidentally take or harm protected species when operating the water system. But the state disagrees with those findings and the draft environmental review is a step toward getting take authorization under state rules, not federal.

The state actions are a mixed bag because the environmental review proposes protections that are not as strict as current rules, said Doug Obegi, a director in the Natural Resources Defense Council’s water division.

“The lawsuit is unabashedly good news,” he said. “What’s being proposed is wholly inadequate, but it’s the initial proposal.”

(Includes updates throughout and updates the link to the state environmental review.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Emily C. Dooley at edooley@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Chuck McCutcheon at cmccutcheon@bloombergenvironment.com

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