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Water Conflicts Continue as California Clashes with Federal Agencies

Brian German Agri-Business, Water

California’s water conflicts continue as state regulators make changes to the administration of crucial water supplies.  The California Department of Fish and Wildlife issued an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) to the Department of Water Resources (DWR) for long-term operations of the State Water Project (SWP).  At issue is that the ITP is contrary to the federal biological opinions that were recently issued, making the administration of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta even more complicated.

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“This outcome is beyond disappointing,” said Jason Phillips, Chief Executive Officer of the Friant Water Authority.  “This action will reduce an already scarce water supply for the Valley at a time when experts predict shortfalls will force a million acres of productive farmland into retirement as we comply with state groundwater regulations.”

The ITP covers Delta smelt, longfin smelt, winter-run Chinook salmon and spring-run Chinook salmon, which are protected under the California Endangered Species Act.  The issuing of an ITP is in contrast to the historical cooperation between state and federal agencies in overseeing the Central Valley Project and the SWP.  California Farm Bureau Federation President Jamie Johansson noted that given the current circumstances related to COVID-19, now is not the time to engage in more water conflicts.  “The federal and state water projects need to complement each other, in order to serve the millions of Californians and millions of acres of farmland that depend on them,” Johansson noted.

The federal biological opinions that were signed by President Donald Trump in February have already been the source of litigation.  The ITP is expected to be another point for lawsuits, as environmental groups are not satisfied that it does not go further in restricting water pumping, and farm groups and state water agencies are dissatisfied by DWR’s approach to water management.

“The SWC and its member agencies do not support the permit conditions, which fail to incorporate the best available science, burden ratepayers with obligations far exceeding the impacts of water operations,” State Water Contractors General Manager Jennifer Pierre said in a press release.  “We are disappointed that DWR is moving forward with a project that imposes restrictions far beyond the impacts of SWP operations.”

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Brian German

Brian German

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Multimedia Journalist for AgNet West