California has experienced an increase in water litigation over the past several weeks, all related to how water is managed in the Delta. Each of the lawsuits stems from the federal biological opinions that were signed by President Donald Trump earlier in the year. At issue is the Incidental Take Permit (ITP) that was recently issued which will dictate management of the State Water Project (SWP) in a manner that conflicts with the federal biological opinions and operation of the Central Valley Project.
The most recent lawsuit comes on behalf of State Water Contractors (SWC) against the Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). SWC is representing nearly 30 agencies in challenging how the environmental impact report was conducted in the development of the ITP.
Another lawsuit had also been filed in Fresno County Superior Court on behalf of the Tehama Colusa Canal Authority, San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, Friant Water Authority, and several Sacramento River Settlement Contractors. The group supplies water to more than 75 percent of California’s population and more than four million acres of farmland. The lawsuit challenges the science used by the DWR and CDFW in determining water pumping restrictions.
Four environmental groups have also filed suit against DWR for its administration of the SWP. The Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Restore the Delta, and Planning and Conservation League argue that there is not enough being done to prevent environmental harms.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and several state agencies have filed an additional lawsuit which challenges the federal biological opinions. The preliminary injunction motion seeks to prevent the implementation of the new biological opinions, arguing that they will negatively impact endangered fish species.
The increase in the amount of water litigation is beginning to discourage the hope that a more voluntary and cooperative approach can be obtainable. Governor Gavin Newsom had previously highlighted voluntary agreements as being a critical component for the long-term sustainability goals for California water supplies.