Lawsuit Challenges Metropolitan Water District’s Purchase of Delta Islands

Taylor Hillman General

Local governments and consumer and environmental groups charge Met with evading environmental review in attempt to push through Delta tunnels project.


Food & Water Watch, the Planning and Conservation League, San Joaquin County, Contra Costa County and the Central Delta Water Agency plan to file suit against the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) charging that its claim of complete exemption from environmental review for the proposed purchase of 20,000 acres of Delta islands and farmland is illegal and unjustified.

The lawsuit, to be filed in San Joaquin County Superior Court, asks the Court to enjoin MWD from purchasing the property unless and until it completes the environmental review required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). MWD has promoted this land purchase to clear the path for the “California Water Fix” twin tunnels project and remove obstacles to its completion. The purchase would also enable physical changes affecting the properties that may harm the Delta environment and could cost California ratepayers and taxpayers billions of dollars.
“It’s not surprising that Metropolitan avoided a proper review as the land purchase is not in the interest of Southern California ratepayers and taxpayers,” said Brenna Norton, Senior Organizer for Food & Water Watch. “This purchase would promote Metropolitan’s effort to build the $67 billion tunnels which will only benefit MWD ‘s bottom line—while costing Southern Californians billions and not providing one drop of new water.”
The plaintiffs allege that the land purchase by MWD is part of an attempt to take more water from the Delta for MWD use and that the environmental impacts resulting from that activity would be “significant” and outside any exemption from CEQA.
“A twin tunnels project has yet to be approved, and Metropolitan Water District has taken brazen steps to bypass CEQA requirements in order to approve the $175 million Delta island purchase and begin a staging zone for twin tunnel construction,” said Mark Myles, Esq., County Counsel for San Joaquin County. “MWD’s actions to sidestep CEQA in its deal to purchase the islands illustrates the lengths that MWD is willing to go to acquire water for its own purposes without any regard for CEQA laws, environmental review and public input. San Joaquin County is not going to stand idly by and allow MWD to circumvent California environmental laws and make up its own rules in order to bulldoze its way through the Delta. MWD should immediately rescind its decision to purchase the islands and perform the environmental review required by CEQA.”
MWD asserts it is only interested in Delta habitat restoration and therefore its actions are exempt from any form of environmental review. Yet MWD’s General Manager, and its own promotional materials, state that the islands could facilitate building the $20-67 billion twin tunnels under the Delta by reducing eminent-domain needs and providing a storage place for construction dirt.