California Environmental Law & Policy Update - April 2016 #5

Allen Matkins
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Environmental and Policy Focus

Lawsuit claims Delta fish harmed by relaxed water standards

Modesto Bee - Apr 25 Relaxed water quality standards during the drought have harmed salmon, smelt, and other fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, according to a lawsuit filed last week in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco by the Bay Institute, Defenders of Wildlife and the National Resources Defense Council. The lawsuit, filed against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), cites nearly two dozen instances, largely relating to the San Joaquin River, in which rules were eased by the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to allow delivery of more water to farms and cities without prior approvals from EPA the environmental groups claim were required under the federal Clean Water Act. EPA had no comment. Thomas Howard, SWRCB’s executive director, last week said he did not think the allegations had merit.

L.A. seeks to protect 'wildlife corridor' in Santa Monica Mountains

Los Angeles Times - Apr 22 Los Angeles lawmakers voted last Friday to draft a new law that would enshrine a “wildlife corridor” in the eastern Santa Monica Mountains, aiming to ensure that coyotes, bobcats, and other wild animals are not cut off from stretches of their habitat by new homes or other development. City staffers are now tasked with writing the new rules, which would bar Los Angeles from issuing building or grading permits in the area until the city is assured that construction plans will permanently ensure that wildlife can cross from one part of their habitat to another. The rules would also mandate deed restrictions to permanently protect those connections within wildlife habitat. Further, every new building project in the corridor would have to undergo a “habitat connectivity” review. The proposed ordinance still must come back to the City Council for approval before it can become law.

U.S. Senate unveils $9B waterways bill

The Hill - Apr 26 U.S. Senate consideration of a $9.4 billion waterways bill aimed at improving U.S. ports, waterways, and clean water infrastructure began on Thursday with a review by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. The legislation identifies $4.5 billion worth of water infrastructure projects — significantly less than the $12.3 billion authorized in the Water Resources Development Act of 2014. It authorizes $4.9 billion for drinking water and clean water infrastructure over five years. The waterways bill would authorize 25 new Army Corps projects in 17 states, including projects to revitalize the Los Angeles River, restore the Florida Everglades, improve ports in Charleston, S.C., provide flood and hurricane protection in Louisiana, and improve drinking water infrastructure in Flint, Michigan, where the presence of lead in drinking water supplies has sparked major controversy in recent months. Although the legislation authorizes funding for the projects, those funds still need to be appropriated by legislators.

California governor's greenhouse-gas cuts scrutinized

Santa Cruz Sentinel - Apr 21 The top lawyer for the California Legislature says Governor Jerry Brown exceeded his authority when he issued an executive order imposing what he called the most aggressive carbon-emission reductions in North America, aligning California with the European Union's aggressive climate change standards. The opinion by Legislative Counsel Diane Boyer-Vine does not curtail Brown's authority to continue implementing the greenhouse gas reduction plan, but it suggests a lawsuit challenging the plan could be successful. The governor issued the executive order last year setting a new target for cutting carbon emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. In a letter this week, Boyer-Vine said only the Legislature can impose carbon-reduction mandates stricter than those adopted in 2006 and signed into law by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Furthermore, she wrote, lawmakers couldn't grant Brown the authority to impose his own emission target even if they wanted to.

States consider additional reductions in Colorado River diversions to protect Lake Mead

Las Vegas Review-Journal - Apr 26 Top water officials in Nevada, Arizona, and California have negotiated a deal to cut their use of the Colorado River and slow the decline of Lake Mead, but the landmark agreement is far from finished. Negotiators from Arizona and California are now shopping the plan to various water users and policymakers in their states. Arizona would shoulder most of the reductions, but the tentative deal marks the first time California has agreed to share the pain, if the drought worsens. California, which is the largest of the seven states that share the Colorado River, is not now required to take any cut to its annual 4.4 million acre feet allocation. The voluntary cuts being discussed are designed to avoid overuse of Lake Mead supplies and stave off deeper, mandatory forced cuts for Arizona and Nevada if the lake sinks below levels outlined in a 2007 agreement. News of the water negotiations comes amid worsening projections for the Colorado River, which is now expected to see 74 percent of its average flow in 2016, down from last month’s forecast of 80 percent. That would mark the 13th year of below-average flows since 2000.

Plan to enlarge Los Vaqueros Reservoir gains momentum

San Jose Mercury News - Apr 27 After years of drought and new money available from a 2014 state bond measure to fund water projects, a long-standing idea to dramatically enlarge Los Vaqueros Reservoir, located near Livermore, California, by raising its dam 51 feet is gaining momentum. This expansion would help provide drought insurance to Bay Area cities from Contra Costa County all the way south to San Jose. Some environmentalists say the idea, which they support, also would reduce the need for Governor Jerry Brown's controversial $17 billion plan to build two huge water tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The roughly $800 million project would expand the size of Los Vaqueros from its current 160,000 acre-feet capacity to 275,000 acre-feet, enough water when full for the annual needs of 1.4 million people. Los Vaqueros does not use the massive federal and state pumps near Tracy to divert water from the Delta into its storage—which are regularly slowed to avoid impacts to endangered fish—but two intakes near Discovery Bay and the Delta that incorporate modern fish screens. Proponents of this project say it could be a less expensive approach to getting greater water supplies without the litigation risks of the Delta tunnels project. Contra Costa Water District officials have submitted a "concept paper" regarding the proposed expansion to the California Water Commission, a state panel that will decide how to allocate some of the $7.5 billion in Proposition 1 bond funding approved by voters in 2014.

 

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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