Lawsuit Filed Over State Water Board’s Temporary Modification of Water Quality Objectives

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Consistent with Governor Brown’s Drought Proclamation and Executive Orders, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) and the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) sought and obtained a temporary modification of certain water quality objectives from the California State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) in order to allow for increased exports of water from the Central Valley Project and State Water Project in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (Delta).  On June 3, 2015, environmental groups, including the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, California Water Impact Network, AquAlliance, and Restore the Delta, filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI), USBR, DWR, and the State Board, alleging that the State Board’s approval of the temporary modifications and the subsequent operation of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project violated various state and federal laws.  (Complaint, pdf.)

In the complaint, plaintiffs allege that the increased exports will cause water temperatures and salinity to rise, thereby adversely affecting native fish species, including the delta smelt (Hypomesus transpacificus), Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), and Central Valley steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss), which are all listed under the Endangered Species Act.  Among other things, plaintiffs claim that the modifications are unlawful because they do not conform to the standards established under the Central Valley Project Improvement Act and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Reform Act (Cal. Water Code §§ 85000, et seq.).

The lawsuit is the first challenging the State Board’s attempts to address the impacts of the historic drought conditions in California, and, if successful, could preclude future exports from the Central Valley Project and State Water Project.

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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