A coalition of environmental groups has sued the California Delta Stewardship Council (CDSC) over what they say are violations of law affecting Delta environment restoration.
The suit was filed May 25 in Sacramento Superior Court, where headquarters for the council are located.
The plaintiffs include the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the River, Center for Food Safety, Sierra Club California, Planning and Conservation League and Restore the Delta.
The suit contends that the CDSC violated the Delta Reform Act and CEQA by amending its Delta Plan to give the 35-mile single tunnel or double 35-mile tunnels of the proposed Delta WaterFix priority over restoring the Delta.
The Cal WaterFix, the successor to the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, plans to build a bypass under the Delta for 35 miles, using one or two gigantic tunnels. The bypass would take fresh, low-saline water from the Sacramento River and put it into a facility in the south Delta. From there, the water would go into the canals now used to send water to the Central Valley and Southern California, as well as Zone 7 Water Agency and two other State Water Contractors in Fremont and San Jose.
Conservationists have objected for years to the proposed water diversion, arguing that the deprivation of fresh water flow from Lake Oroville will lead to more salt water invasion in dry years from the Carquinez Strait and Sacramento River, which would harm plant and fish life.
Surveys of the Delta have shown a steeply declining population of the delta smelt and longfin smelt. Other fish, such as salmon, also are adversely affect, claim conservationists.
The California WaterFix apparently is underway, with enough State Water Contractors committed to cover more than $11 billion of its projected $17 billion cost. The Metropolitan Water District (MWD) comprised of many water districts in the Los Angeles and San Diego region, has contributed more than $11 billion.
Zone 7 Water Agency has a stake in the California WaterFix. The agency’s board voted 5-2 last September to support the project, becoming the first state water agency to do so. Since then, several other agencies, including the MWD and Santa Clara Valley Water District have joined.
A Delta-based, but statewide membership opponent of the WaterFix, Restore the Delta, has told news media that MWD will vote again July 10 on its earlier decision on April 10 to proceed with the WaterFix funding.
Accusations were made by sources to an on-line San Diego news site that various directors affiliated with MWD had closed-door discussions concerning the California WaterFix with the Department of Water Resources. The claim was that this violated the Brown Act, which prohibits conversations involving a majority of board members about issues. The idea is to confine discussion to the public meeting where the decision is made
MWD denies that it violated the Brown Act. A spokesperson told The Independent, “While some members of the board engaged in private communications, and stated their own perspectives to other members of the board before April 10,” directors also made similar comments publicly at meetings and in resolutions, which is not a violation of the Brown Act
As a reassurance to the public, MWD will conduct another vote on July 10, said the spokesperson.
The environmentalists’ lawsuit does not try to block the Cal WaterFix. It attacks what the environmental groups in effect see MWD as an enabler of moving the California WaterFix forward
Plaintiffs’ attorney Bob Wright said that the CDSC has “done everything possible to aid and abet the Delta’s destruction. They have done so by amending the Delta Plan so it is focused on taking more water away from the Delta, instead of increasing freshwater flows through the Delta that would finally begin Delta restoration.”
“This is a terrible missed opportunity for the Delta to get the protective long-term management plan the Council was supposed to develop.”
The CDSC was begun in 2010 based on state legislation. Its mission is to oversee an ecological Delta Plan and make sure that relevant agencies are adhering to the plan.
The Zone 7 directors, who voted for the WaterFix commitment, said it is crucial for the WaterFix to move forward in order to achieve better water reliability for the Valley. The two who voted against it, Angela Ramirez Holmes, and the late Jim McGrail, said more discussion and public spotlight was needed, especially the cost.
Since then, the June 5 election brought two new directors on board — Dennis Gambs and Olivia Sanwong. Gambs said earlier this week that he has opposed it, because it has not had enough public discussion. Sanwong also said that she is opposed, because she feels the costs have not been gone over thoroughly, and there has not been enough public comment.
In voting for it last September, the board also committed $250,000 as its share of establishing a Joint Powers Agreement (JPA) between the Department of Water Resources (DWR), which is responsible for the project as part of the State Water Plan, and the State Water Contractors members that have committed to the project.
The JPA chose Zone 7 director Sarah Palmer as a member. Retired Zone 7 General Manager Jill Duerig became interim director of the JPA.
The JPA was established for design and construction of the project. The state contractors want to have an equal partnership with DWR in bringing the project in on time and on budget, said Palmer.