Federal Judge Temporarily Blocks Reclamation’s Increased Water Exports Plan

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SACRAMENTO – A federal court on Monday, May 11, granted a preliminary injunction in two lawsuits — one filed by the state and the other by fishing and conservation groups — challenging the Trump Administration’s expansion of water export operations in the Central Valley.

The order by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California blocks the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation until May 31 from increasing the amount of water it pumps from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta through the federal Central Valley Project. The lawsuits argued that increased water exports would cause “imminent and irreparable harm” to salmon, steelhead and other species protected under the state and federal Endangered Species Acts.

United States District Judge Dale A. Drozd (DAD) ruled”…the harms are real, ongoing and are likely to have enough of a population level impact to warrant an injunction.”

“We applaud the court for hitting pause on the Trump Administration’s reckless attempt to expand water export operations at the expense of California’s wildlife and habitats,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Today’s victory is critical, but the fight is not over. We have the facts, science, and the law behind us, and we look forward to making our case in court.”

Attorney General Becerra, the California Natural Resources Agency, and the California Environmental Protection Agency filed the lawsuit by the state. The Golden Gate Salmon Association, Defenders of Wildlife, the Natural Resources Defense Council, The Bay Institute, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and Institute for Fisheries Research filed the other lawsuit. Legal representation is being provided pro bono by Altshuler Berzon LLP.

In a statement, Mike Conroy, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA), said, “This is a big victory for west coast salmon fishing families and the communities which are dependent upon healthy salmon stocks throughout the State.”

“This ruling comes at a critical time. ESA listed fish as well as the salmon that California’s commercial fishermen depend on for their livelihoods are migrating through the Delta right now. Without an injunction, the federal Bureau of Reclamation would have sucked an unacceptably high number of fish into the South Delta to meet their demise. Judge Drozd’s ruling tells me that Central Valley Project operations will not be re-tooled to benefit corporate agriculture over salmon fisheries and the aquatic environment. The first domino has fallen,” he concluded.

Conroy noted that PCFFA and allied organizations also asked the court to restrict the Bureau of Reclamation, the agency doing the illegal diversions, from releasing too much cold water from Lake Shasta this spring because it will be needed later in the year to help salmon successfully spawn.   The court said it would decide this issue later.

“This is a major victory for salmon fishing families, California’s environment, and the coastal and inland communities that depend on salmon to survive,” said John McManus, president of the Golden State Salmon Association. “The Trump administration is trying to drain Northern California salmon rivers and the Delta in violation of the law, at great cost to California’s salmon runs, and our court case is putting a brake on those efforts.”

“We have a dagger pointed at our heart later this year as salmon return to the Central Valley to spawn.  They are facing rivers too hot to successfully spawn in so we’re hopeful of a positive ruling,” said GSSA Treasurer David Zeff.

Regina Chichizola, co-director of Save California Salmon, also praised the ruling, saying the injunction is “good news.”

“The Trump water plan is stopped for now while the lawsuits proceed,” said Chichizola. “This is a much needed reprise for the salmon. However, the water brokers, and desert mega-farms are really putting the pressure on Newsom to change course, and suspend environmental laws during the pandemic. It is important that Newsom knows how essential the salmon are to Californians.”

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta, said, “We are grateful to Attorney General Becerra’s office and our friends at NRDC for this temporary protection of California’s vanishing salmon run. While this course of litigation is on the right track, it is still in process. Despite claims by industrial agricultural growers and the Trump Administration that environmental flows are ‘wasted water,’ in federal court, science, facts, and rational truth still matter for the health of the San Francisco Bay-Delta.”

On February 20, 2020, Attorney General Becerra, the California Natural Resources Agency, and the California Environmental Protection Agency, filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s decision to adopt “scientifically deficient biological opinions that enable additional water exports from the San Joaquin Delta without providing adequate safeguards for endangered species,” according to a statement from Becerra’s Office.

On April 21, 2020, Attorney General Becerra amended the complaint and filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, arguing that export operations “would cause imminent and irreparable harm to species protected under the California Endangered Species Act and the federal Endangered Species Act.”

A copy of the decision is available here.

Map of the Westlands Water District