Agriculture

After rolling out $19bil in cuts, Calif. seeks funds for Trump water lawsuit

On the same day Gov. Gavin Newsom announced $19 billion in budget cuts to his 2020-2021 budget, two of California’s environmental protection agencies filed a request to fund a lawsuit against the Federal government over its boost in water supplies sent to the San Joaquin Valley.

The request, made by the California Natural Resources Agency and California Environmental Protection Agency, would provide an additional $1.03 million to fund a pending lawsuit against the U.S. Departments of Interior and Commerce over new environmental rules governing the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

The suit was filed two days after the Trump administration formally codified new environmental rules – known as biological opinions – that sought to create greater flexibility to pump water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California via the Central Valley Project.

The two state environmental agencies filed a budget change proposal on Thursday, the same day Newsom released his vastly pared back May budget revise, requesting the seven-figure sum for litigation costs surrounding the case.

“[We] estimate the litigation will cost $515,000 for each of the client agencies, exclusive of appeals, for a total of $1,030,000,” the budget request form reads.

The figure is derived from the cost of two Deputy Attorney Generals – billing 3,445 hours at a billable rate of $220 per hour each – and two California Department of Justice paralegals billing at 680 hours at a rate of $205 per hour each.

The two agencies specified that their justification for the one-time appropriation of more than $1 million in funds for litigation came because they did not anticipate litigating the biological opinions.

“The need for litigation was not anticipated,” the request reads. “The federal government’s commitment to a divergent approach only became certain very recently.”

Federal officials have long maintained that representatives from the California Department of Water Resources and local water agencies were intimately involved in the process of developing the biological opinions.

Just before the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation adopted the Central Valley Project’s biological opinions in February, U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, speaking at a water forum at the International Agri-Center in Tulare, remarked that there was significant collaboration with state officials.

“We will be utilizing the best science that was developed by [State of California] folks and our folks,” Bernhardt said at the time. “And we will be able – legally – to be much more efficient in these operations.”

Since then, Interior released a list of more than 100 meetings related to Delta management for which state water agencies were invited to attend.

“In the middle of a pandemic, we are going to do everything we can to deliver water to Americans.” an Interior spokesman told The Sun.

Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition, said the move “should anger all Californians.”

“All Californians are reeling personally and financially from the COVID-19 pandemic making this the worst possible time to waste precious dollars on a lawsuit,” Wade said.

“The Newsom Administration should go back to the negotiating table, utilize the science-based solutions that exist and spend that $1 million on essential services.”

Alex Tavlian
Alex Tavlian is the Executive Editor of The San Joaquin Valley Sun and Executive Director of Valley Future Foundation. You can reach Alex at [email protected]