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Why is California suing to stop water flowing to its own people?

Before discussing the latest attack on Californians by their own state government, remember these two facts.  

First, since January 1, 2019, eight (8) Delta Smelt and eight (8) Longfin Smelt have been found at the federal pumps in the Delta. From January 1, 2018 to December 31, 2018, four (4) Delta Smelt and zero (0) Longfin Smelt were found at the federal pumps in the Delta.

Second, since October 1, 2018, California has sent around 30 million acre-feet of water to the Pacific Ocean, enough to go from empty to full in Millerton Lake just under sixty (60) times.

Forming perspective using facts is important.

In a world of gathering news and information by clicking through headlines written by either agenda-driven or ignorant writers is increasing the number of misinformed among us. In a rush to be the first with a story and possibly an opinion forming narrative, facts get left behind. 

We have another California vs. Trump lawsuit on the horizon. But not all of California supports the latest legal salvo against Trump.

This one is a little different than the other sixty-plus lawsuits filed on behalf of you, the taxpayer, by Governor Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

A general and quick history of events have led us here and they are important to understand.

Old biological opinions (also known as BiOps) that manage water through the pumps in the Delta were to be updated and were due in 2019.

The process of formally writing these updates began in August 2016 at the request of the United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) and the California Department of Water Resources (DWR). The request was for consultation with National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).

The consultation including new BiOps is for the coordinated long-term operation of the Central Valley Project (CVP) and the State Water Project (SWP).  

This infrastructure is responsible for providing water to over 25 million people and millions of acres of the most productive farmland in the world.

By law, this update process must take place every ten years regardless of the resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

These updates were formed by ten years of information and data.  Ten years of declining fish populations, declining water quality, and declining water availability proved old BiOps to be failures for people and businesses including the agriculture and fishing industries. 

You might remember last year when the State Water Resources Control Board were rallying behind the taking of between 40 and 60 percent unimpaired flows from rivers to send to the ocean. This was part of their Bay Delta Plan update.

A joint letter was sent from then Governor Jerry Brown and newly-elected Governor Newsom to the Board, asking them to consider a different option.

Statewide water users offered part of their water and millions of their dollars to improve fish populations and habitats. These offers are often referred to as “voluntary agreements.”

Sadly, the Board chose to set aside the agreements pressed ahead with the drastic Bay Delta plan. The move led to the ouster of State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus, an architect and ardent supporter of the plan.

In the midst of water politics, California experienced one of the wettest years on record.

This year, while preparing for landmark legislation to start in 2020 said to cause the permanent retirement of 500,000 to 750,000 acres of productive farmland known as the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), the State vs. Fed war raged on.

Californians witnessed a draconian and hypocritical bill navigate its way through the houses of the state Legislature only to – thankfully – be vetoed by Newsom.

The bill, Senate Bill 1, would have mandated water management continue under the same failed, outdated practices of the past decade.

In vetoing the bill, Newsom gave a message of hope that voluntary agreements with water users would advance and succeed.

On October 21, 2019, FWS and NMFS released their biological opinions on USBR’s and DWR’s new proposed coordinated operations of the CVP and SWP. 

Understand all stakeholders, including state and federal, along with state and federal water agencies had a seat at the table that led to the release of new BiOps.

Federal agencies concluded that Reclamation’s proposed operations would not jeopardize threatened or endangered species or adversely modify their critical habitat because of significant investment by partners in science, habitat restoration, conservation facilities including hatcheries, as well as protective provide measures built into both Reclamations and DWR’s proposed operations.

Both the USBR (Federal) and DWR (State) since the release of the BiOps, have worked to prepare and finalize Environmental Impact Reports.

So why the lawsuit? It merely replaces cooperation and coordination with litigation. 

Holding a lawsuit in one hand while the other is asking for cooperation with voluntary agreements is reminiscent of filing more than 60 lawsuits against the Federal government while the other hand is asking for federal aid every time a storm hits or fire starts.

 We now have Governor Newsom, the California Natural Resources Agency, and California Environmental Protection Agency in one group, environmentalists in another, and everyone else in a different group which includes other State agencies such as the DWR and California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). 

Until yesterday, DWR and CDFW, water users in the CVP and SWP, and Federal agencies were part of a new plan going forward in water management in California. Environmentalist groups made up of lawyers instead of scientists don’t agree with any plans from either the state or the Feds.

Water for people just doesn’t seem to be their thing. 

Newsom has now chosen to greatly jeopardize voluntary agreements he once protected by replacing a Water Board Chair, and by vetoing a purely political bill.

He has now removed all professional input into the management of water in California and has once again placed it in the hands of litigators and judges.

But this won’t be like many others. The USBR has vowed to see Newsom in court.

The governor, the Natural Resources Agency, and California EPA now claim the new BiOps do not sufficiently protect fish. Apparently DWR didn’t get the memo.

Their plans in water management mirrored the plans in the BiOps of real-time management instead of useless and damaging calendar-based mandates.

If Governor Newsom is floating the idea of somehow operating the State Water Project independently from the Central Valley Project, he should be aware a Federal official already studied this concept. His name was Ryan Zinke. 

What everyone needs to understand is that Newsom and his allies in Sacramento are not hurting the Federal government or President Trump.  They are hurting Californians. They are not just hurting farmers or fisherman, they are hurting everyone.

You will find in 2022 that you will be expected to use no more than 55 gallons of water per day, per person. By 2030, the number is 50 gallons, in order to integrate efficiency for a changing climate.

The Natural Resources Defense Council thinks this is “a step in the right direction” and the Sierra Club thinks the “rules didn’t go far enough.”

A changing climate that will apparently bring more rain and less snow, while we build zero new water storage.  A changing climate that will permanently fallow hundreds of thousands if not millions of acres of the absolute best farmland in the world and cause massive fires in our forests. All, while we know agriculture and forestry are the best places to sequester carbon. 

So, for now, cooperation and coordination seem to be on hold once again. No matter the consequences to people or industry, the most important thing seems to be the continuation of the war with the current President.

But make no mistake, the war with Trump is a cover much like the use of fish in the Delta. Both are being used to form California into the place they want it to be.

They find your input unnecessary, but you can make it significant. You do that when you vote.

Keep in mind, farmers grow your food, and your state is sending your water to the ocean.

Wayne Western, Jr.
Wayne Western, Jr. the The Sun’s Agriculture Pulse contributor, writing on the San Joaquin Valley’s agricultural community and water issues.