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S.F. Joins Lawsuit

Jan 10, 2019

San Francisco joins lawsuit challenging State’s process for Bay-Delta Plan

From the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission:

In an effort to preserve options that will provide the best possible outcomes for the environment and the 2.7 million customers who rely on drinking water from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, the City and County of San Francisco today joined a lawsuit against the State’s implementation of the Bay-Delta Plan.

“San Francisco is leading a collaborative effort to protect the environment and plan for our future water supply, and we need the flexibility to continue this important work,” said SFPUC General Manager Harlan L. Kelly, Jr. “This legal action, while unfortunate, is needed to allow stakeholders to continue to work together on real solutions that will benefit both fish and people.”

Last month, the State Water Resources Control Board started the legal clock ticking by voting to approve an to the Bay-Delta Plan, which calls for large increases in water releases on the tributaries of the San Joaquin River above the Bay-Delta. The d plan is part of an effort to restore the ecology of the Bay-Delta system. That includes the Tuolumne River, which provides water via Hetch Hetchy Reservoir to Bay Area customers. The SFPUC has voiced concerns with the plan, as it would dramatically reduce the agency’s water supply, leaving it subject to significant rationing in droughts and potentially unprepared to deal with more extreme weather conditions brought on by climate change.

While the State Water Board approved the Bay-Delta Plan, it specifically acknowledged the progress of SFPUC and its partners for restoration and management plans for the Tuolumne River. The State Water Board has given the SFPUC and its partners until March to further develop these plans for the river. However, the legal window to contest the current version of the plan closes before March, necessitating today’s legal filing.

San Francisco prepared to start restoration efforts on Tuolumne River immediately

As part of a proposed voluntary agreement, the SFPUC and its partners have offered $76 million in funding for habitat restoration projects, such as creating more gravel areas for spawning beds and measures to reduce the effects of predation on young salmon. The SFPUC is currently evaluating which measures can be implemented immediately as a sign of good faith. Along with those measures, the SFPUC and its partners have proposed a schedule of functional water flows to produce positive environmental results for the Tuolumne River.

The SFPUC has consistently stated that these types of voluntary agreements are the best path forward for the Bay-Delta Plan, as the settlements strike the right balance between environmental stewardship and water reliability. By joining the lawsuit filed today by the San Joaquin Tributaries Authority, Turlock Irrigation District, Oakdale Irrigation District and South San Joaquin Irrigation District, the SFPUC can preserve all options moving forward to reach those voluntary agreements.

“This is an unfortunate but necessary step to preserve the rights of the 2.7 million Bay Area customers who rely on the Hetch Hetchy water system,” City Attorney’s Office spokesman John Coté said. “The state water board started the legal clock ticking and forced us to make this move. San Francisco proposed a deal that struck the right balance, but unfortunately the plan the state approved on December 12 would result in severe water rationing in drought years. We’re still optimistic that a compromise can be reached out of court that both enhances the fish population and preserves an adequate drinking water supply for millions of Bay Area residents.”

The SFPUC is taking a measured and responsible approach regarding long-term water management. California recently experienced droughts that extended beyond three years and experts say climate change will continue to impact precipitation. The State now requires water agencies to plan for a minimum 5-year drought. With more than 2.7 million customers relying on the SFPUC for clean, safe drinking water, the agency takes a conservative approach with an 8.5-year drought scenario plan, a necessary precaution in this time of climate change uncertainty.

About the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) is a department of the City and County of San Francisco. It delivers drinking water to 2.7 million people in the San Francisco Bay Area, collects and treats wastewater for the City and County of San Francisco, and generates clean power for municipal buildings, residents, and businesses. The SFPUC’s mission is to provide customers with high quality, efficient and reliable water, power, and sewer services in a manner that values environmental and community interests and sustains the resources entrusted to our care. Learn more at www.sfwater.org.

San Francisco, farmers team up to fight California’s ‘water grab’

From the Sacramento Bee:

“The liberal city of San Francisco and conservative farmers in the San Joaquin Valley don’t have much in common politically. But they do agree on one thing: California regulators are going to take too much of their water and give it to endangered fish.

On Thursday, San Francisco joined a cadre of irrigation districts that pull water from the tributaries that flow into the Lower San Joaquin River in filing a lawsuit against a plan by the State Water Resources Control Board to take billions of gallons of their water. … ”

Read more from the Sacramento Bee here:  San Francisco, farmers team up to fight California’s ‘water grab’
OID, SSJID join in lawsuit filed against state over plan to increase river flows
The Oakdale and South San Joaquin Irrigation Districts today joined with other members of the San Joaquin Tributaries Authority (SJTA) in a lawsuit challenging the state’s right to arbitrarily increase flows in the Stanislaus and two other rivers. The injunction request was filed in Tuolumne County Superior Court against the State Water Resources Control Board over its proposed Bay-Delta Phase 1 unimpaired flow proposal, adopted Dec. 12, 2018. The plaintiffs are OID, SSJID, the Turlock Irrigation District, and the City and County of San Francisco. (To read the lawsuit, please go to http://www.SavetheStan.org) 
The lawsuit contends that the water board’s plan to require 40% in unimpaired flows, with a range of 30% to 50% between February and June, “directly and irreparably” harms the SJTA members. The plan “will cause substantial losses to the surface water supply relied upon by the SJTA member agencies for agricultural production, municipal supply, recreational use, hyower generation, among other things. Implementation will also cause direct impacts to groundwater resources relied upon by the SJTA member agencies.” 
These impacts will devastate local water supplies for ag and urban communities and severely impact the regional economy. “We file suit not because we prefer conflict over collaboration. On the contrary, we continue to encourage and participate in settlement discussions on our rivers, and support science on the Stanislaus. But we also have an indisputable responsibility to reserve our legal rights and protect our ag and urban customers,” said Peter Rietkerk, General Manager of the SSJID. 
The lawsuit claims that “the board’s own analysis estimates the project will impact more than 1 million acres of agricultural land in the San Joaquin Valley, the majority of which, 65% is designated as ‘prime’ or ‘unique farmland,’ or ‘farmland of statewide importance.’ ” “It’s the decimation of a large portion of agriculture in the middle of the nation’s most productive food belt that should concern everyone,” said Steve Knell, General Manager of the OID. “All this loss of productive agriculture to gain 1,103 more salmon a year per the state’s own analysis doesn’t make sense.” 
Among other claims, the lawsuit alleges the water board adopted a wholly different plan than it analyzed, violated state and federal due process laws, and unlawfully segmented the environmental review of the plan by initially requiring higher flows from only three of the lower San Joaquin River tributaries, excluding the upper San Joaquin River and the larger Sacramento River and its tributaries, which provides the majority of the water to the Delta. 
The suit also argues that the water board does not sufficiently describe the legal authority to implement the plan on senior water right holders and on local and federally funded reservoirs. The water board adopted the plan after delaying a Nov. 7, 2018, vote at the urging of then-Gov. Jerry Brown and Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom to provide additional opportunity for voluntary settlements among tributary agencies. 
The lawsuit is the unfortunate culmination of an effort begun five years ago by state agencies in concert with the SJTA at developing voluntary settlement agreements to avoid the draconian flow demands being proposed by the water board in their Phase I document. As a result of a hard deadline set by the water board and a result of a change in state government due to elections, that effort ended in a majority of the basin agencies not able to finish their negotiations, despite being extremely close. 
The OID, SSJID and other members of the SJTA stand ready to return to the table if that door is opened under the new administration, but the lawsuit is a necessary action to preserve the SJTA’s legal rights in court should that not occur. 
About Us: The South San Joaquin Irrigation District was established in 1909 and is located in Manteca. It provides agricultural irrigation water to about 55,000 acres in Escalon, Ripon and Manteca. In 2005, the district expanded into providing domestic water service to ed cities within its territory. The Oakdale Irrigation District was created in 1909 and provides agricultural water to about 62,000 acres in northeastern Stanislaus County and southeastern San Joaquin County. 
OID and SSJID hold senior water rights on the Stanislaus River. For more than 100 years, our agencies have responsibly delivered surface water to farms in San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties, and for SSJID, thousands of homes in San Joaquin County. We are committed to sensible water policies, innovative irrigation techniques, prudent conservation practices, and important investments in biological studies of the river and fish habitat. 
Save the Stan is a public education effort by SSJID and OID to inform Californians about the threat posed by increased flows on the Stanislaus River. For more information, go to www.savethestan.org or our Facebook page.