The San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority has filed suit in federal court over the issuance of a biological opinion by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The lawsuit contends that the federal agency failed to conduct required environmental review and that it used “pseudo science” to develop measures meant to protect fish.
“Federal laws governing environmental review apply to everyone,” said Dan Nelson, executive director of the San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority. “The National Marine Fisheries Service needs to follow the rules like everyone else when they make decisions that have such enormous impacts.”
In addition to demanding that NMFS publish an Environmental Impact Statement, the suit also claims that there was inadequate public review of the science the agency used to support its decision.
“The public has a right to know how agencies like NMFS makes decisions and that was completely inadequate in this instance,” said Nelson. “Decisions that affect the water supply for 3 million acres of farmland and 25 million people can’t be made in secret, as this one was. The law requires a specific public review process in cases like this and NMFS didn’t do that.”
The biological opinion issued on June 4, makes sweeping changes in how water supplies are managed in California. It will reduce water supplies by limiting the timing and volume of water pumped under contract by the federal Central Valley Project and State Water Project to agricultural and urban water suppliers in central and southern California.
These restrictions come on top of other federally mandated restrictions that have already reduced California’s water supply by as much as 30 percent. The environment, communities and people would all suffer due to these effects.
According to Nelson, the new water supply restrictions would, among other things, add to the state’s already strained water supply because of an ongoing drought, cause significant impacts to other protected species, reduce groundwater banking opportunities and other conjunctive use efforts, affect the ability to adequately deliver water for agricultural purposes in the CVP and SWP service areas and compromise the ability of water users to blend imported water to meet acceptable water quality standards.
“The NMFS biological opinion leading to these additional onerous pumping restrictions clearly fails to explain how its objectives will benefit endangered species and needed habitat,” Nelson added. “The NMFS biological opinion is a shoddy attempt to disregard its impact on humans as well as failing to fully document the impact of its decision on the environment.”