[env-trinity] Judge: Drought water transfers required environmental review

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Thu Mar 18 09:18:47 PDT 2010


I've also attached the C-WIN/CSPA Press Release and the Judge's Order.
Tom Stokely
California Water Impact Network
tstokely at att.net
http://www.c-win.org/

http://www.chicoer.com/news/ci_14696980
Judge: Drought water transfers required environmental review
By HEATHER HACKING - Staff Writer
Posted: 03/18/2010 06:23:06 AM PDT


CHICO -- Water transfers last year under the state Drought Water Bank should have been reviewed under the California Environmental Quality Act, an Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled Monday. 
The Butte Environmental Council sees the legal victory as a way for cumulative impacts of water transfers to be looked at more closely. 

BEC has long argued that water transfers should be looked at as a whole, rather than as isolated deals between water-rights holders and buyers. Another focus by BEC and other groups is the effects of groundwater pumping when surface water is sold. 

The lawsuit against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Department of Water Resources was filed by BEC, the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance and the California Water Impact Network. 

Before the lawsuit, the governor issued an emergency drought proclamation in February 2009 to move ahead with Drought Water Bank water transfers without CEQA review, a press release from BEC stated. 

BEC hired attorneys Lippe, Gaffney and Wagner to challenge the CEQA exemption, stating the drought was not an emergency situation but rather caused by mismanagement. 

Because the case took time to work its way through the court, water transfers took place before the court decision, said Lynn Barris, BEC board member. 

After the transfers, Barris said, "the other side ... said those transfers had already occurred. They said this point is moot." 

However, with plans for future water transfers, it's important that this legal precedent be set by the court, Barris said, so her group pushed forward. 

BEC put up the money for the winning court battle, and is hoping to recoup those costs. The case may, however, be appealed. 

In the case, Alameda Superior Court Judge Alice Vilardi ruled that the state acted improperly when it did not conduct an environmental review under CEQA. 

"What's important is that this is sending a clear message that they can no longer do these water transfers without going through proper legal channels," said Carolee Krieger, executive director of California Water Impact Network, based in Santa Barbara. 

Using a drought emergency as a reason to not follow CEQA won't work, she continued. 

"We know a third of the years in California are dry or critically dry. This is something they need to plan for," she said. "It's not a sudden emergency." 

"If we don't get a CEQA going, we will never be able to measure the amount of all the different transfers," said Barris. 

Robin Huffman, advocacy director for BEC, said water transfers that include groundwater pumping are a big concern. 

More information is needed to understand these underground aquifers, and decide if transfers will harm the underground water system, she said. 

"By transferring water to ag to the south, they have to show it won't affect water users up here. 

"They need to pass that test before they can sell that water, and it's not an easy test," Huffman said. 

"We expect more dry years. If they declared an emergency every year, that could affect the north state," she said.


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