[env-trinity] Groups File Lawsuit to Block Backroom Water Deal

Dan Bacher danielbacher at fishsniffer.com
Thu Jun 3 16:37:57 PDT 2010


Byron

Here's my alternet.org piece on the lawsuit.

Photo of the State Water Project's California Aqueduct courtesy of  
http://www.aquafornia.com.




california_aqueduct__aqua...

Groups File Lawsuit to Block Backroom Water Deal

by Dan Bacher

Fishing and conservation groups today filed a lawsuit seeking to  
block a secret backroom deal - known as the "Monterey Amendments" -  
signed by five water contractors along with the Department of Water  
Resources to undo water contracts underlying voter approved bonds  
four decades earlier.

This is an historic lawsuit that has the potential to change to way  
State Water Project water is allocated. Absent court action, contract  
changes that largely benefit southern San Joaquin Valley corporate  
irrigators at the expense of urban ratepayers will "trade away  
ratepayer funded projects and allow massive diversions of water from  
the Delta charging only pumping costs," according to a news release  
from the groups.

The backroom deal was "essentially Chinatown on steroids," said Bill  
Jennings, chairman of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance  
in Stockton.

“This was a poorly negotiated backdoor deal that put the wealthy  
growers of subsidized crops ahead of fisheries and the need for a  
sustainable and reliable supply of clean drinking water for  
California’s cities,” stated Jennings. “The Metropolitan Water  
District gambled it could raid the Delta for ‘surplus’ water. It  
not only lost that bet, but the Monterey Plus Amendments triggered  
the collapse of Delta ecosystems and our once-great salmon fisheries.”

The “Monterey Amendments," signed secretly in 1995 without any  
public input, were successfully challenged in court. The courts ruled  
the contract changes, deeding of portions of the State Water Project  
known as the Kern Water Bank, and removal of protections for southern  
California ratepayers would not be valid until a new analysis of the  
impacts had public review and was certified as complete.

“These contract changes break promises made to bond holders and  
ratepayers,” said Carolee Krieger, President and Executive Director  
of the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN). “These changes undo  
decades of urban ratepayer protections for the benefit of a few  
agribusiness corporations and real estate developments at the expense  
of ratepayers and bondholders.”

C-WIN, the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, the Center  
for Biological Diversity, and the Central Delta Water Agency and the  
South Delta Water Agency, agencies that deliver water to Delta-area  
farmers, filed the suit in Sacramento Superior Court. The suit  
challenges the legality of the following:

• Institutionalizing the concept of “paper water” – water  
promised by contract that can never realistically be delivered.

• Eliminating the “urban preference,” which prioritized water  
deliveries to municipal customers during drought. This change  
resulted in water shortages and higher utility rates for southern  
California ratepayers.

• Increasing water exports from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta,  
thus worsening water quality

• Illegally transferring state property known as the Kern Water Bank  
to private entities and undermining the California Water Code by  
masking the purpose and place of water.

The lawsuit seeks to "reinstate the urban water preference during  
drought in State Water Project contracts, reduce the pumping of Delta  
water that has resulted in the collapse of fisheries, and return the  
Kern Water Bank to public ownership," the groups said.

Defendants in the lawsuit include the Kern County Water Agency, Kern  
County Water Bank Authority, Paramont Farming Company, Roll  
International Corporation, Tejon Ranch Company, Westside Mutual Water  
Company, Alameda County Water District, the Metropolitan Water  
District of Southern California and a host of other water contractors.

The Kern Water Bank, owned by the California Department of Water  
Resources from 1988 to 1995, is now in the hands of private Kern  
County interests. Forty-eight percent of the bank is owned by  
Westside Mutual Water Company, a private water company controlled by  
Beverly Hills billionaire Stewart Resnick.

Resnick, the owner of the 115,000 acre Paramount Farms, is the  
largest tree fruit grower in the world and contributes heavily to the  
campaigns of Senator Dianne Feinstein, Senate President Pro Tem  
Darrell Steinberg and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger  
(blogs.alternet.org/danbacher/tag/stewart-resnick).

“The State Water Project and the Kern Water Bank were developed by  
the state, at ratepayer expense, to benefit all of California—our  
cities, our farms, and our fish,” said Adam Keats, lead attorney  
with the Center for Biological Diversity. “But with the Monterey  
Plus Amendments it has been hijacked by private interests who are  
using it for their own ends, including stockpiling water to enable  
destructive speculative development."

"Meanwhile the state’s entire water system gets closer and closer to  
collapse and multiple fish species—salmon, Delta smelt, even  
Sacramento splittail—are brought closer to the brink of extinction  
so that subsidized growers can make profits off of water sales and  
new sprawl development can be built in the last of our wild places,"  
Keats stated.

The same corporate agribusiness interests and southern California  
water agencies that signed the backdoor deal are campaigning for the  
peripheral canal, a $23 billion to $53.8 billion government  
boondoggle that is likely to result in the extinction of Sacramento  
River chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, green sturgeon, Delta  
smelt and other fish species. The peripheral canal, also backed by  
corporate environmental NGOs led by the Nature Conservancy, is also  
likely to lead to the extinction of southern resident killer whales  
(orcas) that depend on healthy stocks of Sacramento River salmon to  
survive.

I applaud CWIN, CSPA and the Center for Biological Diversity for  
launching this lawsuit. The Monterey Amendments - and the water  
privatization and environmental destruction they have left in their  
wake - must be overturned. Everybody who cares about restoring our  
imperiled salmon and other fish populations and stopping water  
privatization and the theft of our public trust resources should  
support this lawsuit!

For more information, go to http://www.c-win.org, http:// 
www.calsport.org and http://www.BiologicalDiversity.org.
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