[env-trinity] Contra Costa Times 6/3/10

Byron Leydecker bwl3 at comcast.net
Mon Jun 7 09:51:52 PDT 2010


Lawsuit seeks return of millions for failed Delta protection plan 

 

Contra Costa Times-6/3/10 

 

By Mike Taugher

 

A coalition of Delta farmers and environmentalists sued Thursday to recoup
millions of dollars in taxpayer money they contend was paid illegally to
Kern County landowners who sold water to a failed Delta environmental
protection program.

 

The lawsuit, the latest salvo in an increasingly chaotic and bitter
statewide fight over Delta water, also seeks to force Kern County landowners
to return a giant underground reservoir to public ownership and to undo a
16-year-old pact between state water officials and their customers. That
agreement, the litigants say, is destroying the Delta ecosystem and
enriching Kern County landowners.

 

Known as the Monterey Agreement, it changed how a sprawling, state-owned
water project delivers Delta water to parts of the Bay Area, Kern County,
Southern California and other parts of the state.

 

The agreement gave Kern County landowners the underground reservoir and more
reliable water supplies while also increasing the amount of water pumped out
of the Delta, the lawsuit contends.

 

"It's like Chinatown, on steroids," said California Sportfishing Protection
Alliance director Bill Jennings, referring to the 1974 Jack Nicholson film
that depicted Los Angeles' infamous raid on Owens Valley water in the early
20th century.

 

A spokesman for the state Department of Water Resources said lawyers there
had not received a copy of the complaint and could not comment on it. The
Kern County Water Agency also declined to comment Thursday and
representatives of Paramount Farms, a private business with a major stake in
the underground water bank, were unavailable.

 

The lawsuit was filed this week in Sacramento Superior Court because the
state Department of Water Resources only recently completed the
environmental approvals needed to complete transfer of the bank and other
elements of the agreement. Despite the lengthy delay in completing the
environmental impact report, the changes have been in effect since 1996.

 

Specifically, the lawsuit seeks to invalidate the environmental report and
return to state ownership the 1 million-acre-foot Kern Water Bank - 10 times
the size of Los Vaqueros Reservoir near Brentwood.

 

It also seeks to undo other changes made at the Monterey meetings, including
one that increased the reliability of Kern County's water deliveries and
another that eliminated a contract provision that would allow the state to
permanently trim contracted water deliveries. Several reservoirs envisioned
when the contracts were written were never built, the litigants said.

 

"We've handed out promises to people that can never be met," Jennings said.
"We're living essentially an illusion."

 

The lawsuit's allegation that Kern County landowners illegally profited from
sales to an environmental water account was based on a Bay Area News Group
investigation last year that showed the bank was used to facilitate the
sales.

 

Landowners and Kern County water agencies were able to sell tens of millions
of dollars worth of water to the Department of Water Resources for more than
they paid the department for the same water.

 

So much water was pumped out of the Delta from 2000 to 2007 that, in most
cases, Kern County water agencies did not have to physically deliver any
water. Instead, they only had to make accounting adjustments and collect the
difference between what they paid, which could be as low as $28 per
acre-foot, and what they sold the water for, which was typically about $200
per acre-foot.

 

Environmentalists blame the increased pumping for the precipitous decline of
Delta fish species that were supposed to be helped. Delta water users
contend the pumps were not to blame.

 

The newspaper investigation found $8.6 million in credits, checks and
refunds that were distributed from the water districts to private
landowners, including more than $3 million each to Paramount Farms, owned by
billionaire Stewart Resnick, and Blackwell Land LLC.

 

The lawsuit seeks return of those sums, but the lead lawyer for the
coalition that filed it said they would seek the return of "every cent" in
profits for water sold through the Kern Water Bank, including sales of water
to developers.

 

"We have this group of fat cats that have been stockpiling water in their
own slush fund that they had no right to possess," said Adam Keats, a senior
attorney in San Francisco for the Center for Biological Diversity.

 

"These guys have been operating as if they own this thing, but the entire
time their ownership was dependent on the (environmental) document."

 

Joining the environmental group in the lawsuit are two Delta farm districts,
the Central Delta Water Agency and the South Delta Water Agency, the
California Sportfishing Protection Alliance and the California Water Impact
Network, and two individuals.

 

 

Byron Leydecker, JcT

Chair, Friends of Trinity River

PO Box 2327

Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327

415 383 4810 land/fax

415 519 4810 mobile

 <mailto:bwl3 at comcast.net> bwl3 at comcast.net

 <mailto:bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org> bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org
(secondary)

 <http://fotr.org/> http://www.fotr.org 

 

 

 

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