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As California sues over new Central Valley Project water delivery guidelines, farm organizations call for compromise

Tim Hearden, Western Farm Press

February 21, 2020

3 Min Read
Gov. Gavin Newsom
California Gov. Gavin Newsom holds an event with firefighters in 2019.Calif. Office of Emergency Services

Farm groups are urging Gov. Gavin Newsom to work with the federal government on water deliveries even as California followed through Thursday on its threat to sue to nullify biological opinions that could bring increases in surface water for San Joaquin Valley growers.

President Donald Trump's signing of a record of decision that seeks to coordinate the federal and state water projects offers a hopeful sign, said California Farm Bureau Federation President Jamie Johansson.

He said solutions to California water problems will be found in constructive discussions, not in courtrooms.

“We have to get off the merry-go-round of endless litigation,” Johansson said. “No one benefits from that. Fisheries continue to suffer. Productive farmland goes unused. It’s not a sustainable path for anyone. Farm Bureau will continue to advocate for practical, reasonable, cooperative ways to address California’s water supply needs.”

Push for pragmatism

Western Growers president and chief executive officer Dave Puglia called on the Newsom administration to "approach this matter with objectivity and pragmatism," much as the state did in negotiating voluntary settlement agreements in the Central Valley that would commit significant water flows and funding for habitat programs.

Related:Growers see Trump's water delivery order as a promise kept

"That is a hard trail to blaze, but it’s the only true path forward," Puglia said. "Given the inherent linkage between (Sacramento-San Joaquin River) Delta operations under the revised biological opinions and the prospective voluntary settlement agreements, it is even more critical that our elected leaders seek practical and effective outcomes for all interests.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in October issued opinions that will affect water operations in the Delta and were three years in the making, as federal officials sought to update analyses of Delta smelt and other impacted fish that were more than a decade old.

In response, California water regulators in November announced plans to use their own data to operate the State Water Project rather than rely on the new federal opinions. State officials argue the new federal conclusions are not scientifically adequate and fall short of protecting species and the state’s interests.

Lawsuit filed

On Thursday, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed suit in federal court in San Francisco on behalf of state regulatory agencies, claiming the federal opinions “run counter to the scientific evidence that was before the agencies” and failed to analyze the potential harm to the species, according to the Bay City News Service.

Related:Updated opinions on Delta fish could boost CVP flexibility

The lawsuit asks for court orders setting aside the biological opinions and prohibiting the administration from taking any action in reliance on the opinions until a new environmental analysis is completed, the news service reports.

The suit was filed after Trump ceremonially signed the record of decision Wednesday in front of thousands of cheering supporters in Bakersfield, accusing water regulators of flushing too much water into the Pacific Ocean and promising changes that will make the San Joaquin Valley's farmland "green and beautiful."

“President Donald Trump’s decisive action is the result of many years of scientific study and advocacy efforts by many organizations,” said Casey Creamer, president and chief executive officer of California Citrus Mutual. CCM board chairman Matt Fisher appeared with Trump on stage.

Coordination needed

The Farm Bureau's Johansson, who attended the ceremony, said better coordination and improved flexibility of federal and state water project operations would benefit people throughout California.

“Federal and state officials need to be pulling in the same direction to assure the most efficient use of California water for fish and people,” he said. “We hope people at all levels of government can cooperate on plans to enhance the environment, accommodate a growing population and maintain productive farms and ranches.”

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