Fri Feb 28th,  On Environmental Law, by  Alan Bick

California Sues Trump Administration to Save The Endangered Chinook Salmon

Last week, the Trump Administration increased, via a press memo, the amount of water that can be pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Estuary in California. After pumping, this water is to be delivered to the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California for agricultural, municipal, and industrial purposes. How and when water is pumped—and how much of it—from the Delta has been the subject of litigation ever since protections for native species went into effect over a decade ago. Trump’s memorandum memorializes changes to rules governing water pumping and dispenses with certain protections for endangered fish species living and migrating through the Delta.

Two Rivers Run Through It

The federal Central Valley Project (“CVP”) and the State Water Project (“SWP”) are the two largest water projects in California. The federal Bureau of Reclamation (“Reclamation”) operates the CVP which consists of 20 dams and reservoirs that deliver water to 29 of California’s 58 counties.  The amount of water delivered by the CVP is massive – approximately 5.6 million acre-feet of water a year on average to 270 water contractors. 

The California Department of Water Resources (“DWR”) operates the State Water Project which stores water mainly at Oroville Dam and San Luis Reservoir, which it operates jointly with Reclamation.  DWR delivers on average 2.6 million acre-feet of water a year to 29 public water agencies located throughout California.

On October 19, 2018, President Trump issued a memorandum entitled “Presidential Memorandum on Promoting the Reliable Supply and Delivery of Water in the West.”  83 Fed. Reg. 53,961.  The memorandum directed the Secretary of the Interior (i.e. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) and the Secretary of Commerce (i.e., National Marine Fisheries Service) to take steps “to minimize unnecessary regulatory burdens and foster more efficient decision-making so that water projects are better able to meet the demands of their authorized purposes.” Translation: the President asked the water authorities at the Federal level to figure out a way to pump more water out of the Delta and into the Central Valley of California.

Unfortunately, it is a little more complicated than this. There are a few steps involved in getting water pumped out of an estuary where endangered species live. Theoretically, somebody has to determine if the endangered species will be put at risk by altering the environment in which they live. That’s where the US Fish and Wildlife Service (“USFWS”) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) come in.

Read the full memorandum by clicking here.