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San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority v. Jewell

ELR Citation: 44 ELR 20224
Nos. 1:13-CV-01232, (E.D. Cal., 10/01/2014) (O'Neill, J.)

A district court granted summary judgment in favor of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on all but one claim in a lawsuit filed against the agency challenging its decision in 2013 to make certain "flow augmentation releases" (FARs) of water from a dam located in the Trinity River Division of the Central Valley Project to reduce fish die-off in the lower Klamath River. Water districts filed suit alleging the agency violated the Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA), NEPA, and the ESA. They claimed that Reclamation violated CVPIA §3406(b)(23) because the total releases for fisheries purposes in 2013 exceeded the volume limit set in the Trinity River Record of Decision (TRROD). But because the scope of CVPIA §3406(b)(23) is limited to the Trinity River Basin, and the associated TRROD is lawfully limited in scope to the Trinity River mainstem, neither CVPIA §3406(b)(23) nor the TRROD preclude Reclamation from implementing the 2013 FARs, which were designed to address issues that fall outside the scope of the TRROD’s geographical reach—the lower Klamath River. The court, therefore, granted summary judgment in favor of Reclamation on this issue. However, the 1955 Trinity River Division Central Valley Project Act, which Reclamation pointed to as its authority for implementing the FARs, is limited in scope to the Trinity River basin. Reclamation therefore lacked authority under the 1955 Act to implement FARs to benefit fish in the lower Klamath, and the court granted summary judgment to the water districts on this distinct issue. The water districts also alleged that Reclamation violated CVPIA §3411(A) because the 2013 FARs are a use of water outside the state permitted place of use. But because no change of place of use permit was required by state law prior to Reclamation’s implementation of the FARs, Reclamation did not violate §3411(a). In addition, the districts lacked standing to pursue their ESA §7 claim because their interest in this case is in ensuring the continued delivery of water to their members, not in species protection. And their NEPA claim was moot. The court will address remedies at a later date.