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Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Ass'ns v. United States Department of Interior

ELR Citation: 46 ELR 20064
Nos. 14-15514, (9th Cir., 03/28/2016)

The Ninth Circuit, in an unpublished opinion, affirmed in part and reversed in part a lower court decision dismissing fishermen's NEPA claims against the Bureau of Reclamation in connection with its approval of eight interim two-year contracts for delivery of water from the Central Valley Project to California water districts. In approving the contracts, the Bureau issued an EA and FONSI rather than preparing an EIS. The court agreed with the lower court that the EA's "no action" alternative complied with NEPA even though it assumed continued interim contract renewal. The Central Valley Project Improvement Act requires the preparation of a programmatic EIS (PEIS) before the Bureau can renew an existing long-term water service contract. But the Act also allows the Bureau to renew water service contracts for interim three- or two-year periods prior to the completion of the PEIS. Nor did the EA's statement of purpose and need unreasonably narrow the Bureau's consideration of alternatives. Similarly, the EA's geographic scope was not improperly limited to the delivery areas. But the Bureau’s decision not to give full and meaningful consideration to the alternative of a reduction in maximum interim contract water quantities was an abuse of discretion. The agency did not adequately explain why it eliminated the reduction in water alternative from detailed study. On remand, the Bureau must consider such an alternative in any future EA for an interim contract renewal.