BEC’s misguided lawsuit

It only makes sense to gather sound scientific information about groundwater

We’ve long appreciated the efforts of the Butte Environmental Council to protect this area’s natural resources. No other group has done as much to keep local agencies alert to the environmental consequences of their actions.

But try as we might, we can’t figure out why BEC has sued Butte County over its Tuscan Aquifer Monitoring, Recharge and Data Management Project. We’ve pored over the documents BEC has provided us and talked with its leaders, and we remain convinced that the lawsuit is counterproductive.

The project is a straightforward effort to learn more about the groundwater aquifer beneath Butte County and will have few environmental impacts. It’s one of many similar study projects now under way in the Sacramento Valley, as various water districts and governmental agencies try to learn just how much water the aquifer contains, how it recharges, how pumping affects rivers and streams, and how groundwater can be managed in conjunction with surface water to maximize water availability at a time when demand is increasing and supplies are decreasing.

BEC’s contention is that the study project is part of a larger plan—the Sacramento Valley Integrated Regional Water Management Plan—that Butte County signed onto in order to obtain state funding for its study project and enhancements to the Magalia Reservoir. The SVIRWMP has as part of its purpose, BEC insists, the transfer of water to points south. The environmental group long has sought full environmental review of that plan.

It’s true that there’s tremendous pressure to send more water south, especially as a result of the new Delta Vision plan that calls for increased flows in order to save the endangered Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. That’s all the more reason, however, to use sound science to find out just how much water we have and how we can maximize and stabilize its use.

We’ve seen no evidence that Butte County officials want or are in any way willing to send local water south. Indeed, the county has been working diligently to protect local water. Nor do we see anything in the SVIRWMP that calls for sending water south.

Plus, according to county water officials, any proposal to transfer water south would require full environmental review. BEC’s lawsuit seeking a full EIR now, when all that’s proposed is a scientific study, will only obstruct the process of finding out just how much water we have and how the aquifer works. And if we don’t know that, we can’t protect ourselves from the powerful forces that want our water.

In other respects, BEC is working cooperatively with the county on water issues. But this obstructive lawsuit will cost the county money and injure the good relations that exist. Moreover, as with a similar, earlier suit in Glenn County, BEC will not prevail. For all these reasons, it should withdraw its challenge.