Watershed protection

AquAlliance joins new lawsuit to stop diversion

Water warriors:
Visit www.aqualliance.net for more info about the efforts to protect local water resources.

The water-protection group AquAlliance continues to try to stop southerly transfers of North State water. This week the organization announced it is part of a major lawsuit—along with the California Impact Network and the California Sportsfishing Protection Alliance—to defend Northern California’s watershed.

In July, the trio of agencies filed a suit in state court against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation over the proposed transfer of 395,000 acre-feet of North State water to buyers south of the Bay Area in order to replace water sold to growers in the San Joaquin Valley.

The latest suit, filed in Sacramento County Superior Court, charges that the Department of Water Resources and the state Water Resources Control Board are not protecting fishery resources and are “wastefully and unreasonably” diverting and using water from the Delta while failing to comply with the state’s water-quality laws.

Quincy attorney Michael Jackson, who is representing the plaintiffs, says history is on their side.

“The voters of California passed a constitutional amendment in 1928 to ban wasteful water use and harmful diversions from streams,” Jackson said in a press release issued by AquAlliance.

In a brief interview on Tuesday (Sept. 7), Jackson said the suit is also based in part on the 1983 Mono Lake decision in which the California Supreme Court ruled that the state must protect the ecological resources of Mono Lake. The tributaries of that lake, which sits between Yosemite Park and the Nevada border, were diverted to Los Angeles beginning in 1941. By the 1960s, the lake’s size was cut in half and its salinity level had doubled.

Barbara Vlamis, executive director of Chico-based AquAlliance, says the Mono Lake decision is at the core of the suit and defines the responsibilities of the water control board and the DWR.

“This is the Delta watershed’s version of the Mono Lake case of the 1970s and 1980s,” said Vlamis. “These two state agencies charged with protecting California’s public trust resources must be forced to comply with the law.”

Back in February, the alliance was part of a federal suit filed by the Tehama-Colusa Canal Authority and based on a 77-year-old state law that says water shall not be shipped from its area of origin unless and until the local water contractors’ needs have been satisfied. Vlamis said the agencies are still waiting for a federal judge to pick up that case.