The Trump administration sued California’s State Water Resourced Control Board (SWRCB) in federal court in Sacramento on Thursday, escalating a legal war over the fate of the water in the San Joaquin River valley system.
The San Joaquin River and its tributaries provide crucial water supplies to farming communities in the Central Valley — and also provide the vast majority of the drinking water supply to San Francisco and surrounding areas.
However, environmentalists, fishing interests, and Native American communities have claimed that overuse of the river system’s waters has resulted in a steep decline in native fish populations in the San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta.
Last December, the SWRCB approved a controversial plan that would require the San Joaquin River and its tributaries to maintain an average of 40% of “unimpeded flow,” i.e. the flow that would exist in the river system without human activity, for the late winter and spring months of February through June.
Environmentalists argued the plan does not go far enough, saying 60% of unimpeded flow would have been necessary to make a real difference in boosting fish populations. Farmers countered that other factors are affecting fish populations, including predation by non-native fish species in the Delta.
The board approved the plan despite efforts by then-Governor Jerry Brown and incoming Governor Gavin Newsom to broker voluntary water conservation agreements between the state and the local water districts that would involve fewer restrictions. The Trump administration was also critical of the plan, and Republicans urged the administration to block it.
Once the plan was approved, the various water users — rural and urban — filed dozens of lawsuits. And one of Newsom’s first acts as governor was to replace the SWRCB’s chair, Felicia Marcus, an environmental attorney.
Now the U.S. Department of the Interior has joined the fray. The Sacramento Bee notes: “The lawsuit … says the state water board’s plan would violate California’s own environmental laws, as well as foul up the federal government’s ability to deliver water from New Melones reservoir on the Stanislaus River to member agencies of the Central Valley Project.”
The legal fights are likely to go on for years unless a comprehensive set of voluntary agreements can be reached.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.