Why MWD and Other Water Agencies Oppose SB 1

As today’s Los Angeles Times reports, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) and other water districts that obtain water from the State Water Project and federal Central Valley Project have been heavily lobbying against SB 1 in California (the Trump Defense bill). These water districts are particularly focused on amendments that would: (1) eliminate a provision requiring that the Central Valley Project comply with the California Endangered Species Act, consistent with section 8 of the Reclamation Act of 1902 (which requires that the feds comply with state laws regarding the control and use of water resources); and (2) further weakening provisions of SB 1 regarding protections under the Endangered Species Act. 

If you like Trump’s rollbacks of environmental protections, you’ll love the water districts’ proposed amendments to "fix" SB 1.

There’s a simple reason why these water districts want to neuter SB 1, as the head of the State Water Contractors explained a few months ago: 

During her General Manager’s report, Jennifer Pierre urged the Contractors to be very vocal in their opposition to Senate Bill No. 1, which is a State bill that would effectively nullify the loosening of regulations by the Trump administration, including application of the Federal Endangered Species Act and the preparation of biological opinions.

(See page 20 of this document, emphasis added.)

MWD, Westlands, the State Water Contractors, and other water districts are supporting the Trump Administration’s efforts to weaken existing protections for salmon, Delta Smelt, and other endangered species in California’s Bay-Delta watershed. They claim that the Trump Administration is not weakening protections and is just updating the science—if you believe that, I have a hurricane map with a sharpie to sell you.

The Trump Administration’s proposal has been repeatedly criticized by independent scientific peer reviews, which have found that the feds failed to use the best available science and that this proposal would likely cause additional harm to Delta Smelt and endangered salmon runs. As the Los Angeles Times previously reported, when the National Marine Fisheries Service concluded that this proposal would jeopardize the continued existence of winter-run Chinook salmon and other endangered and threatened species, the Trump Administration tried to bury this biological opinion and replace the scientists who wrote it.  

These proposals are likely to drive salmon and other native species extinct—and they are a huge threat to the thousands of fishing jobs that depend on healthy salmon run. But water districts support Trump’s proposal because it would significantly increase water diversions from the Delta, as the President promised his supporters last year.  

SB 1 provides that if the Fish and Game Commission lists species under the California Endangered Species Act, the Commission or Department shall temporarily adopt existing protections for those species, unless they determine that these protections are inconsistent with the requirements of CESA (including the requirement to use the best available science). SB 1 requires that the Commission and Department use the best available science to ensure interim protections will prevent the extinction of these species.

SB 1 also would require the Central Valley Project comply with the California Endangered Species Act, like the State Water project already is required to do. This is necessary to protect salmon and these rivers, as my colleague explained recently, and ensures that CVP and SWP contractors have to share in any water supply impacts. Without this provision, cities in Southern California would likely get stuck bearing the brunt of the Trump Administration’s rollbacks in the Delta, as the State Water Project would have to pump less water. SB 1 helps ensure that all water users have to play by the same roles and share in the same responsibilities to protect, restore and manage the Bay-Delta and its salmon runs. Indeed, staff from MWD have admitted that it would not be feasible and “would cause havoc” if the State Water Project and Central Valley Project had to operate to meet different rules, yet they oppose having the CVP have to play by the same rules as the SWP and every other water district in California. That doesn’t make any sense, unless they are betting that they can pressure Gov. Newsom to direct the State Water Project to operate to the Trump Administration’s rules, despite the scientific evidence that Trump’s proposal will help drive salmon and other species extinct?

By opposing this provisions of SB 1, these water districts apparently want California to voluntarily surrender to Trump the State's authority over the management, control, and use of water from Central Valley Project facilities like Shasta Dam, the Delta Cross-Channel Gates, Folsom Reservoir, New Melones Reservoir, and the massive CVP pumping plant in the Delta. That'd be a disaster for salmon, fishing jobs, and other water users.

About the Authors

Doug Obegi

Director, California River Restoration, Water Division, Nature Program

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