Court Derails Trump Administration’s Efforts to Take More Water from Bay-Delta
SACRAMENTO – The Federal Court for the Eastern District of California granted in part a preliminary injunction yesterday against the Trump Administration’s efforts to increase water diversions from California’s Bay-Delta, which threaten endangered species including winter-run Chinook salmon, Delta Smelt, and other native fish. Fishing and environmental groups including NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) filed the motion for a preliminary injunction to force the Trump Administration to comply with the requirements of the 2008/2009 biological opinions, which better protect these imperiled species. The State of California likewise filed a motion for preliminary injunction to limit Delta pumping. The Court granted both motions with respect to Delta pumping in May.
The following is a statement from Doug Obegi, Senior Attorney at NRDC.
“The court’s decision to limit pumping for the rest of the month is a much-needed temporary reprieve for salmon and other endangered and threatened species in the Bay-Delta. We will continue to fight the Trump Administration’s illegal actions in the Bay-Delta until they stop their blatant disregard for the law and science that should be guiding policy on this front.”
The Court’s ruling granted the motion with respect to requiring the Central Valley Project (CVP) pumping in May to meet the requirements of the 2009 NMFS biological opinion, and found that the motion was moot with respect to instream flows on the Stanislaus River (finding that flows would be the same as under the 2009 NMFS biological opinion), and held over the remaining aspects of the motion for a subsequent ruling. The Court also found that part of the coalition’s motion for preliminary injunction was moot based on the federal government’s statement that it would meet the requested flows and held over remaining aspects of the coalition’s motion for a subsequent ruling.
In December 2019, NRDC and a coalition of fishing and conservation groups filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s biological opinions (permits under the Endangered Species Act) for the operations of the CVP and State Water Project in California. These biological opinions fail to use the best available science and significantly weaken existing protections for salmon and other endangered fish species in California’s Bay-Delta watershed, in order to increase water diversions from the imperiled estuary and maximize water deliveries to agribusinesses and other water contractors served by the federal CVP and State Water Project.
In April of 2020, the California Attorney General, representing Governor Newsom and the State of California, filed a motion in federal court for a preliminary injunction to stop the implementation of the Trump Administration’s biological opinions through the month of May to the requirements under the 2009 National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) biological opinion. The State also amended its complaint alleging the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s operations of the CVP violated the federal and state Endangered Species Act. These court filings seek to require the CVP to comply with protections for salmon and other native fish species required under State law.
The Trump Administration’s 2019 biological opinions are the end result of several years of political interference by a federal administration intent on dismantling the protections required by federal law and the existing biological opinions. This effort was led by Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, a former lobbyist and counsel for the Westlands Water District, the largest water district in the Central Valley and a significant beneficiary of the weakened biological opinions.
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The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City; Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Chicago; Bozeman, Montana; and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC