Landmark Lawsuit Settlement Between CSPA and State Water Board to Protect Public Trust Fisheries

On 17 July 2020, shortly before trial, CSPA and its partners, California Water Impact Network and AquAlliance, settled a contentious 2015 lawsuit against the State Water Resources Control Board (State Board).  The lawsuit alleged that the State Board had embraced a “pattern and practice” that failed: to comply with the Public Trust Doctrine; implement Sacramento River temperature management requirements; ensure that fish below dams be maintained in “good condition” and maintain minimum Clean Water Act standards in the Delta.  The settlement agreement will greatly increase protection for seriously degraded fisheries by requiring the State Board to follow transparent procedures and to make specific findings in updated Bay-Delta water quality/flow standards and Sacramento River temperature criteria.

Central Valley pelagic and salmonid fisheries have experienced precipitous decline.  The Public Trust Doctrine establishes powerful public property rights in natural resources.  The settlement requires the State Board to conduct a full transparent evaluation of the specific Public Trust factors the State Board will consider and to make specific findings that new Bay-Delta Plan requirements will protect fish and wildlife.

Excessive temperatures have decimated Sacramento River salmonid fisheries.  The settlement agreement requires the State Board to conduct a transparent Sacramento River Temperature Management process that addresses all controllable factors, including deliveries, and ensures adequate staffing, modeling and public review.

Fisheries below rim dams have long suffered from inadequate flow.  Fish and Game Code Section 5937, which requires dam operators to release sufficient flow to keep “fish in good condition,” has long been ignored.  The settlement agreement requires the State Board to specifically evaluate whether Bay-Delta updates are consistent with Section 5937.

Fish and Wildlife have disproportionately suffered during droughts as the State Board has temporarily relaxed water quality standards.  The settlement agreement requires the State Board to conduct a transparent Public Trust analysis for Temporary Urgency Change Petitions.

Jason Flanders and the Aqua Terra Aeris Law Group represented CSPA et al. in this matter.

Settlement Agreement  Press Release  Lawsuit


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