On 5 March 2014, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Timothy M. Frawley ruled that the EIR for the operation of the Kern Water Bank, the nation’s largest underground water-banking operation, failed to comply with basic requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act. The court will now begin a proceeding to determine an appropriate remedy.
Nearly four years ago, CSPA, California Water Impact Network, Center For Biological Diversity and South and Central Delta Water Agencies filed a lawsuit against the California Department of Water Resources, the State Water Contractors and Kern County Water Bank over the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) of the Monterey Plus Agreement. The subject EIR was developed following an earlier successful lawsuit that mandated development of new environmental documents.
The Monterey Agreement was fashioned in a series of secret meetings and modified the State Water Project’s water contracts. The Agreement: eliminated the “urban preference,” which prioritized water deliveries to municipalities during drought; eliminated requirements to bring water contracts into balance with reliable project yield; provided for increased delivery of “surplus water,” that resulted in worsening water quality and declining Delta fisheries and illegally transferred state property known as the Kern Water Bank to wealthy private entities, undermining the California Water Code by masking the purpose and place of water use. The Agreement essentially institutionalized the concept of “paper water.”
Judge Frawley ruled in favor of DWR on the remaining issues. While the victory over the Kern Water Bank, which contributed to the decline of Delta fisheries, was important, plaintiffs respectfully disagree with the other aspects of the ruling and are evaluating future steps. We note that the original victory over the deficient EIR was only achieved at the appellate level.