CSPA Sues USBR Over Water Transfers

On 11 June 2014, CSPA and AquAlliance filed a lawsuit in federal District Court against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) over its inadequate disclosure, avoidance of impacts, and mitigation of major water transfers from the Sacramento Valley through the Delta to the San Joaquin Valley. USBR proposes to transfer up to 175,226 acre-feet (AF) of Central Valley Project surface water to San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority As much as 116,383 AF of that water may be in the form of groundwater substitution. Coinciding with the USBR transfer, the State Water Project and private parties are proposing to transfer another possible 305,907 AF or more of water.  The lawsuit asks the court to declare that USBR’s Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact was arbitrary and capricious, ignored relevant new information and failed to meet minimum requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act.

Exporting massive quantities of water during periods of negligible Delta outflow draws the low salinity zone into the central Delta and exposes endangered delta smelt to lethal temperatures and entrainment in Delta pumps. This is especially critical as Delta flow and water quality standards have been weakened six times in less than 90 days and plaintiffs have discovered that state and federal agencies are grossly overestimating actual Delta outflows. USBR refused to consider the new information and revise the EA and FONSI.

CSPA Executive Director Bill Jennings observed, “Last year, excessive water exports and low outflow drew delta smelt from Suisun Bay into the central Delta where they were butchered by lethal water temperatures. This year, with population levels hovering at historic lows: excessive transfers and exports, relaxed flow standards, high temperatures and negligible outflows may catapult the species into the abyss of extinction. On top of these threats, we were astonished to discover that the estimates of Delta outflow that state and federal agencies have reported and regulators have relied upon for years are wrong and significantly overestimate outflow in low flow conditions. Indeed, last month there was actually a minus 45 cfs net outflow to the Bay while DWR and USBR were reporting a plus 3805 cfs.”

The Net Delta Outflow Index (NDOI) used to assess compliance with required flow standards is based upon a formula of both actual and estimated data. Examination of tidally filtered outflow data from the U.S. Geological Survey’s state-of-the-art UVM flow meters on the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers and Three-mile and Dutch Sloughs reveals that actual Net Delta Outflow (NDO) in low flow conditions are considerably lower. These USGS sites capture all outflows from the Delta to the Bay. Incredibly, the state’s own evaluation of NDO with the NDOI, as reported on DWR’s Dayflow website and the Dayflow 2013 Comments, reveals that the NDOI significantly overestimates outflow in drier periods.

Lawsuit   The Case of the Missing Delta Outflow   Press Release    The 2013 Massacre of Delta Smelt

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