EPA Bill Rider Would Bar Lawsuits Against WaterFix

Article from The Independant.


Posted: Thursday, June 28, 2018 12:00 am
By Ron McNicoll

A rider attached to the federal Enviromental Protection Agency (EPA) funding bill would prohibit any federal or state lawsuits against the final environmental impact report (EIR) for the California WaterFix.

Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris have come out against the bill.

The WaterFix consists of a $17 billion project proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown to build one or two tunnels from the Sacramento River to the State Water Project (SWP) intakes for water that travel from the Delta southward.

The water goes to Central and Southern California via canal. However, some of it goes to the South Bay Aqueduct (SBA), which sends the water to Zone 7 Water Agency, the Valley’s water wholesaler.

Zone 7 gets 80% of its water from the SBA. Zone 7 endorsed the Water Fix last year on a 5-2 vote, the first agency to back it. The Zone 7 contribution is expected to be about 1% of the cost, all of it from water rate increases.

The EPA bill’s rider states, “Any resulting agency decision, record of decision, or similar determination shall hereafter not be subject to judicial review under any federal or state law.”

The 31-word rider was written by Congressman Ken Calvert of Corona, in Riverside County, located east of Los Angeles.

Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris have come out against the bill. Feinstein said in a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee leaders in both parties that she was “in strong opposition” to the rider.

“A project as divisive and complex as the $17 billion WaterFix should only proceed subject to the full scrutiny of our state and federal laws, and our established institutions, including review by independent judges,” states Feinstein.

“Water is the lifeblood of California, and for a project that will determine our water future, we must not cast aside all the rules at the last minute to the advantage of some, and to the detriment of others,” Feinstein writes in her letter.

Harris has announced her opposition to the rider through her press secretary, said Bob Wright, attorney for Friends of the River, one of the environmental groups trying to remove the rider.

Congressman Eric Swalwell, who represents the Valley, opposes the rider. Swalwell responded to an e-mail from a reporter by saying, “I’m aware of the Calvert rider to the EPA funding bill. I think it’s a bad idea. Congress shouldn’t be using appropriations bills to bar access to courts.”

Attorney Wright was one of 10 signers of a letter to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. The letter asks Becerra to do all that he can to defeat the rider.

Organizations among the letter’s signers are Friends of the River, Restore the Delta, Sierra Club California, the Center for Biological Diversity, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. and the Environmental Water Caucus.

The Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC) is on the opposite side. Like Zone 7, it taps the SWP for some of its water, but it also draws on the Colorado River for potable reuse recycled water for drinking, and groundwater storage. The MWDOC board voted on June 18 to support the Calvert rider.

MWDOC spokesperson Damon Micalizzi said that the Delta bypass has been scrutinized for more than a decade, and produced more than 50,000 pages of environmental reports. “With all the scrutiny and study that has happened to date, there is more than enough to move forward,” said Micalizzi.

There was no discussion by the MWDOC board of the constitutionality of barring law suits in federal and state courts, said Micalizzi. However, there have been “legal attempts to try to thwart a project that has all the virtues of having co-equal goals, and is good for the environment,” he said.

The WaterFix includes the Twin Tunnels. However, Micalizzi was referring to the fact that the project also has a separate EcoRestore plan that will improve Delta levees and restore marshlands in an effort to help the Delta’s environmental health, said Micalizzi.

“This is the single, most cost-effective way that can ensure water reliability based on studies,” declared Micalizzi.

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