California Announces Lawsuit over Federal Government's Biological Opinions for Central Valley Project and State Water Project 
Posted in Litigation

On November 21, 2019, the California Secretary for Natural Resources announced California’s decision to sue the federal government over its biological opinions for continuing operations of the California State Water Project (SWP) and federal Central Valley Project (CVP). 

The Projects provide water to over 20 million of Californians and support the businesses and farms across the state.  In his announcement, the Secretary notes that “Difficult trade-offs have to be made unless we can find creative solutions that balance all water needs.  And even then, sometimes tough decisions will have to be made.”  The biological opinions were issued by the federal government on October 21, 2019, under Section 7(a)(2) of the Endangered Species Act, concluded that the continued operation of the State Water Project and Central Valley Project will not jeopardize threatened or endangered species or adversely modify their designated critical habitats. The Secretary’s announcement underscored potential impacts to protected species, such as Delta smelt (Hypomesus transpacificus), stating “The protection of endangered fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta requires our immediate attention.” 

It is not a common occurrence for a regulated entity (in this case, the State of California) to sue the federal government for failing to impose restrictions on its own conduct, and is all the more unusual because here the State Department of Water Resources was involved in drafting the biological assessment that is the basis for the federal government’s biological opinions.  One can’t help but wonder whether the sour relationship between the Trump Administration and California is driving decision-making. Stay tuned, as we will continue to report on this litigation as it develops.

  • Partner

    Ben Rubin assists developers, public agencies, landowners, and corporate clients on a variety of complex land use and environmental matters.  He counsels clients on matters dealing with the Federal and State Endangered Species ...

  • Partner

    Paul Weiland is chair of Nossaman’s Environment & Land Use Group.  He focuses his practice on litigation, permitting, and compliance counseling.  Paul’s clients include public agencies, publicly regulated utilities, private ...

Nossaman’s Endangered Species Law & Policy blog focuses on news, events, and policies affecting endangered species issues in California and throughout the United States. Topics include listing and critical habitat decisions, conservation and recovery planning, inter-agency consultation, and related developments in law, policy, and science. We also inform readers about regulatory and legislative developments, as well as key court decisions.

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