State Court Upholds Delta Wetlands' Water Rights
Source: 
Delta Wetlands Project

Ruling Ratifies State Water Resources Control Board's Permit, Confirms Environmental/Technical Analysis

The California Superior Court has ruled in favor of the Delta Wetlands Project, a proposed water storage and supply program based in San Joaquin and Contra Costa counties, reaffirming the project's water rights, technical feasibility, environmental soundness and value to the state of California.

In spring 2001, the Central Delta Water Agency (CDWA) and San Joaquin County filed lawsuits against the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), challenging both the water right permits that were granted to Delta Wetlands in February 2001 and the exhaustive and comprehensive environmental review conducted by the SWRCB. On April 25, 2002, the State Superior Court (County of Sacramento) unilaterally rejected all claims made by CDWA and San Joaquin County. In addition, the court directed that the SWRCB's and Delta Wetlands' legal costs to defend this action be reimbursed by CDWA and San Joaquin County.

"We are obviously very pleased with the court's ruling," said Jim Easton, general manager for the Delta Wetlands Project. "Not only does it validate Delta Wetlands' potential role in addressing California's statewide and regional water supply challenges, but it also confirms the proposed project will be operated safely."

"We find it very disappointing that Central Delta Water Agency and San Joaquin County undertook such a frivolous effort," Easton added. "Rather than fighting with regional and statewide leaders who have endorsed this project, we believe these organizations could better serve local businesses and residents by being part of a statewide water solution rather than continually obstructing meaningful progress."

In reaffirming the water rights granted by the SWRCB, the court's decision

• supports the SWRCB's call for additional water supplies in California;
• upholds the SWRCB's decision that granting water rights to the Delta Wetlands Project is in the public's interest;
• confirms project benefits including the potential to add flexibility to the state and federal water projects, additional water supply and reliability and improved levee stability;
• supports the SWRCB permit conditions that will protect Delta water quality;
• supports the SWRCB technical analysis and findings that the levee design and seepage control program is adequate to protect the public, adjoining landowners and districts, as well as surrounding lands and levees; and
• recognizes that the financial assurances required will adequately protect surrounding landowners in case of any potential damage.

In addition, the court upheld the exhaustive and comprehensive environmental review conducted by the SWRCB to ensure compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The court ruled that the public agency had completed a thorough and complete analysis of potential impacts, including the conversion of agricultural land, and project alternatives, and identified appropriate mitigation for any potential significant impacts.

The Delta Wetlands Project is a unique water management tool that will help address California's current and future water challenges, providing desperately needed new storage and a new water supply. The project, which is designed to capture surplus Delta water (water that has historically flowed to the Pacific Ocean and not been utilized), has a capacity to store 220,000 acre-feet of water and on an average annual basis can supply approximately 170,000 acre-feet per year of new water to California.

Located in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and straddling both San Joaquin and Contra Costa counties, the project will involve four Delta islands. Two islands will be developed to serve as reservoir islands and two islands will be permanently set aside as managed wetlands and wildlife habitat, After years of farming and subsidence, the islands' land elevation is now below sea level. By fortifying surrounding levee systems, the project proponents will be able to store significant amounts of water on the reservoir islands, forming a new surface water storage facility. The reservoir islands will be able to capture water when it is available (typically during storms or wet years), for later use when water is scarce.

The Delta Wetlands Project has undergone 15 years of environmental review with extensive public involvement and comprehensive technical analysis to ensure the feasibility, safety and environmental sensitivity of storing water on the reservoir islands. The project will comply with and even exceed applicable state and federal water quality standards. In addition to independent scientific reviews, public oversight boards will be established and all monitoring data will be made available to the public to ensure the effectiveness of protections for local residents.

Delta Wetlands originally filed applications with the SWRCB in 1987 for water right permits to capture surplus Delta flows and store this excess water. The SWRCB and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers served as co-lead agencies for environmental compliance with both CEQA and the National Environmental Policy Act. Final permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are expected within the second quarter of 2002. All other state and federal permits have been acquired.

Beyond a potential purchase by the CALFED Bay-Delta Program and in light of evolving California policies and regulations, many other opportunities for project implementation exist. Recognizing the large supply of new water that the Delta Wetlands Project will provide, potential partnerships could include urban or agricultural water agencies, environmental mitigation efforts, large developers and other business entities.

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