Ag Today June 8, 2018

Judge Tells Feds to Be on Time With Review of Water Project

June 7, 2018 MATTHEW RENDA, Courthouse News Service

(CN) – A judge denied a request Thursday by a federal water management agency for more time to evaluate the environmental impacts of California’s water transfer program that allows some water rights holders to sell water to parched farms in the southern part of the state.

U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence O’Neill ordered the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to come up with its full environmental analysis of a 10-year water transfer program by the end of June.

The feds had asked for more time to complete the analysis after O’Neill vacated part of the program in an extensive 133-page order handed down in February, but the judge was not pleased with the delay request.

“Federal Defendants’ position, taken to its logical extreme, would turn the law on its head in the context of almost every complex environmental document,” O’Neill wrote in the 8-page order. “If a project is worth doing, someone, somewhere is waiting for it to happen.”

Water rights in California are a complex and often litigious matter, particularly as recent droughts have made the fight for diminishing allocations of water more strident.

The Bureau of Reclamation runs the Central Valley Project, which employs a series of diversions, canals, dams and pumping stations to move water from the northern part of the state — where California’s major rivers carry Sierra Nevada run-off — to the southern part of the state, where climate and soil make for good agricultural conditions but water is scarce.

The bureau manages water allocations and transfers along with the California State Water Project, as the two jurisdictions share infrastructure and some features of governance.

O’Neill’s order means the bureau will have to speed up its environmental analysis to meet the June 29 deadline.