SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- California Governor Gray Davis has directed the state to intervene in a court case on the federal Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA) in order to protect the state's water rights. The governor informed U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt of the planned intervention in a letter in late July.
"A cooperative relationship between the state and federal governments is fundamental to the successful resolution of the myriad water issues we are confronting," Davis wrote. "Unfortunately the Department of Interior has now made claims...that threaten the rights of the State of California."
The dispute arises from the complex process of trying to account for the 800,000 acre-feet of water allocated to fishery resources under the 1992 federal law. Davis said the federal government's proposed plan under the "b(2)" provision of the CVPIA would preclude the state from capturing surplus water flows in the Delta after that water has met environmental goals upstream.
Additionally, Interior's proposal is inconsistent with the federal government's commitment under the 1994 Bay-Delta Accord to compensate the state for additional impacts under the Endangered Species Act, Davis said.
The lawsuit originated in 1997 when the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced its plan for implementing the b(2) provisions of CVPIA by simply controlling river flows for the benefit of fish and habitats. The plan did not include ways to measure how much water would be used.
The San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, which represents 27 federal water contractors, sued because it believed the water usage would exceed the 800,000 acre-feet mandated under the law.
Last March, U.S. District Court Judge Oliver Wanger ruled that the Interior Department must account for the water use under the b(2) provision. Since then, the Department has issued a new plan for accounting for future annual water allotments, effective this October. The judge has asked for legal briefs on the new plan by September 10.
While intervening in the court action, Davis nonetheless said that the appropriate forum for resolution of the issue -- and many related ones -- is the CALFED process.
"Five consecutive wet years have enabled California to avoid a major water crisis; however, this may not be the case in a normal or dry water year," Davis noted. "Recent factors since the last drought, such as additional listings under the federal Endangered Species Act and the Delta Smelt crisis, magnify the potential for a severe water shortage in future years.
"CALFED is too important to the future of the state, both in terms of the economy and the environment, to be jeopardized," Davis said.
In a related action, Department of Water Resources Director Tom Hannigan has written to the Bureau of Reclamation requesting they provide 75,000 acre-feet of water supply lost by the State Water Project because of actions by federal fishery agencies this spring for Delta smelt. According to DWR estimates, water supplies lost by the SWP due to the spring cutback at the pumps total 324,000 acre-feet.
Hannigan also urged Bureau officials to begin discussing next year's operational plans for the state and federal water projects in order to avert a repeat of this year's Delta smelt crisis.
"Everyone involved in the 1999 operations agrees that a plan must be developed in advance of next year's operations, particularly for the April/ May export curtailments and unexpected circumstances such as we experienced this year," Hannigan said.
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