Judge Rules in C-WIN’s Favor: Court Strikes Down Environmental Review of Controversial Kern Water Bank

In C-WIN, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, State Water Project by c-win0 Comments

For Immediate Release, October 3, 2014

Contact: Adam Keats, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 845-2509
Carolee Krieger, C-WIN, (805) 969-0824
Bill Jennings, CSPA, (209) 464-5067

Court Strikes Down Environmental Review of Controversial Kern Water Bank

California Officials Failed to Consider Environmental Impacts of Bank Operation

SACRAMENTO, Calif.— A California judge has struck down the environmental review of the Kern Water Bank, saying state regulators didn’t do enough in 2010 to examine how its operation effects the state’s water resources and wildlife. The ruling by Superior Court Judge Timothy M. Frawley means the state Department of Water Resources will now have to conduct a new review of Kern Water Bank, the country’s largest underground water-banking operation and the subject of nearly two decades of controversy and litigation.

The decision is a key victory for environmentalists, sportfishers, delta farmers and State Water Project ratepayers impacted by the private water bank that serves San Joaquin Valley agribusiness interests.

The water bank was transferred out of public control as part of the controversial 1995 “Monterey Amendments” to the State Water Project long-term contracts, which were also at issue in the latest suit, filed in 2010 by the Center and joined by C-Win, CSPA, and two public water districts representing delta farmers and residents. The suit challenged the second attempt by state authorities to analyze the environmental impacts of the Kern Water Bank transfer, with the first attempt being struck down in an earlier lawsuit in 2003.

“We’re pleased that the court agreed with us that the environmental review didn’t do nearly enough to analyze how this water giveaway impacts other natural resources. This is an important victory that will hopefully shine a light on the murky operation of the Kern Water Bank,” said Adam Keats, senior counsel with the Center for Biological Diversity. “But we strongly disagree that the state’s approval of the transfer of the water bank is untouchable. Despite our victory here, we will likely have to take our fight to the appellate court to reverse one of the greatest rip-offs in California’s history.”

Judge Frawley ruled in March of this year that, while most aspects of the state’s review of the Monterey Amendments passed legal muster, the environmental review of the Kern Water Bank’s operations did not. This week’s ruling follows the earlier ruling and was confined to determining what steps the state will have take to to comply with the law.  Although the plaintiffs argued that the earlier ruling required the voiding of the state’s 1995 approval of the transfer of the Kern Water Bank, the court did not agree, saying that its hands were tied, even if it meant that any future review would be a mere rubber stamp of the existing status quo.

“The Kern Water Bank is an essential component of the bad deal that was the Monterey Amendments,” said Carolee Krieger, president and executive director of the California Water Impact Network. “The Department of Water Resources and its friends in big agribusiness have tried and failed a second time to cram this deal down our throats. We don’t intend to allow it a third attempt.”

“DWR’s secret transfer of the Kern Water Bank to private interests represents one of the largest illegal gifts of public assets to special interests in the state’s history,” said Bill Jennings, chairman of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance in Stockton. “In private hands, it has been used to advance the interests of subsidized crops ahead of fisheries and the need for a sustainable and reliable supply of clean drinking water and has played a shameful role in the collapse of Delta ecosystems and our once-great salmon fisheries. We’re delighted the court found that the environmental review was deficient but believe the actual transfer itself was illegal and that the Kern Water Bank should be returned to public ownership. These aspects of the decision should be appealed.”

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For more information on the Monterey Plus Amendments, see https://www.c-win.org/monterey-plus-agreement.html.

The California Water Impact Network promotes the equitable and environmental use of California’s water, including instream uses, through research, planning, public education, and litigation. www.c-win.org

CSPA is a non-profit conservation and research organization established in 1983 for the purpose of conserving, restoring, and enhancing the state’s water quality and fishery resources and their aquatic and riparian ecosystems. www.calsport.org

The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. www.biologicaldiversity.org

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