Judge finds fault with “Delta Plan”

http://www.recordnet.com/news/20160519/judge-finds-fault-with-delta-plan

By Alex Breitle

Record Staff Writer

Posted May. 19, 2016 at 7:00 PM
Updated May 19, 2016 at 7:05 PM

A plan that was supposed to serve as a comprehensive roadmap for the Delta through the year 2100 now must be partially rewritten, after a judge this week ruled on complaints stemming from no fewer than seven lawsuits.

The “Delta Plan,” as the document is known, had been challenged by players on multiple sides of California’s water battle — by environmentalists, by Delta farmers, and by Southern California water users who rely on the Delta for a portion of their water supply.

In the end, the 73-page decision by Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny rejected the water exporters’ arguments entirely, while granting some of the requests made by Delta interests. Significantly, the judge found that the plan needs to consider a wider range of options to deliver water across the Delta, besides Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed twin tunnels.

“This is a victory for folks in the Delta,” Stockton attorney Thomas Keeling, who represented some of the parties involved in the litigation, said Thursday.

Among other findings that heartened Delta advocates, the judge concluded that the Delta Stewardship Council — the state agency that wrote the plan in 2013 — failed to include measurable targets for California to reduce its reliance on the Delta for water, as required by law. The declining estuary provides at least some of the water supply for two-thirds of the state.

The judge also found the plan also fell short on restoring more natural flows through the Delta, and didn’t adequately address invasive species, among other issues.

Most of the arguments raised by those who filed suit were rejected by the judge, however, including a claim from the city of Stockton that the plan could put a crimp on water rights within the Delta.

The water exporters argued that the plan did not provide them with a more reliable water supply from the Delta, as required, but the judge rejected that claim as well.

In a prepared statement, Jessica Pearson, executive officer of the stewardship council, said she was pleased with the ruling. The council noted that the judge ruled in its favor on the “vast majority” of claims.

Delta advocates, however, said the points upon which they prevailed are critical. Putting in place specific targets for reducing the state’s reliance on the Delta could mean less water for the tunnels, making the project less viable, they said.

“This is going to be big news,” Keeling said.

— Contact reporter Alex Breitler at (209) 546-8295 or abreitler@recordnet.com. Follow him at recordnet.com/breitlerblog and on Twitter @alexbreitler.

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