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California Environmental Law & Policy Update
September 29, 2017

Environmental and Policy Focus

U.S. and Mexico reach deal to conserve Colorado River water

McClatchy DC - Sep 27 The United States and Mexico unveiled a nine-year agreement Wednesday to preserve the overtaxed Colorado River. In the agreement, which amends a 1944 treaty and builds upon a 2012 amendment set to expire at the end of this year, the United States pledged to invest $31.5 million in water conservation projects in Mexico, such as lining irrigation ditches with concrete to reduce water losses and upgrading irrigation equipment to use less water. The water saved by the conservation projects would be divided among the two nations. In addition to the conservation savings, the agreement sets aside another 210,000 acre-feet of water for environmental projects. 

Settlement reached over Newhall Ranch proposal

Los Angeles Times - Sep 25 On Monday, a coalition of environmental groups agreed to settle with developer FivePoint Holdings, clearing perhaps the largest remaining hurdle for the Newhall Ranch project in north Los Angeles County. The project was proposed during the development boom of the 1980s, and has been stalled repeatedly by protests, legal challenges, and criminal investigations. Under the settlement, FivePoint Holdings has agreed to provide about $25 million for conservation efforts aimed at protecting an array of endangered species from plans to build the new city along a six-mile stretch of the Santa Clara River, the last free-flowing river in Southern California. It also signed a separate proprietary agreement with the Wishtoyo Foundation, a nonprofit Native American organization, to provide a parcel and undisclosed funding for construction of a multimillion-dollar cultural center on ancestral lands within the development. In exchange, a coalition led by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Wishtoyo Foundation/Ventura Coastkeeper, the California Native Plant Society, and the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians will drop its lawsuit against the development company and will not oppose development of new homes, golf courses, schools, recreation centers, and 13 million square feet of commercial space. 

Lawsuit accuses MWD of violating agreement with farmers in Riverside and Imperial counties

San Diego Union-Tribune - Sep 26 Palo Verde Irrigation District (PVID), which serves parts of Imperial County and Riverside County, sued Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) last week in Riverside County Superior Court for allegedly violating a 2004 agreement that paid farmers not to grow crops on their land, thereby freeing up water for coastal cities serviced by MWD. Attorneys for PVID argue that the deal does not allow for further restrictions they say MWD wants to impose on nearly 13,000 acres of land it purchased in the Palo Verde Valley in 2015. PVID's complaint goes on to accuse the agency of misusing public funds by overpaying for the land, and asks the court to compel MWD to suspend activities on its Palo Verde Valley land and vacate its claim to that property within six months.

USFW approves plan to pump more water from the Delta

Sacramento Bee - Sep 27 The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday signed off on a controversial plan – championed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and south of Delta water contractors and opposed by environmental groups – that would allow for increased pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta starting next week. The proposal would allow for an additional 400,000 acre-feet (around 130 billion gallons) of water to be shipped through the Delta to farms and cities in the Silicon Valley, Southern California, and the San Joaquin Valley. In the absence of the plan, the water would flow on a natural course to the Pacific Ocean. Environmental groups fought the plan, arguing that more of the water should have been reserved to support habitat for the critically endangered Delta smelt.

Groundwater levels in Santa Clara County return to pre-drought conditions

San Jose Mercury News - Sep 25 Santa Clara County’s groundwater supply, which provides nearly half the drinking water every year for two million Silicon Valley residents, has been restored to its level before the drought started in 2011. Experts credit heavy winter rains and strict water conservation rules during the drought for the restoration of supplies. But the good news in Santa Clara County isn’t being replicated in other parts of the state, according to Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and professor of earth system science at the University of California, Irvine. Of particular concern is the San Joaquin Valley. “Most of the groundwater that is being pumped in the southern San Joaquin and Tulare Lake basins is much, much deeper,” Famiglietti said. “Those aquifers would take decades to centuries of extremely strict management to recover significantly.”

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