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Guv to sue feds on Delta bio opinions

The Forde Files No. 203

When two federal agencies released biological opinions Oct. 19 regarding the management of water resources in California, farmers cheered. The opinions found that with newer technology, more cold-water pools and rapid response to fish migration, water could flow while fish could thrive.

When California Governor Gavin Newsom vowed to challenge those biological opinions in court, setting the stage for a state-vs-feds battle, environmental groups cheered. One environmental organization characterized the opinions as a "Trump water grab."

Litigation will not be helpful, according to Tehachapi-Cummings County Water District Manager Tom Neisler.

"Governor Newsom's threat to litigate the Federal BiOps is unfortunate," Neisler told Forde Files. "He has stated his goal is to cooperate with USBR [U.S. Bureau of Reclamation] on the joint operation of the CVP [Central Valley Project] and SWP [State Water Project]. Litigation threatens the operation of both systems. It will, invariably, lead to delays of needed agreements and improvements, increased costs and ongoing uncertainty about water supply – not only for our customers, but for 24 million California residents south of the Delta and farmers in the San Joaquin Valley. These same farmers feed a significant portion of the world."

Neisler said he would have more information following his attendance at the Association of California Water Agencies conference in San Diego.

The Tehachapi-Cummings County Water District contracts with the State Water Project, pumping thousands of acre feet up the mountain to provide agricultural water for Tehachapi's farmland. Decisions at the state level directly affect the amount of water available to the district. The SWP ag water is recharged into the underground basins, thus providing domestic water for the Tehachapi valleys, accessible by wells.

The Federal Bureau of Reclamation operates the Central Valley Project, and the California Department of Water Resources operates the State Water Project.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service prepared the biological opinions.