The Center for Environmental Science, Accuracy & Reliability, a Fresno-based nonprofit friendly to ag interests, has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia seeking an injunction against further diversions from California’s Tuolumne River to the Hetch Hetchy Project until the National Park Service complies with provisions of environmental law.
In 1901, the mayor of San Francisco claimed senior rights for the waters of the Tuolumne River in the Hetch Hetchy Valley, entirely within Yosemite National Park.
After a decade-long fight with environmentalists, the city got approval to dam the river, flood the valley and create the reservoir that today serves as the primary water source for the San Francisco Bay area.
The project is operated by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, but is regulated by the National Park Service.
Some 265,000 acre-feet of water a year, about 15 percent of its natural flow, bypasses the Tuolumne River below the dam and is delivered to the city via a 167-mile pipeline. The remaining water flows down the river, eventually making its way to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
The Delta is ground zero for all things water in drought-plagued California. As the plaintiffs contend, officials have cut irrigation water deliveries to the federal Central Valley Project and the California State Water Project to maintain flows to the Delta to protect the endangered Delta smelt and other species.
But flows to the Hetch Hetchy Project have never been curtailed to maintain the volume in the Delta.
Plaintiffs contend the National Park Service each year approves instream flows and other Hetch Hetchy Project operations without consulting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as to their impact on Tuolumne River habitat and endangered species. Such consultations are required, according to the lawsuit, by the Endangered Species Act.
Critics are quick to call the Center for Environmental Science, Accuracy & Reliability a “shadowy” front group for anti-environmental interests.
We concede that the plaintiff’s brand of environmentalism is not of the same flavor as the “mainstream” environmental groups that normally bring these actions.
The more relevant point is whether the lawsuit has merit.
We’ve covered enough lawsuits over the Endangered Species Act to see that the plaintiffs in this case have followed the environmentalists’ playbook to the letter. They have found an instance where the federal government has failed to fulfill the requirements of the act, and are suing to enforce upon the Hetch Hetchy Project the same law that has led to severe cuts in irrigation water in the valley.
The difference in this case is that the end users of the water in question are the politically connected and ever-so environmentally conscious residents of San Francisco, not farmers and ranchers.
Sauce of the goose.
Whether this will result in water being diverted from the Hetch Hetchy Project is beside the point. It is only important that the law be applied equally.
The plaintiffs, along with farmers and ranchers who have been on the receiving end of these things in the past, demand nothing less.
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