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Summer 2008

Advocating for a Solution

Water reliability is key in agricultural communities, but recently the Red Bluff Diversion Dam (RBDD) has been a target of litigation and public scrutiny. The Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman Association, Natural Resource Defense Council and Earth Justice, in coordination with other environmental groups, launched a lawsuit claiming that the Central Valley Project (CVP) and the State Water Project (SWP) are operating in a manner that is in violation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The environmental groups filed an injunction in the case in Fresno, CA, in front of Judge Oliver Wanger, requesting the court to take action on four different proposals to avoid the salmon extinction. The most crucial demand was the removal of the gates at the RBDD, cutting off water to over 150,000 acres of irrigated farmland in Tehama, Glenn, Colusa and Yolo Counties. 

Red Bluff Diversion DamTo the relief of many north state farmers, Judge Wanger, on June 27, denied the environmental plaintiffs request to remove the gates on the Sacramento River. This decision will hopefully buy farmers in the district enough time to get through this years irrigation season. 

The Tehama Colusa Canal Authority (TCCA), made up of 17 CVP contactors that divert water via the RBDD, have had a solution to this problem for sometime and are gradually cutting through the red tape to get the approval and funding the for the RBDD Fish Passage Improvement Project (Project). 

The evidence that the environmental groups used in the recent ESA court case came from TCCA and Bureau of Reclamations’ environmental documents required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and National Environmental Quality Act (NEPA) for the Project. For almost a decade, the TCCA has been actively pursuing a new fish screen and pumping facility in order to deliver reliable water to the farmers in the district, while also protect the fishery resources. It is unfortunate that the environmental community felt it necessary to sue to punish water users that are in the process of undertaking environmentally beneficial projects that has the dual goal of preserving the economical viability of the region, while also working to preserve and protect the endangered fish species. The environmental plaintiffs should be joining with TCCA in advocating for the Project instead of trying to economically devastate these rural communities. A viable solution may be as soon as three years away from completion.

The Project is being led on the state side by TCCA and on the federal side by the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR). The Environmental Impact Report required under CEQA was certified by the TCCA Board on June 4, 2008. The Environmental Impact Statement was published in the Federal Register on May 21, 2008 by the BOR. The Record of Decision is expected to be issued by BOR in early July, which will signify federal approval for the project to proceed to the implementation phase.

In conclusion, the efforts of TCCA to find a long term solution and balance the needs of the agricultural community and the fishery resources have made great progress. There is still much work to be done before the Project can be completed. Family Water Alliance has always advocated for the balance between man and nature and this Project is a perfect example of the balance we are striving for. ■

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