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California Sues Trump Administration Over Increased Water Diversions To Farmers

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- California is suing the Trump administration to block new rules that would divert more water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to farmers, saying the rules do not protect endangered fish species.

The lawsuit by the state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the California Natural Resources Agency and the California Environmental Protection Agency, claims the biological reports used by federal agencies to justify the increased diversions "run counter to the scientific evidence that was before the agencies" and failed to analyze the potential harm to endangered populations of delta smelt, chinook salmon and steelhead trout.

The water which flows from the Sierra Nevada to the Delta and San Francisco Bay is pumped to the Central Valley and southern half of the state where a massive agriculture industry provides more than half of the produce grown in the U.S.

Becerra filed the lawsuit the day after President Donald Trump was in Bakersfield to sign a memorandum supporting the development of more water supplies to the Central Valley.  It also comes amid concerns of a new drought as the state so far has seen no precipitation at all in the month of February.

The memorandum and a related operations plan by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation rely on biological opinions in which two federal agencies concluded that increased water diversion from the delta would not harm the fish species.

The lawsuit asks for court orders setting aside the biological opinions and prohibiting the administration from taking any action in reliance on the opinions until a new environmental analysis is completed.

Becerra said in a statement, "California won't silently spectate as the Trump Administration adopts scientifically challenged biological opinions that push species to extinction and harm our natural resources and waterways."

Gov. Gavin Newsom said, "Our goal continues to be to realize enforceable voluntary agreements that provide the best immediate protection for species, reliable and safe drinking water, and dependable water sources for our farmers for economic prosperity."

In a news release announcing Trump's action Wednesday, U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said, "President Trump gave the Department of the Interior and the Department of Commerce clear direction to move forward and provide water to California's communities and farms.

"This action furthers President Trump's commitment to America's hardworking farmers who need water to feed our nation," Bernhardt said.

The defendants in the case are Bernhardt, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Reclamation and the agency leaders. The fisheries service and the Bureau of Reclamation are divisions of the Commerce Department and the Fish and Wildlife Service is in the Interior Department.

A coalition of fishing and environmental groups filed a similar lawsuit against the administration in federal court in San Francisco in December to challenge the biological opinions.

Two Central Valley water agencies that were allowed to join the case to defend the biological opinions have asked to have that lawsuit transferred to federal court in Fresno.

U.S Magistrate Laurel Beeler will hear arguments on that motion in her San Francisco courtroom on March 26.


© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Bay City News Service contributed to this report

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