Groups Sue Reclamation Against Extra Groundwater Pumping Plans In North Valley
C hico , CA . — On August 26 , three environmental groups filed a lawsuit in federal District Court challenging the U . S . Bureau of Reclamation over extra groundwater pumping plans by Sacramento River water districts that they say will harm local domestic and agricultural users , the Sacramento River , streams and ecosystems . The filing of the suit by AquAlliance , the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance , and the California Water Impact Network was followed on Wednesday , September 1 , by a motion for a Temporary Restraining Order ( TRO ). At stake is an estimated 60,000 acre feet of groundwater , according to AquAlliance Executive Director Barbara Vlamis . The named participants in the Extra Groundwater Pumping Program include Anderson Cottonwood WD , Glenn-Colusa ID , Princeton-Codora-Glenn ID , Provident ID , Reclamation District No . 108 , Reclamation District No . 1004 , River Garden Farms and Sycamore Mutual WC . Reclamation concluded that the proposed action in the EA would have no significant impact on the human environment . “ In assessing the appropriate level of NEPA ( National Environmental Policy Act ) review , Reclamation determined the Proposed Action is not likely to have significant effects ,” the Assessment found . “ In considering whether the effects of the Proposed Action are significant , Reclamation analyzed the affected environment and degree of the effects of the action .” “ The Proposed Action will occur within existing facilities and there would be no effects to the following resources : aesthetics ; geology , soils , & mineral Resources ; land use ; population & housing ; transportation & traffic ; recreation ; hazards & hazardous materials ; cultural resources ; public services & utilities ,” Reclamation claimed . The groups strongly disagree with Reclamation ’ s Finding of No Significant Impact . ( FONSI ). The lawsuit asks the court to declare Reclamation ’ s Environmental Assessment invalid and issue a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to stop the project that the plaintiffs say will harm local domestic and agricultural users , the Sacramento River , streams , and ecosystems . The motion for a TRO and / or preliminary injunction notes that “ groundwater and groundwater dependent people and resources are already severely impacted ” in the
Sacramento Valley . “ BOR grossly failed its statutory mandates under the National Environmental Policy Act (“ NEPA ”) to disclose and consider the Project ’ s effects prior to approval , and prior to irreversible effects occurring ,” the groups allege . “ To have the federal government enable the abuse of groundwater by river water-rich Settlement Contractors , particularly in a critically dry year , is heinous ,” said Vlamis . “ The Extra Groundwater Pumping Plan pits Sacramento River water right users against groundwater-reliant neighbors and habitats that are already struggling . To represent the people and environment , we had to pursue our legal options .” The groups said that with the knowledge of California ’ s climate and history , “ Reclamation failed to prepare for the dry year before us .” “ The districts are hammering already taxed local groundwater basins during the serious 2021 drought , because they don ’ t want to accept cuts in river water deliveries even though their 25 % cut is much less than those other users have experienced ,” according to the groups . “ However , the same districts have enough river water to sell to south-of-Delta interests .” ( see table below ) “ If Reclamation hadn ’ t released so much water from Shasta Reservoir in April and May this year , there would have been more in storage for critical flows for salmon and Delta farmers ,” said Bill Jennings , Executive Director / Chairman of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance ( CSPA ). Total Keswick Dam water releases in April were 352,673 acre-feet of water and 509,160 acre feet in May , a total of 861,833 acre-feet during the two months , according to the Bureau of Reclamation ’ s Northern CVP Water Temperature Plan . This has been a disastrous year for imperiled Sacramento River salmon . The California Department of Fish and Game ( CDFW ) has forecasted that “ nearly all ” of the juvenile winter-run Chinook hatched on the Sacramento River this year could die before spawning , due to disease spurred by warm water conditions below Keswick Dam . A record run of over 18,000 endangered spring-run Chinook salmon on Butte Creek , a tributary of the Sacramento River , has also turned into disaster as 14,500 fish have died before spawning . These fish also have perished due to the outbreak of disease in warm , low water conditions :
On June 1 , the California Sport- fishing Protection Alliance , California Water Impact Network ( CWIN ), and Save California Salmon ( SCS ) presented an alternative water temperature management plan to the State Water Resources Control Board that would have resulted in more carryover storage to protect fish , water and people over the winter . However , the water board failed to consider the alternative and approved the Bureau ’ s environmentally destructive water temperature management plan : The August 31 update to the CVP / SWP drought assessment forecasts that by November 1 there will only be 728,000 acre feet of storage left in Shasta Lake , 691,000 acre feet in Oroville and 169,000 acre feet in Folsom Lake . “ We are in uncharted territory ,” emphasized Jennings . “ We have never had this little storage in the reservoirs . Cities , farms and fish are all screwed . This is substantially worse than 1977 .” The plaintiffs are represented by the Aqua Terra Aeris law firm .
By Dan Bacher
drinking water supply vulnerabilities in California and other western states currently experiencing record drought conditions ,” according to the USGS . “ Water quality problems from legacy groundwater pollution could get worse , faster , when pumping increases during drought ,” said Dr . Zeno Levy , a research geologist with the USGS . “ This could lead to more public drinking-water wells being shut down if costly treatment or cleaner water sources to mix with are not available .” The agency said researchers examined 30 years of data from California ’ s Central Valley to find increasing nitrate concentrations at public drinking-water wells were more prevalent in areas where groundwater levels dropped rapidly during drought . “ Nitrate is a contaminant from fertilizer typically present at elevated concentrations in shallow groundwater throughout the Central Valley due to decades of agricultural land use . Scientists
Table of participants in the Extra Groundwater Pumping Program
All named participants in the Extra Groundwater Pumping Program also plan to transfer water to south-of-the-Delta users in 2021 . District
Water to sell south-of-Delta ( possible af ) *
Anderson Cottonwood WD 5,226 3,000
Extra Groundwater Pumping potential ( af ) **
Glenn-Colusa ID 91,000 25,000 Princeton-Codora-Glenn ID 13,200 8,000 Provident ID 19,900 8,000 Reclamation District No . 108 55,000 12,500 Reclamation District No . 1004 27,175 4,300 River Garden Farms 20,000 3,000 Sycamore Mutual WC 25,000 3,000
* Numbers are found in the 2020 Long-Term Water Transfer Program FEIS / EIR . Each district ’ s total acre-feet are unknown for 2021 . ** Reclamation asserts the total acre-feet will not exceed 60,000 .
USGS : Increased Pumping in California ’ s Central Valley During Drought Worsens Groundwater Quality The urgency of the AquAlliance lawsuit was underlined by the release of a new study by the U . S . Geological Survey ( USGS ) that reveals that intensive pumping of aquifers during drought can speed up deterioration of groundwater quality . The study “ Critical aquifer overdraft accelerates degradation of groundwater quality in California ’ s Central Valley during drought ” is published in Geophysical Research Letters . “ The results highlight clean found that increased pumping from wells during drought can pull shallow , contaminated groundwater down to depths commonly tapped for public drinking-water supply ,” the study stated . Previous groundwater research has focused on the risk of wells being overdrawn and running dry during drought . “ The new study provides a major advancement to understanding the related consequences to water quality caused by over pumping ,” the USGS wrote . “ The study is unique in that it looked at regional linkages between groundwater use and quality , rather than local patterns at the scale of individual wells .” This research was undertaken as part of a cooperative effort between the USGS and the California State Water Resources Control Board ’ s Groundwater Ambient Monitoring and Assessment Program .