For Immediate Release, June 3, 2010
Carolee Krieger, C-WIN, (805) 969-0824
Bill Jennings, CSPA, (209) 464-5067
Adam Keats, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 436-9682 x 304
Lawsuit Filed to Block Central Valley Agribusiness Water Grab
SANTA BARBARA, Calif.— Today groups are seeking to block a secret backroom deal signed by five water contractors along with California’s Department of Water Resources to undo water contracts underlying voter-approved bonds four decades ago. Without court action, contract changes that largely benefit southern Central Valley corporate irrigators — at the expense of urban ratepayers — will trade away ratepayer-funded projects and allow massive diversions of water from the Delta, charging only pumping costs.
“These contract changes break promises made to bondholders and ratepayers,” said Carolee Krieger, president and executive director of the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN), one of the groups seeking to block the contract changes. “These changes undo decades of urban ratepayer protections for the benefit of a few agribusiness corporations and real-estate developments at the expense of ratepayers and bondholders.”
The backroom deal, known as the “Monterey Amendments,” signed in 1995 without public input, was successfully challenged in court. The courts ruled the contract changes, deeding of portions of the State Water Project known as the Kern Water Bank, and removal of protections for Southern California ratepayers would not be valid until a new analysis of the impacts had public review and was certified as complete.
“The State Water Project and the Kern Water Bank were developed by the state, at ratepayer expense, to benefit all of California — our cities, our farms, and our fish,” said Adam Keats, lead attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “But with the Monterey Plus Amendments, they have been hijacked by private interests who are using it for their own ends, including stockpiling water to enable destructive speculative development. Meanwhile the state’s entire water system gets closer and closer to collapse, and multiple fish species — salmon, Delta smelt, even Sacramento splittail — are brought closer to the brink of extinction so that subsidized growers can make profits off water sales and new sprawl development can be built in the last of our wild places.”
The suit, filed today in Sacramento Superior Court, was brought by C-WIN, the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Central Delta Water Agency and the South Delta Water Agency agencies charged with protecting the in-channel water supply for Delta-area farmers. The suit challenges the legality of the following:
• Institutionalizing the concept of “paper water” — water promised by contract that can never realistically be delivered.
• Eliminating the “urban preference,” which prioritized water deliveries to municipal customers during drought. This change resulted in water shortages and higher utility rates for Southern California ratepayers.
• Illegally transferring state property known as the Kern Water Bank to private entities and undermining the California Water Code by masking the purpose and place of water use.
• Increasing water exports from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, thus worsening water-quality problems and triggering the collapse of the Delta’s ecosystem and fisheries.
The lawsuit seeks to reinstate the urban water preference during drought in State Water Project contracts, reduce the pumping of Delta water that has resulted in the collapse of fisheries, and return the Kern Water Bank to public ownership.
“This was a poorly negotiated, backdoor deal that put the wealthy growers of subsidized crops ahead of fisheries and the need for a sustainable and reliable supply of clean drinking water for California's cities,” said Bill Jennings, chairman of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance in Stockton. “The Metropolitan Water District gambled it could raid the Delta for ‘surplus’ water. It not only lost that bet, but the Monterey Plus Amendments triggered the collapse of Delta ecosystems and our once-great salmon fisheries.”
For more information on the Monterey Plus Amendments, see
http://www.c-win.org/monterey-plus-agreement.html and http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/monterey_plus_amendments/index.html.
The California Water Impact Network promotes the equitable and environmental use of California's water, including instream uses, through research, planning, public education, and litigation. www.c-win.org
CSPA is a non-profit conservation and research organization established in 1983 for the purpose of conserving, restoring, and enhancing the state's water quality and fishery resources and their aquatic and riparian ecosystems. www.calsport.org
The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with more than 260,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. www.biologicaldiversity.org