The Monterey Plus Amendments

Overturning the Monterey Plus Amendments to Protect California's Freshwater Ecosystems and Freshwater Supplies

In 1994, after negotiating for several months in secret at a resort in Monterey, the California Department of Water Resources and five State Water Project contractors executed the Monterey Agreement, which significantly modified — and threatened the very core purpose of — the contracts of the California State Water Project, the country's largest state-built water and power development and conveyance system. A complex network of reservoirs, aqueducts, and power and pumping plants, the State Water Project stores water and distributes it to urban and agricultural suppliers throughout California — supplying water for 755,000 acres of farmland and 23 million residents (two-thirds of the state's population). Maintained and operated by the California Department of Water Resources, the system is also meant to help improve water quality in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and enhance other habitat for fish and wildlife.

But after the 1994 agreement, the Department transferred public ownership of the Kern Water Bank, a 1-million acre-foot underground storage facility, to the agribusiness-dominated Kern County Water Agency, which in turn deeded the water bank to the Kern Water Bank Authority, a privately controlled entity.* After years of litigation and delay, the California Department of Water Resources has recently given final approval to the agreement, now called the Monterey Plus Amendments. For the first time in State Water Project history, publicly owned water rights and facilities are in essence privatized and placed under the control of for-profit corporations — greenlighting a new, deregulated market for buying and selling water that can never realistically be delivered and threatening to worsen water quality in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, triggering the collapse of the Delta's ecosystem and fisheries. A number of privately financed “water banks” have come into existence, allowing, in some cases, more money to be made by selling water than by farming.

Learn exactly what the Monterey Plus Amendments do.


The Monterey Plus Amendments are the California Department of Water Resources' and the state water contractors' second attempt at amending the state's long-term water contracts. In 1995, three organizations successfully sued over the inadequacy of the “environmental impact report” for the first attempt, called the Monterey Amendments. The courts agreed that, given the statewide implications of the first Monterey Amendments, environmental documents should have been prepared by the Department — not a local agency, the Central Coast Water Authority.

After the Department of Water Resources issued a final environmental impact report on its second attempt to amend the water contracts — the Monterey Plus Amendments — in June 2010 the Center (along with the California Water Impact Network, the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance and the South and Central Delta water agencies) sued the Department for approving the Amendments. The very next month, we filed another lawsuit to bring the Kern Water Bank back into state control, where it belongs. We're also seeking to return to the public all profits illegally secured through the Amendments and in 2011 joined a coalition of groups asking the Delta Stewardship Council to undo the privatization of the State Water Project.

The Center won't let private interests take over a public resource to the detriment of the California public, California wildlife and habitat, and the state's future.

And we won a key victory in our fight to keep California's water in the right hands when, in a pair of rulings on March 5, 2014, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Timothy M. Frawley struck down the environmental review of the operation of the Kern Water Bank. Judge Frawley found that the Department of Water Resources failed to properly consider the impacts of the operation of the Kern Water Bank by San Joaquin Valley agribusiness interests when it prepared its environmental review in 2010. In October 2014, the judge struck down the environmental review of the Kern Water Bank, requiring the state Department of Water Resources to conduct a new review of Kern Water Bank.

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California Aquaduct photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Ikluft