In November 2015, several environmental groups, lead by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Bureau) and rice growers in the Sacramento Valley for water use practices. NRDC and supporters claim that “the Bureau unlawfully diverted limited water supplied from behind Shasta Dam for the use of corporate agriculture, instead of using water to keep Chinook salmon alive below the Dam.”
The supporters base their claims on dwindling populations of endangered Sacramento River Winter-Run Chinook salmon. Supporters claim that the Bureau’s actions led to the death of more than 95 percent of endangered salmon. Supporters feel that rice growers diverted more than their share of water during drought years, water that should have been used for environmental means including for endangered salmon. They feel that both the growers and the Bureau are behind the times in their management and irrigation practices. Supporters assert that the Bureau should be implementing 21st century water solutions including water recycling and storm water capture, and that growers should move away from flooding fields.
In 2015, the Bureau discovered that faulty temperature monitoring equipment on the Sacramento river lead water managers to believe that water was colder than it actually was. Fish biologists typically call for water temperatures at or below 57 degrees Fahrenheit.
This recent action is one in a series of challenges over the past decade. The Sacramento River Settlement Contractors (SRSC) have had contracts in place for more than 50 years, as a fundamental part of operating the Central Valley Project and the statewide water system. The supporters of the lawsuit challenge the validity of the water rights settlement contracts executed in 2005 between SRSCs and the Bureau.
By contrast, there are at least 3,000 known in-Delta water rights diversions and claims in addition to hundreds of additional water users illegally diverting water in the Delta. It is estimated that in-Delta diverters export up to 5,000 cubic feet per second from the Delta.
The Coalition is not directly involved in this lawsuit, but continues to closely monitor it’s progress.