Oct 13, 2021
Biden pursues reversal of rules for California water projects

The struggle over management of water supplied through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta continues as the Biden administration seeks a reversal of rules put in place by agencies under the Trump administration.

In early October, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation sent a letter to federal fisheries agencies and announced it is reinitiating consultation of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service 2019 biological opinions related to the coordinated, long-term operation of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project.

The two water projects are California’s primary water-delivery systems that guide pumping of water through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, sending water south to tens of millions of people and to millions of acres of farmland.

The action by the bureau is in response to President Joe Biden’s Jan. 20 Executive Order that states his administration would review regulatory actions taken during the Donald Trump presidency between Jan. 20, 2017 and Jan. 20, 2021.

The agency actions to be reviewed under the order include those that involve the federal Endangered Species Act, such as biological opinions for the Central Valley and state water projects.

Citing politics for the swinging of the policy pendulum from one administration to another, California Farm Bureau Senior Counsel Chris Scheuring said, “It feels like Groundhog Day a little bit.”

“Here we are in another cycle of consultation under the ESA, and delta operations continue to be unreliable for reasons related to species conservation statutes that apply. There must be a better way,” Scheuring said. “This process of constant re-consultation is not helping the fish and leaves a huge cloud of uncertainty over the humans that rely upon the great state and federal water projects for their lives.”

Responding to the Biden administration announcement of re-consultation, a delegation of 11 Republican congress members reacted in a letter to the Interior and Commerce departments. Their letter called the administration’s rewrite of the 2019 biological opinions “reckless, anti-scientific and politically motivated.”

“The 2019 opinions reflect years of work by career staff experts at the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Commerce to incorporate the best available science and latest data to ensure a reliable water supply for California’s families, farms and communities, while protecting listed species and their environment in our state,” the delegation stated.

The Trump administration finalized new biological opinions for the Central Valley and state water projects in February 2020. Once finalized, the state of California immediately filed a lawsuit asserting that new rules for delta operations lack safeguards for protected species and habitat.

The Trump administration biological opinions are still being litigated in Fresno in the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of California.

Scheuring said Farm Bureau hopes that the state and federal governments and others find a way to conduct delta operations in a coordinated manner that benefits the environment and is good for service areas of the water projects.

– Christine Souza, California Farm Bureau Federation 

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