The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s $175 million purchase of five islands in the heart of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta has been cleared to move forward, even as legal challenges continue.
On Thursday, the 3rd District Court of Appeal lifted a temporary stay order it had issued in June that briefly prevented the sale from closing. A coalition of environmental groups and local water districts, along with San Joaquin and Contra Costa counties, had requested the stay as part of a broader lawsuit challenging the sale.
Those groups sued in April, arguing the purchase could not go forward without an environmental review. Metropolitan officials have said it makes no sense to do an environmental review before the agency has a firm proposal for how it wants to use the islands. The case will be heard in San Joaquin Superior Court, even as the sale moves forward.
Metropolitan has suggested the islands could be used to store equipment or possibly fill dirt for Gov. Jerry Brown’s twin tunnels project, which is designed to improve the reliability of water shipments to areas south of the Delta. The project is unpopular among environmentalists and elected officials in the Delta region, and they have taken aim at Metropolitan’s pending land purchase, as well.
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Delta Wetlands Properties, a subsidiary of Swiss financial services conglomerate Zurich Insurance Group, bought the islands 20 years ago with the aim of converting them into giant reservoirs that could store water in wet years and ship it to Southern California when supplies run low. Local governments and landowners sued, and in 2013 negotiated a series of settlements that restrict what can be done with the land.
A separate lawsuit filed in Contra Costa Superior Court argues that Delta Wetlands signed a contract that requires future buyers to abide by the negotiated settlements. Metropolitan has said it has no plans to use the islands as reservoirs.