Delta News

Judge upholds major provisions of complex Delta management plan

A judge has ruled that portions of a state agency’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta plan are inadequate, raising fresh questions about Gov. Jerry Brown’s controversial $15.5 billion plan to build two tunnels through the estuary.
A judge has ruled that portions of a state agency’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta plan are inadequate, raising fresh questions about Gov. Jerry Brown’s controversial $15.5 billion plan to build two tunnels through the estuary. The Sacramento Bee

A judge has upheld major provisions of a state plan that lays out a long-term strategy for managing the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, rejecting most complaints included in a cluster of long-standing lawsuits.

But in a ruling Wednesday, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael P. Kenny also found that some aspects of the plan are inadequate, raising fresh questions about Gov. Jerry Brown’s controversial $15.5 billion plan to build two tunnels through the estuary.

Kenny issued his mixed decision in a case that combined multiple lawsuits against the Delta Stewardship Council, the state agency whose members were tasked by a 2009 law with crafting a vision for the Delta. The agency issued its sweeping plan in 2013, with the aim of resolving decades of conflict among environmentalists, farmers, anglers and south-of-Delta water agencies over how the fragile estuary should be developed and how much water could be exported from its channels.

Instead, the Delta Plan was met with a flurry of lawsuits reflecting objections from virtually all of the competing interests that depend on Delta water.

A key requirement of the legislation that authorized the Delta Plan is that it balance the “co-equal goals” of protecting the rich Delta environment and ensuring stable freshwater supplies for the south state – seemingly contradictory demands that have defined the state’s water battles for decades.

Several key complaints in the lawsuits centered on this requirement, albeit from different angles: Environmental groups argued the plan lacks the teeth to force a reduction in reliance on Delta water. The south-of-Delta agencies that rely on that exported water, meanwhile, said the plan failed to meet the requirement for stabilizing supplies.

In a complex 73-page ruling, Kenny denied most of the claims. But he did side with environmentalists in a couple of ways that could complicate Brown’s tunnels plan.

Most notably, Kenny said the plan fails “to promote options for water conveyance and storage systems,” in the Delta other than presuming Brown’s tunnels get built. Kenny also ruled that the plan failed to “include quantified or otherwise measurable targets associated with achieving reduced Delta reliance” for the state’s water supply.

“It’s huge,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, an anti-tunnels group. “If you cannot put more water in those tunnels, they do not pencil out.”

In a written statement, Delta Stewardship Council executive officer Jessica Pearson said she was pleased the judge upheld the “vast majority of issues regarding the adequacy of its master plan for the Delta,” and that the plan was “based on best available science.”

A spokesman said the council already is working to address the issues raised in Kenny’s ruling.

Ryan Sabalow: 916-321-1264, @ryansabalow.

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