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Executive Summary for May 18th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments around the West, including a move to block tunnels lawsuits, legislation to further water efficiency and a potential legal challenge addressing U.S.-Mexico border wastewater issues.

Published on May 18, 2018 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Rider Would Halt Delta Tunnels Lawsuits

A provision slipped into a big federal spending bill would seek to fend off legal challenges facing California’s plan for new water conveyance tunnels in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

California WaterFix, as the $17 billion project is known, is supported by California Gov. Jerry Brown and his administration, but faces legal challenges after more than 20 lawsuits have been filed against the project. It could take years for those to work their way through the courts.

But the U.S. House Interior Appropriations Committee, led by California Rep. Ken Calvert, released a draft spending bill for fiscal year 2019 for the Interior Department and other agencies and included in that 142-page bill was a provision that would block state and federal lawsuits challenging the project, the Sacramento Bee reported.

“This rider wouldn’t just affect a few cases brought by environmental groups,” wrote Doug Obegi, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has opposed the project. “More than 25 lawsuits have been filed challenging the permits, bond funding and environmental review of the California WaterFix project.” Some of those challenges have come from municipalities such as San Joaquin County and the City of Stockton; water agencies such as East Bay Municipal Water District and Kern County Water Agency; as well as the Winnemem Wintu tribe, and fishing, conservation and other environmental organizations.

California Threatens Lawsuit Over Mexico Sewage

Untreated sewage flowing from the Tijuana River into the U.S. has prompted the California attorney general and the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board to file an intent to sue a federal agency.

The Times of San Diego reported that California attorney general Xavier Becerra and the regional water board claim that in violation of the Clean Water Act, the “United States Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission, which is tasked with seeking binational solutions to issues, has let more than 12 million gallons of untreated sewage flow into the U.S. since 2015.”

The notice says that the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant, just south of the U.S.-Mexico border, is not adequately treating water before it’s discharged into the Tijuana River, and KUSI reported that the wastewater often contains high levels of pesticides, heavy metals and bacteria.

California Efficiency Legislation Takes Step Forward

Two bills cleared major hurdles in the California legislature that will help further the governor’s goal of enshrining water conservation and efficiency.

Senate Bill 606 and Assembly Bill 1668, which aim to close gaps in water data, help rural communities prepare for drought and establish permanent goals for water efficiency, passed on the Senate and Assembly floors. The legislation may soon be headed to the governor’s desk.

Senator Bob Hertzberg, who sponsored SB 606, released a statement saying, “The pair of bills we passed today is historic in its ambition. It is the result of hundreds of hours of meetings, compromise and consensus building on all sides.”

The bills came from a 2016 Executive Order from Gov. Jerry Brown focused on “Making Water Conservation a California Way of Life” and from lessons gleaned during California’s five-year drought.

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