Court Issues Temporary Injunction of Water Pumping in California’s Central Valley

On Monday, the Eastern District of California temporarily halted the Trump administration’s plans to pump in California’s Central Valley, ordering the federal government to revert to guidance from a 2009 Biological Opinion (BiOps) and reduce pumping until May 31st.

The opinion granted in part the motions for preliminary injunction filed against the government in two lawsuits, one by the state of California and the other from a group of six fishing and conservation organizations, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.

The federal government’s pumping projects, referred to as the Central Valley Project (CVP) and State Water Project (SWP), have recently come under scrutiny, as plans detailed in 2019 BioOps issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have potentially put categories of endangered fish species listed in in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), such as the California Central Valley Steelhead, in danger. Biological opinions are administrative decisions issued by the NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources that document how federal agencies’ actions will potentially affect species listed in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and their critical habitats.

The expanded pumping is intended to divert water to agriculture and development projects due to drought in the region, but critics of the Bureau of Reclamation’s plans have cited risks to salmon, longfin smelt, and delta smelt caused by reverse flows. The court’s recent decision cites, in particular, the risk for irreparable harm to the CCV Steelhead, a type of trout.

In a statement issued after the court’s decision, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra stated “We applaud the court for hitting pause on the Trump Administration’s reckless attempt to expand water export operations at the expense of California’s wildlife and habitats.”

Further guidance in the form of additional injunctions is expected from the court soon, as Judge Dale A. Drozd concluded that “the court intends to issue a separate order addressing those remaining requests for injunctive relief in the near future.”