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San Joaquin River Settlement Agreement


A court ordered settlement agreement that took effect in October 2006 ended a 20 year lawsuit requiring State and federal agencies to cooperate in returning water and a self-sustaining salmon population to the San Joaquin River. The following is a summary of the progress to date and links to information on the agreement.

Natural Resources Defense Council, et al., v. Kirk Rodgers, et al.

Plaintiffs:  Sierra Club; Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC); The Bay Institute of San Francisco; National Audubon Society; Stanislaus County Audubon Society; Friends of the River; San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center; California Natural Resources Foundation; Trout Unlimited of California; California Sportfishing Protection Alliance; California Trout; NORCAL Fishing Guides & Sportmen's Association; Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Association; United Anglers of California; California Striped Bass Association.
 
Defendants: 
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation; U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; National Marine Fisheries Service.  Defendant-Intervenors: Friant Water Users Association; Several irrigation districts with contracts; to receive water; Divisions of the federal Central Valley Project.
 
Summary:    In 1988, a coalition of environmental and fishing groups led by NRDC filed a lawsuit challenging renewal of the long term water service contracts between the U.S. and the Central Valley Project (CVP), Friant Division contractors. A
t the time of completion of the Friant Dam, the Bureau of Reclamation did not believe that it had any legal obligation to release water to maintain fish resources or to meet other ecological needs below the dam.  Therefore, the Bureau entered into 40-year contracts that committed every drop of the San Joaquin River to irrigation districts and other water suppliers in the Valley.  When these contracts came up for renewal in the 1980s, the Bureau entered into a new round of contracts that were identical to the contracts signed in the 1940s.
 
Plaintiffs asserted that the Bureau's operation of the dam violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the California Fish and Game Code (section 5937), which requires dam operators to release sufficient water to maintain "good fish populations." Individual Friant dam contractors intervened as defendants in the suit.
 
In 1992, Congress passed the Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA), which directed the Bureau to take steps to remedy the environmental harm caused by the Central Valley Project.  The Act prohibited the Secretary of the Interior from entering into any new long term contracts until all ESA and NEPA procedural requirements were fully carried out and potential impacts considered.  It also directed the Central Valley Project to comply with state laws and to elevate fish and wildlife to a co-equal purpose with irrigation in the operation of the project. Finally, Congress ordered the Secretary to incorporate all requirements imposed by existing law into renewed contracts.
 
In 1997, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District issued its final judgment, deciding mostly in favor of the environmentalists.  In June 1998 (almost ten years after the litigation began), the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's ruling that (1) the Bureau of Reclamation is subject to Fish & Game Code section 5937, (2) the Bureau violated the ESA in renewing the contracts, and (3) the long- term renewal contracts were rescinded. The Ninth Circuit did not reach the issue of whether releases from Friant Dam for fisheries are required and remanded the case to the District Court for further proceedings.
 
In 1998, the environmental plaintiffs and non-federal defendants commenced settlement negotiations, and in January 1999, the District Court ordered a stay in the proceedings to allow settlement discussions to proceed.  Over the next four years, the plaintiffs and the Friant contractors commissioned joint studies and conducted pilot projects for a consensual restoration program, but the settlement discussions ultimately failed.
 
In 2001, while settlement discussions were underway, the Bureau and the Friant Dam contractors entered into new long-term water service contracts to replace the contracts that the District Court had rescinded.  This new round of contracts are essentially identical to the contracts rescinded in the 1990s and allow for all water diverted at Friant Dam to be used for irrigation, with none released for the environment.   In order to facilitate the settlement discussions in the ongoing litigation, the parties stipulated that the plaintiffs would not challenge the new contracts while the present case was stayed, but that the contracts would be subject to the final judgment in the case. 
In 2003, Friant Contractors rejected the settlement agreement after 6 extensions after the court ordered the case stayed.  In 2004, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton ruled the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's operation of Friant Dam violated state fish and game codes because salmon had been eliminated from the San Joaquin.  A final settlement stipulation was approved by the court in October 2006. 
 
Current Settlement Agreement
 
In September 2006, a settlement was signed between environmental and fishing groups, Central Valley farmers, and the state and federal governments to undertake one of the nation’s largest river restoration projects.  The agreement aims at returning the water flows and the historic salmon runs to California’s second longest river, the San Joaquin.  The Settlement Agreement ends 18 years of litigation, and while it was approved by the federal court, the implementation of the agreement is still hinging on federal legislation to authorize the spending for the program. The agreement has multiple objectives for Environmental Restoration and Water Management to ensure a successful restoration and minimize any potential water loss impacts to water users.

AttachmentSize
Construction Schedule.pdf682.02 KB
Settlement Agreeent Final.pdf3.02 MB
Fact Sheet SJRRP.pdf45.3 KB
IPAR.pdf1.89 MB
IPAR Water Supply Map.jpg180.63 KB
NRDC Settlement Fact Sheet.pdf88.89 KB
Other Settlement Features.pdf1.68 MB
Settlement News Release.pdf2.59 MB
Summary of Settlement.pdf3.47 MB
SJRRP Fact Sheet.pdf422.07 KB
Timeline SJRRP copy.jpg141.12 KB

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