Lawsuit Aims to Force California Cities to Share in Water Cutbacks

Thursday, 21 Aug 2014 12:21 PM

By Andrea Billups

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A California law "selectively" imposes watering restrictions on farming areas to save fish species under the Endangered Species Act but exempts urbanites in San Francisco and other population centers from similar cutbacks, according to a federal lawsuit.

"California is a tale of two cities. If you added all the agrarian counties of California together in terms of registered voters, that’s not even enough to offset either San Francisco or Los Angeles. There are not enough votes," Aubrey Bettencourt, executive director of the California Water Alliance, told The Washington Times about the lawsuit, intended to force wealthy city dwellers, including U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who represents San Francisco in Congress, to share their pain as water woes increase in her home state.

"I think the law is being subjectively applied," Bettencourt said.

The lawsuit was brought by a local watchdog and supported by attorneys at the Fresno-based Center for Environmental Science, Accuracy and Reliability (CESAR), The Fresno Bee reported.

It contends that the Hetch Hetchy Valley project, flooded in 1923 and to supply the San Francisco Bay area with water, has been exempted from the same harsh restrictions imposed in rural areas, creating a double standard for certain communities. The reservoir is located within Yosemite National Park.

Craig Manson, who heads CESAR, told the Times that farmers in the region's San Joaquin Valley don't have the political heft that city residents, including Pelosi and other prominent liberal power brokers do, leaving them to suffer alone.

He has asked the U.S. Parks Service to end a special EPA exemption, but the agency has declined.

Water provided to farmers in the region's Central Valley has been cut back in favor of protecting fish habitat, according to the lawsuit, which alleges that the Fish and Wildlife Service along with the National Marine Fisheries Service "have required no such cutbacks for the Hetch Hetchy Project diversions because [the] defendants have never initiated the statutorily required ESA consultations," the Times reported.

Without the Hetch Hetchy diversion, about 15 percent more water would get to areas near Sacramento that are hotbeds for salmon, sturgeon, and smelt species, according to the suit.

The Hetch Hetchy reservoir is responsible for about 85 percent of San Francisco's water supply, and despite their environmental bent, many residents there have turned a weary eye at environmentalist efforts that it be drained, the Times reported.

A 2013 effort to drain the reservoir failed after the five-member San Francisco Public Utilities Commission approved a plan to block such draining, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

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