San Francisco, farmers team up to fight California’s ‘water grab’

The liberal city of San Francisco and conservative farmers in the San Joaquin Valley don’t have much in common politically. But they do agree on one thing: California regulators are going to take too much of their water and give it to endangered fish.

On Thursday, San Francisco joined a cadre of irrigation districts that pull water from the tributaries that flow into the Lower San Joaquin River in filing a lawsuit against a plan by the State Water Resources Control Board to take billions of gallons of their water.

Last month, the water board voted 4-1 to go ahead with a proposal that would require that the “unimpaired flows” of the lower San Joaquin River and its tributaries increase substantially. The board shelved, for the time being, an alternative plan proposed by San Francisco and the irrigation districts that would surrender less water while making investments in spawning grounds and other habitats to help Chinook salmon and other fish populations improve.

The board’s vote would reduce the amount of water available to farms and cities, including San Francisco, by 14 percent in a typical year and twice as much in a dry year. The board’s leaders did pledge to re-examine the alternative plan, championed by top officials in former Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration, in the coming months.

San Francisco and the agricultural districts, however, weren’t willing to wait. Their lawsuit, filed in Tuolumne County Superior Court, says the state board’s vote will mean “substantial adverse impacts on irrigated agriculture.” As for the city of San Francisco, the suit predicted “increased rationing throughout the service area.”

The litigation spells more trouble for a grand compromise plan brokered by Brown’s administration in December in an effort to calm the state’s longstanding water wars. Brown’s successor, Gov. Gavin Newsom, said Thursday he plans to scrutinize the compromise plans as well as conduct a reassessment of the membership of the state board. The five members of the board are all gubernatorial appointees.

A water board spokesman declined comment on the litigation.

San Francisco’s Public Utilities Commission has been fighting the plan and, along with farm-irrigation districts in Modesto and Turlock that have called the board’s plan a blatant “water grab,” arguing that their alternative proposal makes more sense for helping fish.

Read more of this Sacramento Bee article by Ryan Sabalow and Dale Kasler by clicking here.

Sign up now to receive early access to RTP content and exclusive materials available ONLY to our subscribers.