(Ronen Tivony/NurPhoto/Sipa USA/TNS)

Becerra sues Trump administration over Delta water diversions

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra sued President Donald Trump’s administration in federal court in San Francisco Thursday to challenge biological reports justifying increased water diversions from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to Central California.

Becerra filed the lawsuit on the day after Trump at a ceremony in Bakersfield signed a presidential memorandum supporting the development and delivery of more water supplies in the Central Valley. The memorandum and a related operations plan by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation rely on biological opinions in which two federal agencies concluded that increased water diversion from the delta would not harm three endangered or threatened fish species: the Delta smelt, Chinook salmon and Central Valley steelhead trout.

Becerra filed the suit on behalf of the California Natural Resources Agency, the California Environmental Protection Agency and the people of California.

It claims the biological opinions issued last year by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service “run counter to the scientific evidence that was before the agencies” and failed to analyze the potential harm to the species.

The lawsuit asks for court orders setting aside the biological opinions and prohibiting the administration from taking any action in reliance on the opinions until a new environmental analysis is completed.

Becerra said in a statement, “California won’t silently spectate as the Trump Administration adopts scientifically challenged biological opinions that push species to extinction and harm our natural resources and waterways.” Gov. Gavin Newsom said, “Our goal continues to be to realize enforceable voluntary agreements that provide the best immediate protection for species, reliable and safe drinking water, and dependable water sources for our farmers for economic prosperity.”

In a news release announcing Trump’s action Wednesday, U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said, “President Trump gave the Department of the Interior and the Department of Commerce clear direction to move forward and provide water to California’s communities and farms.

“This action furthers President Trump’s commitment to America’s hardworking farmers who need water to feed our nation,” Bernhardt said.

The defendants in the case are Bernhardt, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Reclamation and the agency leaders. The fisheries service and the Bureau of Reclamation are divisions of the Commerce Department and the Fish and Wildlife Service is in the Interior Department. A coalition of fishing and environmental groups filed a similar lawsuit against the administration in federal court in San Francisco in December to challenge the biological opinions.

Two Central Valley water agencies that were allowed to join the case to defend the biological opinions have asked to have that lawsuit transferred to federal court in Fresno.

U.S Magistrate Laurel Beeler will hear arguments on that motion in her San Francisco courtroom on March 26.

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