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It’s Reached In 18-Year-Old Litigation
Over San Joaquin River Flows, Salmon Fishery 7/1/06 Issue Alert
egotiators announced Friday afternoon (June 30) that a settlement aimed at resolving 18-year-old San Joaquin River environmental litigation and initiating restoration of the river downstream from Friant Dam in central California has been agreed to fully in principle. Attorneys for the Friant Water Users Authority (FWUA), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Federal Government told the United States District Court in a status report filing that they have reached agreement on stipulation of settlement and that the accord is ready to be circulated to all of the case’s parties with a recommendation for approval.
Two weeks earlier, the parties told U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton during a Sacramento hearing that agreement had been reached on all salient and substantive points in the complex case.
THE historic agreement, once finalized by the court, will launch one of the nation’s most ambitious and expensive river and fishery restoration projects ever. It was months in the making and came about as the parties were preparing to go to trial on the often-contentious legal and environmental issues. At the heart of the now-settled litigation is an environmental and fishing coalition’s long-standing legal effort to compel restoration of flows, habitat and a salmon fishery in the San Joaquin River between Friant Dam and the Merced River.
The agreement will result in some Central Valley Project water used historically by growers and residents in the one million acre Friant Division along the san Joaquin Valley’s East Side being rescheduled to re-establish river flows upstream from the Merced River. It would also require federal legislation, and federal and state appropriations, to
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make restoration a reality. All concerned are well aware that a great deal of planning, construction and water management decisions will be required.
“We are extremely pleased by the efforts of all parties in seeking to settle this litigation,” said Ronald D. Jacobsma, Friant Water Users Authority Consulting General Manager. “Now, as it has for many years, Friant stands ready to help make this process work.” Jacobsma is a member of the Family Farm Alliance’s Advisory Committee.
“What we're trying to do is provide the conditions for salmon to return above the Merced River without sacrificing the country's most productive agricultural economy,” Gregory Wilkinson of Best Best & Krieger and a FWUA attorney, said.
FWUA attorney Daniel Dooley said negotiators for the state and the settling parties had reached agreement on text of a memorandum of understanding regarding the federal and state roles in implementing the settlement, one that will be recommended to respective clients.
“All of us are anxious to finalize this settlement agreement and reach out to the river’s other stakeholders so we can move into the challenges of achieving San Joaquin River restoration in a manner that is consistent with the water supply purposes of the Central Valley Project,” Jacobsma said. “We are hopeful the parties, the people they represent and others interested in the river will accept the settlement as an equitable means of advancing river restoration in a manner that provides opportunity to minimize negative water supply and economic impacts to the region.”
The current successful settlement effort is the second try to resolve the case. The first began in the case’s 11th year, after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the Ninth Circuit ruling. Exploratory contacts were made and, in 1999, the NRDC and its coalition joined with the FWUA and 18 Friant contractors in settlement negotiations. In the process, the parties overcame years of distrust to initially negotiate a mutual goals statement and assurances. Those principles included pledges to seek to enhance the river to maintain fish populations, including Chinook salmon, but without adversely affecting Friant water users. All parties asked for, and received, a stay in the remaining federal court litigation. Talks focused on river restoration between Friant Dam and the Merced River and eventually evolved into two studies sponsored by a FWUA-NRDC partnership with backing of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and California Department of Water Resources, examining water supply needs and strategies for restoring the river. Even though this first four-year round of negotiations proved unsuccessful with the parties ending up going back to court, a foundation was laid.
IN THE SUMMER of 2005 as attorneys for the plaintiffs, FWUA and United States government prepared for a February 14, 2006, trial date to decide “remedies” for Judge Karlton’s decision that a “historic” salmon fishery had to be restored by the federal government, Senator Dianne Feinstein and House Water and Power Subcommittee Chairman George Radanovich began a non-partisan effort to bring the parties together. A new series of negotiations began. Talks were frequent and just as often difficult but progress, although slow, proved to be steady. In addition, the State of California has expressed strong interest in participating in the implementation process.
In April, the court was informed that agreement had been achieved on numerous issues, including restoration flows. However, several points of contention remained to be resolved. The list of issues has been steadily whittled down.
PLAINTIFFS: Natural Resources Defense Council, Trout Unlimited of California, the Bay Institute of San Francisco, California Natural Resources Federation, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, California Trout, Friends of the River, Northern California Guides Associations, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center, Sierra Club, Stanislaus Audubon Society, United Anglers of California, California Striped Bass Association and National Audubon Society.
NON-FEDERAL DEFENDANTS: The Friant Water Users Authority and 18 of the agencies that hold contracts with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for use of CVP water from the San Joaquin River.
DEFENDANTS: The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which administers the CVP and Friant Dam, and other federal agencies. The original action was brought against the U.S. Bureau. Now known as NRDC vs. Rodgers, the case has gone through a series of name changes as the Bureau has gained new Mid-Pacific Regional Directors. Kirk Rodgers now holds that position.
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM Pacific
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