OAKLAND—San Francisco Baykeeper filed a lawsuit today against the Santa Clara Valley Water District over its water management practices that violate the California Constitution, the Fish and Game Code, and the public trust.
Valley Water is responsible for area creeks and rivers that support salmon, steelhead, longfin smelt, riffle sculpin, rainbow trout, and many other public trust resources. These fish are key to the health of local ecosystems relied on by surrounding communities. That’s why the public trust doctrine requires that anything that affects such public resources be taken into account when water allocation decisions are made, and the Fish and Game Code requires that fish populations be kept "in good condition."
Valley Water has failed for years to manage its waters in a manner that protects fish and wildlife. Valley Water routinely causes temperatures in the creeks and rivers it manages to be too warm and flow rates to be at levels that are too low. This combination of too little water that is too warm is fatal to fish.
Valley Water agreed two decades ago to improve habitat and fish condition. Yet after years of study and process, public trust resources are more endangered than ever. Baykeeper brings its lawsuit to force long overdue and necessary change.
Baykeeper staff attorney Ben Eichenberg issued the following statement:
“The fish of San Francisco Bay and the greater watershed are critical resources that not only belong to the people of California but are important indicators for the ecological health of our region. Valley Water is violating the public trust by starving these fish of the water they need to survive.
“Valley Water’s legal obligations are clear: They must take action immediately to prevent the destruction of fish populations in the rivers and creeks they manage. This is what the law demands, it’s good for the Bay Area, and it’s long overdue.
“Furthermore, Valley Water’s decades-long failure to ensure healthy waters is an affront to environmental justice and to the underserved communities who suffer from the agency’s refusal to meet its legal responsibilities. Rather than exploiting these communities and scapegoating the advocates who stand up for them, the agency needs to accept responsibility for its delays and get to work.
"Water districts throughout the state have mismanaged water supplies for decades, and it's high time we put a stop to it for the health of San Francisco Bay, its fisheries, and for the people. Valley Water has been failing the people of California, and it will continue to fail unless we hold them accountable."