Butte County has filed a lawsuit against the Department of Water Resources over their “WaterFix” plan to bury a pair of tunnels underneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and move water from the Sacramento River to southern California. The county supervisors unanimously voted last month to file the lawsuit.


The suit is based on a letter, sent last year, to DWR that points out environmental and socioeconomic issues with the Environmental Impact Report. In the letter, the county states that while they’re not a beneficiary of the WaterFix, its plan would impact and impose obligations on communities, water users, and the environment in the northern Sacramento Valley.


“Unfortunately, the administration has ignored every suggestion offered by Butte County and intends to move forward with the California WaterFix and California EcoRestore with little regard to legal requirements or mitigating impacts,” according to a press release by the county.


Sacramento Valley water users would lose about 50,000 acre-feet-of water a year that would have to be replaced with groundwater pumping. Osha Meserve, who represents Bogle Vineyards — the region’s largest winery — as well as a host of northern delta farmers and reclamation districts that would have to rely on groundwater, is worried about the impact of the tunnels. “Time has been spent discussing the concerns, but in terms of actually addressing them, I don’t think that’s ever happened. That’s why we’re preparing to file a lawsuit,” said Meserve as quoted in the LA Times. This lawsuit would be separate from the one Butte County has filed.


Critics of the delta tunnel project worry that depriving the delta of flows from the Sacramento River will spoil water quality by permitting brackish water from the San Francisco Bay to creep deeper into the estuary.


The proposed project would divert flows around the delta through a pair of massive, 35-mile tunnels. It’s estimated to cost $16.7 billion and could begin as early as 2018. To finance the project, DWR is looking to water agencies, which are expected to vote soon on whether they will participate. If too many of them say no, the project could die.


Butte County may be filing a second suit over another legal action that DWR took in July. The county believes DWR is attempting to broaden the pool of people who would pay for the project by adding a number of beneficiaries — who will get a limited amount of water from the project — to share the costs.


Under the plan, officials still need to acquire the land necessary, which is likely to happen through the process of eminent domain. If owners refuse to sell, the State will proceed to acquire the land through eminent domain and landowners will be forced to make a sale.


We will continue to follow this project as plans evolve. If you think your property or business may be taken for the WaterFix project, you can learn more about your options by giving us a call at (866) EM-DOMAIN.