On November 19, 2015, the Center for Environmental Science, Accuracy and Reliability (CESAR) filed a lawsuit against the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), the U.S. Department of the Interior (Interior) and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) (collectively, Federal Defendants) for violating the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in connection with the installation, operation and removal of an emergency drought salinity barrier at West False River in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California (Case No. 2:15-cv-0242-WBS-KJN) and the matter has been assigned to Honorable Judge William B. Shubb and referred to Magistrate Judge Kendall J. Newman.
CESAR alleges that the salinity barrier project resulted in the unauthorized take of federally threatened delta smelt (Hypomesus transpacificus) due to changed flows and increased salinity levels, as well as blockage of access to spawning and rearing habitat, and that Interior was required, but failed to reinitiate formal consultation with USFWS to obtain take authorization for the salinity barrier project. A key issue in the case is whether the salinity barrier project was authorized under the 2008 USFWS biological opinion and the 2009 National Marine Fisheries Service biological opinion relating to the coordinated long-term operations of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project. CESAR seeks declaratory and injunctive relief.
CESAR’s pending suit against DWR and Federal Defendants is the organization’s third attempt to stop the salinity barrier project. CESAR’s suit to stop the construction of the salinity barrier was blocked by the court in June of this year. Approximately two months ago, the court dismissed CESAR’s earlier complaint, holding that CESAR failed to comply with the ESA’s 60-day notice provision.