Fish Story: Sierra Club Lawsuit Claims Unlawful Water Diversion Terminating Trout

rainbowtrsteelhead fig1.jpg
Rod Sutterby
Mr. Trout, siding with the plaintiffs...
Anyone who's ever seen Show Boat knows that "Fish gotta swim." Also, "Birds gotta fly" and "I gotta love one man 'til I die." The first of these needs was addressed in a recent federal lawsuit filed in San Francisco by The Sierra Club and the Carmel River Steelhead Association against the government and the California American Water Company alleging the latter's unlawful water diversions in the Carmel River have left the state's steelhead trout out to dry -- literally.

The suit claims that California American has been diverting nearly four times the amount of water it is legally allowed from the river for agricultural irrigation (up to 11,285 acre-feet when 3,376 acre-feet is the annual limit. Incidentally, an "acre-foot" is the amount of water -- or pudding, or whatever -- required to flood one acre of land one foot deep. That's about 325,851 gallons. That's not nothing).

The environmentalists claim that this year only 95 steelheads were counted beneath San Clemente Dam -- a 17-year low. While the defendants think it's ridiculous to blame this on the river being pumped dry -- well, the Sierra Club et al. see things differently.

The plaintiffs demand an immediate 35 percent reduction in water diversions -- and that's just for starters -- with the eventual goal being that the endangered fish can reach and surmount the San Clemente Dam. Or, as they put it in legalese :

California American has not obtained an incidental take permit under Section 10 of the ESA, nor has it sought approval by NMFS of a Section 10 habitat conservation plan, regarding the effects of the operation of its diversions on steelhead. In consequence, Cal-Am does not have an incidental take permit for its operation of the Project and is strictly liable under Section 9 and the regulations promulgated udner ESA for any taking of threatened steelhead in the SCCC DPS that results in harm to steelhad from such operation.
Not as pleasing to the ear as "Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly," no. Then again, Rodgers and Hammerstein never went to law school.

Note: Despite earlier reports in this article and elsewhere, the water diverted by California Water is not being used for agricultural purposes. Plaintiffs attorney Laurens Silver affirms that "95 percent" of the water in question is being used for "urban purposes" in cities like Monterey and Seaside. 

H/T   |   Courthouse News
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