Friant Water Authority opposes state strategy on inconsistent water management

Friant Water Authority CEO Jason Phillips issues stern statement on California’s contrary incidental take permit

By Paul Myers

TULARE COUNTY– Earlier this year, President Donald Trump visited Bakersfield to put his signature on the biological opinion for the State Water Project and Central Valley Project. Governor Gavin Newsom and the state attorney general immediately filed their opposition in court.

Late last month, the Friant Water Authority’s CEO, Jason Phillips, expressed his displeasure of California’s take on the federal government’s biological opinion for the State Water Project.

“The State of California announced it is issuing a separate incidental take permit for operating the State Water Project that is inconsistent with the federal biological opinions finalized just over a month ago. This outcome is beyond disappointing,” Phillips said in a statement.

He added that the federal biological opinions were developed by career federal scientists using the best available information in a manner that was open, transparent and shared with state agencies throughout the more than three-year process to develop them.

Similar in ways to the the federal biological opinion the state incidental take permit (ITP) is a part of the California Fish and Game Code that allows the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to “authorize take of a species listed as endangered, threatened, candidate, or a rare plant…if certain conditions are met.”

Phillips said that an inconsistent opinion can lead to water shortages for those in need of water to irrigate crops, at a time when land is at risk of being fallowed.

“This action will reduce an already scarce water supply for the Valley at a time when experts predict shortfalls will force a million acres of productive farmland into retirement as we comply with state groundwater regulations,” Phillips stated.

Phillips said that the state’s ITP makes way for more water to be pushed out to the ocean. A move to help reduce salinity in the delta so as not to contaminate water for consumption or other use. But Phillips added that allowing more water to flow out into the ocean has been a strategy used to help restore a salmon population and preserve the delta smelt. However, it has yielded few results.

In his statement last week, Phillips said that the state’s ITP will inevitably land in court.

“While we are still evaluating the full impact of the state’s permit, we fear the inconsistency with the federal opinion and the failure to acknowledge the best available science will throw California’s water operations into a tailspin,” Phillips said. “It’s very difficult to envision a path forward that doesn’t include litigation, public bickering and finger-pointing, and water shortages and uncertainty for family farms, disadvantaged communities, and municipalities throughout the San Joaquin Valley and elsewhere in California.”

When it came time for the state and federal government to hammer out the criteria between the federal central valley project and the state water project before they were finalized, Phillips said the state was unwilling to work together.

“They flat out refused to work with this administration to agree on the criteria,” Phillips said. “What the state’s doing is clearly arbitrary and capricious.”

He added that there could be hundreds of thousands of acre feet lost if the federal and state governments do not agree to criteria.

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