California Drought Water Bank and Merging the Big Projects

Harvey O. Banks Pumping Plant, near Tracy.

Courtesy of California Department of Water Resources.

On February 27, 2009, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a drought emergency that really only affected San Joaquin Valley counties. As part of the declaration, he called for implementation of a 2009 Drought Water Bank. The Drought Water Bank is intended to provide water-short irrigators with low priority water contracts in the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project with water from areas of California with surpluses.

C-WIN joined Butte Environmental Council and the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance to challenge the 2009 Drought Water Bank under the California Environmental Quality Act and won. Judge Alice Vilardi, Alameda County Superior Court, ruled in favor of our contention that droughts are normal weather patterns in California and do not represent an emergency justifying exemption from environmental review.

The idea of a drought water bank in California is to seek water right holders in the Sacramento Valley willing to forego their surface water rights from the CVP's Shasta Lake or the SWP's Lake Oroville so that the water can be delivered for a price to water-short irrigators, largely in the western San Joaquin Valley.

After two and half years of relatively dry weather in California, the federal Central Valley Project and State Water Project had emptied their reservoirs during 2007 and 2008. With a record-dry January 2009, the projects were deeply worried they would have to cut deliveries to irrigators dramatically in 2009's irrigation season (June through September).

C-WIN partnered with Sacramento Valley and fishing interests to challenge the mismanagement of the water projects during the previous two dry years. The environmental documentation was done poorly, and did not even cover the projects' desire to "consolidate the places of use" of the water they each deliver. In effect, they sought a merger of all of the places of use for their water so that Drought Water Bank water could be shunted to any part of the San Joaquin Valley from either water project.

C-WIN and its partners sued the state government over the implementation of the Drought Water Bank. You may also read our environmental documents and our testimony online.