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State drilling without required permits, not taking steps to protect nesting birds
The county is suing the state to stop drilling without permits to collect data for the Delta tunnel project.

The State of California is ignoring local law and failing to protect nesting birds as state law requires in a bid to push the Delta Tunnel project forward.

That is the contention of the latest lawsuit local agencies say they have been forced to file against the state as they try to protect the water needs of area residents, businesses, and farms as well as protect wildlife as the Department of Water Resources pushes to reshape water flows in a bid to serve south state interests that want a water conveyance around the Delta and at the same time increase water flows for fish.  Water agencies south of the Delta see the subtracting of water from the Delta by a tunnel triggering an even greater water grab from the Merced, Stanislaus and Tuolumne rivers for fish flows than the state is seeking.

San Joaquin County filed the lawsuit in a bid to make the Department of Water Resources (DWR)  abide by local drilling permit requirements to protect wildlife and water quality in accordance with California state law.

“DWR commenced this work despite the lack of a defined project and despite the Governor’s actions to develop a “Portfolio” approach to water supplies,” said San Joaquin County Supervisor Chuck Winn, a former Ripon council member. “Although the Governor directed State agencies to engage Delta communities and other stakeholders in the tunnel and Portfolio planning processes, DWR ignored the local well permit requirements that apply to all drilling including state agencies.”  

Geotechnical well drilling has been taking place under the direction of the DWR in San Joaquin and Sacramento counties to collect data the agency says it needs for a proposed Delta tunnel project.  

The lawsuit filed in San Joaquin County Superior Court indicated in at least one instance, DWR commenced well-drilling activities without complying with its own mitigation measures designed to protect nesting birds. This failure violated the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act, according to the County’s lawsuit.

The County’s permitting requirements for well-drilling activities protect public health, safety, and welfare by ensuring that any wells or other borings in contact with groundwater are properly mapped and closed after the investigation is complete. For similar reasons, Sacramento County has also sued DWR for drilling without a permit.

That is in addition to a lawsuit filed by impacted landowners that did not give DWR permission to drill on their land.

A rash of lawsuits have been filed against the state after DWR told local agencies they would explore possible compromises regarding unimpaired fish flows but before talks started went ahead and adopted a plan.

South San Joaquin Irrigation District is suing the State of California over the decision to increase unimpaired water flows on the three rivers with the goal of increasing salmon population by 1,103 more salmon a year.

The suit filed along with Oakdale Irrigation District in January in Tuolumne County aims to stop a Dec. 12 board decision that would require a 40 percent unimpaired flow between February and June on the Stanislaus, Merced, and Tuolumne rivers to bolster salmon population.

Currently the flows are capped at 30 percent. While the board decision would have the 40 percent unimpaired flow reached by fluctuating between a range of 30 and 50 percent, various fishing groups have slammed that decision as being woefully inadequate and have called for unimpaired flows approaching 70 percent.

In March thhe federal government sued the State of California over the water grab plan to increase water flows in the Lower San Joaquin River that has a high likelihood of New Melones Reservoir — based on the planned diversion and historic hydrology on the Stanislaus River Basin — going dry 12 times every 95 years.

The federal government’s lawsuit follows a suit filed in February in state court by the California Farm Bureau Federation to block the plan.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email