On February 21 the Trump Administration prevailed in court – in a venue where it had lost a high profile case only days before – only there was a catch.
It probably didn’t want this win. Now it’s stuck with it.
The case was San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority v. Kevin Haugrud,and the decision came from a panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The decision was written by Judge Randy Smith, a George W. Bush appointee from Idaho.
The case was brought by a couple of California water authorities which disagreed with the Bureau of Reclamation’s decision to use a significant amount of the water in the area for in-stream environmental purposes, specifically to protect fish in the lower Klamath River. The actions triggering the case concerned a major water release in 2013 aimed at preventing a massive fish die-off.
The circuit court said that a 1955 law and “gave the Bureau the authority to implement the 2013 flow augmentation release to protect fish in the lower Klamath River. Affirming the district court, the panel also held that the 2013 flow augmentation release did not violate Central Valley Project Improvement Act section 3406(b)(23), which called for a permanent water release that would serve only the Trinity River basin. The panel further held that the 2013 flow augmentation release did not violate California water law and, in turn, did not violate the Reclamation Act of 1902 or CVPIA section 3411(a), both of which require the Bureau to comply with state water permitting requirements.”
The court also said the water authorities failed to show that the Bureau’s actions specifically would harm their local economic interests – a precondition for having standing.
The results were very much in line with what the Obama Administration, which argued the case in court, had sought. The Trump Administration may take a different view.
Last spring, Trump told an audience of farmers from the drought-hit Central Valley, “If I win, believe me, we’re going to start opening up the water.”
But as PBS noted, “Precisely how he will do that is up for debate, since the federal government’s role in California’s water politics is not all-powerful. The federal government owns and operates the infrastructure that delivers most water to farmers in the Central Valley. But the state can limit how much water that system distributes through a permitting process and other regulation.”
This kind of environmental law can be frustrating for people on both sides of the equation. The Trump Administration may become the latest to find that to be the case.