Courts & Crime

Farmers’ courtroom poke at S.F.’s Hetch Hetchy Project moved to California

California farmers suddenly care about preserving water supplies for endangered smelt, salmon and sturgeon, at least as a way to jab at San Francisco’s own water use.

In a lawsuit filed last August, a farmer-associated group called the Center for Environmental Science, Accuracy & Responsibility argues that the Hetch Hetchy Project is endangering the endangered species, by diverting water from the Tuolumne River. While San Francisco relies upon the project for its drinking water, the lawsuit contends the diversions increase the salinity in the Tuolumne and San Joaquin Rivers as well as the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

The named plaintiff, in addition to the Fresno-based organization, is Jean Sagouspe, a Los Banos, Calif.-based farmer and former president of the Westlands Water District’s board of directors.

“Sagouspe’s economic interests are directly affected by the availability of Central Valley Project irrigation water which is, in turn, determined by viability of threatened and endangered species which rely on the availability of fresh water to maintain their habitat in the Tuolumne and San Joaquin Rivers and the Sacramento Delta,” attorney Roger Marzulla wrote in a brief.

The organization’s executive director, Craig Manson, is also general counsel of the Westlands district.

On Wednesday, a Washington, D.C.-based federal judge agreed with the Obama administration that the case should be transferred to the Eastern District of California.

“While decision-makers may be located in Washington D.C.,” U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell wrote, “the decisions themselves concern a government project that affects the diversion of water flows in rivers in California.”