Thursday, April 14, 2011

EBMUD Loses Court Case Involving New Dam in Sierra Foothills

By Robert Gammon
Thu, Apr 14, 2011 at 1:54 PM

A Sacramento judge has ruled against East Bay MUD, saying that its environmental impact report for future water projects, including a proposed new dam on the Mokelumne River, violates California environmental law. Judge Timothy M. Frawley ruled that East Bay MUD should have studied viable alternatives to building a new dam in the Sierra Foothills, including an already planned expansion of the Los Vaqueros Reservoir in eastern Contra Costa County by a neighboring water agency.

“The ruling will force East Bay MUD to finally examine a water supply alternative that would spare an already over-appropriated Mokelumne River from further water diversions,” Bill Jennings of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance said in a statement. The alliance was one of three groups that sued East Bay MUD in November 2009 over its EIR. “The irony is that if East Bay MUD had evaluated joining the Contra Costa Water District in the Los Vaqueros project, they would be on the verge of beginning construction of additional secure water supply facilities.”

In the coming weeks, Judge Frawley will formally order East Bay MUD to set aside its October 2009 certification of its EIR, and require the agency to redo parts of it. “We hope this ruling will bring EBMUD to its senses,” said Katherine Evatt, president of the Foothill Conservancy, which also sued along with the environmental group Friends of the River. “It’s time for them to stop wasting their ratepayers’ money pursuing ‘New Pardee’7 and develop an environmentally sound long-range water plan that doesn’t depend on destroying more of the Mokelumne River.”

East Bay MUD’s plan for a new dam on the Mokelumne would have destroyed a scenic stretch of the river that is popular with kayakers, swimmers, and fishermen. The area of the river also is important to local tourism trade in the Sierra Foothills, and most agencies and political leaders in the area opposed East Bay MUD’s plans. Expanding Los Vaqueros, by contrast, has been mostly uncontroversial because it does not include destroying a beautiful river.

But back in 2009, East Bay MUD dismissed the idea of working with the Contra Costa Water District on the Los Vaqueros expansion, claiming the project contained too many uncertainties. Judge Frawley, however, noted that many of East Bay MUD’s other plans for obtaining water contained even more uncertainty than the Los Vaqueros proposal. In fact, since East Bay MUD made its decision, Contra Costa has formally decided to move ahead with the Los Vaqueros expansion.

In the court case, East Bay MUD also argued that it did not have to do a more thorough environmental study of the new dam on the Mokelumne, because it had conducted what is known as a “programmatic” EIR that evaluated numerous water supply plans. The agency contended that it would do a detailed EIR on the dam once it formally decided to build it. However, Judge Frawley ruled that East Bay MUD’s programmatic EIR was still too superficial and should have more been more thorough under state law.

The judge also ruled that East Bay MUD didn’t sufficiently analyze impacts that the dam would have on the river’s cultural and recreational resources or the safety issues involving the planned removal of a bridge that serves as an emergency escape route for some local residents.

East Bay MUD spokesman Charles Hardy said the agency is studying the judge's ruling and it will be up to the agency's board of directors to decide whether to appeal it.

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