Statement on Petition for Writ of Mandate
For Immediate Release
Contact: Diana Giraldo
FRESNO, CA – Today, Westlands Water District filed a petition for writ of mandate in the California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District, seeking an order that the Shasta County Superior Court vacate the preliminary injunction issued against the District on July 29, 2019.
The preliminary injunction, which was sought by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, enjoins Westlands from preparing an environmental impact report evaluating the potential impacts that might occur if the Bureau of Reclamation were to raise Shasta Dam by up to 18.5 feet. Westlands was preparing the environmental impact report to inform a future decision on whether it would contribute funds for the potential dam raise under provisions of the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, a bill co-authored by Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representative Kevin McCarthy and signed into law by President Barack Obama in December 2016.
Westlands General Manager Thomas Birmingham stated: “The District was disappointed the Court issued a preliminary injunction to stop Westlands from preparing and releasing for public comment a draft environmental impact report. State law does not prohibit Reclamation from raising Shasta Dam. Rather, state law prohibits an agency of the state from assisting or cooperating with the Bureau of Reclamation in planning or constructing any dam that ‘could have an adverse effect on the free-flowing condition of the McCloud River, or on its wild trout fishery.’ To date, no agency of the state has conducted any study to evaluate whether enlarging Shasta Dam by up to 18.5 feet, which Reclamation is proposing, would have adverse effects on the McCloud River or its wild trout fishery. To address this and other questions, Westlands initiated preparation of an environmental impact report pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The injunction issued by the Court enjoins Westlands from continuing with that environmental review pending the trial of the matter.”
In his moving papers and at oral argument on motion for a preliminary injunction, the Attorney General argued it would not be a violation of the law if Westlands were to study whether enlarging Shasta Dam 18.5 feet could adversely affect the free-flowing condition of the McCloud River or its wild trout fishery “in the abstract,” but the CEQA process, because it involves the public and other agencies, is not the proper mechanism for conducting the analysis to determine whether Westlands can lawfully participate in the project.
With respect to this argument Birmingham added, “It is inconceivable this Attorney General would argue that Westlands can lawfully study the issue ‘in the abstract,’ but it is unlawful to involve the public and other agencies in its evaluation. CEQA is California’s broadest environmental law. CEQA was enacted to guide California public agencies during their consideration of discretionary projects. CEQA is intended to inform agencies and the public about the significant environmental effects of a proposed discretionary project and to enhance public participation in the environmental review process through scoping meetings, public notice, and public review and comment. The Attorney General obtained this injunction against Westlands for the express purpose of excluding the public and other agencies from the District’s analytical process.”
Birmingham concluded, “In more than 35 years of experience working on issues related to CEQA, I am unaware of any court ever enjoining the preparation of an environmental impact report. This is not a typical CEQA case, seeking an injunction to enjoin a project or to require an agency correct deficient environmental review. Instead, this injunction halts the CEQA process before it can even be completed, or any decision has been made by the agency. The injunction is not supported by the law and is inconsistent with public policy concerning public involvement in the environmental review process.”
Westlands Water District is the largest agricultural water district in the United States, made up of more than 1,000 square miles of prime farmland in western Fresno and Kings Counties. Westlands provides water to 700 family-owned farms that average 653 acres in size.