A judge clarified late Thursday that a sweeping 21st century plan for the Delta is "invalid," a decision applauded by Delta advocates who had argued the plan didn't go far enough to protect the fragile estuary from massive water exports.
Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny issued his initial ruling in the case one month ago, saying that certain elements of the plan were inadequate.
Now, however, he has said the plan itself must be set aside until changes are made.
Most notably, the judge found that the plan failed to include quantifiable targets for California to reduce its reliance on the Delta for drinking water, as required by law.
That’s an important finding, said Bill Jennings, head of the Stockton-based California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, one of many litigants in the case.
Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed twin tunnels have been described as allowing exporters to take roughly the same amount of Delta water as they take today. “This will force the state and federal contractors to reassess whether they wish to expend tens of billions of dollars for a project that will supply less water from the Delta,” Jennings said.
The Delta Stewardship Council — the state agency that wrote the Delta Plan — said it would likely appeal.
The judge's initial ruling in May had been interpreted in very different ways. Delta advocates declared victory back then, but in essence, so did the Stewardship Council, pointing out that the judge had upheld most aspects of the heavily litigated plan.
However, this week council officials said they were "disappointed" with the judge's clarification. Invalidating the entire plan, when the judge found fault with only a few of its provisions, means that even the noncontroversial policies within the Delta Plan cannot be enforced, the council warned.
“The Delta remains in crisis, and now isn’t the time to set aside the state’s only comprehensive management plan,” executive officer Jessica Pearson said in a prepared statement.
The plan had been challenged by players on multiple sides of California's water battles: environmentalists, southland water users, and even the city of Stockton. The water exporters argued that the plan failed to give them a more reliable supply of water — a goal which is codified in state law, as is reducing reliance on the Delta — but that argument was rejected.