The Bush administration announced it has dropped a plan to relax federal regulation of wetlands.
For most of 2003, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers worked on a proposal to redefine which streams, ponds, wetlands and other seasonal and permanent bodies of water would be protected under the Clean Water Act. The proposal was a response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2001 ruling in Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. United State Army Corps of Engineers, 121 S. Ct. 675 (see CP&DR Legal Digest, February 2001), in which the court limited the Army Corps’s ability to regulate isolated bodies of water.
However, most states, including California, half the members of the House of Representatives and numerous angling, hunting and conservation groups opposed the proposal to relax federal regulations. Homebuilders, on the other hand, endorsed the concept.
In announcing that the administration was dropping the proposal, EPA Administrator Michael Leavitt endorsed the longstanding policy of "no net loss" of wetlands. However, Leavitt also suggested that fear of extensive litigation drove the decision.
IN THE LATEST INSTALLMENT of a controversy that is nearly a century old, Attorney General Bill Lockyer has sued the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) for failing to restore the Lower Owens River. The lawsuit, which the Sierra Club and the Owens Valley Committee joined, appears to have spurred the DWP to action.
Under a 1997 memorandum of understanding that settled earlier litigation, DWP agreed to put a prescribed amount of water in the dry riverbed by June 2003. The project was intended to serve as mitigation for DWP’s increased groundwater pumping in Inyo County that commenced when DWP completed a second aqueduct in 1970.
"DWP has now missed all the deadlines that the MOU parties negotiated after years of litigation and settlement discussions," asserts the lawsuit, filed during December in Inyo County Superior Court. "DWP is now proceeding on an ad hoc basis, without any specific enforceable deadlines, and it continues to further delay the project and miss its own work schedules. … [I]t is unclear when, if ever, the city and DWP will complete this important mitigation project, cure its ongoing violation of CEQA, and bring the project’s environmental benefits to fruition."
Lockyer and the environmental groups asked the court to limit DWP’s groundwater pumping until the Lower Owens River project is completed.
Two weeks after the lawsuit was filed, DWP announced it would restore a steady flow of water to the Lower Owens River within two years. The agency said it hoped its new commitment would settle the lawsuit.
The DWP’s acquisition of water rights from the Owens Valley during the early 20th century made possible much of Los Angeles’s growth. But the large-scale water diversion dried up Owens Lake and made the Owens Valley, literally, a dust bowl.
SACRAMENTO FLOOD PROTECTION advanced significantly at the end of 2003 when Congress approved a deal that authorizes about $220 million for a 7-foot raise of Folsom Dam and downstream levy improvements. Once complete, the improvements would give Sacramento — which now is not safe from 100-year storms — only a 1-in-213 chance of flooding in any given year, according to engineers.
Major flood improvements for Sacramento, which is threatened chiefly by the American River, have stalled for years because Reps. John Doolittle (R-Rocklin) and Robert Matsui (D-Sacramento) could not agree. Doolittle has long championed building the proposed Auburn Dam, which could provide flood control and drinking water, while Matsui sought cheaper and less environmentally damaging flood control projects downstream (see CP&DR Environment Watch, September 2002).
The deal approved as part of a federal budget bill authorizes the dam and levy upgrades, which will be partly funded by the state and local taxpayers. The deal also authorizes $135 million worth of unspecified water projects in Doolittle’s district. An additional $66 million will fund a new bridge below Folsom Dam. The road across the dam has been closed because of security concerns, creating a huge traffic problem.
THE LONG-RANGE DEVELOPMENT PLAN for the University of California, Davis, has been approved by the UC Board of Regents. The controversial plan calls for:
• 1,600 housing units in a new neighborhood west of the campus
• More than 2 million square feet of academic and administrative buildings
• Research parks of 27 acres and 11 acres apiece
• An 18,000-seat football stadium to be funded by private contributions and student-approved fees
• A 170,000-square-foot Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science to be funded partly by Mondavi, Anheuser-Busch Foundation and other private groups
• A 75,000-square-foot conference center with an adjoining 75-room hotel.
UC Davis planners have been working on the plan for years and halved the size of both the new neighborhood and the hotel because of community concerns. Still, litigation by Davis residents is likely.
The long-range development plan and related documents are available at: www.ormp.ucdavis.edu/environreview/lrdp.html
SOME OF THE STATE'S nine regional water quality control boards fail to follow through on regulatory enforcement actions, according to a report the State Auditor issued in December.
For example, the Santa Ana and San Francisco Bay regional boards often let polluters, which may be either public or private entities, fund "supplemental environmental projects" instead of pay fines. But those boards did not ensure the projects were actually completed.
When the San Francisco Bay board did levy fines, it would suspend the fines if the polluters agreed to clean up contamination or stop violations. "However, the San Francisco Bay regional board did not always follow up to determine that polluters either came into compliance with the State water quality act in according with the [fine] suspension agreements or paid the [fines]," the State Auditor reported.
The auditor recommended that the State Water Resources Control Board require the regional boards to monitor and report on the supplemental cleanup projects, and collect all fines promptly. The California Environmental Protection Agency, the agency that includes the state board, said it would attempt to implement the recommendations.
The State Auditor’s report is available at www.bsa.ca.gov/bsa
SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY SUPERVISOR Jerry Eaves is scheduled this month to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery for failing to disclose the receipt of gifts. Federal and state prosecutors announced the plea deal in December, shortly before Eaves was to stand trial on five federal counts of mail fraud and one charge of conspiracy. Eaves’s guilty plea to one state count of bribery apparently will conclude both the state and federal prosecutions.
Authorities allege that Eaves accepted $33,000 in campaign contributions and $6,000 worth of lodging and hospitality at a Las Vegas hotel from William "Shep" McCook in exchange for Eaves’s votes allowing McCook to erect, and later sell, billboards on county-owned land near Interstates 10 and 215 in Colton.
Under the plea deal, Eaves will pay a $10,000 fine and serve three years of "informal" probation. He also must resign from the Board of Supervisors.
A former San Bernardino County administrative officer, two Colton city councilmen and McCook’s partner had earlier pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges related to the billboard scheme. McCook continues to await trial.
A former Assemblyman and Rialto city councilman who was already barred from seeking a fourth term on the Board of Supervisors because of earlier campaign finance violations, Eaves continued to maintain he was guilty of nothing more than poor record-keeping. "I still feel I’m innocent," he told the Los Angeles Times. "I had to take what was offered. I wanted to get rid of these charges."
THE PROCESS OF SPLITTING Santa Barbara County into two counties will move forward. County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor Joe Holland announced in December that Santa Maria-area proponents of the county split submitted enough signatures on a petition to qualify the matter for the ballot (see CP&DR Local Watch, July 2003). The next step is for Gov. Schwarzenegger to appoint a five-member commission to study the proposed secession. The issue is not likely to make the ballot until 2006.
THE CITY OF STOCKTON'S $600 million venture to privatize the city’s water system has been thrown out by San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Bob McNatt because the city did not complete an environmental study of the project. McNatt ruled that the contract should be voided until the city completes an environmental review under CEQA.
A partnership of Thames Water, of England, and Colorado-based OMI, Inc., took over the city’s water system last year. City officials contended the 20-year contract would save the city $175 million. But the Sierra Club, the League of Women Voters and the Concerned Citizens Coalition of Stockton filed a lawsuit.
One month after the deal was signed last year, Stockton voters approved an initiative requiring voters to decide on any utility privatization worth more than $5 million. But the initiative was too late to block the OMI-Thames deal.
THE CENTER FOR COLLABORATIVE POLICY at California State University, Sacramento, has started an Internet-based newsletter that addresses methods for resolving sticky land use issues. The Collaborative Edge can be found at www.csus.edu/ccp