The Newsom administration has filed a motion seeking a preliminary injunction against increased water exports from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, arguing that current water diversions “will cause imminent and irreparable harm to species protected under the California Endangered Species Act and the federal Endangered Species Act,” according to a statement from California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

More than 1,000 longfin smelt, a fish protected under the California Endangered Species Act, have been killed in April thus far.

The motion follows a lawsuit filed against the Interior Department by the state on Feb. 20, challenging the Trump administration’s embrace of new biological opinions that have resulted in increased pumping from the Delta south through the Central Valley Project.

Amidst a crisis over the coronavirus where it appears tensions between Newsom and President Trump have cooled, the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the Central Valley Project, had some sharp words in response to the suit: “At no other time in modern history has the state of California taken such ill-founded actions to directly hurt more than 25 million Californians by unnecessarily jeopardizing their water supply. Now, more than ever, it is critical that water be reliably delivered to Americans, and we are taking actions to do that.”

Water delivered through the CVP represents roughly 15% of total water supplies during normal years in the central San Joaquin Valley, according to data collected by the California Department of Water Resources, and is primarily used for farming. The west side of the region is primarily served by water from the Delta, delivered through the CVP’s San Luis and Delta-Mendota canals; the east side of the central and southern San Joaquin Valley is served by water from the San Joaquin River delivered through CVP’s Friant and Madera canals.

The injunction request was filed in the U.S. Eastern District Court on Tuesday. It comes after a recent decision by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife at the end of March to modify operations of the State Water Project, which delivers water from the Delta to San Joaquin Valley farms and urban water districts in both Northern and Southern California. Historically, state and federal governments have needed to work closely together to jointly manage operations of water flowing through the Delta.

The recent divergence between state and federal operations of the Delta — long a source of angst — are now more present than ever, as those who receive water from the state project face smaller allocations than those who receive water from the same source but through federally managed canals. It’s analogous to two straws being placed in the Delta — and one just got much bigger.

In a statement expressing disappointment at the recent motion by the state, a representative of Westlands Water District, a major beneficiary of the new federal rules, noted that “the state’s actions will prolong unproductive conflict and will delay efforts to recover at-risk species.”

Environmental leaders see it differently. Doug Obegi, senior attorney for the water program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, states: “The state is trying to fix an unfair situation where the federal government is killing endangered fish and harming water supply for other users. We hope the courts will force the Trump administration to protect the Delta and play by the same rules as everyone else.”

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Danielle Bergstrom is the policy and engagement editor for the Fresnoland Lab, a reporting initiative focused on policy journalism covering land use, housing and water in the central San Joaquin Valley.

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