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A federal court has ruled that Best Best & Krieger LLP client City of Santa Maria and others are correctly not releasing more water from a dam above the City, as doing so would be in conflict with the dam’s Congressional purpose.
The City, represented by Partner Jeffrey Dunn, is a party in the lawsuit filed in 2019 by environmental groups San Luis Obispo Coastkeeper and Los Padres ForestWatch in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The lawsuit claims the defendants are violating the Endangered Species Act by not releasing enough water from Twitchell Dam on the Cuyama River, thereby not providing sufficient water for federal law-protected Southern California Steelhead trout to spawn.
But the court found in an April 19 decision that the 1950s-era federal law that authorized the Dam did not include species conservation as one of the “other purposes” that would allow for increased water flows. Importantly, increased water release would be contrary to the Dam’s purpose of water conservation and recharge to the local groundwater basin.
The decision means the City and other groundwater users that rely on existing controlled water releases to recharge the local groundwater basin do not lose that water for Steelhead trout habitat and are therefore not liable under the ESA for the trout’s protection. The court had previously denied the environmental group plaintiffs’ request for a temporary injunction on the Dam’s operations pending the court’s decision on April 19. An earlier lawsuit by San Luis Obispo Coastkeeper and Los Padres Forest Watch against the City and others was dismissed on other grounds after a U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in favor of the City and other parties.
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