A judge clarified today that the Delta Plan — a broad management plan for the estuary through the end of this century — is invalid and must be set aside until it can be partially rewritten.
If that sounds familiar, it’s pretty close to what we reported one month ago when Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny issued his initial ruling in the case, which had so many litigants that one of my editors labeled it “lawsuit-palooza.”
That initial ruling, however, had been interpreted in widely different ways.
“This is a victory for folks in the Delta,” Thomas Keeling, an attorney for some plan opponents, said at the time.
The council also announced that it had won, reporting in a press release that “the court… ruled in favor of the Delta Stewardship Council on the vast majority of issues” and had upheld the plan, calling only for a pair of “refinements.”
The conflicting reactions had some observers scratching their heads.
I suppose victory is in the eye of the beholder, but the judge’s clarification today did compel the Stewardship Council to change its tone a bit today, saying it was “disappointed.” 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 for the Delta,” executive officer Jessica Pearson said in a prepared statement.
To one environmentalist, the judge’s invalidation of the plan was — well, a validation of opponents’ original interpretation. Most significantly, the judge has 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 twin tunnels have been described as allowing exporters to take not more water, but rather about the same amount of water as they take today. Will the tunnels pencil out financially if a newly revised Delta Plan makes less water available?
“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 judge’s clarification is tentative, with further hearings scheduled for Friday. We’ll see how it all shakes out.