Groups go to court to try to keep water in lakes
The League to Save Sierra Lakes and 18 other organizations are going to court to try to block the El Dorado Irrigation District from taking additional water from Aloha, Caples and Silver lakes.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in Sacramento County Superior Court, attacks the Aug. 16 decision by the State Water Resources Control Board to grant EID 17,000 acre-feet of water for consumptive use. The district already had rights to 15,000 acre-feet from the three lakes, plus Echo Lake, to be used for hydropower generation on the South Fork of the American River.
“We are confident that the courts will vindicate the League to Save Sierra Lakes’ vision that El Dorado Irrigation district lacks water rights for consumptive use to Caples, Silver and Aloha lakes and that the state water board’s ruling must be set aside,” said Stephan Volker, attorney for the League to Save Sierra Lakes.
The lawsuit is the latest salvo in a 10-year legal battle. EID and the El Dorado County Water Agency have sought the additional water to help cope with the rapid population growth on the West Slope, specifically El Dorado Hills and Cameron Park.
The plaintiffs are concerned that EID might reduce water levels and negatively impact the environment and recreation. For counties such as Alpine and Amador, tourists attracted by boating, swimming and fishing are key to their economy.
“I think probably in a very simplistic way the thing that is most significant is the number of groups participating in this litigation,” said Norm Rupp, a member and past president of the League. “It is not just a bunch of tree huggers; these are cabin owners, small business people, a utility district. It is a very broad-based grass roots effort.”
Even though the EID now has more water to serve its 220-square-mile service area – which stretches from the Sacramento County line to Pollock Pines – there are regulations that could keep the district from withdrawing its full amount.
While the El Dorado Water Agency is pleased with the additional water rights, it filed a lawsuit Friday against the water board because it conditioned its approval on adherence to so-called “Term 91.” That requirement, first imposed in the mid-1980s, seeks to protect water quality in the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta by limiting the amount of water that can be drawn during dry periods.
The agency cannot quantify what the impact will be but studies are being conducted.
“We view our lawsuit as trying to resolve a single legal issue,” said Tom Cumpston, counsel for the El Dorado County Water Agency. “It is not an attack on the state board, and we expect to be shoulder to shoulder with the state in the (League to Save Sierra Lakes’) lawsuit, which I’m sure raises every claim under the sun.”
Brad Pearson, League president, said recreation and environmental issues concerning the upper Sierra lakes and the Bay/Delta should come before supplying water for future development.
“(El Dorado Water Agency) wants to make sure they are guaranteed a certain amount of water every year, and they don’t want to have somebody else with their hand on the valve,” Pearson said.
The State Water Resources Control Board had not reviewed the lawsuit and was unable to comment, said spokeswoman Myrlys Stockdale. But Dana Differding, attorney for the water board, told the Tribune earlier this month the state is confident in its decision.
“I think we believe we made the right decision for the reasons stated in the order itself and the order gives justification for the action the board took,” she said.
EID faces legal challenges on several fronts, including a pending lawsuit by the California Department of Fish and Game.
“The main problem that Fish and Game has with the water rights decision is that there is insufficient water for the fisheries in the South Fork (of the American River) during dry years,” DFG attorney Ellen Peter said. “How are you going to give water to people on the West Slope without depleting water supplies for fish in the summers of dry years?”
Plantiffs named in the lawsuit filed Monday against the State Water Resources Control Board, the El Dorado County Water Agency and the El Dorado Irrigation District:
League to Save Sierra Lakes, Greater Yosemite Council of the Boy Scouts of America, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, the Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation. Environmental Planning and Information Council of Western El Dorado County, Friends of the River, El Dorado County Taxpayers for Quality Growth, Alpine County, Plasse Homestead Homeowners Association, Kit Carson Lodge, Caples Lake Resort, Kirkwood Meadows Public Utilities District, Northern Sierra Summer Homeowners Association, Caples Lake Homeowners Association, Kirkwood Meadows Association, Sorensen’s Resort, East Meadows Homeowners Association, The Lodge at Kirkwood Owners Association, Kirkwood Resort Master Owners’ Association and the Sierra Club.
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