2/10/2010 OVC challenges California DFG's Hatchery and Stocking EIR
Sacramento, California--The Owens Valley Committee (OVC) filed a lawsuit February 9 against the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) challenging the adequacy of DFGs Hatchery and Stocking Program Environmental Impact Report (EIR). OVCs lawsuit focuses on the group's concerns about the effects of groundwater pumping used to supply DFGs Black Rock Rearing Ponds and Fish Springs Hatchery, both located in the Owens Valley.

Our concern is with the overpumping to supply the Black Rock and Fish Springs facilities," said OVC board member Mark Bagley. "Those facilities operated for decades on natural spring flows. Since excessive groundwater pumping by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power dried up the natural springs in the early 1970s, groundwater pumping has supplied those facilities. The annual average pumping since 1973 to supply the facilities has exceeded the prior natural spring flows by more than 6,000 acre-feet per year at each facility." He added that there are no data to suggest that the excess flows to the hatchery facilities have provided for increased hatchery production.

"The data, however, do demonstrate that the excessive pumping has significant environmental effects," Bagley said. "Were certainly not trying to shut down the hatcheries--they play an important role in the local economy and in DFGs statewide hatchery program. However, we believe that pumping to supply the Black Rock and Fish Springs facilities can be reduced to the levels the natural spring flows used to provide without much effect on hatchery operations and with the effect of mitigating the impacts that excessive pumping has had and continues to have.

Water that flows through the Black Rock and Fish Springs hatchery facilities flows directly into the Los Angeles aqueduct system and is exported to Los Angeles.

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires that the Final EIR identify significant environmental effects of the project so that measures to mitigate or avoid those effects or alternatives that avoid those effects can be devised. The EIR failed to meet requirements of CEQA for disclosure, analysis and mitigation of significant project impacts.

The Draft EIR proposed a mitigation measure that would have significantly reduced the pumping at Black Rock. OVC representatives were surprised and disappointed that the Final EIR eliminated that measure.

The OVC lawsuit raises four main points and seeks a determination by the Court that the certification of the EIR is invalid and void because it fails to meet the requirements and guidelines of CEQA:

1. The EIR uses an inadequate and impermissible baseline by which to determine whether DFGs hatchery program has significant environmental effects. Because it uses a 2004-2008 baseline, the EIR determines that only impacts above and beyond the impacts during the 2004-2008 period will be significant. When the Black Rock and Fish Springs facilities were established there were thousands of acre-feet per year flowing from the springs that fed the hatcheries. Now pumping for the hatcheries and other uses far exceed the original springs flows and have dried up the springs. However, by using the 2004-2008 baseline, DFG concludes that these impacts are insignificant because they occurred prior to the 2004-2008 baseline period. This baseline is inadequate because it disregards decades of impacts without any CEQA analysis. CEQA became law in 1970, yet this is the first CEQA analysis on the hatchery program.

2. The EIR fails to provide an adequate analysis of the Projects impacts, and fails to provide sufficient detail regarding the foreseeable impacts that will arise from continued groundwater pumping to supply the Black Rock and Fish Springs facilities. Even using 2004-2008 as the environmental baseline, continued operation of the Black Rock and Fish Springs facilities will continue to lower the groundwater table and have groundwater impacts that are not analyzed or mitigated in the EIR.

3. The EIR failed to include feasible alternatives to the Project that were presented to DFG. Such alternatives included a groundwater monitoring plan that allows for reducing groundwater pumping for the Fish Springs and Black Rock facilities as needed to allow groundwater levels and groundwater-dependent alkali meadows to be restored. This alternative would mitigate significant environmental effects caused by groundwater pumping to supply the Black Rock and Fish Springs facilities that have occurred since the 1970s and continue to occur. Another alternative included limiting groundwater extractions at Black Rock to 8,000 acre-feet annually. This alternative was included in the Draft EIR, but omitted from the Final EIR.

4. Prior to approving the Project, DFG failed to adequately consider some of the public comments submitted during the environmental review process. The responses to comments in the Final EIR fail to meet the requirements of CEQA in that they neither adequately dispose of all the issues raised, nor provide specific rationale for rejecting suggested Project changes, mitigation measures, or alternatives.

The Final Hatchery EIR, which is the first CEQA analysis ever done on the hatchery and stocking program and which was done under a court order, was certified and the project approved on January 11, 2010. Under CEQA any challenge to the EIR must be filed within 30 days.

The Owens Valley Committee is a non-profit citizen action group founded in 1984 and dedicated to the protection, restoration and sustainable management of water and land resources affecting the Owens Valley. This legal action was filed in the Sacramento County Superior Court since DFG headquarters are located in Sacramento.

Questions regarding the OVCs lawsuit should be directed to OVCs attorney, Don Mooney, at 530-758-2377.

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