2008: Year in Review for Impacts to California Water

Steve Adler
December 24, 2008


  • The state Air Resources Board proposed sweeping changes that would impact about 400,000 instate, on-road diesel vehicles and about 1.2 million vehicles from out of state.


  • Gov. Schwarzenegger introduced his water plan for California that included conservation, protection of delta levees, study of delta water conveyance and three surface-water storage projects.
  • A report from the California Department of Conservation, noted that from 1990 to 2002, about 280,000 acres of the state’s farmland were converted to urban uses, including about 96,600 acres of prime farmland.


  • U.S. District Court Judge Oliver Wanger made several rulings in 2008 relating to declining fish numbers. The first came in April, when the judge found that a 2004 biological opinion by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not adequately protect sensitive salmon populations when authorizing long-term operations of the state and federal water projects.


  • In an announcement that had a far-reaching impact on agriculture in 2008, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation cut water deliveries to farmers to 40 percent of contract amount, from the 45 percent declared previously. The sobering news caught many who farm on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley by surprise. They had planted crops based on the percentage of contract water announced earlier in the year.


  • Another ruling on salmon fisheries by Judge Wanger, who said, “The species are unquestionably in jeopardy. The (Endangered Species Act) does not permit jeopardy to a listed species to be considerably increased” as agencies rewrite a biological opinion for the fish.
  • The California water crisis stimulated a cascade of proposals to resolve the problem, including an announcement by Gov. Schwarzenegger and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein to qualify a $9.3 billion water bond for the ballot, a report by the Public Policy Institute of California that endorsed the idea of a peripheral canal, and a work plan by the State Water Resources Control Board that it said would increase its efforts to improve water quality and habitat in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.


  • A court decision clarified and strengthened the Williamson Act, a key law that helps to conserve millions of acres of California farmland. The appeals court ruling corrected a misinterpretation that could have led to inconsistent enforcement and widespread residential development on contracted land.


  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it plans to quadruple the land area in California designated as critical habitat for the California red-legged frog.


  • The new state water year began on Oct. 1, but officials warned it will take several good water years to replenish California’s depleted supply. The federal Central Valley Project carried over about 3.9 million acre-feet of water, 35 percent of system capacity, into 2009.


  • Officials with the State Water Project announced a 15 percent water delivery allocation for 2009, the second lowest allocation in project history.
  • A new biological opinion by the National Marine Fisheries Service could place far-reaching restrictions on three common materials (chlorpyrifos, diazonin and malathion). The opinion represented the first of 34 additional pest control product evaluations that the NMFS is obligated by court order to issue before Feb. 29, 2012.


  • Several water agencies filed lawsuits against the California Department of Fish and Game to challenge emergency regulations that could impose drastic new restrictions on pumping water out of the delta to protect the longfin smelt.