California Environmental Law & Policy Update – February 2015 #2

Environmental and Policy Focus

State Water Board launches investigation into claims of senior water rights

Allen Matkins – Feb 9

On February 4, 2015, the State Water Resources Control Board issued an order seeking information to substantiate water rights claimed by certain riparian and pre-1914 appropriative water rights holders. Exercising the authority granted to it under July 2014 emergency regulations, the Board issued Order WR 2015-0002-DWR, directing 445 riparian and pre-1914 water rights holders with claimed rights to the Sacramento and San Joaquin River watershed to provide additional information on their claimed rights.

California high speed rail opponents challenge federal ruling

Reuters – Feb 9

Two counties and five non-profit organizations from the Central Valley and the Bay Area filed a petition in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to challenge a December decision by the federal Surface Transportation Board that federal law preempts the application of the California Environmental Quality Act to a segment of the high speed rail line from Fresno to Bakersfield.

City of Atherton sues CalTrain operator, challenges environmental effects of the rail line’s electrification

San Jose Mercury News – Feb 9

The City of Atherton has sued the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, which owns and operates CalTrain, challenging the environmental effects of electrifying the commuter rail line. The lawsuit seeks to halt the project until the Board agrees to study more closely the consequences of electrification, said Atherton City Manager George Rodericks. Electrifying CalTrain’s tracks will allow the Bay Area commuter rail line to share the track with high speed rail trains. Atherton and several other Peninsula towns oppose the high speed rail project and have filed other lawsuits to block the project.

High levels of benzene found in oil and gas well wastewater

Los Angeles Times – Feb 9

In 2013, the State of California ordered oil companies to test wastewater extracted from oil and gas wells subjected to hydraulic fracturing. The testing results from hundreds of wells showed, on average, benzene levels 700 times higher than federal standards allow, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis of the state data. Because the well wastewater is reinjected into the groundwater, the reported concentrations of benzene in the wastewater have raised concerns regarding public health as well as the recordkeeping and management practices of the Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), the state agency charged with oversight of oil well drilling practices.

Merced County proceeds with drafting of ordinance to ban groundwater mining and exporting

Merced Sun-Star – Feb 10

The Merced County Board of Supervisors moved one step closer to adoption of an ordinance barring groundwater “mining” and exporting – the practice of pumping groundwater not for local use but for sale outside the county – when it decided, during a February 10 session, that the proposed ordinance should not be made retroactive to January 2014. The ordinance’s first reading is scheduled for March 3, with a second reading and possible adoption set for March 17.