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San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority v. Jewell

United States District Court, E.D. California

August 27, 2014

SALLY JEWELL, as Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior; U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR; U.S. BUREAU OF RECLAMATION; MICHAEL L. CONNOR, as Commissioner, Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Department of the Interior; and DAVID MURRILLO, as Regional Director, Mid-Pacific Region, Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Department of the Interior, Defendants, THE HOOPA VALLEY TRIBE; PACIFIC COAST FEDERATION OF FISHERMEN'S ASSOCIATIONS; and INSTITUTE FOR FISHERIES RESOURCES, Defendant-Intervenors.


LAWRENCE J. O'NEILL, District Judge.


The operative Complaint in this case concerns the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's ("Reclamation" or "the Bureau") decision to make certain "Flow Augmentation" releases ("FARs") of water beginning on August 13, 2013 from Lewiston Dam, a feature of the Trinity River Division ("TRD") of the Central Valley Project ("CVP"). The stated purpose of the releases was to "reduce the likelihood, and potentially reduce the severity, of any Ich epizootic event that could lead to associated fish die off in 2013" in the lower Klamath River. Administrative Record ("AR"), Lodging Recognized at 00016-17. Plaintiffs, the San Luis & Delta Mendota Water Authority ("Authority") and Westlands Water District ("Westlands") allege that by approving and implementing the 2013 FARs, Reclamation and its parent agency, the U.S. Department of the Interior ("Interior")[1] (collectively, "Federal Defendants"), violated various provisions of the Central Valley Project Improvement Act ("CVPIA"), Pub. L. No. 102-575, 106 Stat. 4700 (1992), and the Reclamation Act of 1902, 43 U.S.C. § 383. Doc. 95, First Amended Complaint ("FAC") at ¶¶ 77-91. In addition, Plaintiffs allege Federal Defendants acted unlawfully by approving and implementing the 2013 FARs without first preparing an Environmental Impact Statement ("EIS") pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 4321 et seq., or engaging in consultation pursuant to the Endangered Species Act ("ESA"), 16 U.S.C. §§ 1531 et seq. FAC ¶¶ 92-104.

Plaintiffs filed suit in this Court on August 7, 2013, Doc. 1, and on August 9, 2013, filed a motion for temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. Doc. 14. On August 13, 2013, in part because more than 100, 000 acre-feet ("AF") of water were potentially at issue, this Court issued a Temporary Restraining Order ("TRO") against implementation of the 2013 FARs to provide additional time to evaluate the parties' positions. Doc. 57. The Court heard evidence and argument during a two-day hearing starting August 21, 2013. On August 22, 2013, the Court lifted the injunction, finding that the 2013 FARs were justified and that the threatened water loss had diminished to less than 20, 000 AF. Doc. 91.

Federal Defendants filed the AR on December 20, 2013, Doc. 109, and supplemented the record on January 29, 2014, Doc. 110. Currently pending before the court are highly complex cross-motions for summary judgment addressing Plaintiffs' challenges to the 2013 FARs. The initial briefing on the cross motions for summary judgment ("Merits Briefing") was completed in mid-May 2014 and included more than 250 pages of argument along with thousands of pages of relevant record material. The Court has been working diligently to resolve the motions within the means of its resources. The Court was very close to resolution of the merits issues when it received notice that Plaintiffs planned to file a motion for temporary restraining order/preliminary injunction ("TRO/PI Motion") to enjoin Federal Defendants from making another flow augmentation release starting August 23, 2014 ("2014 FARs"). The stated purpose of the 2014 FARs is to "improve environmental conditions and decrease the likelihood of another epizootic outbreak of Ich and an associated fish die-off." Doc. 165-1, August 22, 2014 Decision Memorandum to Support Emergency Activities for: Emergency Lower Klamath River Flow Augmentation During Late Summer 2014 ("August 22 Decision Memorandum"), at 1. The TRO/PI Motion raises numerous arguments on the merits of the 2014 FARs that overlap with the Merits Briefing.

Upon notice of the impending TRO/MI motion, the Court accelerated its efforts to resolve completely the cross motions for summary judgment in anticipation that such acceleration might aid resolution of the TRO/PI Motion. These efforts have confirmed the Court's belief, expressed in previous decisions in this case, that Plaintiffs are likely to succeed on at least one claim in this case. Upon review of the TRO/PI Motion and Oppositions, however, and for the reasons discussed below, the Court believes that injunctive relief is not warranted, and would not be even if Plaintiffs achieve actual success on the merits.

Plaintiffs filed their TRO/PI Motion, Docs. 142 & 143, along with supporting declarations and exhibits, on Monday August 25, 2014. Federal Defendants and all Defendant-Intervenors filed responses, Docs. 158 (Hoopa Valley Tribe), 160 (Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations), 165 (Federal Defendants), 166 (Yurok Tribe), and supporting materials on August 26, 2014. All parties obviously have worked diligently to present this emergency motion to the Court in a timely manner. The Court believes the papers present the issues cogently and finds it appropriate to rule without oral argument. See Local Rule 230(g).


The standard test for injunctive relief requires establishment of four factors by a preponderance of the evidence:

(1) likelihood of success on the merits;
(2) likelihood the moving party will suffer irreparable harm absent injunctive relief;
(3) the balance of equities tips in the moving parties' favor; and
(4) an injunction is in the public interest.

Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council, 555 U.S. 20, 24 (2008); Am. Trucking Ass'n v. City of Los Angeles, 559 F.3d 1046, 1052 (9th Cir. 2009). Even where a plaintiff has prevailed on the merits, injunctive relief is not automatic. Under such circumstances, a request for injunctive relief is governed by a modified standard that requires a plaintiff establish:

(1) that it has suffered an irreparable injury;
(2) that remedies available at law, such as monetary damages, are inadequate to compensate for that injury;
(3) that, considering the balance of hardships between the plaintiff and defendant, a remedy in equity is warranted; and
(4) that the public interest would not be disserved by a permanent injunction.

Sierra Forest Legacy v. Sherman, 646 F.3d 1161, 1184 (9th Cir. 2001) (citing eBay Inc. v. MercExchange, L.L.C., 547 U.S. 388, 391 (2006)). Under either circumstance, the Court must evaluate a plaintiff's showing of irreparable injury, balance any showing of injury against the hardships that would result from imposition of an injunction, and consider the public interest.


A. Likelihood of Success on the Merits.

The Court believes it is highly likely that Plaintiffs will prevail on at least one claim in this case. Specifically, the Court remains unconvinced by Federal Defendants' assertion that the 1955 Act provided authorization for the 2013 FARs. Federal Defendants have acknowledged that they did not rely on any independent, alternative authorization for the 2013 FARs. Doc. 169. The Court notes, however, that numerous possible alternative authorities exist. One such alternative, Federal Defendants' trust obligations to Defendant-Intervenors the Hoopa Valley Tribe and the Yurok Tribe, was discussed at length in the Merits Briefing. Accordingly, if (and likely when) Plaintiffs prevail on the 1955 Act issue, Federal ...

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