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California Environmental Law & Policy Update
February 23, 2018


State agency drops objection to city rules on waterfront development

SFGate - Feb 21 Under a settlement announced Wednesday, the California State Lands Commission (SLC), which governs much of the state’s shoreline, will drop a long-running legal challenge to restrictions on building heights along San Francisco’s waterfront in exchange for guarantees from city officials that future projects would benefit not only San Francisco but all state residents. The SLC had sued the city over Proposition B—an initiative approved by voters four years ago to require voter approval for any new building on port property that exceeds city height limits—claiming that San Francisco’s waterfront belongs to the state and is managed by the San Francisco Port Commission, and not controlled by the city and its citizens. The lawsuit argued that the local restraints imposed by Proposition B would undermine state authority and state interests, setting a troubling precedent. For the legal settlement to become official, it must first be approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Port Commission, and SLC. 

Some fear California drought cuts could erase water rights

ABC News - Feb 21 A proposal to make California's drought-era water restrictions permanent could allow the state to chip away at long-held water rights in an unprecedented power grab, representatives from water districts and other users told regulators on Tuesday. The proposal comes after U.S. officials declared that nearly half the state, all of it in the south, is back in drought just months after emerging from it. A final decision by the State Water Resources Control Board was deferred, and is now expected by April 17. Representatives from several irrigation and water agencies said that restrictions are reasonable, but not the plan to impose them under the state Constitution's prohibition on the "waste or unreasonable use" of water. That approach would create a slippery slope of allowing the Board to repeatedly chip away at California's historic protection of water rights for landowners, they said.

Salt marshes will vanish in less than a century if seas keep rising and California keeps building, study finds

Los Angeles Times - Feb 21 Salt marshes in California, Oregon, and Washington, a unique ecosystem that is home to many endangered species, could disappear entirely by 2110, according to a new study by a team of scientists led by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). These coastal wetlands can cleanse urban runoff before it flows into the sea and reduce flooding by absorbing storm surges. The study, published Wednesday in Science Advances, quantifies for the first time the fate of this entire ecosystem on the West Coast, based on current projections of sea level rise. USGS research ecologist Karen Thorne, the study's lead author, said the new research provides a more concrete time-frame for policymakers on what must be done to conserve these marshes. One option involves adding thin layers of sediment to a salt marsh plain to increase its elevation. Another option would be for officials to strategically acquire property along the coast and keep it open for marshes to migrate inland. Beyond losing the hundreds of species that depend on this unique ecosystem, the disappearance of these marshes would have a devastating impact on flood protection, according to one of the study's authors.

Facing specter of drought, California farmers are told to expect little water

The Sacramento Bee - Feb 20 The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced Tuesday that most farmers south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta who get water from the federal Central Valley Project (CVP) will receive just 20 percent of their requested allocation this year. Although the numbers could change and the allocations could increase this spring, the initial figures reflect the abysmal level of precipitation California has received so far this winter. The agency said it cannot yet provide an initial allocation figure for many Sacramento Valley water agencies because of the lack of rain and the legal requirement that plenty of water be kept in Shasta Lake, the largest reservoir in California, to protect endangered species of Chinook salmon. The CVP does not distribute its water equally; some of its customers have special historic water rights, and may receive at least 30 percent of their requested allocation, while a select group of Sacramento rice farmers—the "settlement contractors"—have been given an initial allocation of 100 percent.   

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