SACRAMENTO – Two counties in California and an environmental group have partnered together to file an appeal against Southern California’s biggest water supplier, blocking its purchase of the Delta farm islands.
Contra Costa and San Joaquin counties, along with Restore the Delta group, have sued Metropolitan Water District in an attempt to stop its plan to buy the islands, which comprise 20,000 acres of wetlands. The group said the plan is an attempt at a water grab to move Delta water to Southern California.
A temporary restraining order was issued by California’s 3rd District Court of Appeal on June 7. This was just one day before the sale of the four Delta islands was expected to close. The purchase price of the wetlands was $175 million.
The order was put in place, reversing the May 19 decision by Judge Barbara Kronlund that denied the petitioners’ request for a preliminary injunction to stay the purchase of the Delta islands. In the petition, they asked that the court consider the merits of the appeal and reverse Kronlund’s decision.
Metropolitan and the seller of the Delta Wetlands Properties submitted opposition briefs in the case. On June 7, the court of appeal issued the temporary stay, stopping all activities in the purchase, including consummation of the agreement by payment and transfer of the title of the property until further order by the appellate court.
Both parties have acknowledged the restraining order is a procedural matter at this time, providing time for both parties to submit full briefing and to review both sides' arguments. It does not provide an indication of what will be decided in the case, which the court of appeal has given no indication of when it will rule on the matter.
“This is not a substantive ruling,” Metropolitan General Counsel Marcia Scully told the Northern California Record. “Metropolitan and other real parties in interest will have an opportunity to file formal oppositions to the appeal to be further decided by the appellate court. No schedule is set yet by the appellate court on when it may decide the matter or if there will be a hearing.”
Metropolitan has said it has no plans in place for the Delta islands, as there are a lot of proposals and ideas are on the table, but nothing definitive has been decided. There is speculation that Metropolitan will use the area as staging area for equipment to dig the twin water tunnels that will move water though the islands to export pumps near Byron.
The Delta farm islands are owned by Delta Wetlands Properties, a private company that has been working for 30 years to develop the area for a water storage project. Metropolitan says this is only one of the ways they might use the wetlands.
Metropolitan has reported that the issue will be discussed at the June Legal and Claims Committee meeting. Plans are also in the works for Metropolitan to buy Webb and Holland track in Contra Costa County and Bouldin and Bacon islands in San Joaquin County.