San Luis v. U.S. Dep't of the Interior

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Administrative Law
  • Date Filed: 03-02-2012
  • Case #: 09-17594
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: District Judge Wu for the Court; Circuit Judge W. Fletcher; Partial Concurrence and Partial Dissent by Circuit Judge M. Smith.
  • Full Text Opinion

In failing to apply certain releases against the 800,000 acre feet of water specifically designated for fish, wildlife, and habitat restoration within California's Central Valley Project, the Department of the Interior did not abuse its discretion so as to invalidate its actions under the Administrative Procedure Act.

There has been a long-running conflict regarding the classification of 9,000 acre feet ("AF") of water released in June 2004 from the Nimbus reservoir into the New Melones reservoirs within California’s Central Valley Project (“CVP”). The construction and operation of the CVP harmed California’s native fish populations. The Central Valley Project Improvement Act (“CVPIA”), enacted in 1992, amended the CVP’s authorizing legislation and elevated “mitigation, protection and restoration of fish and wildlife” to project purposes on par with irrigation. Since its enactment, thirteen years of protracted litigation has occurred addressing four administrative decisions implementing § 3406(b)(2) of the CVPIA. Specifically, in 2004, the Department of the Interior (“Interior”) summarized its use of CVP water for § 3406(b)(2) purposes, but failed to charge 5,500 AF of the Nimbus release and 3,500 AF of the New Melones release against the 800,000 AF account that was allocated for CVPIA’s restoration mandate. The San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority and Westland Water District (collectively, “Appellants”) appealed to the Ninth Circuit to determine whether the Interior abused its discretion in failing to apply the latter June 2004 releases against the 800,000 AF of CVP yield designated for fish, wildlife, and habitat restoration under the CVPIA. After finding that Appellants had standing, the Court concluded that since the Interior’s explanations were not “mere post hoc rationalizations,” its failure to give full explanations does not constitute an abuse of discretion under the Administrative Procedure Act. AFFIRMED.

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