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Water deal sparks lawsuit in Butte County

Chico's AquAlliance has sued to block Butte Water District's transfer of water from Butte and Sutter counties to Kern County.

The water transfer doesn't comply with the California Environmental Quality Act, according to the lawsuit filed in Butte County Superior Court.

"The project ... fails to conduct comprehensive monitoring and denies the potential for project specific and cumulative impacts," AquAlliance said in a statement.

Barbara Vlamis, AquAlliance's executive director, has said for years that water transfers should be reviewed for cumulative effects to Northern California. The transfers are neither just one- or two-year events, nor isolated to single transactions, she said. They occur in most years and have not been analyzed for their overall impact on the watershed.

She said the Department of Water Resources ignores its responsibility to review the effects of water transfers over time, and only deals with the issue if sued.

The water transfer by Butte isn't the only one in need of further review, Vlamis said.

"If we had unlimited resources, we would have taken on all of them" for similar reasons, she said.

However, Butte Water District is incorporating groundwater to the transfer program. Growers who normally take Feather River water for farming will be transferring that water, then pumping groundwater in Sutter County to grow rice.

Butte County has rules that would require a permit to do a similar type of transfer. Sutter County does not.

Vlamis also said water transfers are becoming more frequent, and there is not an easy way for the public to track them.

Butte Water District is preparing for the rice planting season, including deliveries of water to growers.

However, in March, Butte Water District's attorney said that the district has supplied water for the Drought Water Bank in 1991, 2009 and 2010 and conducted extensive monitoring, with only one report of impact, which was proved unfounded.

The well the district will use is isolated from wells used by other people, the district said previously.

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