WASHINGTON (CN) - The controversial Hetch-Hetchy dam project disrupts the natural flow of the Tuolumne River and threatens multiple species of endangered fish, an environmental group claims in Federal Court.
The Center for Environmental Science, Accuracy and Reliability and its member Jean Sagouspe sued the National Park Service, the Department of the Interior and its top officials, claiming the agencies ignored statutory requirements under the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
The Hetch-Hetchy project diverts water from the Tuolumne River, which originates as snowmelt in Yosemite National Park, flooding the Hetch-Hetchy Valley to create a giant, 8-mile-long reservoir that holds 117 billion gallons of water.
The project has been controversial since it began, 100 years ago, as the reservoir flooded a pristine valley. In the past quarter century, environmentalists have stepped up their calls to drain the dam.
"Through the facilities of the Hetch-Hetchy Project the City of San Francisco diverts about 265,000 acre-feet per year - about 15 percent of its natural flow - out of the Tuolumne River and channels it into a 167-mile-long aqueduct that traverses California's Central Valley removing this pristine water from the hydrologic basin and delivering it instead to the San Francisco and other Bay Area communities," the complaint states.
And that disruption threatens already endangered fish, the group says.
Central Valley Steelhead, Central Valley Spring-Run Chinook Salmon and Winter-Run Chinook Salmon each depend on stream flows from the Tuolumne and San Joaquin rivers, according to the complaint, and the disruption could affect their migration.
The group also claims the Green Sturgeon, a fish practically unchanged for almost 200 million years, faces extinction because of habitat change and excessive harvesting, and will face additional threats from the project's reduced water flow rates and impassable barriers.
"Defendant, National Park Service, annually approves instream flow and other operating requirements for the Hetch-Hetchy Project," the group says. "But in approving these in-stream flows and other operating requirements, including for the current water year, 2014, defendants have failed to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service, as required by Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act to ensure that these operations of the Hetch-Hetchy Project are 'not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species or threatened species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of habitat of such species.'"
The group claims that the project also constitutes an illegal take of the threatened fish under the Endangered Species Act.
It wants a court order preventing the diverting of water from the Tuolumne until the defendants have consulted with other federal agencies.
The Center for Environmental Science, Accuracy and Reliability is represented by Roger Marzulla.