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City joins lawsuit against Bay-Delta water plan

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The city and County of San Francisco Thursday joined a lawsuit against the state’s implementation of a plan to increase water flows to the lower San Joaquin River and southern Delta.

The lawsuit is largely a technicality to buy time while agencies including the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission work together to create an alternative plan that will be good for both the environment and residents, city officials said.

The Bay-Delta Plan would increase flows from rivers including the San Joaquin River to about 40 percent of what would normally occur with no dams. Environmental groups support the plan, while some city water agencies worry that it might reduce the amount of drinking water for residents.

Harlan Kelly, general manager of the commission, said in a statement:

“San Francisco is leading a collaborative effort to protect the environment and plan for our future water supply, and we need the flexibility to continue this important work.”

George Kostyrko, spokesman for the State Water Resources Control Board, said in an email:

“We don’t comment on the merits of pending lawsuits.”

Kostyrko added:

“Based on what we have read in various media and heard through other communications, we expect lawsuits in the future when the appropriate statutes of limitations are running, from a variety of parties representing different interests on the Board action.”

The State Water Resources Control Board in December started the legal clock ticking by voting to approve an update to the Bay-Delta Plan calling for large increases in water releases on the tributaries of the San Joaquin River above the Bay-Delta.

The updated plan is part of an effort to restore the ecology of the Bay-Delta system, including the Tuolumne River, which provides water via the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir to Bay Area customers.

This would dramatically reduce the SFPUC’s water supply, leaving it subject to rationing in droughts, according to the SFPUC.

When the State Water Board approved the Bay-Delta Plan in December, it acknowledged the progress of the SFPUC and its partners for restoration and management plans for the Tuolumne, San Francisco utility officials said.

The water board has given the SFPUC and its partners until March to further develop these plans for the river, but the legal window to contest the current version of the plan closes before March, necessitating Thursday’s legal filing, city officials said.

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