Since the Gold Rush, the Bay-Delta has endured much: from the flushing of its tributaries with mud and debris by hydraulic miners to the dredging of waterways and draining of marshes by engineers. But as the decades wore on, as pumping stations pushed water to rich fields and booming cities, and as California grew to become the most populous state in the country, the Bay-Delta wilted. Water quality worsened. Populations of some native species dwindled. Levees threatened to collapse and flood Sacramento and surrounding cities. In 1992 Governor Pete Wilson declared the Bay-Delta broken.
Two years later, in an effort to repair the damage, the eighteen state and federal agencies12 that regulate the Bay-Delta formed CALFED—a consortium charged with creating a collaborative thirty-year plan for the troubled estuary. In 2000, CALFED issued that plan: a high-level blueprint for restoring the ecological health of the Bay-Delta and improving its water management. Agricultural interests from the northern Central Valley soon challenged the plan under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”), which provides those who oppose projects for environmental or other reasons with legal means to attack them. The resulting litigation dragged on for eight years and culminated in In re Bay-Delta Programmatic Environmental Impact Report Consolidated Proceedings (“Bay-Delta”). The unanimous California Supreme Court decision upheld the CALFED plan and, in doing so, added certainty to California’s increasingly uncertain water planning process.