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California Supreme Court Requires More Extensive Environmental Review to Adequately Analyze Long-Term Water Supply for Long-Range Development Project

Vineyard Area Citizens v. City of Rancho Cordova, California Supreme Court Case No. S132972 (February 1, 2007). The California Supreme Court held an EIR failed to adequately analyze the impacts of a long-term water supply for a long-range plan to develop 6,000 acres with approximately 22,000 residential units.

The Court identified the principal disputed issue as “how firmly future water supplies for a proposed project must be identified or, to put the question in reverse, what level of uncertainty regarding the availability of water supplies can be tolerated in an EIR for a land use plan.” The Court emphasized that “CEQA should not be understood to require assurances of certainty regarding long-term future water supplies at an early phase of planning for large land development projects.” However, “[i]f the uncertainties inherent in long-term land use and water planning make it impossible to confidently identify the future water sources, an EIR may satisfy CEQA if it acknowledges the degree of uncertainty involved, discusses the reasonably foreseeable alternatives-including alternative water sources and the option of curtailing the development if sufficient water is not available for later phases-and discloses the significant foreseeable environmental effects of each alternative , as well as mitigation measures to minimize each adverse impact.”

As applied to the Project, the Court held that the EIR adequately evaluated the near-term water supply for the Project. Although much uncertainty still remained, the Court held that there was substantial evidence in the record demonstrating a reasonable likelihood that the near-term groundwater supplies would be available at least in substantial part to apply to the Project’s near-term needs. However, the Court held that the EIR did not adequately analyze the long-term water supply for the Project. The Court found that there were factual inconsistencies and lack of clarity in the EIR that made it unclear whether sufficient water would be available for the Project at full build out. The Court also held that the EIR for the Project did not properly tier off of or incorporate a prior EIR’s analysis of water sources.

The Court also held that the EIR should have been recirculated on the impact of the groundwater extraction on the Cosumnes River salmon. The Court held that the County’s response in the Final EIR that this impact was insignificant was not supported by substantial evidence.