Court ruling could delay California water project

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A state appellate court has ruled that California water officials cannot go onto private property for soil testing and other studies related to construction of two massive tunnels that would siphon water from the Sacramento River.

Nancy Vogel of the state's Department of Water Resources said Friday that officials anticipated the ruling and work won't be delayed.

The decision handed down Thursday by the state's 3rd District Court of Appeal says an intrusion on private property without permission violates the California Constitution.

If built, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan — estimated to cost billions of dollars — would send fresh water around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to Central and Southern California.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed against the state by more than 150 property owners in Sacramento, San Joaquin, Yolo, Solano and Contra Costa counties.

The three-judge panel ruled 2-1 in a 44-page decision with the majority opinion saying the state must adhere to eminent domain laws, which give property owners the right to a jury trial to determine a fair payment for taking away their land.

Acts such as testing soil, observing or trapping animals either by driving onto property, using boats or going on foot amount to "taking" and trigger the need for eminent domain proceedings, the majority opinion said.

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