Welcome to our pick of the best laptops of 2020. There's never been a better time to buy a new laptop, especially if you're now working from home, and in this guide we'll help you find the best laptop for your needs.
Our best laptops list doesn't just focus on the most powerful – and expensive – laptops out there. We've got a wide range of different laptops for different uses and budgets, including the best gaming laptops, affordable Chromebooks and the best budget laptops as well.
No matter what your budget is, or what kind of laptop you're after, our list of the best laptops of 2020 will help you find the right device for you.
In our view, the HP Spectre x360 (2020) is currently the best laptop you can buy in 2020. It's one of those rare laptops that does everything right.
It's got a gorgeous design, it's thin and light enough to carry around with you, and it's packed with some of the best hardware you'll find in a laptop right now.
It's also the best 2-in-1 laptop in our view, which means you can use it as a traditional laptop, or you can fold the keyboard back and use it like a tablet. This level of versatility is another reason why we think the HP Spectre x360 is so good.
But, if that's not the right laptop for you, then we've also got a number of excellent alternatives. For instance, we've just updated this guide to include the new Asus ROG Zephyrus G14, which in our view is the best gaming laptop money can buy right now.
Every device in our best laptops list has been extensively tested by us, while our price comparison tool will make sure you get the best deals for the best laptops.
During our testing process, we make sure that these laptops offer the best battery lives, design, performance and value in their respective fields.
Buying any of the laptops in this best laptop list ensures you're getting an incredible mobile PC.
We are constantly reviewing and updating our list of the best laptops, so if a new device comes out and is worthy of inclusion, we'll add it here. This means you're getting the very latest advice on what the best laptop of 2020 is.The best laptops 2020: Image 1 of 3
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(Image credit: HP) 1. HP Spectre x360 (2020)
CPU: 10th-generation Intel Core i5 – i7 | Graphics: Intel Iris Plus Graphics | RAM: 8GB – 16GB | Screen: 13.3" FHD (1920 x 1080) IPS BrightView micro-edge WLED-backlit multitouch – 13.3" diagonal 4K (3840 x 2160) UWVA BrightView micro-edge AMOLED multitouch | Storage: 256GB – 2TB SSD
Stylish and high-quality finish
Great all-around performance
Battery life takes a hit
Can run hot at times
The HP Spectre x360 2-in-1 laptop has had a big refresh for 2020, and the boost in specs, with 10th-generation Intel Core processors and Intel Iris Plus graphics, along with the impeccable 2-in-1 design and pristine gem-cut chassis, means that the new version has shot straight to the top of our best laptops list.
HP has been on a roll of late, with the excellent HP Elite Dragonfly also appearing high in our best laptops list (you'll find it a few places below), but when it comes to build quality, design and pure performance, the HP Spectre x360 (2020) is by far the best laptop you can buy right now in 2020.
While it's certainly pricey, you're getting some excellent extras, such as formidable security features and Bang & Olufsen speakers. If you care about aesthetics as much as you do performance and overall quality, this is the laptop for you.
Read the full review: HP Spectre x360 (2020)Image 1 of 6
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2. Dell XPS 13 (2020)
Still one of the best laptops of all time
CPU: 10th generation Intel Core i5 – i7 | Graphics: Intel Iris Plus | RAM: 8GB – 16GB | Screen: 13.3-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) – 4k (3840 x 2160) | Storage: 256GB – 2TB SSD
Excellent battery life
The Dell XPS 13 has been a regular of our best laptops list for years, and the 2020 again earns a well-deserved spot. It keeps everything we've come to love from Dell's flagship 13-incher, from the gorgeous and light design, to the powerful modern components that power it. The Dell XPS 13 now rocks 10th-generation Intel Core i5 or i7 processors and a bezel-less ‘Infinity Edge’ display, which means the Dell XPS 13 (2020) is a brilliant performer, while remaining thin and light.
What’s more, there’s a wide range of customization options, so you can really make the Dell XPS 13 the best laptop for your needs. The 2020 model refines the already-brilliant design of the XPS 13, but it does come at a high cost. While this is easily one of the best laptops in the world right now, it's also one of the most expensive as well.
Read the full review: Dell XPS 13Image 1 of 4
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The Huawei MateBook 13 is a brilliant laptop for 2019 (Image credit: Huawei) Image 4 of 4
(Image credit: Huawei) 3. Huawei MateBook 13
CPU: 8th generation Intel Core i5 – i7 | Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620 , Nvidia GeForce MX150 2GB GDDR5 | RAM: 8GB | Screen: 13-inch 1440p (2,160 x 1,440) | Storage: 256GB - 512GB SSD
Only 8GB RAM
No Thunderbolt 3
Huawei has done it again, and its latest laptop is one of our picks for the best laptop of 2019. As with last year's Huawei MateBook X Pro, the MateBook 13 comes with some of the latest components, including a discrete Nvidia MX150 graphics card, and a gorgeous lightweight design, that you'd expect to find on a much more expensive laptop.
The fact that the MateBook 13 offer so much, yet comes with an impressively low price – compared to its Ultrabook competitors, makes it our choice for the best value laptop. Sure, you may be missing a few minor niceties here and there to achieve such a competitive price, but on the whole, this is the most value-packed flagship laptop that we’ve ever tested.
If you're after a few more bells and whistles, like super-fast Thunderbolt 3 ports and a 4K display, then the Dell XPS 13 or MacBook Pro (also on this list of best laptops) may be better choices. Recently, the US government blacklisted Huawei, which many feared would have implications on whether the Chinese company's laptops would still get support from the like of Microsoft and Intel.
The good news is that both Microsoft and Intel have confirmed that they will continue to support Huawei laptops, which means the MateBook 13 and other models will still get important Windows 10 updates.
Read the full review: Huawei MateBook 13
(Image credit: Acer)4. Acer Swift 3
The best budget laptop in the world
CPU: up to Intel Core i7-8565U | Graphics: Nvidia GeForce MX150, Intel HD Graphics 620 or AMD Radeon Vega 8 | RAM: 4GB – 8GB | Screen: 14-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) ComfyView IPS – 15.6" Full HD (1920 x 1080) | Storage: 128GB – 1 TB HDD, 16 GB Intel Optane Memory
Superb keyboard and trackpad
Very reasonably priced
Looks a little plain
Beyond the Acer Swift 3's modest exterior, you'll find an excellent laptop that boasts plenty of power for work and study. The Swift 3 (not to be confused with the Switch 3 another laptop from Acer) is an inexpensive laptop; however, that plain chassis is all-aluminum and packed with beefy components.
In terms of performance, it gets surprisingly close to the far more expensive Microsoft Surface Laptop. Its display is a little lower-res, but the two are otherwise strikingly similar - other than the price.
This laptop is incredible to use as well, with its roomy trackpad as well as its backlit keyboard that offers a comfortable typing experience with decent travel. If you're going to be writing a lot – whether you’re traveling or at the office, this is one of the best budget laptops 2020 has on offer.
Read the full review: Acer Swift 3Image 1 of 4
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(Image credit: Apple) 5. MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2019)
The best Apple laptop ever
CPU: 9th-generation Intel Core i7 – i9 | Graphics: AMD Radeon Pro 5300M – Radeon Pro 5500M | RAM: 16GB – 64GB | Screen: 16-inch Retina display with True Tone | Storage: 512GB – 8TB SSD
Stunning 16-inch screen
New and improved keyboard
Limited to four Thunderbolt 3 ports
While we are sad that the 15-inch MacBook Pro is no more, we’ve welcomed the MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2019) with open arms. As thin, light and sleek as ever, you wouldn’t think this was a 16-inch behemoth.
Yet, you’re getting that extra real estate on that stunning display, as well as the latest and greatest components behind it. This is, without a doubt, the best MacBook for content creators, designers and other creative professionals. With amazing (and loud) speakers and a much, much better keyboard to boot.
Read the full review: MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2019)
(Image credit: Apple)6. Apple MacBook Air (2020)
The best cheap Apple laptop
CPU: 10th generation Intel Core i3 - i7 | Graphics: Intel Iris Plus Graphics | RAM: 8GB – 16GB | Screen: 13.3-inch (diagonal) 2,560 x 1,600 LED-backlit display with IPS technology | Storage: 256GB – 2TB SSD | Dimensions: 11.97 x 8.36 x 0.63 inches (30.41 x 21.24 x 1.61cm; W x D x H)
New lower price
Screen colors a little muted
Battery life only OK
Apple has once again refreshed and improved the MacBook Air, and the 2020 model represents the biggest upgrade we've seen in quite a while, easily making it one of the best laptops in the world, and certainly the best affordable MacBook ever made. Apple has now included the latest 10th generation Intel processors, and for the first time you're able to get a MacBook AIr with a quad-core CPU, which makes a big difference when it comes to perfomance.
You also get more storage as well, with Apple doubling the amount the base model comes with to 256GB. While it's can't compete with the raw power of the MacBook Pro 16-inch (above), this is by far the best MacBook Air the company has ever made. Best of all, Apple has once again lowered the entry price, so you're getting a more powerful laptop for cheaper. What's not to like about that?
Read the full review: MacBook Air (2020)Image 1 of 3
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(Image credit: Asus) 7. Asus ROG Zephyrus G14
The best gaming laptop of 2020
CPU: AMD Ryzen 7 4800HS – 9 4900HS | Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 | RAM: 16GB – 32GB | Screen: 14-inch Non-glare Full HD (1920 x 1080) IPS-level panel, 120Hz – 14-inch Non-glare WQHD (2560 x 1440) IPS-level panel, 60Hz | Storage: 512GB / 1TB M.2 NVMe PCIe 3.0
Best battery life in a gaming laptop
Thin and light
The Asus Zephyrus G14 is not perfect, missing a webcam and a Thunderbolt 3 port. However, it’s damn near close to being one, garnering our coveted yet rarely given five-star rating, and making it one of the best laptops in 2020, and our pick of the best gaming laptop overall.
This is an absolute beast of a gaming laptop, delivering an incredible performance with its AMD Ryzen 4000 processors and Nvidia RTX 2060 graphics card while touting best-in-class battery life that will last you all day long, a fast display with a 120Hz refresh rate and a lightweight, ultra-thin design. The best part is that you’re getting all that without burning a hole in your pocket. Don’t get us wrong; it isn’t cheap, and if you're looking for a more affordable laptop, check out the Dell G5 15 below.
Read the full review: Asus Zephyrus G14Image 1 of 7
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(Image credit: Dell) 8. Dell G5 15 5590
The best budget gaming laptop
CPU: up to 9th generation Intel Core i7-9750H | Graphics: up to Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 with Max-Q | RAM: 8GB – 16GB | Screen: 15.6 inch FHD (1920 x 1080) IPS 300-nits – 15.6 inch FHD(1920 x 1080) 300nits IPS Anti-Glare LED with 144Hz refresh rate | Storage: 128GB SSD + 1TB HDD – 1TB SSD
Perfectly balanced feature set
Strong gaming performance
Great battery life
IPS panel is merely OK
Confusing configuration options
While the Alienware Area-51m (featured earlier in this best laptops list) is the best gaming laptop for people with a lot of money to spare, if you're on a tighter budget, then the Dell G5 15 5590 gaming laptop is a fantastic choice.
Dell’s 15-inch G5 doesn't have the highest specs, but it will see you through 1080p gaming and last you up to 10 hours of battery life as well – which is pretty remarkable for a gaming laptop.
It also features a stylish design and great build quality, and Dell also allows you to configure the Dell G5 15 5590 to better suit your budget and needs.
Read the full review: Dell 5 15 5590Image 1 of 5
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(Image credit: HP) 9. HP Elite Dragonfly
CPU: 8th-generation Intel Core i5 – i7 | Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620 | RAM: 8GB - 16GB | Screen: 13.3" diagonal Full HD touch display – Full HD touch Sure View display | Storage: 256 GB SSD
Excellent battery life
This new laptop from HP is our pick for the best business laptop – put simply, this is one of the most stylish and slimline laptops you'll ever see, and it's also packed with some brilliant features and powerful components.
While the HP Elite Dragonfly is primarily aimed at business users, don't let that put you off. Its incredible design and gorgeous screen makes this the best laptop for anyone who can afford it. Battery life is excellent, the keyboard is a joy to type on, and it also has LTE connectivity. This lets you plug in a SIM card and access mobile internet wherever you are, without having to connect to slow (and potentially compromised) Wi-Fi hotspots.
It's expensive, but if you can afford it, it's easily one of the best laptops of 2020.
Read the full review: HP Elite Dragonfly
(Image credit: HP)10. HP Envy x360 13 (2019)
The best affordable 2-in-1
CPU: AMD Ryzen 3 3300U – AMD Ryzen 7 3700U | Graphics: AMD Radeon Vega 6 – Radeon Vega 10 | RAM: 8GB – 16GB | Screen: 13.3" diagonal FHD IPS (1,920 x 1,080) | Storage: 256 GB – 1TB SSD
Slim and sleek for a 2-in-1
High quality chassis
Improved battery life
CPU performance merely adequate
Graphics performance disappointing
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Thanks to its sleek, 13-inch design, this 2-in-1 is leaner that you might have expected, which works in your favor when engaging it in tablet mode. There are other compelling reasons why the HP Envy x360 (2019) is worth considering when you’re on the lookout for the best laptops, especially in the 2-in-1 form factor.
This HP beauty offers a premium build, boasts 9 hours of video playback and delivers a performance that will get you through most of your schoolwork and project, at a very reasonable price.
Read the full review: HP Envy x360 (2019)Image 1 of 7
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Image credit: Asus 11. Asus Chromebook Flip
The best affordable Chromebook
CPU: Intel Pentium – Core m7 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 510 – 515 | RAM: 4GB – 8GB | Screen: 12.5-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) LED backlit anti-glare display | Storage: 32GB – 128GB eMMC
Elegant tablet mode
Gorgeous, vivid screen
No out-of-box Android support
When it comes to the best Chromebook laptop, you have a choice between two stark alternatives. There's the more expensive Chromebook Pixel Go (featured earlier in this list), and then there's the excellent Asus Chromebook Flip C302, which combines premium features in a much more affordable package.
For many people, Chromebooks are affordable laptops that are perfect for students, and the Asus Chromebook Flip C302 is easily one of the best Chromebooks, and one of the best laptops, money can buy.
It comes with an Intel Core processor, full 1080p display, touchscreen, backlit keyboard and USB-C port.
Read the full review: Asus Chromebook FlipImage 1 of 3
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Image credit: Dell 12. Dell XPS 15 2-in-1
CPU: Intel Core i5-i7 | Graphics: Radeon RX Vega M GL Graphics with 4GB HMB2 Graphics Memory | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 512GB PCIe SSD
Kind of expensive
Last year’s Dell XPS 15 was already one of the best laptops you could buy, but now Dell has taken the beautiful redesign of the Dell XPS 13 and applied it here – while also making it a convertible.
Well, it’s amazing. Not only do you get one of the most aesthetically pleasing 15-inch laptops on the market, but it also packs one of those new Intel Kaby Lake G-series CPUs featuring ‘discrete-class’ Radeon graphics. This means that this laptop packs serious power – even if it can get a little loud.
Read the full review: Dell XPS 15 2-in-1Image 1 of 4
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The Asus VivoBook S15 is the best affordable laptop (Image credit: Asus)
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(Image credit: Asus) 13. Asus VivoBook S15
The best budget 15-inch laptop
CPU: Intel Core i5 – i7 | Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics | RAM: 8GB DDR4 | Screen: 15.6-inch full HD (1920 x 1080) | Storage: 512GB SSD
Bright, colorful 15.6-inch screen
Weighs just 1.8kg
Average battery life
ScreenPad is a bit weird…
The new Asus VivoBook S15 hasn't been out for long, and it's made its way straight into our best laptops list. This is because it combines a thin and light design with great performance and an excellent price.
If you're looking for a mid-range laptop that doesn't cost too much, but still performs brilliantly, then this is the best laptop for you.
Thanks to its powerful Intel processor, 8GB of RAM and fast SSD storage, this is a laptop that can handle almost any task with ease – though gaming is out of the question. Its 15.6-inch screen is bright and vibrant, and it has loads of ports that makes it easy to hook up your favorite peripherals.
However, it doesn't have the longest battery life for a laptop, and the ScreenPad, which replaces the traditional touchpad below the keyboard with a touchscreen, takes a bit of getting used to.
Read the full review: Asus VivoBook S15What should you look for when buying a new laptop?
There are certain things you can look out for when buying a new laptop that can ensure you get the best laptop for your money.
Make sure you take a look at the specifications of a laptop before buying. This is a good way of quickly seeing how powerful a laptop is, and what it is capable of – as long as you know what you’re looking for.
First of all is the processor. This is essentially the brain of the laptop, and a laptop will usually have a processor (also known as a CPU) made by either Intel or AMD. Intel is by far the most popular CPU maker for laptops, though we’re seeing an increasing number of AMD-powered laptops as well.
As a general rule of thumb, Intel processors offer better performance, but AMD processors are better value.
To make things more simple, both Intel and AMD have numbered their processors to give you a rough idea of what sort of tasks a laptop with that processor can perform.
If you’re after a budget laptop for simple tasks like browsing the web or watching Netflix, then a laptop with an Intel Pentium, Intel Core i3 or AMD Ryzen 3, processor will do that job without making the laptop too expensive.
If you’re after something with a bit more oomph – perhaps to do more complex task like editing your home videos or playing games – then go for a laptop with an Intel Core i5 or AMD Ryzen 5 processor as a minimum.
The best laptops for media creation, and more complex tasks, come with an Intel Core i7 or Core i9 processor, or an AMD Ryzen 7 processor. Laptops with these processors in them are top-of-the-range laptops that will provide brilliant performance no matter what you want to do – but be warned that they are often found in the most expensive laptops.
Finally, keep an eye on how new the processor is. Intel handily gives its processors generations, so the higher the generation, the newer it is. The latest generation is the 10th generation, though 9th generation Intel Core processors are also pretty recent.
A newer processor performs better and is more power efficient – so battery life will last longer. They are more expensive, though.
RAM (Random Access Memory) is another important specification to look for in a laptop. You’ll want 4GB at the very least for a Windows laptop – though we’d actually recommend for many people to go for 8GB. That will ensure that the laptop runs well for years to come.
When it comes to graphics, you don’t need to worry too much, as laptop processors come with built-in (integrated) graphics. However, if you want to play PC games on your laptop, then you’ll want a gaming laptop with a discrete GPU – either from Nvidia or AMD.Battery life considerations
Finally there’s battery life. This is likely to be one of the most important considerations you have when choosing what laptop to buy. The best laptops need to be able to let you work - and play - for hours on end without you having to scramble for a power adapter. Modern laptops are getting ever more power-efficient, which has led to longer battery lives. For a laptop to be included in our best laptops list, it needs to offer a battery life of five hours or more.
Bear in mind that the battery life that the laptop makers claim their device has could be quite different to what you actually experience. This is because many laptop makers test their batteries in very controlled environments, with the laptop used in ways that you might not necessarily use. So, while a laptop might have a claimed battery life of 10 hours, you may find that when using it for certain tasks – like streaming high definition content – your battery life could run out faster.
That’s where our in-depth reviews come in, as we run a series of tests on each laptop in this best laptops guide to see how long the battery life lasts under certain conditions. If a laptop’s battery is ridiculously short (or impressively long) we’ll tell you.Which type of laptop is best for you?
General laptops: Where the best cheap laptops are found, devices that focus more on practicality than style, portability or power. That’s not to say they can’t be fast, but you’ll typically find a non-Ultrabook clamshell laptop with an HD screen and spinning drive-based storage for less than $600 or £400.
Ultrabooks: Where you’ll find thin-and-light notebooks sporting SSD storage and display resolutions that exceed 1080p. Paired with powerful, albeit mobile-centric components and especially long battery life, the best Ultrabooks will cost a pretty penny – $700 or £500 to $2,000 or £1,800.
2-in-1 laptops: Where notebooks that double as tablets are located. The Surface Book 2 might be a ways off, but many of the best 2-in-1 laptops are available right now. Outfitted with both detachable and 360-degree rotating hinges, these hybrids are the most versatile way to experience Windows 10 (or Chrome OS) on a touchscreen.
Chromebooks: Where you’ll find the best Chromebooks running Chrome OS. These do much of what Windows and macOS can in the browser, focused on cloud storage over local, while recently getting Android app support for touchscreen models. They generally cost less than $300 or £200 and some can even withstand a slight tussle.
Gaming laptops: Need a laptop to play games (almost) just like a shiny desktop PC can? Then you’ll want one of the best gaming laptops. These machines generally cost from $800 or £600 to upwards of $3,000 or £2,800 and they’ll likely be the ones to take advantage of AMD’s laptop-grade Ryzen processors first.
Laptop-tablet hybrids: Designed from the tablet-first approach to laptop-tablet hybrids, the best Windows tablets pack beyond-HD touchscreens, sometimes with kickstands in their frames or provided via keyboard covers. These generally shine with a stylus, and range from the budget to the premium price ranges.References :
When Anthony Davis was traded to the Lakers, LeBron James made it clear that he wanted Davis to be the MVP — not just of the team, but of the league. It represented a rare willingness by James to take a backseat after being the alpha dog on essentially every team throughout his 16 prior years in the league.
As it turned out, James’ outstanding play at age 35 launched him into the MVP conversation, and Davis’ case never quite materialized, though a Defensive Player of the Year award could still be on the horizon. Nevertheless, James was right about one thing — this Lakers team doesn’t just belong to him. Both James and Davis lead the Lakers, and that partnership has benefited everyone.
Jared Dudley said that Davis’ role as a leader has been overlooked this season in an interview with The Athletic. The veteran forward noted that Davis and James complement each other, and that means Davis gets his moments to be vocal with the rest of the team.
Anthony Davis has brought the best out of LeBron and LeBron has brought the best out of Anthony Davis. When it comes to Anthony Davis doesn’t get enough credit as far as being a leader. Pushing LeBron. People always think it’s LeBron to AD. AD’s presence defensively, him being a beast. LeBron trying to integrate him the right way, him being more vocal, him getting on teammates. People don’t see that side. LeBron might be the leader.
But don’t get it twisted. There’s many times that he’s more vocal than LeBron. I want people to know this man gave up millions of dollars to come here and it’s not just to follow somebody. It’s a co-lead. For them to go on this path together, that’s why I was kind of bummed because of how well they were going to elevate each other in the playoffs. How these two were on pace to take their games to a whole other level. They were locking in. Like no other.
Dudley brings up an interesting point about Davis leaving money on the table to come to Los Angeles.
Davis was in line for a designated player extension in New Orleans that would have paid him 35% of the salary cap, and he sacrificed the opportunity to be with the Lakers. As someone who had been the best player on his team throughout his entire career — much like James — Davis apparently didn’t come to Los Angeles to play second fiddle. He came to be an equal partner in a winning team.
James hasn’t allowed just anyone to be a “co-lead” before — just ask Kyrie Irving. Davis demanded that with his talent and his work ethic.
Even though James is the nominal face of the team, it appears that Davis took on a larger role in the locker room that would have been expected. His ability to balance James both on and off the court was an unheralded key to the Lakers’s success.
For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts.References :
FRESNO – Taking advantage of recently approved rules, the federal government is quickly following through on President Donald Trump’s promise to quiet environmentalists and “open up the water” to California farmers.
Less than two months after the president made a rare trip to California to sign the controversial package before an adoring crowd in House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s district, the pumps supplying the federal government’s massive water project have been dialed up in recent days. The feds have gulped past previous limits, taking nearly three times the amount of water previously allowed even as another miserably dry rainy season wraps up in California.
The pumps in the south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta aren’t just whizzing during what will likely end up being classified a “critically dry” hydrological year, they are churning — and killing — endangered salmon during a critical migration period.
“We know that large portions of the juvenile cohorts are currently in the delta and in the danger zone for pumping operations,” said attorney Barbara Chisholm, representing Natural Resources Defense Council and a collection of fishing groups, argued in federal court Tuesday.
But after nearly two hours of oral argument, the environmentalists hoping to prevent juvenile Chinook salmon and steelhead from being vacuumed up on their journey to sea could not sway a federal judge to temporarily slow the feds’ pumping.
The plaintiffs asked U.S. District Judge Dale Drozd for a temporary restraining order requiring the Bureau of Reclamation to accept a “status quo” and commit to pumping limits established under the Obama administration. They claim the bureau agreed to conform to the old rules for April while the overarching lawsuit plays out in Fresno federal court but have reneged in recent days.
Drozd, appointed by President Barack Obama in 2015, pressed the Trump administration lawyers as to what triggered the additional pumping. He asked whether a pair of underlying declarations filed by the defendants’ expert were misleading.
“I can’t fully wrap my head around what is it that resulted in increased pumping on April 1 that was not anticipated five days earlier on March 26,” Drozd said of the declarations which anticipated “no meaningful changes in operations.”
Defending the decision to boost April pumping, U.S. Department of Justice lawyers argued the bureau was bound to take advantage of a recent stretch of wet weather in what has otherwise been a dry year. Besides, Justice Department lawyer Nicole Smith claimed, the number of fish entrained in the pumps in April is similar or below totals recorded under the nixed pumping limits and nowhere near the feds’ Endangered Species Act permit.
“There is an allowable amount of take and even if we agree that right now is a high migration period for these species through the delta, even still salvage and loss rates have been incredibly low,” Smith said.
At issue are new rules governing how much water the bureau can take from the delta for its Central Valley Project during specific periods of the year. The federal government recently adopted new biological opinions and operating procedures for the project, one of the largest water conveyance operations in the county.
Consisting of over 20 dams and 500 miles of canals, the water project delivers an average of 7 million acre-feet annually to farmers and municipal customers.
Tuesday’s hearing is a relatively minor piece of the growing high-profile battle against the feds’ new delta scheme, but it featured the usual prominent players in California’s water world. California’s largest environmental groups and the state have teamed up to overturn the biological opinions, while water agencies whose main customers are Central Valley farmers have intervened on the feds’ behalf.
The latest water dispute dates to July 2019, when the Trump administration raised alarm bells by stashing a 1,100-page biological opinion that warned additional delta pumping could harm endangered salmon, steelhead and Southern Resident killer whales. Instead of adopting the opinion, the document was pulled two days after publication and a drastically different, more farmer-friendly version emerged three months later.
Critics said the new opinion — which reversed the initial version by concluding more delta water could be pumped without harming endangered species — smacked of political influence and was crafted by bureaucrats and not scientists.
Opponents including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Defenders of Wildlife and Golden State Salmon Association responded less than two months later with the lawsuit at the heart of Tuesday’s oral argument.
Not to be left out, California also sued to stop the attempt to pump more water out of the delta for agricultural usage. State officials accused the Trump administration of manipulating and ignoring scientific data and warned they wouldn’t “silently spectate” as the federal government increased its share of California’s already overburdened water supply.
As is often the case, the delta is once again the focus of California’s interminable water wars.
The drainage point of California’s largest rivers, the delta is the largest remaining estuary on the West Coast and the state’s most important water source. Stretching across 1,100 square miles and five counties, the delta is the hub of massive federal and state water projects which prop the state’s $50 billion agricultural industry and provide drinking water for over 25 million people.
Drozd’s denial of the temporary restraining order means the feds’ window to pump at higher levels will close April 10 when state law reverts to limits established before the Trump administration. In essence, the plaintiffs were fighting for relief that would have ultimately lasted less than 72 hours.
The small window on its surface appears shallow, but both sides argued vociferously for it while appearing telephonically Tuesday.
The plaintiffs told Drozd limiting the pumps early will improve the chances of survival for the juvenile fish as they leave the delta for the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. By potentially preventing fish kills, the court could help aid the ongoing recovery of two revered salmon species on the brink of extinction.
Chisholm drove her irreparable harm claims by highlighting the deadly impact the pumps have on juvenile fish. According to the plaintiffs’ briefs, nearly 300 Chinook and 396 Central Valley steelhead have been killed this water year.
“Once the fish have been killed, they’ve been killed,” Chisholm said. “It’s appropriate for this court to enter a short-term TRO to reduce pumping for the remainder of this week until the state water board’s decision comes into effect.”
But if the relief is granted, the feds and the intervening water agencies said they would be missing out on a golden opportunity to recoup supplies in wake of an impressive storm that doused much of the state this past weekend.
An attorney for the largest agricultural water supplier in the nation said the loss would equal about 5,000 acre-feet per day. One acre-foot is the amount of water it takes to cover an acre of land with a foot of water, or roughly 326,000 gallons.
“In a dry year like this year, that’s a lot of water,” said Daniel O’Hanlon, lawyer for Westlands Water District and the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority.
Drozd signaled several times during oral arguments that the environmentalists’ irreparable harm argument was tepid at best.
“Plaintiffs seem to imply in their papers any harm to any single member of a listed species might be sufficient. That doesn’t seem to be consistent with my interpretation of the law in this area,” Drozd said. “Obviously some fish are being lost because that’s always been the case.”
Less than eight hours later after oral arguments ended, Drozd dashed the plaintiffs’ request for “extraordinary remedy” in a 12-page ruling.
“However, here plaintiffs appear to be advocating application of an irreparable harm analysis that is largely untethered from any sense of the magnitude of that impact to the overall population of that species,” Drozd wrote.
The ruling wasn’t entirely bad news for the environmentalists going forward, as the Los Angeles native acknowledged the plaintiffs “certainly raised serious questions” about the feds’ flip-flop on the biological opinions. Drozd said he hopes to have a full record on the matter by the time the parties complete their briefs on the outstanding motion for preliminary injunction.
— By Nick Cahill, CNS