Cargill salt evaporation ponds near Redwood City. (Photo by Doc Searls/Flickr)

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and four environmental groups have filed a pair of lawsuits in San Francisco federal court to challenge the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s conclusion that salt ponds along the Bay near Redwood City are not federally protected waters.

The agency concluded on March 1 that the ponds are not U.S. waters subject to the Clean Water Act, which limits and regulates the amount of pollution discharged into the waters.

The action makes it easier for the 1,365-acre area owned by Cargill Point LLC to be used for development.

The two lawsuits claim the agency violated the federal Administrative Procedure Act by making a decision that was arbitrary, capricious and not supported by substantial evidence.

In 2016, the regional office of the EPA made a preliminary determination that the salt ponds were U.S. waters.

The lawsuits claim the new determination “ignores the factual  findings and conclusions” of the preliminary determination and will result in harm to water quality in the Bay, birds and wildlife.

The four environmental groups are Save The Bay, San Francisco Baykeeper, Committee for Green Foothills and Citizens’ Committee to Complete the Refuge.

An EPA spokeswoman said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.