ACWA, Local Water Leaders Call for Collaborative Approach to Flows in Bay-Delta Watershed

Saying California is facing a defining moment in water policy that could impact the way water is allocated for years, ACWA and local water leaders today called on the State Water Resources Control Board to embrace a collaborative approach to setting flow and water quality objectives in the Bay-Delta watershed.

The call for a collaborative approach is in response to a State Water Board staff proposal that would require water users to leave significantly more water as “unimpaired flow” in the San Joaquin River and its tributaries in an effort to provide fish and wildlife benefits. ACWA and other stakeholders are urging the State Water Board to set aside its proposed “unimpaired flow” approach and heed Gov. Jerry Brown’s call for negotiated agreements, which have proven successful on many rivers and tributaries in the Bay-Delta watershed.

ACWA’s Board of Directors on March 10 adopted a policy statement outlining this collaborative, comprehensive path to achieving positive ecological objectives while maintaining water supply reliability. ACWA and others believe the collaborative approach best serves the state’s overarching objective to meet the coequal goals of ecosystem health and water supply reliability.

In a call with media Friday, ACWA Executive Director Timothy Quinn and several local water leaders outlined the collaborative approach for the Delta that would utilize an array of diverse actions to meet the coequal goals.

“California’s urban and agricultural water managers are united in their vision for a future that includes a healthy economy as well as healthy ecosystems and fish populations,” ACWA Executive Director Timothy Quinn said. “That vision is best achieved through comprehensive, collaborative approaches that include a broad suite of actions and non-flow solutions that contribute real benefits to ecosystem recovery.”

State Water Board issued the staff proposal last fall calling for unimpaired flow as part of its update to the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan.  The deadline for public comment on the proposal is at 12 p.m. today, March 17. ACWA has submitted its policy statement to the State Water Board along with a formal comment letter on the proposal.

The ACWA statement notes that the State Water Board proposal could lead to widespread fallowing of agricultural land and would negatively affect water supply reliability for much of the state’s population. It also would undercut the state’s groundwater sustainability goals, cripple implementation of the Brown Administration’s California Water Action Plan, and affect access to surface water for some disadvantaged communities that do not have safe drinking water. These impacts are not in the public’s interest and are inconsistent with the Brown Administration’s water policy objectives.

“With this statement, ACWA’s agricultural and urban agencies are sending a clear message that unimpaired flow approach cannot lead us to the future we want in California,” said Quinn. “There is a better path. Negotiated agreements on many streams have succeeded because they include a more comprehensive set of tools and the support of local stakeholders, resulting in even better outcomes for ecosystems and water users. Forced regulations seldom yield those results.”

ACWA’s policy statement emphasizes that the state’s flow policy must reflect the best available science, take economic impacts into account and be consistent with the coequals goals of improving both water supply reliability and ecosystem health and the broader policy goals of the California Water Action Plan.

Quinn and local water managers representing Modesto Irrigation District, Reclamation District #108, City of Sacramento Department of Utilities, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and Zone 7 Water Agency participated in the media call today on the issue and provided examples of collaborative projects and partnerships underway that contribute ecosystem benefits while maintaining water supply reliability.

More information on ACWA's policy statement is here.