Poll Reveals Public Support for Voluntary Agreements, Litigation Continues

  • by ACWA Staff
  • May 20, 2020
  • Water News

Despite multiple legal and regulatory actions, Voluntary Agreements remain a viable path forward on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta, one strongly supported by ACWA and a majority of Californians.

ACWA retained Probolsky Research to conduct a bilingual statewide survey of 900 California voters during March. The results showed that a majority of respondents ­­­– 62% – support Voluntary Agreements as an approach under development by a coalition of California interests including cities, conservation organizations, farmers and state and federal agencies.

Results also indicated that:

  • 63% are more likely to support Voluntary Agreements knowing they will make physical improvements to fish habitat in rivers and the Bay-Delta.
  • 60% are more likely to support knowing that Voluntary Agreements will take a different approach that includes the creation of new habitat for fish, applied science and is intended to provide more water reliably for people and farms.
  • 59% are more likely to support Voluntary Agreements knowing that water will be released from reservoirs to coincide with natural fish movements and restore historic floodplains that play an important role in the fish life cycle.

ACWA is using the survey results in advocacy engagement with the administration of Gov. Gavin Newsom. An ACWA Voluntary Agreements Communications Working Group helped draft the survey questions. ACWA is distributing an infographic to working group members for use in public education.

Litigation Complicates Progress on Voluntary Agreements

As it stands, negotiations toward Voluntary Agreements have paused. In late March, the Department of Fish and Wildlife released an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) for long-term operations of the State Water Project.

The ITP, which covers four species protected under the California Endangered Species Act, is different than updated federal biological opinions finalized in February. The new federal biological opinions update 10-year-old science and further improve our understanding of the Bay-Delta, how to better protect its fishery and ecosystem, and actions that can be taken now to minimize potential impacts on fish populations from pumping Bay-Delta water.

The ITP left the federal Central Valley Project (CVP) operating under a different set of rules than the federal biological opinions for the first time in California history. It also triggered a chain reaction of litigation that involves the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), the State Water Contractors (SWC) and the state of California itself, as well as six environmental organizations.

Preliminary Injunction

The state of California lawsuit is one of two that largely overlap each other related to the new federal biological opinions. The second lawsuit was filed by a coalition of six environmental organizations. Both were filed in the U. S. District Court for the Eastern District of California.

The state and environmental organizations jointly requested a preliminary injunction in late April to suspend CVP operations under the updated federal biological opinions while litigation progressed. On May 12, a federal judge granted the plaintiffs’ joint request to halt export operations in the south Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta through May 31 that do not comply with part of the prior 2009 biological opinions. This ruling was made based on concerns about potential harm to threatened California Central Valley steelhead trout.

The ruling denied the state’s motion in all other respects as moot. It also denied the environmental organizations’ motion to enjoin operations on the Stanislaus River as moot subject to renewal. It held all other aspects of the environmental groups’ motion in abeyance, with the intention of addressing the remaining matters in a separate order.

The preliminary injunction is only effective until the end of this month.

The court’s action focused on potential impacts to California Central Valley steelhead trout runs and did not address Delta smelt, longfin smelt or salmon.

ACWA Letters Call for a Return to the Table

ACWA, along with congressional leaders, and a number of litigants, including ACWA members MWD and the SWC, is calling for a return to negotiations on Voluntary Agreements.  Gov. Gavin Newsom continues to express support for Voluntary Agreements. ACWA recently sent letters to Newsom and U.S Department of Interior Secretary David Bernhardt urging a return to the negotiating table and citing results from the survey sponsored by ACWA.

“The public wants a solution. Drawn-out litigation is not the answer,” said ACWA Executive Director David Eggerton. “No matter what has or will be decided in the courts concerning the operations of the Central Valley Project or the State Water Project, there is no path through litigation that delivers the certainty and immediate benefits of the Voluntary Agreements.”

Read a copy of ACWA’s letters to Newsom and Bernhardt at www.acwa.com/resources.


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