The Opportunity at Hand on Putting a Bay-Delta Solution in Place

  • by Dave Eggerton
  • Nov 15, 2018
  • Voices on Water

The dialogue underway on voluntary settlement agreements over Bay-Delta water flow requirements offers the greatest potential yet on achieving the coequal goals of a reliable water supply and enhanced ecosystem health. Thankfully, the State Water Resources Control Board acknowledged that potential when the State Board voted on Nov. 7 to postpone a vote on the Bay-Delta Plan update until Dec. 11.

A succinct letter signed by Gov. Jerry Brown and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom made the difference. Essentially, it urged the State Water Board to avoid igniting another lengthy water war and pledged Brown and Newsom to engage all parties to reach closure on an agreement. Hopefully, that will happen soon, before board members feel they have no other choice in front of them. This collaborative agreement on flows is a key element of the “Grand Bargain” under negotiation by state and federal officials and stakeholders.

If the Bay-Delta Plan update for the Lower San Joaquin River and Southern Delta is adopted as proposed by State Board staff, those amendments would set 40% unimpaired flows for February through June with an adaptive range between 30 to 50% for the Stanislaus. This would severely restrict water supplies for agricultural use and urban areas while offering a dubious-at-best solution to restoring salmon populations.

In comparison to the staff proposal, ACWA supports an alternative approach to the staff proposal that applies many tools, including functional flows, that have proven effective in restoring and protecting riverine environments without crippling California agriculture or slashing urban water supplies. The letter from Brown and Newsom states that voluntary agreements are preferable to a lengthy administrative process and the inevitable ensuing lawsuits.

In a Nov. 5 column printed in The Sacramento Bee, State Water Board member Dorene D’Adamo describes how water agencies throughout the Central Valley have partnered with fish agencies and environmental organizations on habitat restoration projects, with promising early results. She accurately points out that modern science supports targeted increased flows, habitat improvements and other measures as more effective.

We can use flows, but precisely when they can achieve the greatest good at the optimal temperature, in addition simultaneously working to expand habitat and control invasive predatory species. We’re not saying flows aren’t a part of the solution. We’re agreeing that functional flows are indeed, and a critical part at that – but the quantity of flow is one of a number of parts and not the only solution.

Time is of the essence for the parties to come together and forge effective, robust and workable voluntary agreements. The willingness of Gov. Brown and Gov.-Elect Newsom to engage in this process extends a unique opportunity that cannot be missed – by those at the negotiating table, or on the State Water Board. We have more than one tool to get the job done. What we don’t have is the luxury of missing another opportunity to achieve the coequal goals.

 

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