Untapped Public Support Exists for VAs

  • by Dave Eggerton
  • Aug 14, 2020
  • Voices on Water

Negotiations toward Voluntary Agreements (VAs) remain mostly on hold, their potential currently eclipsed by a chain reaction of litigation set off earlier in the year. Yet many of us who support VAs maintain a cautious optimism. 

The water community, state and federal agencies continue expressing support to achieve the VAs. That will not mean much until litigants act to break the deadlock, but when they do, and if negotiations successfully lead to completed VAs, evidence shows that a majority of Californians will support this collaborative outcome on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta. 

We know this from the results of a survey conducted on behalf of ACWA in March. It found that 62% support a collaborative approach to improving fish and wildlife habitat in the Bay-Delta, which is exactly what the VAs propose. This statewide poll included live-interview telephone and online surveys among 900 voters throughout California. Surveyors educated participants on both sides of the issue, including the unimpaired flows approach within the current State Water Resources Control Board’s Bay-Delta Plan update.

Continuing its advocacy for VAs, ACWA recently launched a digital advertising campaign highlighting the survey results aimed at elected officials and decision makers in Sacramento. A July 27 advisory announced this campaign and provided a toolkit for member agencies to use in outreach to their communities. This includes a one-page infographic explaining the survey, along with educational materials explaining what the VAs are, how they would work and why they represent a multi-beneficial opportunity to improve the Bay-Delta ecosystem for the benefit of all Californians. I urge every ACWA member agency, no matter how removed they may be from reliance on the Bay-Delta, to consider sharing this information with their community.

An ACWA member workgroup devoted to communications efforts surrounding the VAs provided valuable guidance during the formation of this toolkit, as well as survey questions. An additional workgroup is focused on VA policy. The formation of both demonstrates ACWA’s deep commitment to advocacy in support of VAs.

Now, it would be naïve to think the Bay-Delta is anywhere near top-of-mind for most Californians, as we struggle through these difficult times with a global pandemic and economic uncertainty. The gridlock blocking the path back to the negotiating table is ultimately rooted in today’s uncompromising political partisanship. However, we cannot afford to lose our momentum advocating for VAs as the state’s Delta solution, in Sacramento or throughout California. This is why it is so important that member agencies explore using the toolkit in the July 27 advisory, even if they are not directly impacted by Bay-Delta policies.

The alternative to the VAs is a top-down regulatory approach, one that relies primarily on a rigid, calendar-based application of unimpaired flows. VAs, on the other hand, apply the latest available science to maximize the benefits of flow, including the timing of their release and at more favorable temperatures for the fishery, as well as complementary measures to recover fish and wildlife populations, all while providing certainty to the 35 million Californians who depend on these water sources and maintaining the economic vitality of the Central Valley.

The results of our survey, packaged with educational materials on the VAs, equip our member agencies to reach out to anyone willing to listen and learn in their communities. As we now know, when given an opportunity in the court of public opinion, people recognize VAs as the best solution for the Bay-Delta. Hopefully, if we tap into what appears to be broad public support for VAs, we can clear a path out of the court of law and back to the negotiating table.

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