Voluntary Agreements Purport to Add Water and Habitat, But Might Actually Worsen Conditions for the Bay-Delta Estuary, Rivers, and Native Fish and Wildlife
California’s Bay-Delta estuary is in crisis. Climate change and unsustainable water diversions from the watershed are leading toward the extinction of winter-run Chinook salmon, Delta Smelt, orcas, and other endangered species. This crisis threatens thousands of fishing jobs and decreases water supply reliability. The best available science makes clear that significant increases in water flowing into and through the Delta in most years are necessary to restore our native fish and wildlife. The time to act is now.
Saving the Delta will require a Portfolio Approach that pairs state investments in new water supply projects outside of the Delta to improve water supply reliability, floodplain habitat restoration projects, and significant increases in flow through the estuary and into San Francisco Bay. Many environmental and fishing organizations believe that voluntary agreements (VA’s) can be effective tools to implement new water quality standards and help restore the Bay-Delta. But any durable solution, regulatory or voluntary, must be supported by scientifically credible analysis that it will prevent extinction and achieve the salmon doubling objective required by state and federal law. The VA’s outlined by the Brown Administration in December 2018, and the additional partial project descriptions presented to state regulators on March 1, 2019, purport to be a package of flows, habitat and other measures that will protect the estuary without the need for new regulations.
Unfortunately, these VA’s will not protect and restore the Delta. Our organizations strongly oppose these VA outlines because they:
1. Double-count habitat restoration projects that are already required or planned using existing funds, and that would occur without such an agreement;
2. Fail to provide sufficient flow increases to protect and restore the Bay-Delta estuary, its native fish and wildlife, and the thousands of jobs that depend on it;
3. Fail to include any restrictions on Delta pumping and other operations of the Central Valley Project (CVP) and State Water Project (SWP); such restrictions are necessary to prevent the water projects from diverting any additional flow provided from upstream farms and cities and to prevent the Trump Administration from gutting Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for the Bay-Delta;
4. Fail to include carryover storage requirements in upstream reservoirs to ensure water supplies for future droughts and adequate water temperatures for salmon;
5. Fail to use the transparent approach of flow standards based on a percentage of unimpaired flows, and instead uses the failed approach of State Water Board Decision 1641;
6. Fail to ensure that Bay-Delta standards will be enforced and will respond to new scientific information; and
7. Fail to include investments in water supply reliability and economic development projects that will help cities and farms adapt to a future with less water diverted from the Bay-Delta.