REACTIONS: Organizations and Legislators respond to State Water Board decision to delay vote, Delta Stewardship Council’s draft determination for the California Water Fix project

Last week was certainly an active week for California water.  On Wednesday, the State Water Board decided to delay their vote on San Joaquin River flow objectives after receiving a letter from Governor Brown and Governor-elect Newsom.  The following day, the Delta Stewardship Council staff posted their draft determination on the Cal Water Fix consistency determination, saying that there is not enough evidence that the Cal Water Fix project is consistent with the Delta Plan, and they recommend the Council remand the consistency determination back to DWR.

Here are reactions from organizations and legislators:

Reactions to the State Water Board decision to delay vote on San Joaquin River flow objectives

From the California Farm Bureau Federation:

Believing voluntary agreements hold the best potential for benefiting fisheries without severe losses to people, the California Farm Bureau Federation welcomed today’s state water board action to postpone a vote on a contested river-flows plan.

Acting on a request from Gov. Brown and Gov.-elect Newsom, the State Water Resources Control Board decided to delay until next month a decision on a plan to reallocate flows in the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers. Brown and Newsom said the additional time would allow for further negotiations on voluntary agreements with affected water users.

“Voluntary approaches that combine habitat improvements with well-planned, functional river flows offer the best hope for helping fish while maintaining the water rights people depend on,” CFBF President Jamie Johansson said. “Those voluntary approaches also provide the best hope for solutions that avoid long, drawn-out court cases that would only prolong the uncertainty for both people and the environment.”

Farm Bureau and 53 other organizations urged the water board this summer to reject a proposal from board staff to redirect flows in the rivers, and to pursue voluntary agreements that would lessen flow amounts but be more beneficial to fish populations.

“We’re pleased the governor and governor-elect recognize the clear benefits of voluntary actions,” Johansson said. “Imposing stringent regulatory requirements based on policies that have failed in the past would damage an important region of California without helping fish. We will work with the governor and governor-elect to assure that any future agreements lead to success for the environment and the economy.”

From Congressman Jim Costa:

Congressman Jim Costa (CA-16) issued the following statement after the California State Water Resources Control Board voted today to delay the final vote on amendments to the Bay-Delta plan until December 12, 2018:

“The Board’s decision today to allow negotiations on voluntary settlement agreements to continue until mid-December at the Governor and Governor-elect’s request is a positive one.

“We are presented with a unique opportunity – to reset the water wars of the past and find a better path forward by negotiating a solution that would minimize the conflict over California’s most precious natural resource: its water. Science shows that improving habitat, predator control, and functional flows will lead to improved fishery health while minimizing impacts to the reliability of water supplies and harm to California’s agricultural economy. Today’s action by the Board allows these negotiations to continue.”

From Maurice Hall at the Environmental Defense Fund:

At the urging of Gov. Jerry Brown and now Governor-elect Gavin Newsom, the California State Water Resources Control Board postponed a vote today on an update to the Bay-Delta Plan that would increase natural water flows in the San Joaquin River system to boost salmon populations.

The board agreed to postpone action until Dec. 11 to give stakeholders more time to negotiate an alternative plan, called a voluntary settlement agreement.

The proposal on the table Wednesday would require 40 percent of the natural flow remain in the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced rivers during the critical February through June period in order to double the endangered salmon population and protect other wildlife. Currently instream flows sometimes drop as low as 6 percent of total flow, meaning more than 90 percent of the water is going toward human use. Chinook salmon populations have plummeted to about 10,000 in 2017 from 70,000 in the mid-1980s.

“We strongly believe that the best path forward is a voluntary settlement agreement that not only increases river flows but also restores habitat, provides reliable funding, and supports collaborative, transparent science. Yet, this is the second time the state board has postponed action on the Bay-Delta Plan, which is nearly 10 years in the making, and negotiation toward a voluntary agreement could have continued, even if the board had adopted the plan today.

“After participating in voluntary settlement agreement negotiations for about two years, we are very concerned about further delays. But we will swallow hard and live with one more month of delay in hopes that we can reach an agreement that puts the aquatic ecosystems of the Central Valley on a more promising path to recovery.

“It’s time for stakeholders to move beyond combat science and to adopt a more flexible, holistic management plan for our rivers that recognizes the water needs of the environment and wildlife, agriculture, and cities. In one month we hope to be moving along a pathway to greater resilience for the rivers, streams and economy of the Central Valley.

From the Golden Gate Salmon Association:

Background:  On November 7 the State Water Resources Control Board voted to delay, again, a critical vote to improve flow conditions on the San Joaquin River and its tributaries. The Board delayed that vote for at least 30 days.

For 22 years, the existing State Water Board flow standards have failed to stop the slow collapse of the Bay-Delta ecosystem, the great Central Valley rivers that feed it, its many fish species and the California salmon fishing industry.  For almost a decade, the Water Board has been working on new river flow requirements.  In 2010, they found that the scientific evidence overwhelmingly calls for a significant increase in flow in the Bay-Delta rivers.   Over the past decade, water users have had ample time to negotiate a credible, broadly supported settlement as an alternative to new Board flow protections.

On October 30, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution calling for the Water Board to vote on November 7.  At that meeting, SFPUC General Manager Harlan Kelly told the Board of Supervisors that he was “comfortable” with Supervisor Peskin’s resolution calling for the Water Board to vote on proposed standards.  Then, two days later, he reneged, opposed the resolution that he had supported, and persuaded the mayor to veto it.

Quote from John McManus, President of the Golden Gate Salmon Association:  “California lost a historic chance to heal a great environmental wound that is diverting Central Valley rivers and choking the life out of them, including our salmon runs. Instead of voting to restore rivers, the Water Board kicked the can down the road, just as its predecessors did in the 1980s and 1990s when Governors Deukmejian and Wilson forced the State Board to withdraw previous proposed river flow standards at the 11th hour. Delay means death to salmon, the loss of fishing jobs, likely extinctions and the collapse of the largest estuary on the West Coast.  I doubt that the Board will act to restore our rivers in 30 days, but I sure hope I’m wrong.

There is a lot of bullying going on in our country now and yesterday, the State Water Board was bullied into throwing the environment and the fishing industry under the bus.  It should be noted that two members of the Water Board refused to go along with it.

Nobody should be fooled into believing that the “grand bargain” promised at the Board meeting yesterday is real.   Water diverters involved in those negotiations testified that they don’t have an agreement and that they still reject the basic science developed by the state.

The SFPUC played a uniquely dark role in what happened here after double-crossing the San Francisco Board of Supervisors last week.”

Reactions to Delta Stewardship Council’s draft determination for the California Water Fix project

From Assemblyman Jim Frazier:

Assemblymember Jim Frazier (D-Discovery Bay) released the following statement after Delta Stewardship Council staff determined the Department of Water Resources’ (DWR) proposed twin tunnels plan is not consistent with multiple Delta Plan regulations.

“The staff of the Delta Stewardship Council has found the deeply flawed twin tunnels proposal does not respect local communities, reduce reliance on the Delta, or support healthy Delta flows, per requirements of the Delta Plan. These findings validate and confirm what I have been saying from the very beginning about this ill-conceived project. The plan does not use the best science and fails to honestly assess the impacts to Delta communities and the region’s agricultural and recreational economy. Most of all, DWR’s plan fails to reduce reliance on the Delta for statewide water needs, which is a principal requirement of the Delta Plan. The Council’s membership now has a clear responsibility to protect the Delta by rejecting DWR’s certification of consistency.”

A certification of consistency declares a project to be consistent with the coequal goals of the 2009 Delta Plan, and is a necessary regulatory step for any development in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The certification of consistency submitted by DWR in July was appealed by nine separate Delta stakeholder groups. These include Solano, Contra Costa, Sacramento and the other Delta counties, environmental groups, the city of Stockton, fishermen associations, tribal governments and local water agencies.

“I want to thank the appellants who presented evidence that was too convincing to ignore that these proposed tunnels are reckless and not in the state’s best interests,” said Frazier, who co-chairs the Delta Caucus at the Capitol. “Also, thank you to every Delta resident and ally who traveled to Sacramento to make their voices heard. I will continue to lead the fight against the tunnels in the Legislature – this is a fight I won’t quit.”

The Delta Stewardship Council will hold a public workshop to discuss the draft determination on Thursday, November 15th at 9:00am in West Sacramento, before voting on the proposed determination at their December 20-21 meeting.

From Restore the Delta:

Last night, Delta Stewardship Council staff released a draft determination for the CA WaterFix project, which found that the WaterFix is not consistent with the objectives of the Delta Plan.

In the staff report, DSC staff states,
“In light of claims raised by nine appellant groups, Council staff recommends that the Council conclude that substantial evidence does not exist in the record to support the Department’s [the Department of Water Resources; DWR] findings that California WaterFix is consistent with the Delta Plan. Staff further recommends that the Council remand the matter to the Department for reconsideration, pursuant to Water Code section 85225.25.”

Specifically, DSC staff found that there was no evidence that indicated CA WaterFix would be operated in a manner that meets Delta water quality standards; that DWR did not use the best available science; that DWR did not provide evidence that water suppliers who would benefit from the tunnels would reduce their reliance on the Delta; and DWR failed to demonstrate that “the project is consistent with respect to compatibility with local land use plans.”

Policy Advisory for Restore the Delta Tim Stroshane commented,
“DWR will have difficulty demonstrating that the tunnels project reduces Delta reliance. The tunnels are intended to at least maintain exports or increase them via amplified water transfers. Restore the Delta’s evidence shows that is the intent of the State and other project proponents.”

Executive Director of Restore the Delta, Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla said,
“We thank and congratulate Delta Stewardship Council staff for doing the right thing and for having the backbone to assert that the CA WaterFix is inconsistent with the Delta Plan. Restore the Delta and its membership have shown up to countless public meetings, hearings, and workshops to communicate this message for three years now.”

“As Governor-Elect Newsom prepares to take office, we hope he reflects on the DSC’s findings that indicate the tunnels project will not protect, enhance, or restore the Delta. Newsom won over voters by leaving the impression that he would modernize California. Governor-Elect Newsom has the chance to create his own unique legacy by backing away from this outdated 20th century project to pursue 21st century alternative projects that actually benefit the public trust. The state of California is ready for innovative water management strategies and local self-sufficiency projects that create a more sustainable, reliable water supply. Newsom could be the leader to make this happen.”

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