Board staff give an update on the progress on the Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan, including an potential timeline that would implement San Joaquin River objectives and Sacramento River and Delta objectives by 2023
At the December 8 meeting of the State Water Resources Control Board, board members and staff discussed the update to the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan, including the Board’s ongoing process and general timeline for implementing the flow objectives for the San Joaquin River and salinity objectives for the Southern Delta adopted in 2018, and the ongoing efforts to develop updated objectives addressing the Sacramento River and its tributaries, the eastside tributaries, and the Delta itself.
In October of 2021, Cal EPA and the Natural Resources Agency sent a letter thanking water districts for their engagement over the last several years to develop a voluntary agreement that would improve conditions for fish and wildlife in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and its major rivers; however, the proposed voluntary actions by water agencies on the San Joaquin River tributaries had fallen short of needed flow and habitat improvements necessary for a scientifically defensible voluntary agreement, so they would therefore focus their efforts on advancing a voluntary agreement with the Sacramento River Basin users and water agencies who contract with the state and federal water projects. The letter also indicated that the State Water Board should continue with all activities necessary to implement the flow objectives established by the 2018 Bay-Delta Plan.
Accordingly, at the December 8 meeting of the State Water Board, a public workshop was held to discuss moving forward on the update to the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan. Chair Joaquin Esquivel emphasized that the Board has made no decision on any implementation options it will select and will not do so today as the agenda item is only an informational item. However, he said that the Board intends to move forward with implementing these objectives diligently. Nonetheless, the Board remains open for the potential for voluntary agreements to serve as a means to implement the Bay-Delta Plan objectives established in 2018 for the San Joaquin River and its three major tributaries.
“Secretary Blumenfeld and Secretary Crowfoot continue to lead efforts to develop volunteer agreements for the Sacramento River and Delta watershed, and we look forward to receiving a detailed proposal that can be evaluated as an alternative in our environmental document in support of possible Sacramento Delta updates to the Bay-Delta Plan,” said Chair Esquivel. “The voluntary agreements are not a substitute for a plan update, and today’s discussion is not about the merits of proposed VAs, and since the Board has not received a finalized VA, that discussion would be premature.”
Chair Esquivel noted that it has been nearly 30 years since the Board has significantly updated water quality standards in the Bay-Delta. The deal was struck that the water quality standards would apply simply to the projects, but much has changed in 30 years. “We know now that we need to address the entire watershed in a way that more comprehensively gets at what has been a long challenge here when it comes to ecosystem decline,” he said.
He also noted that the Endangered Species Act can often be confused for some of the conversations around the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan, but in fact, they are two separate standards. “What’s important here is although the Endangered Species Act is incredibly important to prevent species extinction, this project can help really stitch together a watershed in ways that gets us to the ecosystem and watershed-wide recovery.”
Background on the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan
Next, Diane Riddle, one of the assistant deputy directors in the Division of Water Rights, gave a brief background on the water quality control plan for the Bay-Delta and the process to update and implement the Bay-Delta Plan. She noted that the update will cover the general timelines and steps to complete the processes to update and implement the Bay-Delta Plan; however, she noted that staff are not planning to discuss the details or substance of these efforts; those will be addressed in subsequent public processes associated with the different components of the update and implementation processes following additional board briefings and other necessary development steps.
The Bay Delta Plan includes municipal and industrial, agricultural and fish and wildlife, beneficial uses as well as other beneficial uses, and water quality objectives for the reasonable protection of those beneficial uses. The water quality objectives in the Bay-Delta Plan are primarily flow-dependent and include both narrative and numeric objectives. The program of implementation includes both flow and non-flow actions by the Board and other entities.
The Bay-Delta Plan is required to be reviewed on a regular basis, according to both the Porter-Cologne Act and the Federal Clean Water Act. The portion of the plan for the San Joaquin River flow and Southern Delta components was updated in 2018, but has not been implemented. The Sacramento River and Delta components of the Bay-Delta Plan are currently in the process of being updated. The last overall update to the Bay-Delta Plan was completed in 2006, with the previous major update occurring in 1995.
The overall map of the Bay-Delta watershed and the areas covered by the Bay-Delta planning and implementation processes is shown on the slide. Ms. Riddle noted that the watershed includes critical habitat for numerous threatened and endangered species as well as economically, commercially, and culturally important fish and wildlife, many of which have experienced significant declines and are facing a high risk of extinction or extirpation. The watershed also provides critical water supplies for people farms and wildlife refuges, both within the watershed and areas that receive export supplies from the Delta in the Bay Area and the area itself of the Delta.
The slide on the upper left shows the general geographic area covered by the lower San Joaquin River flow updates to the Bay-Delta Plan to protect fish and wildlife, including native salmon, steelhead, and other species; and the southern Delta salinity updates to the Bay-Delta Plan for the protection of agriculture.
The slide on the upper right shows the geographic scope of the Sacramento Delta updates to the Bay-Delta Plan, which focuses on the reasonable protection of fish and wildlife, including salmon and steelhead and other species that rely on adequate flows, cold water, and appropriate habitat conditions in the tributaries; and migratory and estuarine species that rely on Delta outflow and Delta habitat conditions.
Phase 1: San Joaquin River tributaries and Southern Delta salinity objectives
Next, Erin Foresman, program manager in the Bay-Delta Hearings and Special Projects Branch, reviewed the 2018 plan amendments for the San Joaquin River tributaries and Southern Delta salinity objectives. She summarized progress made since their adoption and outlined the schedule for moving forward with implementation.
In 2018, the Board adopted amendments for the Bay-Delta Plan for the lower San Joaquin River and its tributaries: the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced rivers. The amendments included new and revised numeric flow objectives to protect fish and wildlife, requiring 40% of unimpaired flow within the adaptive range of 30 to 50% of the unimpaired flow from February through June.
The compliance locations for the tributaries are shown in green dots near the confluence with the main stem of the San Joaquin River.
There is also a San Joaquin River minimum flow requirement of 1000 CFS at Vernalis within an adaptive range of 800 to 1200 CFS from February through June. The Vernalis compliance location is identified on the map with a dot that is half yellow and half green.
The 2018 plan amendments also revised the Vernalis and southern Delta salinity objectives to 1.0 decisiemens per meter year-round. The previous objective was 0.7 decisiemens per meter from April through August and 1.0 for the remainder of the year.
The yellow dots show the compliance points associated with the existing objective. However, the new objective identified compliance segments rather than compliance points. Those segments are the San Joaquin River from Vernalis to the Grant Line Bridge, Middle River from Old River to Victoria Canal, and Old River from the head of Old River to the Grant Line canal. The old compliance points are shown in yellow dots.
Draft Biological Goals for Lower San Joaquin River watershed
Initial Compliance Methods for Lower San Joaquin River Flow Objectives
Final Water Quality Certification for Merced River and Merced Falls Hydroelectric Projects
Final Water Quality Certification for Don Pedro and La Grange Hydroelectric Projects on the Tuolumne River
Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced Working Group (STM)
Regarding Southern Delta salinity, Board staff have worked with DWR and the US Bureau of Reclamation to draft a comprehensive operations plan and a monitoring and special study.
Ms. Foresman then discussed each activity in more detail.
Draft Biological Goals for Lower San Joaquin River watershed
The Bay-Delta Plan contains water quality objectives to protect beneficial uses. Because water quality objectives are narrative objectives based on physical or chemical water quality parameters, Ms. Foresman said it’s helpful to have additional information to evaluate the status and trends of biological populations.
Numeric biological goals are metrics that represent important biological processes that are expected to respond to different management actions, such as changes in flow and habitat quality. The Bay-Delta Plan uses biological goals to evaluate the effectiveness of the program of implementation and monitoring programs and inform adaptive methods. In addition, the biological goals will be used to inform future changes to the Bay-Delta Plan.
Ms. Foresman said that the draft biological goals that have been developed for lower San Joaquin River tributaries’ fall-run salmon populations are based on viable salmonid population concepts. The need for biological goals for other species will be evaluated in the future; it’s also anticipated that the biological goals for salmon could change over time and be informed and updated by advances in science.
In January 2018, the State Water Board commissioned an independent science advisory panel through the Delta Science Program to develop methods for formulating quantitative biological goals. Staff then developed initial biological goals based on recommendations from the panel, other biological goal efforts, and existing state and federal goals.
A draft biological goals report was released in September 2019 for public review and comment. Staff are currently revising the goals and report based on comments received. A draft final biological goals report, public workshop, and opportunity for public comment are anticipated to occur in the winter-spring of 2022, with consideration of adoption of the final report potentially in the summer of 2022.
The updated Bay-Delta Plan includes flow objectives expressed as a percent of unimpaired flow. This is a modified method for establishing instream flow requirements as variable flows that automatically adjust to California’s extremely variable yearly precipitation patterns. The prior lower San Joaquin River flow objective was expressed as a fixed monthly flow determined by water year type. Water year type is an index calculated as a proportional sum of monthly unimpaired flow divided into five categories: wet, above normal, below normal, dry, and critically dry.
Initial Compliance Methods for Lower San Joaquin River Flow Objectives
The Bay-Delta Plan recognizes that the transition to variable flows based directly on unimpaired flow requires the development of new procedures for calculating required tributary flows and evaluating compliance. Staff are also developing methods to evaluate compliance when using the adaptive methods that allow the water budget approach, which is described in the program of implementation.
In September 2019, the Executive Director released an initial unimpaired flow compliance measures report for the lower San Joaquin River. Staff are currently working to finalize compliance methods for the default unimpaired flow objective and compliance options that use adaptive implementation tools. The release of the draft compliance methods report for public review and comment, and a public workshop is anticipated this coming winter and spring. After consideration of public comments and making any necessary changes, the report will be finalized for the executive director’s consideration of approval in the summer of 2022.
Southern Delta salinity objectives
As part of the program of implementation, the Bay-Delta Plan requires the Department of Water Resources and Bureau of Reclamation to develop a comprehensive operations plan to address the impacts of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project operations on interior southern Delta salinity. They are also required to develop a monitoring and special study to inform the future comprehensive operations plan, Southern Delta salinity compliance locations, and to characterize the dynamics of salinity variability in the south Delta.
In February 2020, DWR and Reclamation submitted a draft comprehensive operations plan and monitoring and special study for public review and comment. DWR and Reclamation have been holding stakeholder meetings to discuss the finalization of the comprehensive operations plan and the monitoring and special study. A final comprehensive operations plan and monitoring and special study will be submitted to the executive director for approval next winter or spring, with additional implementation processes to follow as part of the overall effort to implement the 2018 updates to the Bay-Delta Plan.
Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced Working Group (STM)
To assist in the implementation, monitoring, and assessment of lower San Joaquin River flow objectives, the State Water Board will form the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced working group or STM, which will act as a regional watershed group that will coordinate activities in the lower San Joaquin River and the three tributaries.
While the formal STM working group has not yet been formed, the Board initiated the working group in 2019 by appointing an STM coordinator responsible for reaching out to potential STM members and other interested parties to solicit recommendations on the biological goals. Entities that will likely be part of the STM have had the opportunity to participate and provide feedback on implementation products thus far, such as the biological goals and compliance methods reports. The formal STM working group is expected to be established this coming winter.
Ms. Foresman noted that the State Water Board has several pathways for implementing the 2018 Bay-Delta Plan amendments:
Adopting a regulation: A regulation could apply to all of the lower San Joaquin River tributaries and apply to all responsible water diverters in the watershed. A regulation also could accommodate voluntary agreement as an alternative means of meeting the flow requirements, subject to approval from the State Water Board. The regulation for the Bay-Delta Plan would go through the regular administrative procedure rulemaking process and compliance with CEQA.
Holding a water right hearing: The State Water Board could also implement the Bay-Delta Plan through a water right adjudication. Through this pathway, the State Water Board would hold a water right hearing to consider amending water rights to include terms and conditions as necessary to achieve the flow objectives.
Water quality certifications: The Bay-Delta water quality objectives are also being implemented through water quality certifications under the Clean Water Act Section 401. The Division of Water Rights issued a water quality certification for hydroelectric projects on the Merced River in July of 2020 and on the Tuolumne River in January 2021.
Ms. Foresman noted that additional actions are necessary to fully implement the requirements imposed through water quality certifications. For example, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (or FERC) would need to issue the licenses that contain the certification conditions. The outcome of licensing process may be uncertain for several reasons, including federal and state litigation.
She also pointed out that the Stanislaus River does not have a pending application for water quality certification. Accordingly, the State Water Board will need to consider other pathways for implementation besides water quality certification.
Ms. Foresman also emphasized that a final determination on the implementation pathway has not been made and that all pathways provide options for voluntary agreements.
Adaptive Implementation Methods and Voluntary Agreements
The program of implementation for the lower San Joaquin River flow objectives in the Bay-Delta Plan includes a compliance pathway that allows for consideration of voluntary agreements that could serve as an implementation mechanism for lower San Joaquin River flow objectives for individual tributaries or as a watershed, subject to acceptance by the State Water Board.
“Voluntary agreements may include commitments to meet the flow requirements and undertake non-flow actions, which may support a change in the required percent of unimpaired flow within the adaptive range of the objectives,” she said. “These types of changes must be supported by California Department of Fish and Wildlife and satisfy the criteria for adaptive implementation methods in the program of implementation.”
The slide summarizes the adjustments allowed by adaptive implementation methods, which include changing the required percent of unimpaired flow, managing the flows as a block of water or water budget, releasing on an alternative flow schedule, and using some portion of the flow after June to avoid adverse effects to fisheries at other times of the year.
“The State Water Board encourages parties to develop and present any completed voluntary agreement for review as soon as possible if they would like the voluntary agreement proposals to be considered as the board moves forward with implementation,” said Ms. Foresman. “However, VAs can also be submitted after implementation takes place since any implementation effort would provide additional opportunities for VA implementation in accordance with adaptive implementation.”
Potential schedule for implementation
The schedule on this slide is based on moving forward with a regulation because it appears to be the most efficient pathway forward for implementing the Bay-Delta Plan updates, said Ms. Foresman. However, she reiterated that a final decision has not been made on the implementation pathway.
“Based on the assumption of a regulation, we anticipate that we would initiate the CEQA process, and over the course of about a year, we would complete the environmental assessment and draft environmental document for public comments, notice of the regulation, and finalize the environmental document,” she said. “We anticipate that the State Water Board would consider a regulation for adoption in the summer of 2023 and, if approved, submitted to the Office of Administrative Law.”
Sacramento River/Delta update to the Bay-Delta Plan
Matt Holland is a program manager in the Bay-Delta Hearings and Special Projects Branch in the Division of Water Rights. He provided an update on efforts to complete the Sacramento Delta update to the Bay-Delta Plan.
The Sacramento Delta update encompasses the northern portion of the Central Valley, including the Sacramento River, its major tributaries, three tributaries to the east side of the Delta, and the Delta itself. It also includes the major North of Delta storage reservoirs of the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project, as well as the export facilities within the Delta itself.
In the fall of 2017, the scientific basis report was released that generally described the staff recommendations for Sacramento Delta updates to the Bay-Delta Plan and documented the scientific basis for those changes. An earlier draft of the scientific basis report was reviewed by the Delta Independent Science Board and the public and was revised in light of the input received. It was then independently peer-reviewed before being finalized and released.
Next, in 2018, the framework for the Sacramento Delta update to the plan was released to provide additional details about staff-proposed plan amendments, including proposed flow levels and a program of implementation. In addition to the proposed amendments, the framework described default and voluntary paths for implementation for future plan amendments.
Currently, the draft staff report, technically the substitute environmental document required by CEQA, is in development. The report will analyze the potential environmental and economic effects in these regions and other regions that receive Sacramento Delta supplies, including through water supply contracts for State Water Project and Central Valley Project supplies and other export projects. The staff report will analyze a broad range of alternatives, including the proposal described in the 2018 framework, lower and higher flow alternatives, and a possible voluntary agreement.
Elements of the update to the plan
Mr. Holland then reviewed the possible elements of the update to the plan, emphasizing that the Sacramento-Delta update is still in the planning stages.
The possible elements were largely described in the scientific basis report on the July 2018 framework and include:
Inflow objectives for the Sacramento River, its tributaries, the Delta tributaries;
Coldwater habitat for the tributaries, which is to ensure that increased flow requirements are reconciled with either storage, maintenance, or other measures required to maintain cold water habitat;
A Delta outflow objective that would work with the inflow objectives from the lower San Joaquin and the rest of the Sacramento Delta region;
Interior Delta Flow objectives that may govern Delta exports and operations of the Delta cross channel; and
Several changes to the program of implementation. Staff have proposed that the program of implementation contain both voluntary and default implementation paths, which may include a system-wide voluntary agreement or tributary scale voluntary agreements. Additionally, the program of implementation would include updates to the compliance and effectiveness accounting, monitoring, reporting, assessment, and adaptive management measures in the program of implementation.
Milestones and schedule
Currently, staff continues to develop the draft staff report that includes a comprehensive analysis of the benefits and impacts of the proposed changes to the Bay-Delta Plan and an assessment of alternatives.
Staff anticipates receipt of a voluntary agreement proposal that has sufficient detail for analysis and staff report in early 2022. Assuming receipt of a VA proposal in early 2022, a scientific basis report would be available in summer 2022.
In Fall 2022, staff is anticipating the release of the draft staff report for public review and comment. In the winter of 2023, there would be a public workshop on the draft staff report, and in early fall 2023, there would be response to comments and development of proposed final changes to the Bay-Delta Plan. The Board could consider adoption in late fall 2023.
BOARD MEMBER QUESTIONS
Vice Chair D’Adamo asked how members for the STM group would be selected.
“We have not identified the process yet for which we will be initiating the STM group,” said Ms. Foresman. “We know that we intend to do that. But we don’t have details so far. We’ve tried to make sure that anything we’ve done so far has been available for potential participants in the STM group to provide their views on things to provide public comment, for example, on biological goals. But we haven’t identified or outlined the strategy for initiating the stem group.”
Vice Chair D’Adamo asked about the adaptive measures process in the absence of voluntary agreements.
“There are three ways you can adjust the objective,” said Ms. Foresman. “The first one is changing between 30 and 50% of unimpaired flow for the February through June time period. So with the STM, there can be a proposal to adjust that flow value between 30 and 50%, of unimpaired flow; there’s a process for which that decision would be made.”
“Another adaptive implementation method, which we call flow shaping, is managing the water as a total volume or a water budget,” she continued. “We have estimates for the total volume of water that would come in from February through June through forecasts, and those are updated as the year progresses. Once we have an estimate of the flow volume February through June, you can make adjustments and, for example, operate to 30% of the unimpaired flow in February and the first half of March, and take the water saved there and add it to late April and May or an out-migration time period. That’s what we call flow shaping, but it’s really just managing as a block of water or water budget.”
“The last thing that can be done is some portion of the water could be saved and distributed late in fall, for example, if there are potential temperature impacts later in the year or for some other purpose, for example, to enhance a fall pulse flow,” she continued.
“Those are the three primary adaptive methods, and those can also apply to the minimum mainstem flow requirements for analysis,” she said. “Those three implementation adjustments can be adopted without a voluntary agreement. A voluntary agreement for compliance can be presented and perhaps may propose floodplain restoration or some other non-flow actions, and that may be sufficient for moving within 30 to 50% of the unimpaired flow. It depends on what the voluntary agreement is. But they can operate separately, or they can operate together.”
Board member Sean Maguire asked how adaptive implementation or voluntary agreements would work with the program of implementation? As he understands it, the biological goals and objectives are not water quality objectives and aren’t in the water quality control plan but help inform it. So what is the intent of the biological goals, and how would they be used?
Erin Foresman said there are three primary purposes to the biological goals. “Once the biological goals are established, and we’ve been able to collect information that informs those biological goals, we can use that information to help us identify, for example, how we might shape flows using adaptive implementation options. The feedback on the survival of salmon might tell us how well we performed in shaping flows in a particular year if we were to use that water budget approach and make adjustments as necessary in follow-up years. So that’s one way the biological goals can be employed.”
“The other two ways that are important to consider are after the flows have been implemented for many years, and we’ve been collecting information on the biological goals that can help us inform potential future updates to the Bay-Delta Plan,” she continued. “If the water budget approach has resulted in increases in populations … They are not abundance-based only; they include productivity, they include life history, diversity and other items, then we can look to where we have successes potentially and where we need to do some tweaking and a little more work, and that can help us inform how we update the Bay-Delta Plan.”
“The other way that we might use the biological goals is just to help us update the biological goals themselves. They are set in that framework of placing them as goals and not specific requirements because we do recognize that as our scientific knowledge and monitoring capabilities advance, we will learn more and know more, and we want to be able to adjust them as necessary.”
What followed then were a couple of hours of public comment. The commenters mainly were environmental advocates, fishing advocates, and tribes; I only heard three commenters on the opposite side.
Most commenters expressed the need to move forward with urgency and expediency, citing the declining ecosystem. Some commenters spoke against voluntary agreements entirely, while others said that while voluntary agreements should be considered, the Board should not wait anymore and should move forward. A few even noted that moving forward would likely hasten negotiations and help get the agreements completed.
Several commenters also brought up equity, with some saying environmentalists, disadvantaged communities, and tribes have been excluded from the voluntary agreement process. Tribal representatives spoke of their inability to harvest salmon, lack of clean water, and the need to reform the water rights system that has historically excluded them. There were also concerns that the Board’s timeline for completing flow standards will come after the release of the Delta Conveyance Project environmental documents, which they called ‘putting plumbing before planning.’
Speaking for the Merced Irrigation District, Thomas Berliner said the lack of progress of the San Joaquin voluntary agreements was due to the state not putting anything on the table or offering any meaningful guidance. He suggested a workshop where they could directly present their plan to the Board. Adrian Covert, with the Bay Area Council, warned that if the Phase One standards were implemented, it could mean water rationing in the Bay Area; lack of water could also impede the ability to build much-needed housing. An organic farmer within the Merced Irrigation District said he’s farming land that his grandparents did, which wouldn’t be possible without the water from MID.
Michelle Workman, manager of the Fisheries and Wildlife program for East Bay Municipal Utility District, pointed out that on the Mokelumne River, they have more than doubled their salmon population, a result of partnerships and collaboration. And they have been able to do this while meeting the needs of the communities that rely on the river to support the people and economies in the East Bay. She urged continued collaboration.
BOARD MEMBER DISCUSSION
Clearly, the Board members felt the importance of moving ahead with urgency. Board Member Laurel Firestone said it’s incredibly important to move forward with deliberate urgency. “As we all know, the standards that are currently adopted for phase two and implemented for phase one aren’t reasonable protection, and we have an obligation as a board to address that. As we’ve seen just this year, we can’t continue to just triage through emergency actions,” she said.
“We also have an obligation to evaluate any VA that’s submitted on the adequacy, and importantly, to provide an open and transparent process for meaningful participation by the public and those most impacted to help us evaluate VA alternatives,” Ms. Firestone continued. “Ideally, parties would engage with stakeholders and communities most impacted in the development of a voluntary agreement so that a VA can fully address those needs. … I would really like to look at what we can do to provide some evaluation on racial justice consistent with the intent of our recently adopted resolution and meaningfully engage with impacted communities and any tribal consultation that’s appropriate. Even within the aggressive timelines we laid out to move forward, that shouldn’t need to slow down the process if we can already begin that engagement and planning for that kind of analysis now.”
Vice Chair Dorene D’Adamo acknowledged the need to move forward with or without a voluntary agreement. She acknowledged that while she didn’t support the adoption of Phase One on the Lower San Joaquin in 2018, the Board did vote for adoption, and so it would be ‘irresponsible’ for her to continue her opposition.
“Nonetheless, I continue to have concerns, but that will be within the bookends that have been adopted by the Board,” she continued. “So I will be looking for opportunities to better learn and understand impacts of various compliance measures and biological goals. I’ll be looking for that sweet spot that we all strive for to implement what the Board has already decided, but to do so in a reasonable way that provides for the greatest opportunities for the success of the species and also protection of all beneficial uses.”
“I’m hopeful that we will receive proposals,” said Ms. D’Adamo. “Again, I just want to remind everybody, what the Board adopted in 2018 does provide for compliance pathways so that we can consider these voluntary approaches. And I feel that the time spent over the last several years was time well spent, and hopefully, our process can build upon some of the good discussions that have already taken place.”
Board member Sean Maguire noted that he joined the Board shortly before the vote on phase one of the Bay-Delta Plan update, and it was quite a whirlwind experience. “It is just a very complex and challenging dynamic to untangle in terms of where we go forward. It’s frustrating to me that it’s taken three years to get to this point. I thought, honestly, when the Board took the votes in December 2018, that we’d be able to realize the value of the voluntary agreement proposal that was made at that meeting much sooner and that we would be implementing now.”
He wants to see the voluntary agreements, but at the same time, the clock is ticking. “The Delta Reform Act was 12 years ago. Our Bay-Delta Plan is woefully out of date. We heard and talked about that. It’s a fact. So something has to change, and nothing will change if we don’t move forward and be actionable and intentional.”
With that, Chair Joaquin Esquivel made some concluding comments. “What I hear is a consensus around a sense of urgency … What we have had these last three years isn’t a delay but has been a greater technical understanding of our program staff of what’s being considered in the voluntary agreements. … the Board has been consistent about being open to voluntary agreements that meet a standard. But we need to move forward with this standard setting because updated standards can allow us with confidence to move forward with the many projects and investments we need to make because of climate change. And that we need to make those decisions based on updated scientific understanding.
“We are ultimately reconciling a system here. With climate change, that reconciliation has become just so incredibly important here in the moment. I know this year for me, as we managed through this last summer, it became vitally clear that we’re at a tipping point and that we have turned into a new phase here of our understanding of the impacts of climate change. The immediacy of those impacts are here upon us, and it is incumbent upon all of us – all water users, all common sharers of this incredible resource throughout the state, to finally really get to the heart of how we become protective and how we reconcile a system we’ve all inherited. We can all agree, we’re simply having to do the work that has been forestalled for decades, even generations, when it comes to really best reconciling what is an incredible system of water delivery and prosperity that we’ve inherited. We have a lot to reconcile for and prepare with climate change.”