The State Water Resources Control Board postponed adoption of the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan that would have required an average of 40 percent unimpaired flows from water users in the lower San Joaquin River.
This is the second postponement of the controversial proposal. The first postponement came after the Secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency asked for additional time for voluntary settlement negotiations to occur. The second postponement came in the form of an official request from both Gov. Jerry Brown and Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom on election night. In the letter, both Brown and Newsom request that Chairwoman Felicia Marcus delay action until Dec. 11th.
Brown and Newsom said the additional time would allow for further negotiations on voluntary agreements with affected water users.
During the scheduled board hearing on Nov. 7, Karla Nemeth, the Director of the Department of Water Resources and Chuck Bonham, the Director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, echoed the administration’s request and indicated that the additional time would lead to a better outcome. The hearing continued for 3 hours before the board acted on a 3-0 decision to delay the vote until the next scheduled board hearing.
Farm groups have vigorously opposed the proposal. California Citrus Mutual says it is remaining engaged on the important issue as the precedential nature of this decision could impact the next phase of the Bay-Delta Plan. Phase Two will directly affect anyone south of the Delta with some connection to either the Central Valley Project or State Water Project.
CFBF welcomes delay
Believing voluntary agreements hold the best potential for benefiting fisheries without severe losses to people, the California Farm Bureau Federation welcomed the postponement.
“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.”
Sources: California Citrus Mutual, California Farm Bureau Federation