State Water Board Sets 40% Flows Standard for San Joaquin River

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, 209-479-2053
Tim Stroshane, 510-847-7556

Last-minute attempt to delay fails, but voluntary settlements may become part of the solution later on

SACRAMENTO – After an all-day hearing today capping a nearly decade-long process, the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWB) voted this evening to set a 40% flow standard for rivers that feed the lower San Joaquin River to help protect the San Francisco Bay-Delta ecosystem from collapse due to decades of over-pumping and restricted flows.

“We are very happy that the State Water Resources Control Board approved Phase I of the Bay-Delta Water Quality Plan update,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, “It was a big decision, 20 years in the making. We are relieved flows in the Delta will now be closer to what is required for a healthy estuary.”

The day started with the Department of Water Resources and Department of Fish and Wildlife presenting a plan, which was not available online to the public at the time of presentation.

The last-minute proposal was based on voluntary settlement agreements (VSAs) with Central Valley water agencies; however, only agencies in the Tuolumne River basin have signed a voluntary settlement agreement. The proposals are preliminary and mostly theoretical at this point. Other features are recycled restoration projects from river plans and the long-defunct Bay Delta Conservation Plan. The hope is this new process would create a comprehensive plan that would end California’s water wars.

Environmental water groups from throughout the Bay-Delta region argued that the vote needed to happen today, because those negotiating VSAs would have regulations to work within since status quo regulations don’t work. They argued that the voluntary settlement agreements need to be thoroughly vetted before the SWRCB could incorporate them into the proposal that required a vote today.

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla said, “We remain skeptical of the grand bargain presented at the 11th hour today in draft form. It was void of any Delta party or environmental NGO partners, and it appears upon initial review to deliver less water for the Bay-Delta estuary than contained within the plan just adopted by the SWRCB. It’s another attempt to chip away at full restoration of the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary.”

Tim Stroshane of Restore the Delta said, “The Grand Bargain in the works raises many questions. Grand for whom? Who commits to what? When will the public be included? What is the reciprocity involved and who compensates who? When will the public be included? Are these negotiations taking us down the road to paying for a public trust that ever recedes? State officials as yet have no answers for these and other questions.”

Meanwhile in Washington, Senators Feinstein and Representative McCarthy sought to extend drought-era water quality deregulations for an additional seven years that according to Metropolitan Water District’s General Manager, Jeff Knightlier, would create water assurances for exporters participating in the voluntary settlement agreement process.

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