DELTA FLOWS 11/17/21: Environmental Justice and the Sacramento River Voluntary Agreements

In 2020, the State Water Boards held a series of four public listening sessions to help inform a resolution and action plan that address racial inequity both within the Water Boards and as they implement programs and policies that preserve, protect, and restore California’s drinking water and water resources. 

Water Boards Racial Equity Initiative Site

At a public hearing this week, Restore the Delta’s executive director, Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, offered these comments on the resolution and what it means in practice:

Our environmental justice community appreciates the hard work by Board Staff to craft the resolution before the board for consideration. We applaud the procedures put in place to support water board staff from BIPOC communities and to strengthen their work within the boards. We support comments made earlier by Doug Obegi and Regina Chichizola because they intersect with how we believe the equity resolutions should be implemented. We fully support the resolution as policy.

We worry about the implementation.

A more equitable and just California cannot be forged through exclusionary negotiations, like voluntary agreements, designed to accommodate powerful economic interests that have benefited – and continue to benefit from the status quo – which has become the excessive export of water from the Delta watershed and tributaries– water that ironically never seems to reach the drinking water communities in need of shared water. This is not a politically charged view. Disadvantaged Delta communities and tribes cannot have meaningful input to how water is managed without an equitable seat at the table. That is a fact.

BIPOC Delta watershed communities and tribes are living with disproportionate impacts from pollution, lack of flows, collapsing fisheries, worsening surface water, groundwater, and drinking water pollution, and now often live surrounded by harmful algal blooms, which cause further air and water pollution. 

The voluntary agreements are a continuation and extension of the racism built into the California water rights system through Native American genocide and exclusionary and redlining laws that have kept people of color from owning land with riparian water rights in representational numbers. There is no equality with continued separation and exclusion.

We agree with this Equity Resolution as a statement of policy – but if it is not 

applied to moving forward with a full Bay-Delta Plan to protect the Delta environmental justice community – which makes up 32% of the Delta region – then it will not bring about meaningful policy change.

We expect the Board to put action into the words of this resolution by applying it to Delta management and equitable water management for all environmental justice communities within the state.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

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