Delta Flows 12/12/21: Reading the Dry Tea Leaves During Drought

This past week was action packed for Restore the Delta staff. Drought (part of our past and new climate normal) is tough on people, planning, agriculture – and especially fish, wildlife, and the natural world. California water management practices have also exacerbated the problems associated with drought because of a stubborn refusal by the Department of Water Resources and the Bureau of Reclamation to deal with our new reality. When these planning agencies can count on each and every governor to support unsustainable water practices, due to the influence of politically powerful interests over each and every governor, there is no reason to change how the system is managed.  

Case in point: big agricultural water districts, the State Water Contractors, Metropolitan Water District, ACWA, San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority, Kern County Water District, Westlands’ representatives, farm industry spokespeople, and the all the other Delta export water players were strangely absent from the State Water Resources Control Board hearings on the Bay-Delta Plan, the voluntary agreements and the temporary urgency change petitions for Delta water quality standards for 2022.

We believe their absence indicates that they know that our rivers, public trust resources, and the Delta itself will be fully managed mismanaged for their demands. Governor Newsom will constrain the State Board from operating independently in its regulatory function, as he has done through the voluntary agreement process, because he is only concerned about serving the above-mentioned water users who were oddly absent from the meetings. 

While we fully appreciate the State Board’s acknowledgement made during the two days of hearings that equity must play a roll in how they conduct business, a process, such as these last meetings, that involves listening to harmed parties, without making way for changes to resolve injury, will become an empty gesture. Empty gestures extend inequities. And a failure to take action to change how water supplies are managed will harm the majority of Californians living with our new climate normal – all to protect an unsustainable agricultural industry that was overdeveloped in relationship to California’s water supply. The San Jose Mercury News Editorial Board notes, “Central Valley farmers have tripled their orchard acreage from 870,000 acres in 2014 to 1.6 million acres in 2020, reaping big profits by exporting 65% of their crop to China and India.”

As our policy analyst Tim Stroshane noted during the Board meeting while commenting on 2020 Delta management and exports, “In all, it appears that instead of delivering 1.2MAF to senior contractors, the projects delivered 2.38 MAF, nearly twice what they said they [DWR} would deliver during an epic drought.”

In other words, standards, law, rules, and publicly communicated policies do not matter because the water exporters are allowed to have whatever they want at the expense of Delta environmental justice communities, California tribes, and the general public which values the environment, water affordability, and sustainability over almonds.

Regarding the temporary urgency change petitions (aka gutting Delta water quality standards to continue maximized exports during drought) DWR and the Bureau are looking for their 2022 exemption as early as February, and they want to leave a salt barrier in place at False River with just the addition of a notch for fish passage during the crucial winter and spring migration periods. 
In other words, we will be left with a full Delta smelt and other fishery extermination plan for 2022, weakened levees from hydrology changes due to the barrier in the West Delta, a greater flood threat, degraded water quality due to lack of flow that will worsen HABs condition later in the year, and the list goes on.

In the second Water Board meeting last week, we learned that Phase I of the Bay-Delta Plan (San Joaquin River flows) will be implemented in 2023, meaning the Board will miss the deadline set in its resolution for 2022 implementation.  We also learned the voluntary agreement process will continue as part of the Bay-Delta Plan Phase II for the Sacramento River.  The Water Board time outline indicates that Phase II setting Sacramento River standards will be released for public processes in Fall 2022.

The environmental impact report for the tunnel, however, is scheduled for release in summer, 2022 with only a 90-day comment period. Here, we will be back to the same problem with WaterFix, BDCP, and all the tunnel processes of the last 15 years. DWR is intent to move forward with plumbing before planning. Why?  Because the Sacramento River watershed is already oversubscribed, and the only way to fill the tunnel to payback the water bonds for tunnel construction is to hide from the public that the water will simply be grabbed at the expense of everyone else in California.

But, there will be plenty of almonds for everyone.

Unless, of course, we organize. January 5, 2022 will be workshop day at the State Water Resources Control Board for the temporary urgency change petitions. Mark your calendars now to prepare your comments for their Zoom event. We will be sharing information in the weeks to come about all the problems created by managing the Delta by an emergency decree, especially when we now experience drought conditions the majority of the time. 

And if you can, please contribute to our year-end campaign so that we can gear up for this critical year. In many ways, the world is still recovering from the pandemic, but we can grab these opportunities and reshape the future. Every day that we are able to stand up for what is right is one day closer we are to bringing forward the change we need. The largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas is a treasure worth fighting for – and so are its people – our youth in particular.

– Barbara

Related Posts