Delta Tribal Environmental Coalition Files Comments on the Bay-Delta Plan

Plan not sufficient to address the Delta’s ecological crisis

DATE: 1/19/24

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Restore the Delta, 209-479-2053,
Stephanie Safdi, Environmental Law Clinic, Stanford Law School, 513-324-1965,

SACRAMENTO – Today, Buena Vista Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians, Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians, Winnemem Wintu Tribe, Little Manila Rising, and Restore the Delta, collectively known as the Delta Tribal Environmental Coalition (DTEC), filed an administrative comment with the California State Water Resources Control Board. The comment responds to the Board’s Draft Staff Report for the Phase II Update of the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan (Bay-Delta Plan). The Coalition is represented by the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic.

The coalition urges the State Water Board to expeditiously update water quality standards sufficient to protect Delta tribes and communities. The longer the Board delays, the more Bay-Delta tribes, communities, and ecosystems suffer. DTEC will continue to press the Board to fulfill its obligations to protect the Bay-Delta and its residents. 

Read the complete DTEC Comments Here

Ecological Crisis in California’s Bay-Delta
For more than a decade, the State Water Board has recognized that the Delta is in a state of ecological crisis and has promised to update outdated 1995 water quality standards to ensure healthy and thriving Delta waterways. Although DTEC applauds the Board for finally taking steps toward an update, the current draft staff report neither proposes meaningful water quality protections nor meaningfully advances efforts toward updating the Bay-Delta Plan with the urgency that the ecological crisis in the Delta demands. 

Among the many concerns with the draft staff report, DTEC’s comments point out that the draft staff report’s environmental analysis does not comply with the California Environmental Quality Act in multiple respects. 

The staff report, for instance, fails to clearly identify the Board’s proposal for updating the water quality standards, making it challenging for the public to understand and comment on the project, and defers disclosure and analysis of regulatory text and implementation plans until an unknown future date, making actual changes to the damaging status quo illusory.  

In addition, the Board continues to equivocate on designating tribal beneficial uses despite ample documentation that California Native American Tribes, including members of DTEC, have depended on Delta waterways for sustenance, ceremony, culture, and a broad range of essential uses since time immemorial.  

And the Board continues to advance voluntary agreements with water exporters as a substitute for minimum instream flow requirements despite widespread backlash against the exclusionary processes that created them and the lack of scientific support for their proposal to trade much-needed flows for vaguely defined habitat restoration measures.

Through its comments, DTEC asks the Board to recirculate the staff report’s environmental analysis and, in doing so, engage in CEQA-mandated consultation with California Native American Tribes, create a legally required public trust analysis, adopt Tribal Beneficial Uses on a watershed-wide basis, meaningfully incorporate Traditional Ecological Knowledge into water governance, and adopt a water quality and flow objective to manage proliferation of harmful algal blooms impacting Delta tribes and communities. Consistent with the best available science and Traditional Ecological Knowledge. DTEC also urges the Board to adopt a clear minimum 65% unimpaired inflow objective accompanied by management strategies to mimic natural flow variability. 

Statements by DTEC Member Groups

Malissa Tayaba, Vice-Chair, Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians

Our existence is tied to healthy rivers, and for far too long the rivers have been diseased by lack of flow from excessive diversions. The Bay-Delta Plan is an opportunity to value our existence through restoration of the plants and animals that depend on healthy rivers. We need a plan that places tribal water needs on equal footing with other water uses. The State Water Board should not squander the opportunity to begin making amends for centuries of violence and discrimination against California’s native peoples.

Ivan Senock, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, Buena Vista Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians
Without fully planning for, protecting, and enhancing the Delta through achievable water quality, equitable management, and tribal beneficial uses of Delta watershed rivers and the estuary, the Bay-Delta Plan staff report is woefully incomplete — which is particularly troubling after years of delays due to the closed-door voluntary agreement process which left out Buena Vista Rancheria and the other Delta watershed tribes. Water flows are tied to the health of Tribes, Delta communities, fisheries, wildlife, and plant life — all parts of the environment that are tied to indigenous cultural practices and the overall health of Tribal people.

Gary Mulcahy, Government Liaison, Winnemem Wintu Tribe  
The Bay-Delta Plan update Draft Staff Report is basically a ‘farce’.  There are a lot of words but no real substance.  Almost 600 pages and not one paragraph about how this plan would be implemented.  It is like doing a stand-up comedy act with no punchlines.  It does include a lot of exclusionary verbiage and insinuation.  We may consider this, or this might be something to consider but no concrete answers.  Go back to the drawing board.

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director, Restore the Delta
It is so unjust that Delta communities and tribes, who have spent years requesting with urgency a Bay-Delta Plan to restore rivers and the estuary, have had to expend incredible energy, time, and resources to respond to this completely inadequate document. Politics in California water planning protect powerful interests, and senior level leaders continue to ignore science and protection for all communities and tribes by restoring flows for the estuary.

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