As 2018 comes to a close, we are encouraged by the possibilities that lie ahead for 2019 and beyond. Last week, California Department of Water Resources Director Karla Nemeth and Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Chuck Bonham announced landmark agreements with water users on the Sacramento, American, Feather, Yuba and Tuolumne Rivers along with State and Federal project contractors to improve the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and the many native species that rely on the estuary.
A comprehensive solution that involves stakeholders across the state and implements practical projects with tangible results is long overdue. These agreements could reactivate floodplains, restore habitat, improve our scientific understanding of the region, reduce predation by non-native species, and provide functional flows to enhance fish species. Many of the elements of these agreements are solutions we have been advocating for for years, including a multi-species approach, a focus on “other stressors”, and improved habitat. Most importantly, we see the potential for a new way of doing business to improve the ecosystem and our water supplies.
As these agreements move forward, we hope the State Water Resources Control Board will make a New Year’s resolution to embrace and facilitate these important projects to the fullest extent possible instead of their previously favored flow centric approach. A new and more productive chapter in a long saga could be opening up.
However, we look forward with caution. Despite these historic agreements, the Board voted to move forward with Phase 1 of the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan Update. As a result, water users dependent on the San Joaquin River will be forced to provide more water for fisheries even though experience tells us it will do little, if anything, to benefit salmon populations. The Board has all but ensured years of litigation, which provides no benefit to struggling fish populations.
In the new year, we look forward to engaging in meaningful conversations with the broader water user community and its regulators to craft policies that holistically improve the viability of native species in the Delta while preserving the reliability of water supplies for California families and farms. A new path forward must include habitat restoration, increased non-native predator and invasive species control, a heightened level of scientific monitoring and understanding, improved conveyance, and operational flexibility – all built on a framework of adaptive management. Most importantly, we look forward to balanced solutions that do more than shift water from residents, farms and businesses to fish without meaningful results.