One of the most significant efforts in recent years to make real, meaningful change in the Bay-Delta is now in jeopardy. A coalition of farmers, non-profits, conservation groups and federal, state and local agencies has identified a complementary set of water actions to protect fish and wildlife in the Bay-Delta and its key tributaries. In addition to protecting our shared environment, these efforts – referred to as voluntary agreements – will ensure water reliability and security for rural agricultural communities and the drinking water for 25 million Californians.
There is no question the voluntary agreements have the potential to provide significant benefits for people, wildlife and our environment. The agreements call for a comprehensive suite of actions that are vital to the watershed including river flows, habitat restoration and much needed funding for additional scientific research. This approach is consistent with and complementary to Governor Gavin Newsom’s recent call for a Water Resilience Portfolio that embraces innovation and encourages regional approaches while integrating investments, policies and programs across state government. Public water agencies from across California are ready to fund these agreements with nearly $700 million.
The only thing potentially standing in the way of the agreements being finalized and implemented is Senate Bill 1. SB 1 seeks to backstop any regulations or requirements the Trump administration changes if they are perceived to be less protective to the environment. The chief concern with the legislation is that it would prevent state agencies from being able to incorporate the best available science based on the false premise that all regulations and requirements previously adopted by the federal government are sacrosanct. Further, it would preclude adaptive management practices and consideration of current hydrologic conditions by those agencies that establish and implement operating rules for the state’s water system. Unfortunately, SB 1 would set the state back on improving water supply reliability and effectively stop the voluntary agreements in their tracks. Hundreds of millions of dollars spent on improved science in the Delta will be for naught.
The legislature needs to ensure SB 1 is amended to avoid detrimental impacts to the voluntary agreements. If not, Governor Newsom should be prepared to veto the measure. The politics behind SB 1 should not trump (no pun intended) critically needed water supply reliability, real restoration projects, and a once-in-a-generation collaborative agreement between stakeholders that have been at odds for years.