November 2019

Governor Newsom has spent his first year as Governor reimagining the California Dream and laying out his blueprint for a California for All. A critical component of the Governor’s vision is a healthy environment and a strong economy. Every Californian, from families to business owners to farmers and environmentalists, has an interest in a reliable water supply to meet societal demands and also support the state’s extensive fish and wildlife. So why hasn’t the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta received the level of care and management it deserves?

Environmental regulations requiring releases of millions of acre-feet of water over the last decade have failed to improve the Delta ecosystem, including multiple endangered fish populations. Fortunately, water managers and scientists who work in the Delta have learned a lot over the last 10 years. Federal, state, and local agencies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to better understand the Delta and the management actions that need to be implemented and refined to protect at-risk, native species. This investment has resulted in a better understanding of where endangered fish populations spawn and grow stronger, and water quality conditions that can result in healthy and strong ecosystem.

In recent weeks, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have taken steps to improve on the efforts of the last decade. By drawing upon the lessons learned from the past 10 years, Governor Newsom and his administration have the opportunity to partner with their federal counterparts in implementing new, adaptable methods to ensure critical water supplies for the environment, fish, families and farmers. These new rules for managing our state’s water supply are based on an evolving and improved understanding of the needs of species and will continue to be refined as we learn more.

In addition to these new rules, USFWS and NOAA’s proposals include more than $1.5 billion in restoration investments over the next decade. One of the biggest lessons water managers and researchers have learned over the last 10 years is that habitat restoration is essential to restoring fish populations in the Delta. This proposal, along with the voluntary agreements being negotiated by state environmental agencies, represents an exciting opportunity to really improve the Delta ecosystem.

The Governor’s vision will not be met if we don’t innovate and make changes to correct previous failures. Adaptive management is a powerful tool, but only if the agencies commit the resources necessary to monitor and adapt and stakeholders are willing to let scientific information guide decision-making, rather than politics.

The simple truth is, despite best efforts over the last decade, the Delta has not improved. We can and must do better. A California for All includes an obligation to make sure our fish, families, and economy have the water they need to thrive.