For more than a decade, California’s governors have pushed for “voluntary agreements” to establish rules for water diversions by major urban and agricultural water districts, and to redress their environmental impacts. Our organizations joined those discussions to craft a scientifically sound plan that would restore San Francisco Bay’s fisheries and water quality – and with the understanding that any agreement would satisfy all applicable laws, including the federal and state Clean Water Acts, as part of an update of the State Water Board’s Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan.
Imagine more water flowing through the Delta during dry years, and a habitat restoration for endangered species. That’s what Governor Gavin Newsom is proposing in a new approach to reach agreements with water agencies—rather than issuing rules that are often challenged in court.
Carlos Romero, president of the Stockton Chapter of the California Striped Bass Association, said he used to fish in the Stockton area but the fish are becoming harder to find.
In the coming weeks and months, the Newsom administration, water users and conservation groups will continue to refine a framework for potential voluntary agreements intended to benefit salmon and other fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Gov. Gavin Newsom released the framework last week, which acts as the alternative to a state-mandated, flows-only approach that has brought opposition and lawsuits from water agencies and water users.
A plan to underground about 2.5 miles of the Escondido Canal through and near the San Pasqual Indian reservation has moved forward with an agreement reached recently for Escondido to pay the tribe for an easement through its land. The 14-mile-long Escondido Canal transports water from Lake Henshaw to Lake Wohlford where it is stored for use by Escondido and Vista Irrigation District consumers. Back in 1969, a lawsuit was filed by the federal government and five local Indian tribes along the San Luis Rey River contending that Escondido and Vista had stolen the tribes’ water by construction of the canal. After nearly 50 years of litigation, a complicated settlement was finally reached a few years ago.
A historic water agreement was celebrated today on the grounds of the Sycuan Indian Reservation. While Sycuan’s new hotel is getting most of the public attention, a reliable water supply for the reservation is an even bigger achievement. Everyone involved in Monday morning’s commemoration of a water delivery agreement, reached last August between Sycuan and the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District, noted it was 10 years in the making.
Over the past three years, the State Water Resources Control Board has conducted a public process to increase the water flowing to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Rivers Delta with the intent of improving declining fish populations. However, an increase in river flow means a reduction in supplies for Californians, who are dependent on them for their lives and livelihoods. There are two approaches to this: painful, mandatory cuts to water supplies or voluntary agreements among water users to achieve specific goals in the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan update.
Even as seven Western states that rely on the Colorado River for water hammer out final agreements to protect reservoirs on the river, the two lakes are less than half full. Jennifer Pitt, who works on Colorado River policy for the National Audubon Society, told the Grand Canyon News that without changes to how Lake Mead and Lake Powell are managed,levels could fall below the point where no more water can be released. “If that happened, that would be a catastrophe for this region’s economy,” Pitt said, “For all of the people who depend on the Colorado River and for all of the wildlife that depends on it as well.”