In March, 2019, California’s Department of Water Resources, Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Sacramento River Basin water agencies (to include Yuba Water Agency) provided the State Water Resources Control Board with proposed voluntary agreements that are tailored to meet the needs of the different watersheds feeding into the Bay-Delta. The agreements represent a collaborative plan designed to contribute to the recovery of fish and wildlife species, and are an alternative to the State Water Board’s proposed one-size-fits-all requirements to release massive amounts of flows in an attempt to improve Bay-Delta fisheries.
The State Water Board is in the process of updating the Water Quality Control Plan for the Bay-Delta. The purpose of the plan is to establish water quality control measures that provide reasonable protection of beneficial uses in the greater Bay-Delta watershed, which includes all of the Sacramento Valley on portions of the San Joaquin Valley.
Yuba Water Agency's proposal provides a more comprehensive environmental benefit than just higher water releases proposed by the State Water Board's staff, and ensures increased flows, habitat restoration, funding for a river science program, and collaboration among local, state and federal agencies, as well as conservation groups.
For more specific details about the Yuba Water Agency proposal for this collaborative, voluntary agreement, please see the Voluntary Agreement Fact Sheet. For more general information about the process and timeline, please go to the collaborative Voluntary Agreements web site.
- What is the Yuba Water Agency voluntary agreement proposal?
Yuba Water Agency’s proposed voluntary agreement is a collaborative approach to improving fish and wildlife habitat in the Bay-Delta ecosystem and achieving the State Water Board’s coequal goals of water supply reliability and ecosystem restoration. It includes: collaboration, increased flows, funding, fish habitat improvements and the development of a river science program meant to contribute to the recovery of fish and wildlife species in the Bay-Delta ecosystem. Specifically, Yuba Water proposes:
a. A base contribution of 9,000 acre-feet of new water releases in above-normal, below-normal and dry years, specifically for Delta inflow.
b. A supplemental contribution of up to an additional 41,000 acre-feet for Delta inflow in those same years, compensated at $290 per acre-foot.
c. A partnership with others in the development and/or improvement of 100 acres of in-channel and floodplain fish habitat during the term of the agreement.
d. A contribution of up to $10 million for fish habitat improvement measures.
e. A contribution of $7.8 million to fund a river science program, at $520,000 per year in the Yuba Watershed.
The term of the voluntary settlement agreement would be for 15 years. The other parties to the agreement would include the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the California Department of Water Resources.
- Why is Yuba Water Agency voluntarily making these commitments?
Yuba Water Agency has proven over the last ten years, since the successful and continuing implementation of the award-winning Yuba Accord, that collaborative agreements are more sustainable, imaginative, and result in actual improvements, as opposed to controversial regulatory requirements that are limited in approach and that get tied up in court for decades. When parties focus on interest-based negotiations, and allow science to lead the way to determine the best way ahead, often the results are more meaningful solutions for California’s economy and environment. Water supply reliability for the benefit of Yuba County farmers and residents is the agency’s top priority in both Federal Energy Regulatory Commission relicensing and in this voluntary process. The voluntary agreement proposal ensures Yuba Water is able to both maintain our water supply reliability as well as provide better environmental benefits than the State Water Board alternative.
- What is the proposal of the State Water Resources Control Board staff?
As a regulatory agency, the State Water Board can only require measures within its authority. For example, the State Water Board can require water agencies to forgo diversion of flows that are needed to mitigate their impacts from diversions, but it lacks authority to require other measures under a more comprehensive approach to mitigating for impacts (such as habitat enhancement measures, funding and a science program)
State Water Board staff issued a Framework for the Bay-Delta Plan Update that encourages entering into voluntary agreements, but provides “default” flow requirements for rivers that feed the Delta of 55 percent of “unimpaired flows.” This unimpaired flow approach would require a large portion of each watershed’s total inflow to be dedicated to flow out of the Delta. This “unimpaired flow” approach would have significant adverse impacts on California communities, farms and the environment (when compared to the current Yuba Accord flows and the proposed voluntary agreement flows). Scientists at the University of California, Davis, and researchers with the Public Policy Institute of California, cautioned that the State Water Board staff’s flow proposal would not address key factors critical to the Delta’s ecosystem health, such as food and habitat availability, or predation by other species.
- Why is the voluntary agreement proposal better than the State Water Board staff proposal?
The State Water Board staff proposal focuses on only one of the key factors essential to ecosystem health in the delta – increased flows – but it requires so much water that it would be harmful to California communities and farms, imposing more frequent and severe water shortages, with unclear fish and wildlife benefits. The voluntary agreements represent a collaborative plan designed to contribute to the recovery of fish and wildlife species and are an alternative to the State Water Board’s proposed one-size-fits-all requirement to release massive amounts of flows in an attempt to improve Bay-Delta fisheries. The Yuba Water Agency proposal is a collaborative approach to reaching the State Water Board’s coequal goals of water supply reliability and ecosystem restoration that addresses the need for increased flows, but also includes collaboration, habitat improvements, funding, and a river science program.