by Brent Hastey, Yuba Water Agency board chairman
Happy New Year! There are many things to look forward to in the new year and the ever-changing landscape of water policy. Some of the biggest topics to keep an eye on are the ongoing Bay-Delta negotiations and the proposed voluntary settlement agreements.
The State Water Resources Control Board has proposed flow requirements for rivers that feed the Delta based on a percentage of ‘unimpaired flows’, which would require a large portion of each watershed’s total flow to be dedicated to the Delta. If approved, this ‘unimpaired flows’ approach would have significant impacts on farms, communities throughout California and the environment.
We join many other water agencies in our belief that alternative measures, specific to different rivers and areas of the region, can achieve California’s coequal goals of water supply reliability and ecosystem protection, finding balance among the diverse interests of local, state and federal agencies, as well as farmers and environmental groups.
We recently agreed with the Brown administration on a framework, following months of negotiations and years of work, that would provide water supply reliability for fisheries and our local farmers, and ensure significant fish and wildlife habitat restoration for many years to come.
Our proposal for the lower Yuba River includes releasing more water to the Delta, habitat restoration, and new funding to improve conditions for salmon and steelhead.
Representatives from the California Department of Water Resources and Department of Fish and Wildlife presented this framework to the state water board on Dec. 12 as part of a package of agreements from water agencies throughout the region, as an alternative to burdensome regulatory requirements.
We have specifically proposed to release up to 50,000 acre-feet of water annually for fisheries, the restoration of up to 100 acres of habitat at a cost of up to $10 million to the agency (state and/or federal funds may complement the Yuba Water contributions), and an annual $520,000 investment for a new Bay-Delta watershed science program. This innovative agreement would allow us to receive compensation for releases to the Delta, estimated at $80 million over the term of the agreement. That critical funding could do a lot to further reduce flood risk here in Yuba County.
The state water board’s actions in December opened the door for their consideration of these voluntary agreements as they determine the best way ahead. The board will take action on this issue in March, so stay tuned for some big news.