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Posted on: March 1, 2019

Yuba Water Agency submits proposal to state water board

Juvenile fish in protected habitat on the lower Yuba River

Yuba Water Agency is presenting a collaborative framework to the State Water Resources Control Board today, a detailed plan to improve fish and wildlife habitat conditions in the San Francisco/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Estuary watershed (Bay-Delta), including fisheries enhancement measures on the lower Yuba River.

California’s Department of Water Resources, Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Sacramento River Basin water agencies will provide the state board with the proposed voluntary settlement 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 requirement 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 and portions of the San Joaquin Valley.

“Our alternative provides a more comprehensive environmental benefit than just higher water releases proposed by the state water board’s staff,” said Curt Aikens, Yuba Water Agency’s general manager. “Our proposal is more holistic, ensuring increased flows, but also habitat restoration, funding for a river science program, and collaboration among local, state and federal agencies, as well as conservation groups.”

Yuba Water Agency’s proposal includes a base contribution of 9,000 acre-feet in above-normal, below-normal and dry years released for Delta outflow. It also includes a supplemental contribution of up to an additional 41,000 acre-feet in those same years, compensated at $290 per acre-foot, with the compensation reflecting that this amount would exceed Yuba Water’s proportionate share of the contribution for Delta inflow. The agency only takes about one-third of the total amount of water diverted from the Yuba River Watershed.

During the 15-year term of this agreement, it is estimated the base and supplemental contributions would be provided in about half of those years.

Yuba Water Agency’s approach also includes partnering with others in the development and improvement of 100 acres of in-channel and floodplain habitat to benefit fisheries. The water agency has committed to contribute $10 million over the 15-year term for habitat enhancement measures.

$7.8 million is also included in the Yuba Water Agency proposal to fund a river science program for use in the Yuba River Watershed to complement ongoing science studies on the river and provide a forum for collaboration.     

If the voluntary settlement agreement is approved by the state board, the agency plans to use the estimated $80 million in compensation from the supplemental water contributions to pay for the agency’s share of habitat improvements and other requirements of the plan, as well as helping to fund important public safety improvements, including a new, $160 million secondary spillway at New Bullards Bar Dam. This key infrastructure project will significantly reduce the flood risk to Yuba and Sutter counties, while greatly enhancing the safety of the dam.

“Yuba Water Agency’s voluntary settlement agreement is a collaborative, interest-based, science-driven initiative that can achieve and implement the state board’s coequal goals of water supply reliability and ecosystem restoration,” said Yuba Water Agency Board Chairman Brent Hastey. “Our success in executing projects like this has been proven over the last 10 years since we developed the Yuba Accord, which brought 18 different interests together and achieved results that benefited the environment, our local farmers and the people of Yuba County.”     

“Water supply reliability for the benefit of Yuba County farmers and residents is our top priority in both Federal Energy Regulatory Commission relicensing and in this voluntary settlement process,” said Aikens. “Our settlement proposal ensures we are able to both maintain our water supply reliability as well as provide better environmental benefits than the water board alternative.” 

Yuba Water Agency encourages the state board to accept the voluntary settlement agreements as an alternative to flow requirements proposed by state board staff for rivers that feed the Delta. The staff proposal recommends a percentage of “unimpaired flows,” which 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 farms, California communities and the environment.

Scientists at the University of California, Davis, and researchers with the Public Policy Institute of California, cautioned publicly that the state 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. The Yuba Water Agency proposal does address some of those crucial factors, and can help fund research to determine the best way to address habitat needs for fish and wildlife in the Bay-Delta.

Additional information can be found on the agency’s website. 

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