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Yuba Water Agency’s proposed voluntary settlement agreement is a collaborative approach to improving fish and wildlife habitat in the Bay-Delta ecosystem and achieving the state 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.
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 settlement process. The settlement proposal ensures Yuba Water is able to both maintain our water supply reliability as well as provide better environmental benefits than the water board alternative.
As a regulatory agency, the state water board can only require measures within its authority. For example, the 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 settlement 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 settlement 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.
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 settlement agreements represent a collaborative plan designed to contribute to the recovery of fish and wildlife species and are an alternative to the state 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.
Yes. The Newsom Administration is leading this collaborative effort, which includes the Department of Water Resources, Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and water agencies on the American, Feather, Sacramento and Yuba Rivers. All of the major agencies/districts on these tributaries are submitting their own proposals based on the unique situation in their watersheds.
Yes. Yuba Water, in partnership with the Newson Administration, believes the voluntary settlement agreements would provide greater benefit to the environment, which would create more certainty for managing water supplies over the next 15 years. This certainty would benefit the agency’s ability to generate hydropower, provide water for local irrigation districts, and - using revenue from the settlement - fund additional public safety actions, such as our planned secondary spillway at New Bullards Bar Dam.
The agency plans to use the estimated $80 million in compensation from the supplemental water contributions to pay for implementing the agency’s share of habitat improvements and other requirements of the plan, as well as helping to fund projects such as a new $160 million secondary spillway at New Bullards Bar Dam - scheduled for completion in 2025. This key infrastructure project will significantly reduce the flood risk to Yuba and Sutter counties, while greatly enhancing the safety of the dam.
The proposals were due to the state water board on March 1. A draft proposed plan and staff report analyzing alternatives will be released later this year for public review and comment. The voluntary agreement participants plan to complete the process of evaluating flow and nonflow measures by the end of 2019, so that the voluntary agreement projects could go into effect in 2020. In the interim, Yuba Water Agency is working with the Department of Water Resources and Department of Fish and Wildlife on plans for the early implementation of the proposed flows, planned for the spring of 2019. Numerous technical, environmental and legal issues must be worked on for early implementation. The habitat restoration measures will likely, however, take longer, given the practical realities of identifying appropriate sites, securing the properties and developing restoration plans.