The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) approved a motion regarding the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan, voting in favor of imposing minimum flow requirements on the Stanislaus, Merced, and Tuolumne rivers. As AgNet West previously reported, the plan includes requirements for unimpaired flows of up to 50 percent and has received significant opposition from several valley water districts as well as the city of San Francisco.
Many water districts were in the process of coordinating voluntary agreements to alleviate the need for the unimpaired flow requirements while still achieving the goals set forth by SWRCB. Cooperative efforts to reach an amicable alternative included several partners including the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, and the Friant Water Authority. Supporters of voluntary settlements indicated that coordination between agencies can improve conditions in the delta at a quicker pace than a mandate that will likely be stalled by litigation.
The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) presented information at the hearing related to the progress made in alternative plans to requiring unimpaired river flows. Despite various water agencies best efforts, the board ultimately voted 4-1 in favor of the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan. The only board member from the valley, Dorene D’Adamo, was the single vote against the plan.
Even with the approval of the unimpaired flow requirement, there is still a potential opportunity to develop voluntary agreements as the flows mandate will require a separate rulemaking process. Back in November Governor Jerry Brown and Governor-Elect Gavin Newsom noted their support for cooperation between agencies to achieve the state’s water goals, “voluntary agreements are preferable to a lengthy administrative process and the inevitable ensuing lawsuits.”
The result from the 10-hour long hearing is likely going to lead to significant litigation in the future. Districts that are opposed to the plan for unimpaired flows requirements will have 30 days to file any challenges with the court.