Voluntary agreement discussions to find amicable solutions for the management of water supplies in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta have come to an end. The California Environmental Protection Agency and California Natural Resources Agency announced they will be moving forward with plans to increase flows from San Joaquin River tributaries. Six water districts had been working with state officials to try and develop a more agreeable approach to the implementation of Phase 1 of the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan. The negotiations had been ongoing for multiple years, and the abrupt conclusion of the discussions have caught many off guard.
“It’s mystifying why the state would have ended these negotiations and ended the process to try and find ways to achieve a collaborative benefit to ecosystem issues and irrigated agriculture,” said Mike Wade, Executive Director of the California Farm Water Coalition. “Right now, agriculture is going to wind up – at least south of the Delta – shelling out a tremendous amount of water to meet those goals in a way that’s going to be harmful for the economy and communities throughout that area.”
The Bay-Delta Plan calls for unimpaired flows between 30 and 50 percent along the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced rivers as a means for helping fish populations. State officials have said they will be moving forward with Phase 2 of the plan, stating “we will focus our efforts on advancing a [voluntary agreement] with the Sacramento River basin water users and water agencies who contract with the State and Federal water projects.” However, there is some concern as to how the recent breakdown in cooperative negotiations will impact the implementation of the overall Bay-Delta plan going forward.
“Phase 2 will be harder to achieve the overall goals without the participants in Phase 1 being part of that total process. So, you’ll see less water, probably less funding available to achieve the goals that the state has,” Wade noted. “There’s simply uncertainty on what’s next in terms of water supply for farmers and how that water is going to be used to benefit the environment because it’s difficult to tell at this point.”