California Natural Resources Agency Voluntary Agreements

The initial proposal for a voluntary agreement in December 2018, announced with great enthusiasm by the directors of the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and the Department of Water Resources, turned out to be nothing but smoke and mirrors. Unfortunately, there is ample reason to believe that the same is true of this latter proposal, which was developed without public intervention or revision. Steve Knell, Executive Director of the Oakdale District, believes that the voluntary agreements, as currently designed, would require drainage of the Federal New Melones Dam east of Stockton, as well as the Donnells, Beardsley and Tulloch district facilities, to the detriment of the cold water basins in the basin. The framework, he said, „can supply the delta with water, but it does not provide the sustainability that both inland fishing and agriculture need.“ In a February 7 letter to state officials and federal officials, the Oakdale and South San Joaquin Irrigation Districts asked officials to carefully consider the water that has been developed to support the rivers and water that targets the largest delta ecosystem, and to ensure that the state water project and the central valley project , who hold junior water rights, contribute to reasonable amounts. Over the past twelve years, the National Water Management Board has conducted a comprehensive and transparent public process to review and update water quality standards for the Bay Delta. As part of this process, the Council evaluated a number of alternatives, and the scientific basis for these alternatives has been subject to several rounds of independent peer review – a review by independent scientific experts. However, as part of a parallel process to avoid regulatory action, a group of interested parties negotiates a so-called voluntary agreement, often held at confidential meetings (which for years has required public authorities, local water districts and other parties to sign a confidentiality agreement to participate in discussions, regardless of the requirements of the Public Records Act). Kim Delfino, the former California director of the Defenders of Wildlife, said it was necessary to „give,“ either environmentalists give in or federal water contractors are willing to put more on the table. A voluntary agreement, she said, would be part of the Update of the State Water Board`s The Delta Bay Water Quality Plan, where the benchmarks are viable fish populations and a doubling of the salmon stock. „This framework is an important step, but we still have a lot of work to do to make it a legally enforceable program,“ said California Natural Resources Minister Wade Crowfoot.

„We are committed to developing successful voluntary agreements, as they promise to improve environmental conditions faster and more holistically than regulatory requirements, while ensuring greater security for communities, farms and businesses. The interest representatives resigned themselves to the state`s complaint against the federal government. Tom Birmingham, chief executive of the Westlands Water District in Fresno, the country`s largest agricultural irrigation area, said talks on voluntary agreements could continue, although difficult, and a final agreement could not be reached without the participation of claims. „Many former water rights holders, including districts, were willing to contribute to the settlement process that benefits their local waterways, and districts understand that these contributions can also support the state`s delta objectives,“ the letter says.