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Environmental, Tribal, and Fishing groups oppose so-called “Voluntary Agreements” for the Bay-Delta

For Immediate Release: 8/5/21

Contact: Tim Stroshane, Restore the Delta, 510-847-7556, [email protected]

SACRAMENTO – On August 3rd, Restore the Delta signed on to an environmental water coalition letter to all 120 state legislators—40 in the state senate, and 80 in the assembly—opposing Governor Gavin Newsom’s requests for nearly half a billion dollars in funding to the state budget for “voluntary agreements” (or VAs) concerning Sacramento River flows and water quality objectives. 

A total of 21 environmental, tribal, and fishing groups joined in signing the letter. The letter informs legislators that the voluntary agreements process is “woefully inadequate.”

Read a Defenders of Wildlife brackgrounder on the VAs here.

Voluntary Agreements or Regulatory Delay Tactic?

Begun in December 2018 as a delaying tactic by senior water right holders, and supported by the state Department of Water Resources and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the negotiations have frequently stalled and various work products they have generated, the letter states, “would not protect water quality for farms and communities in the Bay-Delta, and…failed independent scientific peer review.” 

The water agencies negotiating the VAs are from both ends of the Central Valley—representing upstream suppliers and downstream consumers of imported water. They desperately cling to the VAs because their slow-walked negotiations prolong the status quo. The delays afforded by the negotiations are also used to prevent the State Water Board from finishing revisions to the entire Bay-Delta Plan. “Under political pressure,” the letter states, “the Board has not been allowed to complete this work.”

“Rather than advancing scientifically sound water management, negotiations over voluntary agreements are stalling much-needed water quality protections for the Bay-Delta, the Tuolumne River, our native salmon runs, and the [Northern California] Tribes and thousands of fishing jobs that depend on their health,” the coalition wrote. 

The governor’s request for $466 million more in voluntary agreement funds “misdirects public money away from solutions that could benefit local communities seeking to secure clean drinking water and important habitat restoration and protection in the face of climate change.” 

Instead, the governor’s request promises only to “prop up a process that is being used to avoid making the critical changes California needs” to protect fresh Delta inflow and upstream river flows for the long term.

Tim Stroshane, RTD Policy Analyst, said, “Restore the Delta signed on to this letter because we, and many of our members, expect that the implementing VAs will withhold flows that are badly needed to maintain Delta water quality and reduce the spread of harmful algal blooms (or HABs). As of late last week, HABs were sighted in more than two dozen locations throughout the Delta.”

Stroshane added, “HABs contain neurotoxins that, when ingested, sicken human beings and kill dogs when they come into contact with HAB-infested waters. In addition, winds can pick up and spread harmful algal cells. When inhaled these cells can cause respiratory irritation and discomfort miles from the source. In effect, more HABs in the Delta mean more water AND air pollution in our region and grow more ubiquitous with time and warmer temperatures, harming public health. Urban neighborhoods near the Port of Stockton already suffer numerous other pollutant emissions, and HABs add to this unjust environmental burden for them. The VAs must be stopped to prevent so many harms, including these.” 

RTD and the coalition call on legislators to reject the Governor’s $0.5 billion request for the VAs, and Restore the Delta urges you to contact your state legislators to urge them to oppose the request as well.