State and federal regulators told water agencies Thursday that they are holding out hope for voluntary agreements over water flows and habitat restoration in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta.

The State Water Resources Control Board is moving forward with the first phase of its 2018 Bay-Delta Plan, scrapping voluntary efforts with south-of-Delta contractors. Yet the regulatory proposal does include a pathway for voluntary approaches to be developed, pointed out board member Dorene D’Adamo, who spoke at the fall conference for the Association of California Water Agencies.

“It's my strong belief that discussions with the voluntary agreement parties, including on the San Joaquin, was time well spent,” said D’Adamo. “There's a lot of really good ideas out there, and we need to give those ideas a shot.”

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In a separate session, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Regional Director Ernest Conant was cautiously optimistic that agreements will come together “in relatively short order.” He cautioned, however, that the reviews, approvals and environmental assessments would still take a couple years to process and that any new actions would be on hold until about 2024, following the same timeline as the federal process for redoing the biological opinions governing pumping operations.

The board will hold an informational update on the Bay-Delta Plan on Wednesday, with plenty of discussion about the future of voluntary agreements.