The state water board held an informational hearing last week on the Newsom administration’s decision to move forward with the first phase of the 2018 Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan. Staff presented several complex options the board could choose to take to adjust environmental flows from 30-50% based on species needs. Yet the board was receptive to potentially incorporating a form of voluntary agreements in the plan.

“Keep sharpening those pencils,” said board member Sean Maguire, encouraging stakeholders to continue working on agreements.

The flow objectives, however, were the central issue for the Merced Irrigation District. Tom Berliner, an attorney representing the district, told the board the voluntary agreements began as a conversation about both flows and habitat restoration, but the administration held firm at a 40% commitment for unimpaired flows. Berliner said the south-of-Delta contractors—representing large farming districts—presented several options for compromise and received rejections for each with no meaningful guidance on how to improve.

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“It is very difficult to negotiate with people who have put nothing on the table,” said Berliner, adding that the plan also fails to address disadvantaged communities that depend on agriculture.

MID is continuing a 2018 lawsuit against the Bay-Delta Plan, with the board's authority over water rights a central focus in the legal arguments.

Environmental groups praised the board and administration for moving forward on the plan. They pushed for emergency actions to implement unimpaired flows next year, rather than the proposed 2023 timeline.