The Newsom administration has reached a deal with water contractors to sign a set of voluntary agreements for flows in the Sacramento San Joaquin Bay-Delta as an eight-year program. The cost will be about $2.6 billion, split three ways between water users and state and federal governments.
The document outlines steps for dedicating up to 800,000 acre-feet of additional flow for ecological benefits, depending on the time of year and hydrologic conditions. It commits 20,000 acres of rice fields for floodplain restoration and just as many acres for additional floodplain habitat, along with several other environmental projects. The term sheet also details specific benchmarks for success, with the option to renew or revise the program after eight years.
The extra flows will come from voluntary farmland fallowing, cutbacks in diversions and new water purchases. About 35,000 acres of Sacramento Valley rice fields would go fallow under the plan, according to Department of Water Resources Director Karla Nemeth.
Cheers immediately poured in from irrigation districts and urban suppliers. Tom Birmingham, general manager of Westlands Water District, called the deal a “fundamental change” in how California protects the environment and provides water for cities and farms.
Thad Bettner, general manager of Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District, noted that the new collaborative governance structure will build trust among the many parties.
Gov. Gavin Newsom and his secretaries called it a historic moment and necessary, as climate exacerbates droughts in the state.
"We don’t have to choose between healthy ecosystems or a healthy economy - we can provide for both," Newsom tweeted. "Today’s agreement marks a new era. This program will help recover salmon & native fish, create habitats for fish & wildlife, and fund environmental improvements & water purchases."
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CalEPA Secretary Jared Blumenfeld pledged that the agreement "will move us away from water wars of yesteryear, ushering in a new era of collaboration in the battle to fight climate change."
Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot and Adel Hagekhalil, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, were more cautiously optimistic, noting this is just the first step in building a more comprehensive action plan.
For the deal to work, the local water managers must run it by their boards of directors. Those agencies would have to levy additional fees on their water users to cover the cost share. The various parties must settle a slew of lawsuits over endangered species protections in the Delta. And the State Water Resources Control Board must give the final approval that the agreements meet the standards set out in its Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan.
Any water agencies not agreeing to the terms would face more rigid regulatory requirements established by the board.
The Friant Water Authority is one agency that has not signed onto the plan. The water supplier cited “several outstanding issues that remain unresolved” in the term sheet and pledges to continue working with the state and federal agencies to resolve their differences “in the very near future.”
Meanwhile, a separate deal has landed with Sacramento River Settlement Contractors and several state and federal agencies over a temperature management plan for the river.
This will serve as a guidepost for sending coldwater flows from Lake Shasta to maintain species survival for winter-run Chinook salmon.
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