Environmental, Tribal and Fishing Groups slam 'Voluntary Agreements' on Sacramento River flows

The Sacramento River, California's longest river flows through Walnut Grove in the North Delta. Photo by Dan Bacher. |

By Dan Bacher | @DanBacher |

SACRAMENTO - On August 3, Restore the Delta and 20 other environmental, tribal and fishing groups signed on to an environmental water coalition letter to all 120 state legislators opposing Governor Gavin Newsom’s requests for $466 million in funding to the state budget for “voluntary agreements” (or VAs) concerning Sacramento River flows and water quality objectives

Other organizations signing the letter include Save California Salmon, Sierra Club California, Natural Resources Defense Council, Clean Water Action, Fly Fishers International, Defenders of Wildlife, San Francisco Baykeeper. Los Angeles Waterkeeper, Merced River Conservation Committee, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, Planning and Conservation League, Winnemem Wintu Tribe, Earthjustice, Golden State Salmon Association, South Yuba River Citizens League, Tuolumne River Trust, California Coastkeeper, Golden West Women Flyfishers, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. 

The letter was sent at a time when fires are raging across the state and thousands of endangered salmon are dying in the Sacramento River system during a record drought greatly exacerbated by federal, state and corporate water mismanagement. Over 12,0000 out of a record run of over 18,000 adult spring Chinook salmon in Butte Creek, a Sacramento River tributary, have already died because of a recent disease outbreak in warm water conditions, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife: sacramento.newsreview.com/...

The letter to 40 State Senators and 80 Assembly Members informs legislators that the voluntary agreements process is “woefully inadequate,” according to a news release from Restore the Delta.   

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,” according to the press release. “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,” the letter states.

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, the groups wrote. 

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,” Stroshane concluded.

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