Metropolitan Water District votes to participate in Big Ag-backed voluntary agreements in California

The Mokelumne River in the Delta below B&W Resort. Photo by Dan Bacher. |


By Dan Bacher | 

Los Angeles, CA - On May 9, the board of the Metropolitan Water District (MWD), the largest water wholesaler in Southern California, voted to participate in what environmental justice and fish advocates describe as the “environmentally destructive” Voluntary Agreements (VA’s) currently being promoted by agribusiness and the Newsom Administration.

“These agreements are a work around to regulations that would prevent water agencies from diverting more water from the already strained San Francisco Bay-Delta,” according to a statement from the Sierra Club. “The vote was nearly unanimous and followed multiple heated discussions between board members and a biased panel conversation which included 3 pro-VA viewpoints and only one dissenting viewpoint.”

“The VA’s are an alternative process to the update of the Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan, and are led by a group of special interests that have been negotiating in confidential meetings, without community engagement or transparency. They will ultimately cost the state millions and will not include adequate protections for survival of native fish or the protection of community health. Like the Delta tunnel and Sites Reservoir, the VA’s will take more water from the already strained region of the Bay Delta. 5 million acre feet more water than the ecosystem can handle is already taken out each year,” the group stated.

Sierra Club California and environmental justice groups have steadfastly opposed the VA’s by building public awareness of the environmentally harmful aspects of the agreements.

“Tribes, environmentalists, and environmental justice communities have been consistently excluded from the negotiations. Last week, three years after initial conversations and after the State and water agencies had already finalized the essential terms for the VAs, they invited some groups to participate in the implementation process. Restore the Delta turned down their invitation and NRDC pledged that they would turn down any future invitations because the terms are beyond negotiation,” the group noted.

The Club said the vote was “especially disappointing” in that many board members from the Los Angeles’ delegation spoke out against the VA’s, yet they still voted in support.

In response to the vote, Caty Wagner, Sierra Club California SoCal Water Organizer, issued the following statement:

“I am deeply disappointed in the MWD board’s vote, which is entirely politically motivated. The science is clear: the VA’s, much like the Sites Reservoir and Delta tunnel projects, are not sustainable, especially with the worsening effects of climate change. The South Coast of California has the potential to save 1 million acre feet of water - the biggest savings in the state - through proven conservation and efficiency methods. Rate- and taxpayer investments should not be prioritized to fund imported water projects like the VA’s that will leave our grandchildren with debt and no water.”

At the same time as voluntary water conservation has failed so far in California, the Governor has been moving forward with the Big Ag-backed voluntary water agreements, the Delta Tunnel and the construction of Sites Reservoir. These projects will only worsen the ecological collapse in the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary and hasten the extinction of endangered Sacramento River spring and winter-run chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, Delta and longfin smelt and green sturgeon.

Newsom’s support of these projects is no surprise, since Stewart and Lynda Resnick, billionaire agribusiness tycoons and major promoters of the Delta Tunnel and increased water pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, have donated a total of $366,800 to Governor Gavin Newsom since 2018, including $250,000 to the campaign to fight the Governor’s recall.

Newsom received a total of $755,198 in donations from agribusiness in the 2018 election cycle, based on the data from That figure includes a combined $116,800 from Stewart and Lynda Resnick and $58,400 from E.J. Gallo, combined with $579,998 in the agriculture donations category.

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