The California Chamber of Commerce and a coalition of statewide organizations has asked the State Water Resources Control Board to support a novel approach to balancing the diverse water needs in the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (Bay-Delta) system.
This alternative approach ensures habitat can be restored and maintained, while increasing stability and predictability in water supply for urban and agricultural uses.
The coalition asked the State Water Board to incorporate the Healthy Rivers and Landscapes alternative into its update of the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan (Bay-Delta Plan).
The coalition includes statewide groups representing growers, manufacturers, food producers, construction/industrial materials companies and municipal utilities.
The State Water Board has been in the process of updating the Bay-Delta Plan for the better part of two decades. Because some water quality conditions like salinity are regulated primarily through flushing flows through the Delta, the Bay-Delta Plan has a unique impact on water supply.
And because a majority of the state gets at least some of its water from the Delta and its tributaries, the policy set here has impacts on the entire state.
Healthy Rivers and Landscapes
The Healthy Rivers and Landscapes alternative is the current iteration of the effort started in 2018 that was dubbed the “voluntary agreements.”
The Newsom administration convened key water districts, state agencies, and other interested parties to work out an alternative method to meet Bay-Delta Plan goals that did not rely wholly on the State Water Board staff-generated concept of extreme unimpaired flow requirements.
The Healthy Rivers and Landscapes alternative does dedicate additional flows to the environment, and it does so in a way that protects critical water supplies for communities and the economy. This alternative also implements projects to restore functional ecosystems and floodplains across the system. The Healthy Rivers and Landscapes alternative funds these projects and creates governance and science programs to adapt to new information and changing climate conditions.
In the past, flow-only efforts to manage the Bay-Delta have not worked as planned. The Sacramento/Delta portion of the plan was updated last in 1995. In the intervening decades, both species and water supply reliability have declined in the Bay-Delta and, by extension, throughout the state.
The Healthy Rivers and Landscapes alternative changes course and offers a different approach. This approach is innovative and aims to improve environmental conditions more quickly and holistically than traditional top-down regulatory requirements. In addition, it will provide more certainty to communities, farms, and businesses that depend on a reliable water supply.
The CalChamber-led coalition comment letter submitted to the State Water Board urging their inclusion of the Healthy Rivers and Landscapes alterative can be found here.
State Water Board staff is now in the process of reviewing and responding to all comments submitted on the draft Bay-Delta Plan update. Staff will make further changes based on comments received and will develop a proposed final Bay-Delta Plan update that the State Water Board will consider adopting in late 2024.
Additional public process, including the opportunity to provide comment on the final version of the update, will precede the State Water Board’s adoption hearing.