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May 3, 2024  |  Written by Ellen M. Moskal

State Board Completes Three-Day Workshop Regarding Proposed Bay-Delta Voluntary Agreements

The State Water Resources Control Board’s (State Board) three-day workshop to evaluate the proposed Voluntary Agreements, held from April 24 through 26, was the latest step in the State Board’s process to update the Water Quality Control Plan for the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Estuary (Bay-Delta Plan). Specifically, the agreements discussed relate to the Sacramento, Feather, American, Yuba, Tuolumne and Mokelumne Rivers, Putah Creek, and the Delta.

The Voluntary Agreements are proposed by a group of water users, California Natural Resources Agency, California Environmental Protection Agency, and United States Bureau of Reclamation (Proponents). The workshop was immediately preceded by the release of critical draft components of the proposal, including Global, Implementing, and Enforcement Agreements that address accountability and enforceability. Proponents also circulated proposed protocols for flow and non-flow accounting.

During the workshop, Proponents offered an overview of their proposal and gave presentations on six topics: Integration of Flow and Non-Flow Measures, Flow Measure Accounting, Non-Flow Measure Accounting, the proposed Science Plan, Governance and Participation, and Enforcement, Accountability, Transparency, and Implementation. Critics and other interested parties were also given the opportunity to present on each topic.

A major issue raised throughout the workshop was whether it is appropriate to rely on both flow and non-flow measures, rather than focusing strictly on flow requirements. Unlike previous water quality control plans, the Voluntary Agreements include both flow and non-flow habitat restoration measures, proposing large-scale projects to build and restore critical habitat for listed species such as Chinook salmon. Proponents assert that prioritizing habitat restoration in conjunction with flow requirements will be more effective at protecting water quality and fish, while opponents believe that non-flow measures will be ineffective without more stringent flow measures. Opponents also voiced their concerns regarding a lack of transparency and tribal consultation throughout the inception and development of the proposal.

There was significant discussion of the path forward should the Voluntary Agreements fail to reasonably protect beneficial uses or if the State Board is otherwise required to intervene. If approved, the agreements would have an eight-year term that could be extended or modified, but if the Voluntary Agreements do not prove effective, the State Board could consider regulatory pathways in which the State Board would return to a more traditional approach to water quality regulation.

The next key step towards consideration of the Voluntary Agreements and other alternatives to update the Bay-Delta Plan will be the State Board’s release of the draft program of implementation (POI) in approximately the summer of 2024. State Board staff indicated that they will release the draft POI for public review and comment, and hold a subsequent public workshop to discuss it.

For more information about the Bay-Delta Plan or related Voluntary Agreements, please contact:

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