Good news! Water Board votes to increase flows on the San Joaquin River

Yesterday the State Water Resources Control Board voted 4-1 to adopt the controversial flow standards for San Joaquin River tributaries and salinity standards for the South Delta.

This is the meeting Jerry Brown delayed for a month to give Gavin Newsom and the agencies time to come up with voluntary compromises as Newsom heads to take on the Governor role.

The Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan update for the Lower San Joaquin River and Southern Delta, includes a requirement for 40 percent of unimpaired flow, within a range of 30 to 50 percent. While this isn’t the full amount needed according to the Delta Flow Requirements reports, it is a start in the right direction.

From Maven’s report:

A dramatic decline in the once-thriving populations of native fish species that migrate through and inhabit the Delta has brought some species to the brink of extinction. In 1984, for example, about 70,000 fall-run Chinook salmon adults returned to the San Joaquin Basin. The number of returning adults dropped to 40,000 in 2010 and just 10,000 in 2016 and 2017.

While multiple factors contributed to the decline, the magnitude of diversions out of the Sacramento, San Joaquin, and other rivers feeding into the Bay-Delta is a major reason for the ecosystem decline. Currently, flows remaining in the San Joaquin River and its three tributaries can run as low as 6 percent in dry or drought years, while they average 10 to 20 percent of unimpaired flow at critical times of the year and range from 21 to 40 percent on average.

The Board is continuing now to work on flow requirements for the Sacramento River.

Read the entire Maven’s Notebook report: REACTIONS: Water agencies and organizations react to voluntary settlements and the State Water Board vote to adopt new flow standards for San Joaquin River tributaries

The California Farm Bureau sounded less on-board with their statement. While they congratulated the collaborative effort undertaken during the last 30 days to reach an agreement, they want collaboration rather than rules and claim an approach listing habitat restoration first followed by water flows and improved temperature for fish is the solution, claiming that is a proven approach.

We say it isn’t a very “proven approach” when there were 70,000 fall-run Chinook in 1984 (back when exports were below 6 MAF) and the number of returning adults dropped to 40,000 in 2010 and just 10,000 in 2016 and 2017 (during the timeframe where the state has implemented many habitat restoration projects). Habitat restoration alone cannot save the salmon. Fish need fresh water flows first and foremost.

Similarly, the agencies that came to the table the last 30 days with their voluntary compromises, like Department of Water Resources and Metropolitan Water District touted that they are working on these compromises, but we note that they have not formally signed off on their end of the agreement. For example, Metropolitan calls their side of the bargain “proposed voluntary settlement agreements”.

Not to put a wet blanket on this very good news, we will just need to see if they continue on their path of compromises for the benefit of the fish and the estuary.

But today we are extremely proud of the Water Board for doing the right thing and taking that first, hard step towards the needed improved water flows in the Delta.

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