State, federal and local agencies are working to advance a transformational, watershed-wide approach to increase river flows, restore ecosystems and strengthen water supply reliability across the state.
The approach -- sometimes referred to as the “Voluntary Agreements” because parties came together to propose it, is a comprehensive, multi-year solution that brings together dozens of water agencies with the state and federal governments to pool resources and take concrete actions to provide targeted river flows and expand habitat in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers and Bay Delta. These environmental improvements are guided by scientific monitoring and collaborative decision making.
This new approach will also allow water managers to adapt operations based on real-time conditions and enable broad coordination across watersheds to manage flows for maximal benefits. This more flexible, adaptive management is critical as climate change increases uncertainty and drives extreme conditions.
The agreements, if approved by the State Water Board as an implementation pathway for an updated Bay-Delta Plan, could help state agencies meet requirements to protect beneficial uses in the Sacramento and San Joaquin watersheds. Through this approach, California would dedicate a large quantity of water to the environment and restore 45,000 acres of aquatic habitat for fish and other animals. The agreements provide a promising pathway to protect and restore our environment, enable California’s economy to thrive, and provide a foundation for a more resilient future. When it comes to water in California,now is the timetobridge our differences in pursuit of sustainable solutions that meet our state’s needs.
Commitments by participating water agencies generate hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water dedicated for environmental purposes that will be adaptively managed to benefit native fish populations and habitats and dedicated to Delta outflow. The amount of this environmental water flow varies depending on how dry or wet a year becomes, with over 800,000 acre-feet in some years. Much of this water can be flexibly managed based on timing and season to increase instream flows and Delta outflows, and test biological hypotheses while reducing impacts to water supplies.
Commitments by local, state and federal water agencies also restore tens of thousands of acres of aquatic habitat for fish and other animals to thrive. Science is clear that both adequate river flows and habitat are necessary to recover fish populations. Habitat projects are moving forward across California's watersheds.
The program includes a governance program to direct flows and habitat restoration, conduct regular assessments, develop strategic plans and annual reports and implement a robust integrated science program. Flow and habitat measures will be adaptively managed through structured decision making and informed by the science program. The program will be accountable to the State Water Board, which will maintain continuing oversight, assess progress, and ensure the Bay-Delta Plan is being properly implemented.
The agreements create a broad program to implement environmental improvements in many of California's largest rivers and the Bay-Delta estuary into which these rivers flow. Environmental improvements are needed for these rivers and the Bay-Delta to reverse long-term declines in native fish populations. The State Water Board has already commenced an update to its Bay-Delta Plan to improve conditions for native fish and the agreements provide a pathway to achieve these ends and to reasonably protect beneficial uses in these rivers as required by state law.
The agreements encompass a set of binding commitments by water agencies and state and federal government to improve environmental conditions over the next eight years. These actions will be monitored for effectiveness over time and adapted based on scientific monitoring and changing conditions.
Through the agreements, significant, coordinated investments will be made to improve fish and wildlife habitat conditions throughout the watershed. The agreements encompass more than 45,000 acres of instream habitat, new spawning and rearing habitat, floodplain habitat and fish food production. Many identified environmental improve projects can be implemented in the next 12-18 months – injecting tens of millions of dollars into the state’s economy through habitat restoration projects.
The Approach Includes: