The most important battleground in California’s Perpetual War for Water is the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Dozens of rivers and streams in northern California merge into the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, which join together to form the Delta Estuary and whose waters then flow into San Francisco Bay.
The state’s massive hydraulic infrastructure was built on the premise that water left in the sea was wasted. The network of reservoirs and canals diverts water from the river and delta to farms in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys and home users as far south as San Diego.
However, in recent decades, environmental groups and their allies, such as Indian tribes and fishermen, have demanded reductions in diversions, arguing that they are severely damaging the habitat of fish, such as spawning salmon and d ‘other wild species.
The conflict unfolded in multiple arenas – the legislature, Congress, federal and state regulators, and the courts. It has been a trench warfare with long periods of stalemate, occasional gains on one side or the other, and periodic armistice attempts.
A few years ago, the State Water Resources Control Board was on the verge of placing limits on diversions that the agricultural industry considered draconian, especially as the state was also beginning to regulate. the ability of farmers to pump groundwater to fill gaps in surface water supplies.
Govt. Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom wanted to avoid a real legal confrontation by calling for “voluntary agreements” on river flows acceptable to both agricultural water agencies and the water board and negotiations have been underway for several years.
One such deal affecting the Sacramento River and its tributaries appears to be on the verge of being passed, but this month the proposed second affecting the San Joaquin River encountered a massive roadblock. In a letter to the major diversionists of the river, the Newsom administration rejected their proposal and said it would urge the water board to resume direct regulation of flows from San Joaquin.
Environmental Protection Secretary Jared Blumenfeld and Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot told San Joaquin Districts that âat this point it is clear that despite considerable effort, the voluntary actions proposed by water agencies on the tributaries of the San Joaquin River have failed to improve the necessary flow and habitat. , and no viable proposal is proposed at this time.
The two administration officials added, âWe will ask the State Water Board to resume all activities necessary to implement the flow targets established by the Bay-Delta Plan 2018 for the lower San Joaquin River and its three main tributaries, the Stanislaus, the Tuolumne and the Mercedes Rivers.
Although Blumenfeld and Crowfoot said the San Joaquin agencies could re-enter the process “if they come up with the necessary levels of additional water flow and habitat,” their rejection letter paves the way for a political and legal war. Farmers in the San Joaquin Valley see the ongoing actions of the Water Board as seriously hampering their ability to continue in business.
Dave Eggerton, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies called the administrative letter “of great concern” because of the potential for all-out legal war.
However, as word of the letter spread throughout the water community, environmental groups celebrated. They have long viewed the âvoluntary agreementâ process as a tool to bypass more stringent regulations needed to protect habitat.
They scored yet another victory last week when Fresno Superior Court Judge D. Tyler Tharpe refused to validate a highly controversial water supply contract the huge Westlands Water District secured from the administration. Trump. In his ruling, Tharpe cited procedural irregularities, including a violation of the state’s open meeting laws.
So, as drought grips California, battles over the state’s very limited water supply appear destined to escalate.
Dan Walters has been a journalist for almost 60 years, spending most of those years working for California newspapers. He has written over 9,000 columns on California and its politics, and his column has appeared in many other California newspapers. He writes for CalMatters.org, a non-profit, non-partisan media company explaining California politics and politics.