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Conservationists: Future of California Salmon and Water Supply Reliability Depends on Water Board Action

Group Calls on Board to Break Pattern of Delay and Approve Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan; Board Approval on Wednesday Would Keep Door Open

SACRAMENTO – To restore the health of the San Joaquin River and its tributaries, the California State Water Resources Control Board can help break a pattern of delay by approving an updated Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan at its meeting Wednesday, leading conservation organizations said Tuesday.

“The time to act is now. California’s iconic salmon runs and the Bay-Delta estuary sit on the brink of collapse, and the water supply system supporting our farms, our rural communities, and our cities is at risk,” said Maurice Hall of Environmental Defense Fund. “Action by the State Water Board can help us move forward to advance a resilient water equation for the state and start the recovery of California’s 10,000-year-old native salmon fishery.”

Water users across the state, state and federal environmental protection agencies, conservation groups and others need to see board action now to advance a meaningful, sustainable water management plan that addresses the ecological crisis in the Delta and headwaters systems, ensures clean water for 25 million residents and supports jobs.

The Board’s regulatory process to update the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan began 10 years ago, prompted by state and federal legal requirements to ensure sufficient water remains in streams to protect the environment. As the process has moved forward, numerous attempts have been made to negotiate a voluntary agreement, and each time participants have failed to meet deadlines.  On Nov. 9, the Brown Administration requested one month for continued talks to reach a voluntary settlement framework. Those discussions, however, have not produced an agreement that will meet federal and state legal requirements.

“Our organizations have worked in earnest for the last several years to develop a voluntary settlement agreement that would achieve the Board’s biological objectives. This past weekend, we concluded we could not support the current agreement, which falls short of meeting the needs of fishing families and salmon and steelhead in too many California rivers and the Delta estuary,” Brian Johnson from Trout Unlimited said.

“Our organizations remain supportive of productive and transparent discussions toward a voluntary settlement that includes improved flows, restored habitat, and improved science programs, provided those agreements meet the needs of the fish and wildlife,” explained Steve Rothert of American Rivers.

Adoption on Wednesday by the Board and expeditious finalization of the regulations does nothing to preclude them from incorporating an eventual voluntary agreement, should one be reached.  In fact, in its proposed regulations the Board has rightly included provisions that allow it to implement an alternative plan if parties develop and offer such a compromise provided the settlement meets its crucial objectives.

Still, actions by the Trump Administration have made this more challenging as it seeks to erode federal protections for endangered species. “Because California is negotiating with a federal Administration out of touch with our climate and environmental protection goals, it is more important than ever that we act decisively to protect our own natural resources,” said Rachel Zwillinger of Defenders of Wildlife.

Twenty-three years ago, the Governor Wilson intervened to stop the Board from acting to provide more water for fish. Today, multiple salmon runs are now on the brink of extinction, and fishing families who remain are on the cusp of losing more than 23,000 jobs.

“We are seeing firsthand the fish and wildlife declines that delays have wrought in the past, and, at the same time, we cannot let federal politicians dictate California’s water future,” said Brian Stranko of The Nature Conservancy. “We cannot allow delays and disagreement to let control of our state’s environmental future slip from our hands. California simply has too much to lose.”

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.