Rather than planning for droughts and ensuring that minimum water quality objectives are met during critical drought years, the proposed voluntary agreement appears to be a “failure plan” to protect the delta during future droughts.

Droughts are a part of life in California, even though climate change is making them worse. The Governor’s Water Resilience Portfolio recognizes the need to improve drought preparedness, requiring the state to be able to protect fish and wildlife during a six-year drought (recommendation 26.3). This recommendation is critical because instead of preparing for droughts and ensuring that water quality goals that protect fish and wildlife are met, the state’s current drought “plan” is to declare an emergency and violate minimum water quality standards, devastating native fish and wildlife. — and the thousands of jobs that depend on their health. The Recovery Office currently believes that 70% of eggs laid by endangered chinook salmon this year will be killed by lethal water temperatures below Shasta Dam (compared to 75% killed last year), and DWR and restocking state are currently violating the Delta’s minimum water quality standards that protect the Delta’s farms, towns, and environment, reducing flows through the Delta below minimum levels that scientists have repeatedly found to be inadequate.

The State Water Board’s update to the Bay-Delta Plan aims to help ensure that water quality goals would be met during droughts. As a 2018 from the State Water Board Frame for the Bay-Delta Plan update explains,

The current Bay-Delta Plan is implemented by a limited subset of water users, on a limited subset of waterways, during certain parts of the year only. Implementation of the current Bay-Delta Plan has failed to protect fish and wildlife that require protection throughout the watershed and throughout the year.

Under the Water Rights Ordinances that implement the current Water Quality Plan (known as D-1641), the CVP and SWP are responsible for meeting water quality objectives. delta water. However, the CVP and SWP have violated these standards in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2021 and 2022 – five of the past nine years, and every critical drought year since 2013. One of the benefits of the Bay Plan update -Delta is that all water rights holders would be subject to up-to-date standards and no water user would be above the law.

Yet the proposed voluntary agreement would only strengthen and lock in the current system, leading to systematic violation of water quality objectives in future droughts. While the VA proposes to “add” 155,000 acre feet per year of additional flow during critical drought years, simply meeting existing water quality goals in those years will require significantly more effort. ‘water. The state has estimated that the approval of Temporary Emergency Change Requests (TUCPs) has reduced outflow from the Delta by far more than this amount in recent years:

Moreover, after taking into account that the Voluntary Agreement proposes to add water to the Trump administration’s patently illegal biological advisories, the Voluntary Agreement would be reduce Delta flow during critical drought years compared to environmental regulations in effect from 2008 to 2019.

And when it comes to planning for droughts, respecting the minimum flows in the delta (including outflow from the delta) is only half the problem: it is also essential to reduce water diversions in order to increase the amount of cold water stored behind the tanks. to meet upstream water temperature objectives that protect salmon. It was explicitly part of the State Water Board’s unfinished update of the Bay-Delta Plan. The failure to reduce water diversions last year resulted in extremely low storage in reservoirs and disastrous temperature-dependent mortality of endangered salmon last year, and as California did not not been bailed out by an extremely wet year this winter, we repeat the disaster again. This year. Things are so bad this year that entrepreneurs in the Sacramento River Colony are finally having to reduce their water diversions by hundreds of thousands of acre-feet This year.

Yet the proposed voluntary agreement does not establish minimum storage or temperature requirements in Shasta Reservoir to protect salmon. And under the voluntary agreement, contractors at the Sacramento River Settlement (maximum contract amount over 2.1 million acre-feet) would give up only 2,000 acre-feet of water during the years of critical drought – still less water than Putah Creek water users, far less than their reduced diversions this year, and woefully short of what is needed to protect salmon below Shasta Dam during future droughts.

The Trump administration’s biological advisories not only weakened and eliminated protections in the delta, they also eliminated storage and temperature protections for salmon below Shasta Dam. These biological opinions are an extinction plan in the Bay-Delta, which we monitor in real time during the drought. Yet, as Westlands Water District Chief Executive Tom Birmingham said at the April 19, 2022 meeting of the Westlands Water District Board,

“the operations that are assumed in the voluntary agreements include the operational flexibility built into the 2019 biological advisories…. So, again, if the wheels come off the bus and the new biological opinions seem drastically different, then there will be no voluntary agreement.

(this exchange begins around the 1:23 mark of this videoor see this summary from WaterWrights). Instead of addressing issues in the biological views of the Trump administration, including the management of Shasta Reservoir during droughts, the voluntary agreement assumes the continuation of this extinction plan.

The only thing worse than not planning for droughts is planning for failure. Under California law, it is illegal to use TUCPs to violate minimum water quality standards, but Governor Newsom drought emergency declaration suspended this provision of state law (Cal. Water Code § 13247) to legalize water projects’ violation of the law and their obligations to the public. Rather than addressing these issues and ensuring that minimum water quality objectives that protect farms, cities and the environment are implemented in times of drought, the proposed voluntary agreement would reinforce this practice of to break the rules for the benefit of the powerful at the expense of the environment, American tribes, fishing jobs and disadvantaged communities in the delta.