Press Release from the California Water Impact Network:
Agency’s CEQA Analysis Provides No Clear Plan for Restoring and Protecting California’s Greatest Aquatic Resource
The State Water Resources Control Board’s long-awaited environmental assessment of the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta estuary correctly describes the dire state of current affairs: keystone native fish species are nearing extinction, commercial fisheries, sport angling and recreational opportunities are disappearing, costs for domestic water services are skyrocketing, toxic algal blooms are threatening human health and wildlife, and salinity is intruding far into the Delta, threatening domestic water supplies and arable farmland, according to a press statement from the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN).
The Water Board also notes in the 6,000-page assessment that tree nuts – notoriously thirsty crops that have been the mainstay of San Joaquin Valley agribusiness for two decades – are now spreading northward into the Sacramento Valley.
The Board tacitly acknowledges it has responded to recent droughts in an ad hoc fashion by waiving water quality standards, a policy that has expedited water deliveries to agricultural operations despite dwindling supplies and concomitant environmental degradation.
But while the Board has met its obligation under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to accurately report existing conditions, it has failed to present a coherent plan to remedy the crisis as required by law and the agency’s own policies, said Max Gomberg, a senior policy advisor for the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN) and the former Climate and Conservation Manager for the State Water Board.
“The assessment does not include a full solution set, it does not track the science, there is no serious attempt to weigh costs and benefits, and there is no acknowledgement of accountability for the Board’s past actions – and inactions – that have been harmful to tribes, communities, and the environment,” Gomberg said.
Gomberg cited some of the most egregious examples of the assessment’s failings:
• It does not specify new and necessary rules for reservoir operations, water conveyance projects, water temperature, fish passage infrastructure, and habitat restoration.
• It provides no proposals for restoring equity to tribes deprived of water and fisheries by government projects.
• It cites the necessity of higher downriver flows and colder temperatures to maintain salmon fisheries but provides no concrete baselines or proposals for either.
• It entertains exclusionary voluntary agreements among water districts and government agencies despite clear evidence that such accords are inadequate and would circumvent the Board’s duty to set and enforce protective water quality standards.
• It provides no clear cost/benefit analyses weighing the value of an improved environment, better water quality, enhanced watershed, estuarine, and riverine habitats, sustainable fisheries, and tribal and community prosperity against Central Valley corporate agriculture.
Tom Stokely, C-WIN’s advisor on anadromous fisheries and the federal Central Valley Project (CVP), excoriated the report for its lack of attention to the Trinity River, which provides essential cold water to Klamath/Trinity salmon, one of the last major anadromous fish runs in the continental United States.
“Excessive water exports from the Trinity River to the CVP during recent drought created severe cold-water depletion, devastating the Klamath/Trinity fish,” said Stokely. “Trinity River Coho salmon, a federal and state threatened species, suffered nearly 75% egg mortality at the Trinity River Hatchery in November 2021 due to warm water because of low Trinity Lake storage resulting from excessive agricultural exports.”
“But the Trinity River and Trinity Reservoir aren’t even shown on the report’s maps – even though the report acknowledges that on average almost 700,000 acre-feet of water a year is exported from the Trinity and sent south via the CVP to San Joaquin Valley agribusiness operations,” explained Stokely.
C-WIN’s Executive Director, Carolee Krieger, noted the report made no attempt to propose remedies for the greatest oversight in state water policy: “paper” water.
“That’s water that exists in state water rights claims and other documents, but not in our reservoirs, rivers or aquifers,” said Krieger. “The Board has acknowledged that water rights claims exceed supplies by a factor of five. Until they start bringing claims in line with water that actually exists, any assessment they produce amounts to little more than wasted taxpayer money.”
Ultimately, concluded Gomberg, “The Board has refused to acknowledge its obligations and use its authority to reverse a long-established legacy of social harm and environmental degradation. In the current situation, everyone who is not an agricultural baron loses. We deserve better. The Board needs to revisit its Bay-Delta environmental analysis and come back with a better plan.”