California’s governor revealed a plan on Tuesday that would keep more water in the fragile San Joaquin River Delta while restoring 60,000 acres of habitat for endangered species and generating more than $5 billion in new funding for environmental improvements.
The framework announced Tuesday by Gov. Gavin Newsom is a unique approach to managing the state’s scarce water resources. Historically, California has governed water usage by issuing rules — rules that are often challenged in court by farmers or environmental groups.
Those lawsuits can drag on for years and prevent programs designed to boost sagging salmon populations and other threatened species that live in the delta.
Instead of issuing new rules, for the past year the Newsom administration has been negotiating with water agencies to come up with “voluntary agreements” between the two sides with “partnership and oversight from environmental groups.”
“Today, my Administration is proposing a path forward, one that will move past the old water binaries and set us up for a secure and prosperous water future,” Newsom wrote in an op-ed announcing the framework.
The agreements would be in place for the next 15 years. But they are not finished yet. Both sides still have to finish policy and legal issues. Plus, the State Water board must conduct a third-party scientific review.
“This is a promising step that will result in additional water for the environment,”said Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. “A shared, voluntary approach to balancing the beneficial uses of water from the Sierra is far better for California’s people and environment than years of litigation.”
Water in the delta comes from snowmelt in the Sierra Nevada mountains and provides water for up to 35 million people in California.
The framework would increase the amount of water flowing through the delta by up to 900,000 acre feet. One acre foot of water is more than 325,000 gallons, the amount of irrigation water that would cover one acre to a depth of one foot.
More water means a better environment for the state’s endangered salmon population, whose numbers have reached dangerously low levels. The framework would also restore more than 60,000 acres of habitat for some of the delta’s species and secure more than $5 billion in funding for environmental improvements.
“I am committing to achieving a doubling of California’s salmon population by 2050,” Newsom wrote. “These agreements will be foundational to meeting that goal.”