The State Water Resources Control Board September 15 released a draft proposal for the San Joaquin River that would require a significant increase in unimpaired flows for fish species.
The proposal, which is part of the first phase of an update to the Bay-Delta Plan, would increase unimpaired flows from the current 20% to a range of 30% to 50%. It also includes proposed new salinity requirements for the southern Delta.
Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Board, said during a press call Thursday that the draft proposal is “about balancing competing interests to share the rivers with others and with nature”
“The current standards are out of date and fish populations have plummeted,” said Marcus. “The fish in the rivers need far more water left in the river to have a chance at survival.”
She added that stakeholders are invited to propose alternatives and modifications to the proposal, and that she encourages “people to come together to find the right balance.”
The increase in unimpaired flows to fish would severely impact water users that rely on the San Joaquin River and its tributaries, with many predicting Thursday that it would deeply cut into water supplies in the future.
A joint statement issued by a broad coalition of local government, water suppliers and others said the proposal, if implemented, “shuts down any hope of economic growth in this multi-county region” by cutting water supply.
“This water grab by the state of California, without mitigation or due analysis of impacts, will be vigorously opposed by this coalition,” the statement read.
The documents released Thursday are known as Phase 1 of the Bay Delta Plan update and an accompanying Substitute Environmental Document (SED) that analyzes the impacts, benefits, and costs of the proposed revisions.
The draft proposal updates water quality requirements for salinity in the southern Delta and water flows in major tributaries to the San Joaquin River (the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced Rivers), which drain into the southern Delta.
The State Water Board stated in a press release that the proposed salinity requirements reflect updated scientific information about salt levels that “reasonably protect farming in the southern Delta.”
“The new flow requirements for the San Joaquin River’s major tributaries recognize the vital role upstream water flows provide for habitat and migratory signals for native fish species,” the release read. “In summary, the draft proposes increasing flows for fish and wildlife and adjusts the salinity requirements to a slightly higher level to reflect updated scientific knowledge.”
According to the press release, the proposal lays out water quality protections to ensure that various water uses – drinking, irrigation, fisheries – are protected. In establishing the objectives, the State Water Board said it “must consider all beneficial uses of water in determining how to reasonably protect any particular use, and must balance those interests.”
Comments on the draft SED are due on Nov. 15 of this year. A public hearing will be held over three days beginning on Nov. 2 in Sacramento, continuing Nov. 4 in the Modesto area, and concluding Nov. 10 in Sacramento. The State Water Board will then hold an additional public meeting to consider the proposed Bay‐Delta Plan amendments in early 2017.
The State Water Board is in the midst of a four-phase process of developing and implementing updates to the Bay-Delta Plan and flow objectives for priority tributaries to the Delta to protect beneficial uses in the Bay-Delta Watershed. This phase (Phase I) proposes amendments to the Bay-Delta Plan involving the Lower San Joaquin River flow objectives and southern Delta salinity objectives.
In a separate process, referred to as Phase II, the State Water Board is reviewing and considering updates to other elements of the Bay-Delta Plan, including Delta outflows, Sacramento and tributary inflows (other than the San Joaquin River inflows), Suisun Marsh salinity, Delta Cross Channel Gate closure, export limits, and reverse flows in Old and Middle River. In Phase III, the State Water Board will implement changes to the Bay-Delta Plan from Phases I and II through water right actions. Phase IV focuses on the development and implementation of flows in the Sacramento River watershed to address tributary-specific public trust needs, with consideration for other beneficial uses of water, and will be integrated with the Phase II effort. A draft scientific basis report for the Phase II proceeding will be issued in the next few weeks with proposed amendments to the plan to come next year.
Information on the draft SED and Phase 1 of the Bay-Delta Water Quality Plan update is here. A high level fact sheet is here. A high level 8-page summary of the Bay Delta Update Phase One executive summary is here.