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Voluntary Settlements Are Disastrous for Fish and the Ecosystem – and Are Not New

By Dan Bacher for Fish Sniffer Magazine, Feb. 5th, 2020

Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Yesterday Governor Gavin Newsom unveiled what he describes as a “comprehensive solution for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta” through a series of voluntary agreements in an opinion piece at Cal Matters, Gov. Newsom: California must get past differences on water. Voluntary agreements are the path forward.”

In the tradition of the failed CalFed, Delta Vision, Bay Delta Conservation Plan and California Water Fix processes, Newsom presents a “new path forward” that supposedly engages an array of stakeholders to supposedly resolve their differences, seek common ground and work for the coequal goals of water supply supply reliability and ecosystem restoration as they move past “the old water binaries.” Newsom writes:

“Historically, disputes over water, or what some call ‘water wars,’ have pitted stakeholders against one another: urban vs. rural; agriculture vs. conservation; North vs. South.

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.

Guided by science, this new framework will provide the foundation for binding voluntary agreements between government agencies and water users with partnership and oversight from environmental groups.

These agreements will require adaptive, holistic management of enhanced water flows and habitats to protect, restore, and enhance California’s largest rivers and the Delta.”

Newsom claimed that the voluntary agreements “will significantly increase the required amount of water flowing through rivers and the Delta.” He also  touted a “historic addition of 60,000 acres of critical habitat and provide certainty to strengthen the health of our economy and our environment.”

However, scientists and salmon and Delta advocates say the agreements would be disastrous for fish and wildlife – and are really nothing new.

In a tweet, Dr. Jon Rosenfield, senior scientist for the San Francisco Baykeeper, criticized the “framework” for being developed without input from river ecologists.

“Today, a new VA ‘framework’ was released (developed without input from river ecologists) that would treat ALL the Delta’s environmental flows as an annual block. Water quality, endangered species. All flexible; no underpinning of natural hydrology + evolutionary history,” said Rosenfield.

“This is a bear hug of the Trump administration extinction plan by the Newsom administration,” Rosenfield told the Sacramento Bee, referring to the Trump water plan to maximize water exports to San Joaquin Valley contractors at great expense devastate Central Valley and Bay-Delta fish populations.

In his apparent lack of knowledge of both the failure of previous voluntary agreements and the California Fish and Game Code, Governor Newsom proudly proclaimed in his piece,

“Today, I am committing to achieving a doubling of California’s salmon population by 2050. These agreements will be foundational to meeting that goal.”

Actually, there is nothing “new” about this commitment to “achieving a doubling of California’s salmon population by 2050.

In reality, the Governor, Legislature, Fish and Game Commission and Department of Fish and Wildlife 32 YEARS AGO formally committed to doubling California’s salmon numbers by 1999, as written in Fish and Game Code Section 6902. In addition, the doubling of naturally spawning salmon and other anadromous species by 2002 was required under federal law, the Central Valley Project Improvement Act.

Of course, we all know what happened; Central Valley Chinook salmon numbers collapsed in 2008-2009 and have never fully recovered, due to massive water exports of water to corporate agribusiness interests on the westside of the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California water agencies, combined with the mismanagement of Centra