State Water Board Moves Ahead on Draft Plan to Stabilize Water Supply

The State Water Resources Control Board recently took the newest steps in managing water supply and water quality in the Delta region.

On September 28, the State Water Board released its staff report and substitute environmental document (SED) for the Sacramento/Delta watershed update to the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan (Bay-Delta Plan), which evaluates the environmental impacts of the Bay-Delta Plan and its proposed program of implementation. This is a key milestone for a plan that has significant impacts on water supply throughout the state.

Healthy Rivers

The release of the draft SED is the first major regulatory action on the Bay-Delta Plan in about five years.

The initial proposed update introduced the concept of state-imposed minimum “unimpaired instream flows,” and ultimately led to the conception of a voluntary program in which water suppliers would voluntarily dedicate flows to instream uses and make other improvements for the benefit of the environment. That effort, originally called the Voluntary Agreements and now called the Healthy Rivers Agreements, is an important means of increasing stability in water supply while supporting important environmental and habitat needs.

The SED fully evaluates the Healthy Rivers program as a means to implement the requirements in the updated Bay-Delta Plan. The California Chamber of Commerce is pleased to see that the Healthy Rivers Agreements have been included in this process. It is an important part of ensuring that the Bay-Delta Plan can achieve its goals without disrupting water supplies for about two-thirds of California.

Systemwide Benefits

The Healthy Rivers Agreements go beyond simply adding flow to streams and reach the underlying ecosystem functions needed to restore fish populations. Scientific study on the matter shows that a combination of habitat and flow provides substantial systemwide benefits.

In addition, this alternative minimizes negative impacts on the economy while achieving ecosystem benefits. The increased stability and predictability under the Healthy Rivers will protect economic drivers, like the agricultural industry, as well as urban water uses.

Finally, the Healthy Rivers alternative creates a structure for collaboration and flexible adaptation as we continue to experience less predictable hydrologic conditions. It allows stakeholders to work together to overcome water supply challenges.

The CalChamber appreciates the hard work of the State Water Board staff in bringing forward an SED that includes the Healthy Rivers Agreements as a key part of the solution to the Delta’s challenges.

Now is the time for the state to take advantage of helpful hydrology in order to shore up California defenses when drought conditions return. Including the Healthy Rivers Agreements in the SED helps the state move toward outcomes that benefit water supply, the environment, and the economy.

The 5,000+ page SED can be found on the State Water Board website.

Staff Contact: Brenda Bass