In summary

A broad coalition of interests support the Newsom administration’s call for bold actions to manage the water flowing through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to benefit fish, farms and cities.

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By Jennifer Pierre

Jennifer Pierre is the general manager of the State Water Contractors, an association of 27 public water agencies.

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David Guy, Special to CalMatters

David Guy is the president of the Northern California Water Association, which represents Sacramento Valley cities, landowners and other water interests.

California is at a transformational moment when it comes to managing water. As aridification of the western United States intensifies, we have an opportunity to advance a better approach to flow management in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and our rivers through a process of voluntary agreements to update the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan.

The agreements, signed by parties from Red Bluff to San Diego, propose a new structure for managing water resources in the Delta and beyond in a way that is collaborative, innovative and foundational for adapting to climate realities while benefiting communities, farms, fish and wildlife.

As representatives of the northern, central and southern corners of our state, we recognize the important and historic nature of the voluntary agreements. Ongoing droughts have underscored the need to invest in healthy rivers and the landscapes that support them, without compromising on important investments in our communities. The framework put forth by Gov. Gavin Newsom relies on the best available science to address our changing climate while preserving adequate water supplies for the 27 million Californians who depend on it to run their homes, farms and businesses.

For decades, the long-term sustainability of the delta and California’s fresh water supply has become increasingly threatened by floods, rising sea levels, earthquake damage, aging levees, invasive species and contaminants. A better approach to managing flows is critical to the health of native fish, wildlife and their habitats, and to maintaining reliable water supplies for people. Today, a broad coalition of interests stand in support of the Newsom administration’s call for bold actions that replace contentious, drawn-out regulatory alternatives in favor of a science-based approach that provides more flexible, adaptive operations based on real-time conditions.

Experts at the Public Policy Institute of California recently identified the need to use our infrastructure, including our reservoirs, to better manage water for the environment. The voluntary agreements are an important step forward in doing just that—creating an ecosystem water budget, investing nearly $3 billion to improve fish and wildlife habitat, setting aside more than 45,000 acres to help recover salmon and other native fish species and dedicating the largest transfer of water to the environment in California’s history. 

Many of the identified flow and habitat projects can be quickly implemented, putting tens of millions of dollars into the state’s economy to jumpstart habitat restoration projects and provide immediate drought resiliency to address aridification.

Funding for the voluntary agreements comes from participating public water agencies, the federal government and the state government over an eight-year term. To ensure effective and coordinated implementation, however, the program will be governed by a diverse coalition, including public water agencies, conservation groups, tribal communities, and local, state and federal representatives. An integrated science program will monitor and report outcomes and serve as the basis for adaptively managing changing climate conditions and actions to support native fish.

Today’s uncertain climate and ongoing drought pose a greater risk than ever—compelling us to move past decades of regulatory stalemates to advance a modern approach to healthy rivers. We must take a more holistic, functional water management approach that applies the best science to meet real-time ecosystem needs while also providing adequate water supplies for the people we serve. 

As the voluntary agreements go before the State Water Board for review and consideration in the coming months, we encourage collaboration among diverse parties across the state in actively supporting a new vision for water management in the delta and its rivers.


Jennifer Pierre previously has written about California’s water wars, the Delta tunnel project and restrictions on water deliveries. David Guy has written about the Delta’s water problems.

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