Gov. Newsom: California must get past differences on water. Voluntary agreements are the path forward
Water is the lifeblood of our state. It sustains communities, wildlife and our economy—all of which make California the envy of the world.
Reliably securing this vital and limited resource into the future remains a challenge, especially with a warming and changing climate.
For more than a year, my Administration has worked to find a comprehensive solution for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta—a path to immediately improve the health of these waterways, create certainty for the 35 million Californians who depend on these water sources, and maintain the economic vitality of the Central Valley.
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.
These agreements will be grounded in what is required to achieve scientific and legal adequacy. They will significantly increase the required amount of water flowing through rivers and the Delta. They require a historic addition of 60,000 acres of critical habitat and provide certainty to strengthen the health of our economy and our environment.
If achieved, the voluntary agreements will establish a partnership with environmental conservation groups, water agencies, and governments across jurisdictions.
The water and funding from these stakeholders will provide an unprecedented pool of resources to support the restoration of critical fish habitat and billions of gallons of flow water in our rivers and through the Delta over the next 15 years.
Today, I am committing to achieving a doubling of California’s salmon population by 2050. These agreements will be foundational to meeting that goal.
Over the past year, my administration advanced a number of additional actions that are consistent with this new approach.
Recognizing the urgency of increasing access to clean water, the Legislature last year fast-tracked a bill to my desk that provided emergency relief to communities without access to safe drinking water.
I was proud that this was one of the first bills I signed as governor, and even prouder to have created with the Legislature a first-of-its-kind fund to support long-term access to safe drinking water.
In April, I signed an executive order directing state agencies to develop a set of recommendations to ensure safe and resilient water supplies across our state, including actions to improve water delivery structures and support regional water security projects.
My administration is also working closely with local communities to sustainably manage our groundwater for the first time in our state’s history, and my budget includes a $4.75 billion climate resilience bond to protect communities and natural habitats from the impacts of climate change, such as drought, flooding, wildfires, heat waves, and sea level rise.
While we are committed to collaborating with the federal government where we can, we have not and will not hesitate to stand up to them when they fall short of their responsibilities.
Stewarding California’s natural resources is a responsibility we share with the federal government, and we will continue to utilize every tool at our disposal, including legal action, to ensure the federal government fulfills its obligation.
California agencies are working in real-time with the federal government to ensure adequate protections of endangered fish populations from water infrastructure in the Delta.
Inaction, recalcitrance, and adherence to the status-quo puts our water future at risk. The alternative to the voluntary agreements is a contentious regulatory process that will take many years and require adjudicating a thicket of litigation in every direction before restoring river flows.
Those years will be critical years for salmon populations, which without immediate intervention will further decline. Access to water for tens of millions of Californians will become less reliable, impacting our people and economy. And our communities and businesses will be further threatened by the impacts of climate change. These outcomes are unacceptable.
The world is changing and we have to change with it. Creating a water future our children can be proud of will require us to reject the old binaries of the past. This time of unprecedented challenge demands unprecedented partnership. Let’s work together to meet this moment.
Gavin Newsom is the 40th governor of California, [email protected]. He wrote this commentary for CalMatters.