On the Voluntary Agreements — comments to the Delta ISB

On Thursday March 10, 2022, the Delta Independent Science Board had a presentation by Diane Riddle, Matt Holland, and Erin Foresman of the State Water Resources Control Board on the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan.

These were my comments:

In the interests of fairness and balance, I am going to provide the viewpoint of  environmental and fishing groups on the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan Update.

The Water Board voted to adopt Phase 1 of the Water Quality Control Plan in 2018. Following this vote, the Chair of the State Water Resources Board was not reappointed. The Newsom administration has since pursued Voluntary Agreements for Phase 2 of the Water Quality Control Plan.

Environmental and fishing groups have been deeply disappointed with the voluntary agreement process.  When the VA framework was released in 2020, Defenders of Wildlife commented:

Defenders returned to the Voluntary Agreement process in early 2019 after Newsom administration officials promised conservation organizations that they would engage in an open and transparent process to craft a deal. Unfortunately, that promise was abandoned less than two years later with the release of a weak framework that was negotiated behind closed doors and without meaningful input from the conservation community.

From what we can tell, this deal is built on quicksand instead of credible science… While this deal appears to have something in it for those who are embracing it, it fails to do the one thing it is supposed to do: protect the Bay Delta’s fish and water quality.

There were similar comments by other environmental groups participating in the voluntary agreement processes.

In 2021, the Natural Resources Defense Council filed several Public Records Act requests with the California Natural Resources Agency and the California Environmental Protection Agency regarding the VAs. These agencies only provided one public document in response to NRDC’s requests.

It has been my observation that environmental and fishing groups are systematically marginalized in collaborative processes in California water.

This post was updated to add references.

Further reading

Carlson, K. 2019. Felicia Marcus removed from State Water Board. ‘It was time for a change.’” Modesto Bee. February 13, 2019.

American Rivers et. al. 2019. Letter to Governor Newsom. “Re: Voluntary Agreements Critical Concerns.” September 20, 2019.

Barrigan-Parrilla, B.  “Voluntary Agreements Undermining Climate/Water planning in the Delta.” Delta Flows newsletter, Feb 13, 2022.

Defenders of Wildlife. 2020. “Newsom Administration Appears to Backslide on Bay-Delta Conservation.” Press release. Feb 5, 2020.

Defenders of Wildlife et. al. 2021. Letter to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and Secretary of Commerce Raimondo. May 7, 2021.

Natural Resources Defense Council et. al. 2021. Letter to state legislators. August 3, 2021.

Des Jardins, D.  2019. “State Water Board: Loss of institutional knowledge, independence during historic processes.” California Water Research blog. February 18, 2019.

Des Jardins, D.  2018. “Is history repeating itself? Brown and Newsom interfere with the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan update.” California Water Research blog. November 7, 2018.

Kasler, D. and Sabalow, R. 2021. “Newsom promised to end California’s water wars. Now that Trump is gone, can he do it?” Sacramento Bee. February 9, 2021.

Obegi, D. 2019. “Dec. 2018 Bay-Delta Agreements Were Only Smoke and Mirrors?” NRDC expert blog, February 19, 2019.



Leave a Reply