VAs Are a Bad Deal for California’s Fish and Wildlife

On Friday, a coalition of conservation groups, fishing organizations, stakeholders in the Delta, and the Winnemem Wintu Tribe sent this letter to the Biden Administration, urging the Administration not to endorse the so-called “Voluntary Agreements” for the Bay-Delta watershed. Unfortunately, the State of California continues to negotiate backroom deals with the biggest water users in the State that fails to protect and restore water quality in the Bay-Delta, threatening thousands of fishing jobs, farms and communities in the Delta, and the health of this watershed and its native fish and wildlife. Instead of endorsing this bad deal, our coalition asks the Biden Administration to set aside the Trump Administration’s fatally flawed biological opinions and engage in a transparent, science-based, public process before the State Water Resources Control Board to establish new water quality standards for the Bay-Delta watershed.

Improving water quality in the Bay-Delta is critical and affects almost everyone in California. The current water quality standards that are being implemented are nearly 25 year old, and are failing to protect human health, fish and wildlife. Harmful algal blooms now proliferate in the Delta, threatening public health in communities that already bear disproportionate burdens. Salmon runs that migrate through the Delta continue to decline, threatening thousands of fishing jobs that depend on their health. Native species in the Delta, like Delta Smelt and Longfin Smelt, are heading towards extinction. And farms and cities from Redding to San Diego rely in part on water diversions from the Bay-Delta—though of course, those unsustainable water diversions (which leave too little water flowing into and through the Delta, and which cause massive temperature pollution and mortality upstream in years like this) are a big cause of degraded water quality and decline of native fish and wildlife.

Because we and other stakeholders are not in these secret meetings, we don’t know for certain what’s in the final proposed voluntary agreements—or even if there are final agreements. But we understand that the basis for these negotiations is the Framework announced by the State in 2020, and that Framework is clearly a bad deal for California (for more details why, see this fact sheet from Defenders of Wildlife and this coalition letter from 2020). It’s clear that restoring the health of the Bay-Delta will require significant reductions in water diversions from the Bay-Delta, and we support significant investments in water recycling, improved water use efficiency on farms and in cities, and similar 21st century water supply solutions that reduce reliance on the Delta and help California adapt to a future with significantly less water diverted from the Bay-Delta watershed. But this Framework, and these voluntary agreements, fail to protect and restore the health of this watershed. While they may sound nice, these voluntary agreements appear to be nothing more than smoke and mirrors.