Voluntary Agreements Are a Better Plan for CA

by Mark Biddlecomb and Dave Eggerton

Jan 22, 2020

Gov. Gavin Newsom has consistently expressed support for successful completion of voluntary agreements as a path forward in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta. The California Natural Resources Agency and California Environmental Protection Agency recently described collaborative, voluntary agreements as a “game changer” for the environment. We strongly agree, and stand ready in bringing proactive decision makers to the table for the management of water in the Delta and its tributaries.

We are on the brink of a historic accomplishment in California water to resolve longstanding conflicts through comprehensive voluntary agreements that substitute collaboration and creative solutions for perpetual litigation.  For anyone to abandon this transformative effort in favor of litigation would be a tragic mistake that could cost the state a rare opportunity to realize a comprehensive investment in multi-beneficial assets for the environment.

The superior alternative to litigation is collaboration, one that manifests itself through a remarkable coalition that includes the Newsom Administration, California’s State Legislature, members of Congress, landowners and farmers, state and federal agencies, and local water agencies. Supporters of this collaborative approach include our respective organizations: the Association of California Water Agencies, representing more than 450 public water agencies, and conservation groups such as Ducks Unlimited, the world’s leader in wetlands conservation.

The voluntary agreements are unprecedented. Water agencies have pledged to contribute hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water, hundreds of millions of dollars, and an extensive series of habitat restoration actions to restore and enhance fish and wildlife habitat. These commitments will help reconnect rivers with historical floodplains, benefitting salmon, steelhead, ducks, geese, giant garter snakes and many other species. This enhanced collaboration sets the stage for expanding existing habitat restoration work. These projects include wetlands restoration within the Bay-Delta and Central Valley that is providing more essential habitat as a critical part of the Pacific Flyway. Meanwhile, members of the Association of California Water Agencies are leading salmon recovery efforts on Bay-Delta tributaries such as Northern California’s Yuba River and Butte Creek. Nearby, a 19-member partnership of stakeholders plan to flood agricultural land and connect it through waterways to the Yolo Bypass and Sacramento River. The results of pilot projects to restore seasonal floodplains have already produced exciting results.

The Newsom Administration and Legislature recently set aside $70 million for habitat restoration actions and other measures contained within the voluntary agreements. This commitment reflects the Administration’s and State Legislature’s support for this collaborative initiative.

Californians benefit when the natural environment is restored. Wetlands conservation works for waterfowl, for climate resiliency and for people. And there is certainly much more to accomplish. Voluntary agreements create a framework for completing a comprehensive set of actions over 15 years, actions that include applying the latest available science to maximize the use of water flows and habitat enhancements.

We applaud Gov. Newsom for his leadership in this area and remain optimistic that all parties involved will continue their progress toward creative, collaborative and adaptive approaches that protect our environment and build water security for communities and agriculture.

The voluntary agreements represent the best of California. They also represent our best path to work together to restore the environment and benefit our economy. And that is worth our very best effort.

Mark Biddlecomb is the director of operations for Ducks Unlimited’s Western Region and can be reached at mbiddlecomb@ducks.org. Dave Eggerton is executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies and can be reached at davee@acwa.com