A final vote on a plan to increase water flows to the lower San Joaquin River and southern Delta was delayed Wednesday until Dec. 11 by the State Water Resources Control Board.
The board announced that its members voted at a meeting in Sacramento to grant a request by Gov. Jerry Brown and Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom for a postponement to allow more time for voluntary agreement talks among state agencies, local water agencies and other groups.
The two officials said in a letter to the board Tuesday that a voluntary agreement could provide “a faster, less contentious and more durable outcome” and avoid potential lawsuits.
The plan to increase San Joaquin River flows is one of two parts of the water board’s planned revision of the 2006 version of the Bay-Delta Plan. The other part concerns the Sacramento River and is an an earlier stage of the planning process.
The board’s proposed plan was announced on July 6. It would increase flows from the San Joaquin River and its tributaries, the Stanislaus, Merced and Tuolomne rivers, between February and June to an average of 40 percent of the natural flow that would occur if there were no dams or other diversions of the water.
The agency said the plan was aimed at preventing “an ecological crisis, including collapse of the fisheries.” It said flows currently remaining in the rivers can run as low as 10 to 20 percent of unimpaired flow, causing a dramatic reduction in populations of fish, including migrating salmon.
Environmental groups praised the plan, while local water agencies such as the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and Central Valley water districts said they were concerned that municipal and agricultural water supplies would be cut back.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed on Wednesday praised the postponement via statement:
“I look forward to continuing working with our state and local leaders on a solution that restores the vibrant fish and wildlife habitats of the Bay Delta while ensuring water reliability for 2.7 million Bay Area residents who depend upon this vital natural resource.”
Association of California Water Agencies Executive Director Timothy Quinn said the association “strongly supports all parties agreeing to a path forward through collaboration.”
Groups supporting the board’s July proposal include the Sierra Club, San Francisco Baykeeper, Restore the Delta and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.
The water board has the task of balancing the protection of fish and wildlife with the use of water for cities’ drinking water, irrigation of farms, and recreation.
Brown and Newsom pledged in their letter to the board that during the five-week postponement, they would “actively and meaningfully engage to bring this vital matter to a successful closure.”