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Conservation groups criticize California water board's side deals for delta water

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Suzanne Potter

(California News Service) The Caliornia State Water Board now says it will take another two years to finalize the San Francisco-San Joaquin Delta water management plan, and it is proceeding with voluntary agreements with water agencies in the meantime. 

Conservation groups spoke out at a workshop held by the board late last week - and some are asking the board to scrap the voluntary agreements. 

Ashley Overhouse - California water policy advisor with Defenders of Wildlife - said a new plan to put more water into the estuary is crucial since four species of native fish have made the federal endangered species list since 1992, bringing the total to six.

"At this point, we're trying to avoid extinction for most native fish populations that rely on the Bay-Delta," said Overhouse. "We're talking about not just delta smelt, we're talking about all runs of salmon, longfin smelt, and sturgeon. They would be completely wiped out."

Over-pumping of freshwater, pollution and climate change contribute to poor water quality. Multiple water agencies pump water from the delta and send it to the farms of the Central Valley and to cities in Southern California. 

Other agencies are resisting entreaties to release more water into the delta. The group representing public water agencies, the State Water Contractors, spoke out in favor of the board's decision to move forward with the voluntary agreements.

Overhouse said the whole process has dragged on far too long.

"One of the reasons why this has been held up is due to political reasons," said Overhouse. "Water agencies have delayed the planning process significantly in order to negotiate the amount of water that they would have to release."

The water board is taking public comment on the report that establishes the scientific basis for the voluntary agreements, now through February 8. 

The Bay-Delta plan is supposed to be updated every three years but the last major update took place in 1995.