Bay-Delta VA: a privileged agreement to subsidize agribusiness

Not only does the proposed Bay-Delta Voluntary Agreement totally fail to deliver the water the environment needs, but even the woefully inadequate flows and habitat restoration proposed in the VA would largely come from other users. of water and taxpayers, rather than water districts. who signed the memorandum of understanding. Not surprisingly, given who was in the room negotiating this behind-the-scenes deal, that the VAs are a sweetheart deal that would subsidize the mitigation obligations of the largest irrigation districts and agribusinesses in the world. state, undermining public trust. If you think state and federal taxpayers should pay to subsidize Stewart Resnick’s Almond and Pistachio Empire, AVs are for you!

I. Funding under the Voluntary Agreement:

With respect to funding for the voluntary agreement, preliminary analysis shows that the vast majority of funding for the proposal would come from state and federal taxpayers – not the water districts that signed the MOU:




water quarters



Federal taxpayers



State taxpayers





Moreover, some of this money is not even new money, but rather a redirection of existing funds away from ongoing obligations. For example, some of the funding supposed to come from the water districts simply redirects existing royalties they are required to pay under the Central Valley Projects Improvement Act of 1992 ($10 million per year) .

California law clearly states that the state does not have to compensate water districts if they are required to reduce their water diversions in order to ensure that more of the public’s water flows into the public rivers to protect public trust and prevent unreasonable water use that harms salmon and the environment. However, rather than enforce the Public Trust, the 2022 voluntary agreement requires state and federal taxpayers to purchase water to subsidize the mitigation obligations of these water districts, most of which are short-term purchases that would provide no sustainable environmental protection:




Habitat restoration






Flow (short term)



Flow (permanent)





Moreover, California’s past environmental water purchasing programs have failed spectacularly, and this program seems likely to repeat those mistakes. Most notably, the Environmental Water Account (EWA) in the 2000s funneled nearly $200 million of taxpayers’ money to water districts under a failed delta protection scheme. Additionally, the Bureau of Reclamation’s program to purchase a Tier 4 water supply for wildlife refuges failed to meet the Central Valley Project Improvement Act’s (CVPIA) mandate to purchase and provide a water supply. complete Tier 4 Wildlife Refuge by 2002. Interior violated CVPIA requirement to dedicate 800,000 acre feet of environmental debits under Section 3406(b)(2); The interior did not devote the full volume of environmentally required flows in 2011, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2019, and likely in 2020 and 2021, and other years this (b)(2) water n has not significantly increased throughputs relative to regulatory requirements. The VA’s program to purchase flows for the environment—from many of the same water districts that are parties to the MOU—seems to repeat many of the flaws of those failed programs.

The VA also includes funding for habitat restoration. We support habitat restoration, including floodplain restoration, but there is still little or no scientific evidence that habitat restoration can replace freshwater flows for many of our fish species. native ; as the State Water Board concluded in 2010, “flow and physical habitat interact in many ways, but they are not interchangeable.”

More importantly, since all habitat restoration is funded by taxpayers’ money, this habitat restoration should take place with or without voluntary agreement, especially for state funding that has already been affected. Thus, these habitat restoration projects would also be implemented under the Bay-Delta Plan. Or is the Newsom administration arguing that it will not use taxpayer funding for habitat restoration in the Bay-Delta unless it is part of an out-of-court settlement to subsidize CVP contractors/ SWP and deprive the Delta of adequate environmental flows?

II. Environmental flows under the voluntary agreement:

In terms of environmental flows, the voluntary agreement also subsidizes the parties to the agreement; much of the water would not come from the water districts that signed the MOU, but rather from state and federal ratepayers or other water districts. For example, in years of critical drought, more than 70% of flows would not come from these river basin districts, but would instead come from ratepayers or other water users. In wet years, more than 80% of the water would not come from the water districts that signed the MOU. And in other years, the VA assumes that between a quarter and a third of the flow would come from other water users or taxpayers.

The absurdity of this approach is perhaps best evidenced by the fact that the VA proposes that in critical drought years, Putah Creek water users would provide more water for the environment (7,000 acre feet ) than all water users of the Sacramento River (2,000 acre feet for the environment).

Worse still, the voluntary agreement proposes to weaken existing water quality objectives on the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers, providing significantly less flow for the environment than is currently needed. The VA assumes that a significant proportion of the total volume of flow below the VA would come from these tributaries – even though none of these water districts are party to the voluntary agreement. The 2018 amendments to the Bay-Delta plan required 40% unimpaired flow in those months, which was far lower than what the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, conservation groups and independent scientists had deemed necessary to restore these rivers and achieve the state’s Salmon Doubling Goal. Yet the AV appears to further reduce the existing instream flow requirements on these three rivers, and initial analysis shows that the VA results in significantly less than 30% unaltered flows in wet, above normal, below normal, and extremely dry years, and just over 30% in dry yearsas shown in the table below:

The State Water Board and state agencies previously rejected a proposal to require 35% unimpaired flow, saying it was scientifically inadequate during the regulatory process to update the Bay-Delta plan, but the VA is based on political science rather than biological science.

And for the water districts that signed the MOU (largely CVP and SWP contractors), much of the water they would supply under the VA would simply replace the Delta outlets that have been eliminated by the Trump BiOps (Section 5.1 (A): “part of Schedule 1 water volumes will be managed on a priority basis to provide increased flows during the months of April and May in hydrographic years D , BN and AN in order to reproduce the average outflow resulting from the I/E ratio in the 2009 salmonid BiOp as modeled.”) Furthermore, it seems that within the framework of the VA, if there are more d water from the San Joaquin Basin than expected in the VA, CVP/SWP contractors can give up even less water for Delta outflow than is stated in the VA, and simply export more water (to see article 8.3 of the VA).

Taken as a whole, the proposed voluntary agreement assumes that the majority of funding and much of the water would come from ratepayers or other water users, not from the water districts that signed the memorandum of understanding. agreement. This is a massive taxpayer subsidy for those politically powerful water districts that were in the room where this is happening.

In next week’s blog, we’ll focus on how the proposed voluntary agreement totally fails to solve the droughts.

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