Attention Shifts to State Water Plan as Drought Worsens

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Plans by state agencies to force water users in the Bay Area and elsewhere to leave more water in rivers and streams at the expense of homes and businesses are expected to reach a major milestone in the coming days. At issue is the fate of the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan, which was adopted by the State Water Board in 2018 over the objections of the Bay Area Council and others. The plan calls for 30-50 percent of the water in key California rivers to flow unimpaired into the San Joaquin River, and for more than half of the new water to come from Bay Area water users.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission estimates the plan would at least double the likelihood the Bay Area will experience water shortages in any given year, and that water users would be required to ration 40-50 percent of normal-year water use following multiple dry years. Shortages of such magnitude and regularity may force jurisdictions to adopt interim controls over new permitting and implement a moratorium on new construction within large parts of the region, knee-capping the region’s ability to build desperately needed affordable housing.

Immediately after taking office, Governor Newsom began a series of negotiations with water users in the pursuit of “voluntary agreements” to enhance riverine ecosystems without jeopardizing water security. With the state flush with an historic budget surplus, state agencies are rushing to cement funding for these voluntary agreements via the budget process prior to the end of the legislative session. Depending on how the negotiations proceed over the coming days, Bay Area Council members should be prepared to advocate on behalf of protecting the region’s water security. To engage in the Council’s water policy work, please contact Vice President Adrian Covert.

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