In response to a petition Baykeeper and allies filed earlier this week, the State Water Board late yesterday reversed its emergency order that waived Bay-Delta water quality standards.
The previous order allowed agencies to sequester water behind dams rather than let it flow into the Bay estuary, which caused environmental harm according to analyses from state and federal dam operators. The reduced flow of fresh water during February harmed commercial and recreational fisheries, and reduced survival of winter-run Chinook salmon and several of the Bay’s other imperiled fish species.
The order acknowledged the importance of advocacy efforts as well as ongoing wet weather conditions that made the waiver meaningless.
The order states: “Based on the improved hydrology and in consideration of the public comments and the petition for reconsideration, this order finds that an urgent need for the changes no longer exists, the changes are no longer in the public interest, and the impacts of the changes on fish and wildlife are no longer reasonable.”
The Water Board requires the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and California Department of Water Resources to provide a minimum level of freshwater flow into SF Bay to protect water quality and fish and wildlife populations. The Water Board waived these Delta flow requirements for three years in a row, and 6 of the last 10 years, leaving the Bay’s wildlife desperate for improved habitat conditions that only occur when adequate levels of fresh water reach the Bay.
Baykeeper Science Director Jon Rosenfield issued the following statement: “California’s ample winter rains and snowpack should have made it clear to Governor Newsom and his Water Board that there is no drought emergency this year, and that cutting water quality protections for fish and wildlife was not justified to begin with.
“Unfortunately, lifting the order now won’t undo the damage that’s been done. The reduced freshwater flows in February harmed the health of the San Francisco Bay estuary, including endangered species like winter-run Chinook salmon, and damaged both commercial and recreational fisheries.
“Reversing the waiver of water quality standards because there is too much runoff to contain just a few weeks after waiving those standards under the guise of a ‘drought emergency’ demonstrates the Newsom administration’s ongoing failure to plan for California’s droughts and floods. The real emergency here is that Governor Newsom and his Water Board continue to enable unsustainable demands for water that repeatedly drain our rivers and harm our fisheries, whether it is wet or dry outside.”