Fighting Back Against Legislation That Would Harm Salmon – SB 1390

On June 17, Golden State Salmon Association and Defenders of Wildlife filed official opposition to Senate Bill 1390 unless concerns to protect salmon were fully addressed.

The legislation comes at a time when the current operations of the State Water Project and Central Valley Project have harmed thousands of threatened steelhead and endangered winter-run Chinook salmon in an ‘Above Normal’ water year. This year, the salmon fishing season is once again closed, putting thousands of people out of work. Inadequate water management requirements are a major cause of that salmon closure. Spring-run salmon and Delta smelt are on the brink of extinction. Longfin and white sturgeon are likely to be listed soon.

The San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary is in desperate need of updated protections and increased freshwater outflow. Without additional amendments, SB 1390 would exacerbate this ongoing situation and continue the inappropriate and unsustainable reliance on pumped water from the Delta ecosystem.

In the letter submitted to the State Assembly Water, Parks, and Wildlife Committee, we strongly urge that the committee reject proposed changes to Water Code Section 1242.1 that will weaken protections for the Delta from more pumping and water diversions, citing the following reasons:

  1. Allowing Multiple Flood Declarations by Inappropriate Agencies: The proposed amendments would allow a “local or regional agency” with flood management responsibility to make a flood declaration. These declarations should be limited to the Central Valley Flood Protection Board or the primary local/regional flood management agency. The proposed amendments would allow agencies with little flood management expertise or responsibility to make these decisions. Further, this language would allow multiple agencies to make flood declarations for a specific river reach, creating the potential for multiple, conflicting declarations.
  2. Relying on Inappropriate Documents to Make Flood Declarations: The newly amended language to allow a “local or regional agency” to cite a General Plan or a county emergency operations plan undermines our state’s existing flood management regime. General plans and other local plans often do not include sufficient information regarding flood issues, such as channel conveyance capacity, that is essential to making responsible decisions under this bill.
  3. Failing to Address Flood Liability: The bill does not address flood liability – specifically who would bear liability for any flood damage that might result from this legislation. Flood liability has emerged as a major flood issue in the wake of the 2003 Paterno Decision. This liability concern is heightened by the proposal in the amended language to allow agencies with little flood management expertise to allow the diversion and infiltration of floodwater.
  4. Allowing New Diversions Based on the Inundation of Flood Compatible Activities: Subparagraph 1242.1(a)(2)(C) could be used to authorize water diversions in the Tulare Lake Basin if any “ongoing agricultural activities” are inundated. This could be read as authorizing new diversions if a single agricultural field is inundated – even if there is no significant damage or threat to roadways or residential, commercial or industrial development. The thriving agricultural uses in the Central Valley’s flood bypasses demonstrate that working agricultural fields can be compatible with occasional inundation. In the absence of any other flood risk, the inundation of agricultural fields alone should not be used to trigger a flood declaration under this section.
  5. Failing to Prevent Additional Groundwater Contamination: Subparagraph 1242.1(d)(2) does not include a definition regarding what agricultural land would be considered an “outlier” with respect to nitrogen application or other sources of water quality contamination. Given the widespread overapplication of nitrogen on agricultural land, this language could be read as authorizing recharge facilities on lands that would exacerbate already severe groundwater contamination. 
  6. Extending the Sunset in Existing Law: We oppose extending the current sunset in state law from 2029 to 2032. This bill retains many troubling provisions and there has been no justification for extending the sunset of a provision that is less than a year old.