Will the Newly Released Updated State Water Resources Control Board Bay-Delta Plan Draft Report Save Imperiled California Salmon?

September 29, 2023

AMERICAN CANYON, Calif. – The California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) released the much-anticipated Draft Staff Report in Support of Potential Sacramento/Delta Updates to the Water Quality Control Plan for the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Estuary (known as the Bay-Delta Plan) just before 5pm on Thursday, September 28. The Draft Staff Report identifies beneficial uses of water in the Bay-Delta, largely flow based water quality objectives to reasonably protect the beneficial uses; and a program of implementation to achieve the objectives, including monitoring and reporting requirements.

According to SWRCB’s Notice: In response to precipitous declines of native fish and wildlife populations over the past several decades, the State Water Board has been developing and implementing updates to the Bay-Delta Plan for the reasonable protection of fish and wildlife. The report assesses a range of alternatives for updating the Sacramento/Delta portions of the Bay-Delta Plan, including: an alternative based on a 2018 Framework document identifying a 55% of unimpaired flow level (within an adaptive range from 45-65%) from Sacramento/Delta tributaries and associated Delta outflows; and a proposed voluntary agreements (VA) alternative that includes voluntary water contributions and physical habitat restoration on major tributaries to the Delta.

“We thoroughly welcome the engagement and action by the State Water Resources Control Board. Golden State Salmon Association’s team will review it thoroughly and offer comments to ensure positive impacts for salmon runs and the fishery,” said Scott Artis, executive director of Golden State Salmon Association.

The release of the updated Draft Staff Report of the Bay-Delta Plan is a starting point but may simply not include enough Delta outflow requirements – standards that must address problems with harmful algal blooms in the summer, salmon spawning and out-migration needs, and Delta water export restrictions. It is critically important to ensure availability of cold-water habitat and, thus, the temperature management as prescribed in the Staff Report may simply fall short like the flow requirements.

The current requirements pertaining to river temperatures and flows were adopted in 1995, nearly three decades ago. There’s been a complete failure of these antiquated standards, which can be seen in the collapse of salmon runs, the current salmon fishing shutdown, growing algae blooms and many salmon species on the brink of extinction. 

“The State Board has blown through many legally required updates of these standards and has been largely paralyzed on Bay-Delta issues since Governor Newsom took office. Governor Brown supported the State Board’s efforts to adopt new Bay-Delta standards,” said Artis. “History shows us that when an adaptive flow range is adopted like proposed here, the lowest end of those standards quickly become status quo for average rainfall years. And that negatively impacts salmon recovery and returns.”

The VA process has failed to hit their own deadlines at least 7 times in the past decade, and important questions remain unanswered by the VA process – like whether the paltry amounts of “environmental” water would become Delta outflow, or whether it would be pumped by the giant fish-killing Delta pumps.

On many Central Valley rivers, the VA process would provide no temperature protections for salmon and no additional water in critically dry years. Because of this, the VA process appears committed to repeating the fish disasters California has seen in recent dry years and directly caused the 2023 salmon fishing season closure. 

“We’re disappointed and I know everyone in the fishing industry, coastal towns and conservationists are disappointed that the State Water Board has delayed progress for so long to accommodate the VA process.” Added Artis. “That process is clearly intended to delay State Water Board action, not to provide scientifically credible protections. The VA process has multiple fatal flaws. It’s heartbreaking to hear what fishing families and businesses are experiencing and incredible what has been done to our river systems and the wildlife those habitats support. It’s time to reject the failed VA approach and adopt and implement new flow and temperature requirements ASAP. The Governor must let the State Water Resources Control Board do their job.”

  1. A video statement by Scott Artis, executive director of Golden State Salmon Association is available at: https://www.dropbox.com/scl/fi/8f4deio7orzgst1wry1ge/GSSA_Scott_Artis_SWRCB_update_2023.mp4?rlkey=v0w6qlxtyxs7og577zt1wzao6&dl=0
  2. The State Water Resources Control Board’s 2023 Draft Staff Report: Sacramento /Delta Update to the Bay-Delta Plan is available at: https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/waterrights/water_issues/programs/bay_delta/staff_report.html

Golden State Salmon Association (www.goldenstatesalmon.org) is a coalition of salmon advocates that includes commercial and recreational salmon fishermen and women, businesses, restaurants, a native tribe, environmentalists, elected officials, families and communities that rely on salmon. GSSA’s mission is to restore California salmon for their economic, recreational, commercial, environmental, cultural and health values.