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State Agencies Present Framework for Voluntary Agreements to Improve Habitat and Flow in the Delta and Key Watersheds

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SACRAMENTO — The California Natural Resources Agency and the California Environmental Protection Agency today shared a framework for potential voluntary agreements to improve river flows and habitat to help recover salmon and other native fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and its key watersheds.

The framework outlines a 15-year program that would provide substantial new flows for the environment to help recover fish populations, create 60,000 acres of new and restored habitat, and generate more than $5 billion in new funding for environmental improvements and science.

It expands on previous commitments of flows, habitat restoration and funding described in public documents in March and July.

“This framework is an important milestone, but there is much work ahead to shape it into a legally enforceable program,” California Secretary for Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot said. “We’re committed to developing successful voluntary agreements because they hold the promise of improving environmental conditions more quickly and holistically than regulatory requirements while providing more certainty to communities, farms, and businesses.”

The State Water Resources Control Board is required to update its Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan to protect native fish, wildlife and other “beneficial uses” of water, including municipal, domestic and agricultural water supplies.

The framework shared today seeks to implement the Bay-Delta Plan through an integrated program that includes expansive habitat creation, significant new flows for the environment above existing conditions, substantial funding for environmental improvements and a new, collaborative science program for monitoring and adaptive management.

“The decline of salmon and native species in the Delta and its major rivers requires immediate action,” California Secretary for Environmental Protection Jared Blumenfeld said. “This science-driven framework has the potential to achieve landscape-scale improvements and deliver water and habitat on a faster timeline than the traditional regulatory pathway.”

The framework provides for up to 900,000 acre-feet of new flows for the environment above existing conditions in dry, below-normal and above-normal water year types, and several hundred thousand acre-feet in critical and wet years to help recover fish populations.

It also provides for 60,000 acres of new habitat, from targeted improvements in tributaries to large landscape-level restoration in the Sacramento Valley. Habitat improvements include the creation of spawning and rearing habitat for salmon and smelt, completion of high-priority fish screen projects, restoration and reactivation of flood plains, projects to address predation, and fish passage improvements.

In addition, the framework outlines $5.2 billion in investments funded by water users, the state and the federal government to improve environmental conditions and science and adaptive management. It also establishes a governance program to strategically deploy flows and habitat, implement a science program and develop strategic plans and annual reports.

In the coming weeks and months, the California Natural Resources Agency and CalEPA will work with water users and other participants to refine the proposed framework into a legal enforcement program. The refined document will then be submitted to the State Water Board where it will undergo a third-party scientific review, environmental review and a public approval process by the State Water Board.

More on the framework is available at https://resources.ca.gov/Initiatives/Voluntary-Agreements

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