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The case for SB1

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At the end of December 2017, the Trump Administration’s Bureau of Reclamation notified the public, as quietly as it could, that it intended to “maximize” Delta water exports on behalf of Central Valley Project water contractors, especially those south of the Delta. This announcement exemplified the new administration’s take-no-prisoners approach to California and Delta water management by threatening to take as much water as it could, damn the Delta smelt, Chinook salmon, sturgeon, and other species that are at risk of extinction.

A year later, this past December, the bureau arm-wrestled the California Department of Water Resources to provide more water to CVP contractors at the expense of State Water Project deliveries when the two agencies renegotiated something called the “coordinated operating agreement.” This action would come at the expense of Delta and other environmental justice communities statewide who would face higher water bills from this action as well as endangered fish and wildlife species that rely on Delta waterways.

Senate Bill 1 (authored by state Sens. Toni Atkins, Anthony Portantino, and Henry Stern) addresses this type of destructive federal action. The California Environmental, Public Health, and Workers Defense Act of 2019 would encourage state agencies, such as regional water quality control boards, Fish & Wildlife, the Air Resources Board, and CalOSHA, to resist Trump administration rollbacks by allowing them to consider applying federal standards for protection in effect as of January 19, 2017, the day before Donald Trump took office, and maintain them in case he is re-elected next year.

In the Tracy Press on April 19, Byron-Bethany Irrigation District general manager Rick Gilmore dismissed SB1 as “overbroad, duplicative, and unworkable.” He charged that SB1 would require use by state agencies of “outdated and debunked science in the Delta,” without citing an example. A return to pump-at-all-costs operations would undo 30 years of actual science showing that pumped exports play a crucial role in threatening extinction of Delta smelt and other fish in the Delta by exporting their phytoplankton food supplies.

Gilmore’s most revealing point, however, he saved for last: SB1 “would derail the recently negotiated coordinated operating agreement and State Water Resources Control Board voluntary frameworks on flows.” Gilmore did not inform his readers that Byron-Bethany Irrigation District is a Central Valley Project water contractor already benefiting from the new COA and voluntary settlement agreements of 2018.

The district’s position is good old-fashioned self-interest masquerading as contrarian common sense. All Delta residents deserve better from this local irrigation district.

SB1 would empower state agencies to assess and consider whether the pre-Trump regulations would improve air, water, fish and wildlife species, and workers’ protections throughout California — and if they don’t, they’re to consider whether the Jan. 19, 2017, standards are the best for California. This is common sense for California in the era of Trump. We urge you to call your state representatives and ask them to support SB1.

Tim Stroshane is the policy analyst for Restore the Delta, an organization of residents and organizations committed to restoring the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta so that fisheries and farming can thrive there together again.

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