8/3/10: Update on State Water Board's Flow Criteria

Novato, CA, 8/3/10 – Once again, The Bay Institute has played a significant role in setting the stage for better governance of Califonia's water resources.  On August 3, after a ninth month long proceeding, the State Water Resources Control Board issued the strongest recommendations yet for increasing flows to the Delta and San Francisco Bay, relying heavily on The Bay Institute's work. 
“The Board’s flow criteria confirms what scientists have been telling us for years,” said Gary Bobker, program director for The Bay Institute, which oversaw the effort to shape the Board’s findings. “The lack of freshwater flow is one of the root causes of the collapse of the Delta and San Francisco Bay ecosystems, and large-scale flow improvements are one of the most critical elements needed to solve those problems.”
Among its most important findings, the new flow criteria call for dedicating 75% of natural runoff in the watershed to Delta outflow from January through June; 75% of runoff for Sacramento River inflow and 60% for San Joaquin inflow in the winter and spring; fall outflows to maintain brackish water habitat in the Delta in wetter years; and positive flows or low reverse flows in Delta channels in most years.
In contrast, in recent years, spring flows to the Bay have been reduced on average by more than 50%; San Joaquin inflows by 90%; and reverse flows have averaged as high as – 8,000 cfs, killing up to 40% of the delta smelt population. The flow criteria adopted by the Board cites The Bay Institute’s work on the significant, persistent and well-documented biological effects of outflows, San Joaquin inflows, and reverse flows, repeatedly and extensively in explaining and justifying its proposed criteria.
The Bay Institute submitted important new analyses and comprehensive testimony for the Board’s Delta flow criteria proceedings, identifying the Delta outflows, river inflows, and controls on reverse flows needed for public trust protection, on behalf of American Rivers, Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Heritage Institute, and the Natural Resources Defense Council. The report also acknowledges that improving flows should be linked to other restoration activities, including habitat restoration, but does not support in any way the view of those parties who argue for the primacy of any and every other factor except flows in protecting the Delta.
“By and large, the Board appears to have gotten it right in determining the magnitude and pattern of the flows needed for the ecosystem,” said Bobker. “The simple fact is that no amount of habitat restoration or pollution control is going to restore an aquatic ecosystem like the Delta if you don’t provide the flows on a scale that make it a healthy aquatic ecosystem.”
SB1, the Delta Reform Act of November 2009, required the Board to, within nine months of enactment, use the best available scientific information to develop new flow criteria to protect public trust resources in the Delta, in order to inform planning decisions affecting the Delta. The Bay Institute, which helped draft and supported passage of SB1, believes this new information will be extremely useful to the new Delta Stewardship Council and to the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan process in helping develop and adopt a comprehensive solution to the Delta’s problems that balances among competing needs for water.
“In order to balance between competing needs, you have to know what those needs are,” said Bobker. “The problem has been that the needs of the Delta ecosystem have been left undefined or even suppressed, while the needs of those interests who divert water from the system have been forcefully stated and unceasingly promoted. The Board’s new flow criteria give decision-makers the information to begin to balance water needs honestly and fairly.”