California water war peace treaty? Not quite

The holy grail of these concerned in California’s decades-long political and authorized battle over how the state’s water provide must be allotted has been some form of grasp settlement.

There have been numerous efforts at negotiating such a peace treaty and a few untimely declarations of success. Nevertheless, California’s water wars have continued with skirmishes within the water paperwork, within the Legislature, in Congress, within the courts and even within the White Home.

The water struggle includes dozens of particular agricultural and municipal water companies and environmental teams, every with a specific stake within the end result — identified colloquially as “water buffaloes” — and their perpetual jousting is a profitable trade for legal professionals, lobbyists and public relations operatives.

Final week, Gov. Gavin Newsom grew to become the newest governor to say progress on settling the battle, saying a $2.6 billion settlement between the state and a few municipal and agricultural factions to scale back the quantity of water taken from the Sacramento and San Joaquin river programs in order that extra can move naturally and thus enhance fish habitat.

“We don’t have to decide on between wholesome ecosystems or a wholesome financial system,” Newsom mentioned in a written assertion. “We will select a path that gives for each. It is a significant, hard-earned step in the suitable course.”

Maybe, however we’ve heard that declare earlier than. The “voluntary settlement,” because it’s dubbed, omits a number of the water recreation’s greatest gamers, not just some San Joaquin Valley agricultural water districts however the Metropolis and County of San Francisco, which is without doubt one of the largest diverters of water by way of its Hetch Hetchy Dam.

It additionally lacks help from environmental teams, which argue it doesn’t go far sufficient to guard salmon and steelhead habitat within the rivers and within the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, government director of Restore the Delta, mentioned “the voluntary settlement framework course of violates the authorized rules of environmental justice inclusion and doesn’t serve the general public belief, or the human proper to water. Governor Newsom continues to serve the pursuits of the highest 2% of agribusiness throughout California on the expense of Northern California tribes, Delta communities, business fishing pursuits, and communities in want of improved consuming water circumstances.”

Though it’s referred to as a “voluntary settlement,” it’s scarcely that, because it was negotiated as an alternative choice to plans by the state Water Assets Management Board to mandate reductions in diversions from the rivers. These plans had been on maintain for a number of years whereas negotiations continued, however environmental teams would like the necessary reductions, which might be bigger.

Underlying the method is a long-running battle over whether or not the state water board has the authorized authority to scale back diversions by agricultural and municipal water companies with senior water rights. Those who maintain the rights argue that they take priority whereas environmental activists contend that the state structure’s “public belief” doctrine on water provides the board ample authorized energy to manage water flows.

With no fuller settlement, the water board may proceed with necessary diversion reductions and that may in all probability set off a authorized showdown over how a lot authority it actually has.

There’s one other main side to the method as effectively — its impact on long-standing plans to scale back direct diversions from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta by constructing a tunnel beneath the Delta to hold Sacramento River water to the heads of the California Aqueduct and federal canals close to Tracy. Barrigan-Parrilla and different environmental activists see the brand new settlement as an effort to make the tunnel mission extra acceptable.

Peace treaty? Extra like a partial and maybe momentary ceasefire.

Dan Walters is a CalMatters columnist.

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