San Francisco Baykeeper and allies late yesterday filed a petition (here, with exhibit) requesting the State Water Board to rescind an emergency order that waived Bay-Delta water quality standards through the end of March.The order has caused irreparable environmental harm, including by damaging commercial and recreational fisheries as well as by reducing survival of winter-run Chinook salmon and several of the Bay’s other endangered fish species.
The Water Board requires the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and California Department of Water Resources to provide a minimum level of freshwater flow into SF Bay every year to protect estuary health. For the last two years, the Water Board waived these Delta flow requirements,leaving the Bay’s wildlife desperate for improved habitat conditions that only occur when adequate levels of fresh water reach the Bay. However, the Water Board’s most recent order waived these requirements yet again.
The Water Board's order responded to a mid-February executive order from Governor Newsom that instructed state agencies to cache water for industrial agricultural interests in the Central Valley. With reservoirs now near or above historical averages and the Sierra snowpack holding almost two winter’s worth of water, it is increasingly likely that the water the state withheld from San Francisco Bay will need to be released to avoid catastrophic floods.
Baykeeper Science Director Jon Rosenfield, PhD, issued the following statement:
"The State Water Board's decision to deny San Francisco Bay the required minimum wet-condition river flows in February dealt another blow to the state’s valuable fisheries and to the Bay’s endangered species. This is now the sixth year in ten that the Board has waived water quality requirements for San Francisco Bay—requirements that were inadequate to begin with.
“By encouraging the Water Board to waive water quality standards, Governor Newsom’s executive order took water from struggling fish and wildlife populations and gave it to powerful water districts in the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California. But given ongoing heavy storms and near-record snowpack across the Bay's watershed, it is clear that the governor harmed fish and wildlife while failing to increase water supply reliability or provide any other public benefits. Mother Nature will fill our state's reservoirs this year, so the water held back during February will now likely need to be released from reservoirs to avoid catastrophic flooding."
Baykeeper managing attorney Eric Buescher added:
"The law uses water quality standards to ensure that all beneficial uses of the state's waters are protected. Those standards are based in science, and form the backbone of the legal protections for fish and wildlife.
“Unfortunately the Water Board decided to waive those standards, rendering them meaningless as tools to protect the fish and the communities that depend on a healthy Bay at a time when they're needed most. With the governor’s blessing, the Water Board has knowingly harmed fish and wildlife, including causing endangered species to suffer needlessly. That’s why we’ve petitioned the Water Board to rescind its order immediately.”