SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – A state board is expected to vote Wednesday on a contentious proposal to boost water flows through a Central California river, a move that would increase habitat for salmon but deliver less water to farmers and cities such as San Francisco.
The plan under consideration by the Water Resources Control Board would alter management of the Lower San Joaquin River and three tributaries to address what environmental groups say is a crisis in the delta that empties into San Francisco Bay.
Gov. Jerry Brown and his successor Gavin Newsom have urged water users to make voluntary concessions to avoid the need for the board to mandate higher river flows. They said a negotiated settlement would be better than lawsuits that likely would tie up a board mandate for years.
Water users along the Tuolumne River – a tributary of the San Joaquin – have agreed to concessions that would improve fish habitat, said Chuck Bonham, director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife. But water users along the Merced and Stanislaus rivers did not reach a similar agreement.
Bonham asked the water board to create a “safe space” from state mandates for Tuolumne water users as a way to recognize their cooperation.
The board has proposed increasing San Joaquin River flows to about 40 percent of what they would be if not for the extensive network of dams and canals that divert water to farm fields and cities.
Farmers say the change would drastically curtail the water they need and devastate the economy of the Central Valley.
Tuolumne River water users agreed to a variety of concessions to improve salmon habitat, including larger river flows during certain critical periods of fish migration.
Water users farther north, along tributaries to the Sacramento River, also agreed to concessions, officials said. Those rivers are not subject to the current proposed restrictions.
Copyright 2018 The Associated Press.