Agriculture · View

Behind every meal are thousands of pages of regulations. Here’s why they matter.

What if I told you there were two documents spanning around 1,300 pages that directly affected the water delivery to over 62 percent of California’s population and millions of acres of land that grows America’s food.

Would you think it is important?

In the interest of national security and health and safety, I assume your answer is yes.

The real question is, though: which voluminous documents, known as biological opinions, do we want?

Much like Senate Bill 1, vetoed by the Governor because of the threat of returning to outdated science, the same Governor now threatens a lawsuit against new biological opinions that take us away from that same outdated science.

This new science contained in biological opinions released in October didn’t come easy: A decade of work, millions of dollars, and thousands of man-hours went into the updates.

Disguising science with politics has not helped fish or people in California. 

The most criminal act of all is a biased media who attempts to convince the public this is a fight between a Governor and a President when in fact it’s a fight between a governor and the people in his own state.  

Amid all of these recent developments, you won’t hear from most of the media that the WIIN Act – signed into law on December 16, 2016 – provides that Federal agencies cooperate with State and local agencies in re-consultation on coordinated operations of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project.

Or, in plain English: The State of California has had a seat at the table from the very beginning.  

Two things are now very important. One is knowing what new biological opinions will accomplish and the goals they set out to accomplish.  The other is the absolute need for unity to defend them.

The new biological opinions were comprised with a strict adherence to scientific integrity. Drafts along the way before the release of the final versions were peer-reviewed more than once in addition to an independent operating team whose task was to rigorously review the process and content. The final plan for operations includes an estimated $1.5 billion investment to support threatened and endangered fish over the next ten years.

For the protection of fish, real-time monitoring will take place with boats in the water several times per week monitoring fish locations in proximity to the pumps. Instead of a calendar-based mandate to curtail the water available to people regardless of fish presence or not, the decision to curtail pumping can be made on facts at that time in regards to loss, turbidity, and flow conditions. Temperature management in regards to winter-run Chinook Salmon will hold water levels in Shasta higher on average at the right time of year allowing the use of that water to be better managed with much less waste. Deeper water is colder water. Might be a good time to mention our Governor and Attorney General also opposed raising Shasta which would have created deeper and colder pools of water, through a separate lawsuit. The geographic distribution of salmon will be expanded with a commitment of millions of dollars over the next ten years to restore their population.

New biological opinions contain an agreement by the Feds with the State of California accompanied by significant investment for a hatchery for Delta Smelt which would produce hundreds of thousands of Delta Smelt per year to improve their population in the Delta.

Most critically: the new biological opinions would move water management in California from sending unnecessary and massive flows to the ocean to a system of strategies meant to actually protect threatened and endangered fish and their habitat.

They also contain a system of checks and balances with scheduled reviews of all operations and results, by both Reclamation and several other independent peer reviews in areas of concern. Included is so much more than I have written about here and you can find more information at USBR.gov.

The facts are clear. We know what has not worked in the past.

Governor Newsom should extend the same cooperation with new Biological Opinions as he is with voluntary agreements.  

This raises the second key point: support for biological opinions.

There is currently an all-out cooperative effort to successfully implement voluntary agreements.  These are separate protections for fish and habitat that include hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water committed to the environment and millions of dollars toward that commitment by water users.

They are a result of a statewide unification of water users to avoid draconian plans by the State Water Resources Control Board in their Bay-Delta Plan update.

The same statewide unity and effort should be afforded in the defense of the biological opinions released in October. Everyone involved in the formation of the new biological opinions realizes their formation was built on a cooperative effort between the Feds, the state, and stakeholders.

If Governor Newsom and Attorney General Becerra choose to fight new biological opinions from taking effect, our agricultural leaders, every single water district, every municipality, and every trade organization relying on the continued operation of agricultural production should firmly oppose this lawsuit and stand ready to defend 2019 biological opinions along with the United States Bureau of Reclamation, who have said they will defend this work.

The same water suppliers and trade associations who celebrated the veto of Senate Bill 1 should firmly hold the line in support of moving ahead with updated science that will help fish species and their habitat and take into consideration, the people of California.

Biological Opinions in the Delta effect over 62 percent of our state’s population.  The people and groups who refuse to stand and defend this science will be heard clearly.

Wayne Western, Jr.
Wayne Western, Jr. the The Sun’s Agriculture Pulse contributor, writing on the San Joaquin Valley’s agricultural community and water issues.