On the other hand, voluntary agreements offer a positive path in which all water users have a voice. And once these agreements are concluded, they start to improve things right away. Additional water will be released for the environment, habitat restoration and other environmental projects will begin, and water users will have some certainty as to how much water is available. Over the past twelve years, the National Water Management Board has conducted a comprehensive and transparent public process to review and update water quality standards for the Bay Delta. As part of this process, the Council evaluated a number of alternatives, and the scientific basis for these alternatives has been subject to several rounds of independent peer review – a review by independent scientific experts. However, as part of a parallel process to avoid regulatory action, a group of interested parties negotiates a so-called voluntary agreement, often held at confidential meetings (which for years has required public authorities, local water districts and other parties to sign a confidentiality agreement to participate in discussions, regardless of the requirements of the Public Records Act). Voluntary agreements are unprecedented. Water authorities have pledged to contribute hundreds of thousands of hectares of water, hundreds of millions of dollars and a wide range of measures to restore habitat to restore and improve fish and wildlife habitat. These commitments will help connect streams to historic flood zones, including salmon, steelheads, ducks, geese, giant-necked snakes and many other species. This enhanced cooperation creates the necessary conditions for the extension of existing habitat restoration work.
These projects include the restoration of wetlands in the Bay Delta and the Central Valley, which provides more habitat as a critical part of the Pacific Flyway. Meanwhile, members of the Association of California Water Agencies are leading salmon recovery efforts in tributaries of Delta Bay, such as the Yuba River in Northern California and Butte Creek. Nearby, a 19-stakeholder partnership plans to flood farmland and connect it to the Yolo bypass and the Sacramento River by waterways. The results of pilot projects to restore seasonal flood zones have already yielded exciting results. Californians benefit from the restoration of the natural environment. Wetland conservation work for waterfowl, climate resilience and humans. And there is certainly much more to accomplish. Voluntary agreements create a framework for the implementation of a 15-year global action, including measures to implement the latest available scientific knowledge to maximize water flow use and improve habitat gains. While water authorities in the major watersheds of the Sacramento and the San Joaquin River – from Fresno to Redding – are using the voluntary agreement as a means of ensuring practical and reasonable compliance with national water quality rules, the idea of voluntary agreements is controversial. This is an alternative to a normative regulatory policy, which is causing concern among environmentalists and government regulators responsible for enforcing water quality in the delta.
But many water users and some non-governmental organizations see them as a viable compromise that can improve fish conditions more flexibly.