Gov. Jerry Brown and incoming Gov. Gavin Newsom have waded in one of California’s fiercest water wars, prompting state regulators to delay a key vote on a proposal meant to help struggling salmon and steelhead trout.
In a letter Tuesday to the California State Water Resources Board, Brown and Newsom urged it to postpone consideration of proposed regulations to give the various factions involved time to reach an agreement during confidential settlement talks.
The board was scheduled Wednesday to vote on a plan that would leave up to 40 percent of the water in lower San Joaquin River and its tributaries in their channels to benefit struggling fish. The move would mean more water will flow to the Pacific Ocean rather than be captured by dams or shunted into canals to grow crops and supply cities such as Modesto and San Francisco.
Currently, as much as 80 percent of the water in the lower San Joaquin watershed is taken from the rivers for human use.
Cities including Modesto and San Francisco and farming groups fear the plan would cut into their water supply. The Trump administration is opposed to the state’s plan, which San Joaquin Valley farmers call a “water grab.”
Environmentalists say more flows are needed in the river to protect fish.
“A short extension will allow these negotiations to progress and could result in a faster, less contentious and more durable outcome,” Brown and Newsom wrote. “Voluntary agreements are preferable to a lengthy administrative process and the inevitable ensuing lawsuits.”
The five-person board agreed 3-0 to delay the vote when they met Wednesday, with two board members, Tam Doduc and Steven Moore, abstaining. A new vote is scheduled for Dec 12.