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Voluntary Agreements to Improve Habitat and Flow in the Delta and its Watersheds

Under the direction of Governor Gavin Newsom, state agencies are working with local water agencies, conservation groups, and federal agencies to improve habitat and water flows in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and its major rivers. The Delta and its rivers supply 35 million people and nearly 8 million acres of farmland with water, and support hundreds of species of native fish and wildlife, many of which are in peril due to degraded environmental conditions.

Over the past several decades, populations of salmon and other native fish that migrate through or inhabit the Delta have declined dramatically, while others have been brought to the brink of extinction. Multiple factors contribute to these declines, and there is a clear need to improve environmental conditions to promote recovery of these species.

The California Natural Resources Agency and the California Environmental Protection Agency are leading an effort to negotiate voluntary agreements to improve conditions for native fish through an unprecedented commitment to increased flows for the environment, creation of 60,000 acres of new and restored habitat, and $5 billion in new funding for environmental improvements and science.

If successful, these agreements will implement the State Water Resources Control Board’s legally required update to the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan and improve conditions for native fish through a broad set of tools. The agreements hold the potential to achieve meaningful landscape-scale solutions to meet the needs of the Delta and its major rivers, reconnect our floodplains and wetlands to the rivers and estuary, and comprehensively manage these vital watersheds from the Sierras to the sea.

A Collaborative Approach

State agencies have shared the framework for voluntary agreements that outlines a 15-year program to improve environmental conditions, in an adaptive way, through new flows dedicated to the environment and the most extensive creation of habitat in California history.

Building on years of work, the team has developed a science-driven framework that holds the promise to improve environmental conditions and meet the State Water Board’s legal requirement to provide for reasonable protection of beneficial uses.

The framework provides for up to 900,000 acre-feet of new flows for the environment above existing conditions in dry, below-normal and above-normal water year types, and several hundred thousand acre-feet in critical and wet years to help recover fish populations.

It also provides for 60,000 acres of new habitat, from targeted improvements in tributaries to large landscape-level restoration in the Sacramento Valley. Habitat improvements include creation of spawning and rearing habitat for salmon and smelt, completion of high-priority fish screen projects, restoration and reactivation of flood plains, projects to address predation, and fish passage improvements.

In addition, the framework outlines $5.2 billion in investments funded by water users, the state and the federal government to improve environmental conditions and science and adaptive management. It also establishes a governance program to strategically deploy flows and habitat, implement a science program and develop strategic plans and annual reports.

Next Steps

In coming weeks and months, the California Natural Resources Agency and CalEPA will work with water users and other participants to refine the proposed framework into a legally enforcement program. The refined document will then be submitted to the State Water Board where it will undergo a third-party scientific review, environmental review and a public approval process by the State Water Board.


PowerPoint presentation on framework shared with voluntary agreements participants on February 4, 2020

Fact sheet on the framework

Op-ed by Governor Gavin Newsom published in CalMatters on February 4, 2020

Previous documents

July 1, 2019, Voluntary Agreement progress report
March 1, 2019, update to the State Water Board
December 12, 2018, presentation to the State Water Board on December 12, 2018

Archived Voluntary Agreements Page 03/01/19