The California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) voted Wednesday to delay the adoption of the controversial new Bay-Delta plan until December, after most of the stakeholders asked for more time to negotiate agreements on water use.
The plan would have established a new average requirement of 40% “unimpeded flow” for the tributaries of the San Joaquin River during the spring months, ostensibly to protect dwindling native fish populations.
That would mean less water for agriculture — and for the San Francisco area, which derives some 85% of its water from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, on the Tuolumne River. An unusual alliance of agricultural and urban interests opposed the Bay-Delta plan, while environmental groups supported it, calling it a compromise from their preferred target of 60% unimpeded flow.
After a contentious hearing in August, the SWRCB agreed to postpone a vote on the plan, though most of the members of the board, appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown, appeared ready to vote to approve it. They set a new date for the vote: November 7, the day after the midterm elections.
The Bay-Delta plan was a crucial political issue throughout the election, especially in closely contested Central Valley districts. Rep. Jeff Denham, running to save his seat in the 10th district, helped organize a protest against what he called a “water grab” by the state.
But on Tuesday, Governor-elect Gavin Newsom joined Governor Jerry Brown in asking the SWRCB to delay a vote. The board complied, voting 3-0 (with two abstentions) to grant the interested parties time to reach voluntary agreements on their own to improve the flows in the river.
Brown may be thinking bigger: he reportedly said Wednesday he wants time to announce a larger water deal, including a project to build tunnels under the California Delta.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.