Assemblyman Gray: State water board not acting in good faith on voluntary agreements

When the the State Water Resources Control Board voted to adopt the Bay-Delta Plan, it ignored the direction of former Gov. Jerry Brown and current Gov. Gavin Newsom to pursue voluntary agreements with our irrigation districts. Many saw this as an act of defiance by former chair Felicia Marcus, the executive director, and many of the activist staff.

While Newsom has made swift progress towards rebuilding trust with water users, in part by removing the former chair from the board for her actions, it takes time for reforms at the top to trickle down to the hundreds of staff who actively urged the board’s action.

Since then, Eileen Sobeck, the executive director of the board, submitted a proposal to the United States EPA requesting “review and approval” of the revised salinity objectives included in the Bay-Delta Plan.

While the Bay-Delta Plan exceeds 3,500 pages, the board’s entire submittal for federal approval was nothing more than a couple paragraphs and a chart. The letter made absolutely zero mention of the 40% unimpaired flows approved by the board last December.

Ten years of hearings, a myriad of reports and meetings, millions of dollars in staff and consultant costs, and thousands of public comments should not be subjected to review according to the board’s letter.

Adoption of the Bay-Delta Plan by the EPA based on a single letter would be a profound act of irresponsible government. That the board’s executive director would ask the federal government to take such action is the height of bureaucratic arrogance.

Even more troubling however, is the board’s failure to acknowledge the voluntary agreements being negotiated by our irrigation districts and water users. Many of these negotiations have reached agreements already, and the others are headed in that direction.

By sending an approval request without full and comprehensive information, the water board staff are undermining the good-faith relationship Newsom has established with our region. The federal government should reject this sorry excuse for a proposal.

Democrat Adam Gray represents Assembly District 21, which encompasses Merced County and portions of Stanislaus County.