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State ends voluntary agreements with local water districts
tuolumne river photo
The State is moving forward with implementation of the Phase 1 Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan which calls for 40 percent unimpaired flow in the Tuolumne River (Photo contributed). - photo by Photo Contributed

A voluntary agreement between local irrigation districts (including Turlock Irrigation District) and the State of California came to an abrupt end, with the State deciding to move forward with a plan that will drastically restrict river water available for local farmers.

On Oct. 20, Turlock Irrigation District and Modesto Irrigation District received a letter from the State informing them that they are walking away from the Tuolumne River Voluntary Agreement process and instead moving forward with implementation of the Phase 1 Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan which calls for 40 percent unimpaired flow in the Tuolumne River.

“The Districts have negotiated in good faith for years and, by walking away, the State has rejected the collaborative process we’ve built,” said TID communications division manager Constance Anderson.

Voluntary agreements allow local water districts and the State to develop plans to help manage waterflow together. The Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan will not include that collaboration.

The Tuolumne River Voluntary Agreement includes: providing 75 to 125 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water to serve environmental needs, investing $83 million for non-flow measures in and along the river to support native fish species, increased gravel to support and improve spawning and creating additional quality habitat for fish. According to TID, voluntary agreements account for economic savings estimated at nearly $50 billion and creating more than 194,000 jobs.

According to a joint statement by local water agencies, the Tuolumne River Voluntary Agreement is an explicit example in this revolutionary approach as it seeks to balance water supplies to support thriving communities and fisheries, while striving to break the current paradigm of management through regulation and litigation.

“TID and MID have repeatedly expressed our commitment to continue voluntary agreement discussions and to implement our comprehensive, science-based plan to improve the ecology of the Tuolumne River,” said Anderson. “We believe that a voluntary agreement is the only resolution that will provide water and habitat improvement for fish, while ensuring water supply certainty for our region and we will continue to pursue every avenue to reach an agreement that benefits all – the Tuolumne River, our communities and our customers.”

TID and MID have filed lawsuits against the State Water Resources Control Board's Bay-Delta Plan and we continue to move forward in those processes. TID and the San Joaquin Tributaries Authority partners are evaluating next steps – both through and outside of litigation.