The fight between the state and federal government over the use of the Delta River has basically stalled how long-term water deliveries from that vital source will be executed.

Governor Gavin Newsom has tried to implement a plan for water agencies to enter into voluntary agreements in which they negotiate how much water they would receive. Newsom's plan was designed to avoid the legal wrangling that's always plagued how water from the Delta River will be delivered.

But early this year, President Trump announced more water from the Delta would be delivered to San Joaquin Valley farmers based on new federal biological opinions. Newsom's administration then sued the federal government to stop that from happening and there has yet to be a final legal decision to resolve the issue.

And that battle between the state and federal government has complicated the effort to implement voluntary water agreements.

The first phase of the State Water Resources Control Board's plan has called for water uses in San Joaquin River tributaries to leave 30 to 50 percent of unimpaired flows in the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers for protected fish. The voluntary agreements are designed to help meet that requirement without significantly hampering water supplies.

But negotiations on voluntary agreements have stalled. Last week, Ag Alert reported State Secretary of Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot told the State Board of Food and Agriculture “Right now we are in what has been a pause as far as implementing voluntary water agreements.”

A framework is in place for voluntary agreements to be used by those who rely on San Joaquin Valley tributaries.

But as Ag Alert reported, Crowfoot has said, “We have to turn that framework into a legally enforceable agreement among a range of water uses and third parties. Ag Alert also reported Crowfoot stated the dispute between the state and federal government has made the effort to implement voluntary agreements as far as the Delta River operations and how to protect endangered species more challenging.

What needs to be decided in the legal fight to determine long-term operations of the federal Central Valley Project and the State Water Project which both oversee water deliveries to the Valley is this: Do the federal biological opinions endanger salmon and the Delta smelt.

State and federal legislators and Agricultural leaders have also expressed their frustration that the Central Valley Project and State Water Project can't work together like they have in the past.

California Farm Bureau Federation Senior Counsel Chris Scheurling told Ag Alert there's also frustration in the industry.

“We look at the voluntary agreements with so much hope, but now with some exasperation because it's a process that's been hung up and the recent descent into litigation in the Delta is not helpful,” he told Ag Alert. “We hope the state and federal governments can reconcile Delta operations so that the Sacramento-San Joaquin system can go forward on a reasonable basis to find ways to distribute water under vested water rights while doing good things for fish species.”

Crowfoot told Ag Alert the state's goal is to find a settlement with the federal government on the biological opinions. “Settling out these legal issues will allow parties to get back to the table on voluntary agreements,” Crowfoot told Ag Alert.

State Department of Water Resources Director Karla Nemeth told Ag Alert it's hoped differences as far as the biological opinions and the voluntary agreements are concerned can be worked out. She also told Ag Alert it's hoped the voluntary agreements can be completed in the “next months or a year or so.”

Ag Alert reported U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman said state and federal officials continue to coordinate daily Delta operations but the state and federal government still need to come together to come up with long-term solutions.

California Assemblyman Adam Gray, Democrat from Merced, also expressed his frustration over the process to Ag Alert.

“It seems like it's been difficult to get people to the table in a meaningful way with the polarization and political posturing by both the state and federal government,” Gray told Ag Alert.

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