SYRCL Has Mixed Reactions to the Closed-Door Yuba River Negotiations

Published 5/17/2023  |  South Yuba River Citizens League

On May 16th , Governor Newsom, along with Yuba Water Agency, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) held a press conference announcing efforts to build a fish passage canal around Daguerre Point Dam and begin a reintroduction trap-and-haul effort around New Bullards Bar Dam. The term sheet released by CDFW makes it clear that this agreement is “… a non-binding framework for developing a Settlement Agreement…”

The South Yuba River Citizens League’s (SYRCL) reaction to the announcement is mixed.

Interim Executive Director Aaron Zettler-Mann says, “We are frustrated that local and regional non-profits and partners, including SYRCL, were shut out of the negotiations and discussions to improve natural upstream migration and fish passage, while maintaining irrigation supply, at Daguerre Point Dam. Despite our attempts to collaborate, we and other non-profits and Tribes were not included as part of these negotiations. The final agreement for a fish byway also ignores previously completed studies including ones by the Army Corps of Engineers in 2003 and by NMFS in 2014 which found that dam removal was the best option for fish passage. Of further concern is that there is no mechanism by which to enforce the on-going maintenance, operation, or monitoring of the proposed fish byway, nor is there modification or updating of the fish screens and water diversion points on the north side of the river, only the one which would require being rebuilt anyway for the fish byway channel.”

Zettler-Mann continues, “The closed-door nature of this agreement is also deeply concerning as it relates to the Water Transfer Program (WTP) and Water Purchase Agreement (WPA), which are part of the Yuba River Accord, and set to expire on December 31, 2025. This part of the Yuba River Accord guarantees that the Department of Water Resources (DWR) will purchase water from Yuba Water Agency for delivery through the Delta pumps to the Central Valley Project and State Water Project. The expiration of this deal means that Yuba Water Agency needs to renegotiate flow requirements in the lower Yuba River. The term sheet released by CDFW states that no changes will be made to the Yuba Accord instream flow requirements from 2008. This is despite the fact that the environmental impact of those flows on the Yuba and the Bay-Delta have not been analyzed since the original Environmental Impact Report from 2007.” SYRCL is also unclear about how these negotiations relate to water quality certifications pertinent to dam relicensing which is not clarified in the term sheet other than to say that the Accord Flows were “described” as part of the on-going Yuba River Development Project relicensing.

The agreement also includes a reintroduction effort for spring-run Chinook salmon above New Bullards Bar Dam. SYRCL is opposed to trap-and-haul as a supposed solution to the continued decline of salmon fisheries across California. “Academic research shows that removal of barriers, which allows for the free, natural movement of fish, not trap-and-haul, is what is necessary for salmon recovery. The promises of enhancing our understanding of the salmon lifecycle above New Bullards Bar Dam is encouraging, if it will lead to expanded studies of the available habitat in the Middle and South Yuba which could support exploring fish passage alternatives at Englebright Dam,” says Zettler-Mann.

“It is wonderful that State and Federal agencies, and Yuba Water Agency are excited about, and are investing in the health of salmon in the Yuba River watershed. But we have serious concerns about the closed-door process, lack of open collaboration, and failure to discuss project alternatives.

Moving forward there must be opportunities for meaningful collaboration on the details of this agreement as we work to rebuild the collaborative, trusting relationship that we had come to rely on.”

This post originally appeared on SYRCL.