The agreement to restore the San Joaquin was an historic moment in California water policy. After years of divisive litigation, all of the parties to the suit reached an agreement to restore flows and salmon to the parched river. That settlement contained carefully balanced provisions to make it acceptable to all sides. Following the settlement, a series of meetings were convened by Senator Feinstein in Washington DC and in California, to negotiate legislative language to implement the settlement and address the concerns of other water interests who were not parties to the settlement. A much larger group of water users participated in these discussions. Thanks to the hard work of Senator Feinstein, after several intense weeks of talks, a consensus bill was produced that all sides agreed to support.
But all of the interested stakeholders took another step to keep this agreement intact. NRDC, along with nearly every major group of agricultural water districts south of the Delta, signed a written agreement, which is often referred to as the “blood oath”. That agreement didn’t just pledge support for the settlement and the San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement Act. In addition, all of the signatories pledged “to oppose any amendments to said Legislation that are not agreed to by all the organizations listed below.” H.R. 1837 clearly includes such amendments.
This is one of many reasons why it will be interesting to see what position water users take on H.R. 1837. After all, water users pledged to fight legislation to interfere with the settlement. If any of those water users won’t oppose a bill designed to repeal the San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement Act, it would severely damage their credibility in negotiations regarding an ambitious plan for the Bay-Delta. After all, if water users don’t honor a written agreement on the San Joaquin, why would anyone believe that they would honor one on the Bay-Delta?