January 17, 2017

Sierra Club adopts new Delta water policy

General aerial photo of Delta patterns, July 15, 2004. Photo by Paul J. Hames.

General aerial photo of Delta patterns, July 15, 2004. Photo by Paul J. Hames.

Update (Aug. 8, 2013): on July 20, the Sierra Club passed the following resolution:

Sierra Club California opposes the proposed construction and operation of the Delta twin tunnels, the “preferred alternative” outlined in the draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan (see http://baydeltaconservationplan.com/Home.aspx).


On May 20 the Sierra Club’s California-Nevada Regional Conservation Committee (CNRCC) adopted a new Delta water policy. This will guide the Club’s positions on specific plans and improvements proposed for the Delta.

(The Association of Bay Area Governments has adopted a similar policy; read it at http://theyodeler.org/?p=4782.)

CNRCC Delta policy

The California Nevada Regional Conservation Committee (CNRCC) of the Sierra Club supports the following goals and policies with respect to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and watershed.

These goals and policies for the Delta build upon the Club’s existing “Water Resources Policies, California” (as amended, originally adopted by the CNRCC in 2004).


Stewardship of the Delta is important to all Californians. Maintaining the long-term viability of the Delta, Sacramento, and San Joaquin ecosystems requires more than Delta-specific water management and species restoration programs. It requires support for rights of all areas of origin, and statewide conservation of water supplies and quality. Water withdrawals and water quality impairments impact all export watersheds, including the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers and the Delta. Given the role of these watersheds as a source of water supply for much of the State, maintaining water quality and managing supplies consistent with these natural assets are essential.

The State’s long-term water reliability investments should not depend on maintaining or increasing water exports.

The following goals express the Sierra Club’s vision and will guide positions on specific plans and improvements proposed for the Delta.

Ecosystem restoration and protection

Increase freshwater flows into the Bay-Delta as needed for restoration and health of the native aquatic ecosystems and water-dependent species.

Restore and protect habitat within the Delta and its tributaries, including the upper watersheds.

Reduce the State’s reliance on the Delta

Reduce reliance on the Delta by coupling firm limits on depletion of Delta inflow and outflow with programs emphasizing conservation and stewardship of developed supplies.

This goal requires expansion of integrated regional water management programs; management reforms such as pricing and rate setting changes; and investment in infrastructure such as wastewater treatment, distribution and reuse.

This goal requires the State to remedy the over-appropriation of water within the Bay-Delta watershed that has resulted in inadequate instream flows by adopting criteria for Delta inflow and outflow to provide guarantees for ecosystem needs.

This goal also requires the State to take urgent action to curtail practices that expand demands beyond sustainable supply. Above all, the State should oversee the use of groundwater Statewide so that supply quantity and quality are managed for sustainability in conjunction with surface supplies over the long term.

Water quality

Restore and preserve water quality for all beneficial uses dependent on export watersheds, which requires equal responsibility for protecting water quality by all users throughout the watersheds. Ensure that appropriated water is beneficially used, and that use does not unreasonably impair water quality or sustainable supplies.

These goals require equal responsibility for protecting Delta water quality by all users throughout the watershed, including urban and agricultural uses.

Any Delta export operations which would require relaxing salinity standards for agricultural users in the Delta and/or would increase salinity in the Delta and Suisun Bay to the point where it cannot be used as habitat by Delta Smelt, longfin smelt, and other pelagic species, is unacceptable.

Water Supply Reliability

Base measures of water supply reliability on real water supplies, hydrology, and actual yields of upstream reservoirs, adjusted for Sacramento River outflow needs.

Assumptions about exports of unstored water in the Delta and Sacramento Rivers must take into account senior water rights by upstream and local users, as well as ecosystem needs and protection of public trust resources.

Measures to increase the availability of water supplies for export or to improve reliability of Delta water supplies for human use should not place stress on, or put at risk, the Delta ecosystem. The core of water supply reliability is at the regional and local levels, by diversifying and integrating supply options, practicing conservation of developed supplies, and protecting water quality.

Water Transfers

Where new supplies, or increased reliability and/or quality for existing supplies, are needed, consider support of appropriate transfers of water from agricultural to urban use, rather than increased diversions.

The CNRCC of the Sierra Club has previously adopted extensive policies regarding water transfers in “Water Resources Policies, California” (as amended, originally adopted by the CNRCC in 2004). Short and long term water transfers must be subject to environmental review for individual and cumulative impacts, and must mitigate adverse impacts on the ecosystem and local economy. All transfers should anticipate real-time management to adjust quantity and timing.

Public Trust

Protect public trust resources throughout the Delta and its tributaries.

The State must ensure protection of public trust interests in water resources and the channel conditions that sustain these public trust values. The public has a right to expect that water and land use decisions will support public trust values, including protection of water quality, access, and avoidance of impacts that would damage the trust values.


Clarify and coordinate restoration of the Delta among the existing layers of governmental oversight (federal, State, and local agencies).

Governance of the Delta will continue to include oversight of operations of the State and federal water projects by State and federal agencies. The Sierra Club supports the continued oversight of ecosystem restoration programs in the Delta by the trustee agencies (California Department of Fish and Game, National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).

The Club also supports the right of communities in the Delta to continue to govern themselves, with local land use controls respected by the federal and State agencies, to the extent possible.

Support the Delta as a “Place”

Support the health of “legacy” communities and economic activities such as agriculture, fishing, and tourism in the Delta.

Financing/Beneficiary Pays

Ensure that any new plans or strategies proposed in the Delta require that the beneficiaries of any new programs or infrastructure improvements pay the full cost of the improvements, operation and maintenance, and supplies, as well as restoration and mitigation.


Any plans for modification of existing Delta operations, including an isolated conveyance facility, must include the following at the least:

(1) the plans are consistent with the goals above and would result in an increase in freshwater flows through the Bay Delta;

(2) all appropriate studies have been completed in advance of approval of a plan by the State, including an economic feasibility analysis comparing alternative water supply investments, public trust protections; and a water quality analysis;

(3) the design capacity of the new modifications is consistent with all goals and plans to protect and restore the Delta ecosystem;

(4) flow analysis that includes appropriate criteria to meet ecosystem requirements has been adopted by the State;.

Oppose any plans that do not meet these goals.

Peer reviewed science shows that the current level of exports is damaging the ecosystem. The status quo conveyance, as it is operated, is incompatible with ecosystem restoration. Therefore, there should be a reduction in exports. The Sierra Club recognizes that the current management of through-Delta conveyance has contributed to conditions adverse to Delta ecosystem health.


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