Join Us: Urge Feds to Reform Unsustainable CA Water Contract

Will the Biden Administration act before October 17th to begin renegotiating one of the most inequitable and unsustainable water contracts in California, the San Joaquin River Exchange Contract? 

As my blog from earlier this summer explains, the Exchange Contract benefits four irrigation districts along the San Joaquin River who claim senior water rights to water from the San Joaquin River, which they “exchanged” for delivery of substitute supply from the Delta.  But in fact, the Exchange Contract has provided these four districts with far more water than they would be entitled to under their claimed water rights, even more than the entire flow of the San Joaquin River in many years – which would of course be unreasonable under California law.  As a result, this year these four districts appear to be getting nearly six times as much water from the Delta as the millions of people served by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and more water from the Delta than anyone else. This sweetheart deal has devastated the Bay-Delta estuary, the San Joaquin River, and California’s native salmon runs and other fish and wildlife – and it also harms other water users by providing these districts with more water than they should be entitled to.  But every five years, the contract allows the United States to insist on renegotiating any or all of the contract terms: now is that time.  

This week, our colleagues at San Francisco Baykeeper and The Bay Institute released a short film explaining why it is critical to reform the Exchange Contract, highlighting how water deliveries per this contract completely dried up the San Joaquin River again this year:

Like the Colorado River, where water allocations made a century ago promise water that no longer exists (if it ever did), California’s Bay-Delta watershed is overallocated, with water contracts and water rights that claim far more water than actually exists in an average year, let alone a dry year.

The world has changed since the San Joaquin River Exchange Contract was last modified in 1967, and it is time for this contract to reflect the world we live in today. In order to adapt to the realities of climate change and address the ecological crisis in the Bay-Delta, it is essential that the federal government act now to reform this contract.  If the Biden Administration fails to request renegotiation by October 17, these inequities are likely to continue for at least five more years.  But our native fish and wildlife may not last that long without reforming the unsustainable water contracts of the State and federal water projects in California.

Earlier this year, NRDC sent this letter urging the Biden Administration to formally request to renegotiate the Exchange Contract before October 17, as the contract allows.  If you agree, please sign The Bay Institute’s petition to the Biden Administration, urging them to act now to reform this egregious water contract.

About the Authors

Doug Obegi

Director, California River Restoration, Water Division, Nature Program

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