Chasing Flows

Chasing Flows


How much of the water from the Estuary’s creeks and rivers should be left to run into and through the Delta to support fish and protect water quality—and how much can be held behind dams or diverted to irrigate farms and supply cities—has been a central management question for decades, and has informed several ambitious efforts to repair the Estuary’s decimated ecosystem. In 1992, the same year that Estuary News began publication, Congress passed the Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA), allocating 800,000 acre-feet of water per year to the environment and kicking off years of squabbling and litigation over how the water was counted and when and where it could be used. Later efforts included the 1994 Bay-Delta Accord, and the CALFED Bay-Delta Program, neither of which staved off additional environmental damage. More recently, the focus has been on the State Water Resources Control Board’s long-delayed update to it’s Water Quality Control Plan, along with contentious efforts to reach voluntary agreements between water users and the state government over freshwater flows. Beyond the stories highlighted here, freshwater flows have been central to Estuary articles on Supplying Water, Sustaining Salmon, and Saving Smelt.

Editor’s Picks

  • VA Agreement Highlights Habitat Questions
    VA Agreement Highlights Habitat Questions

    Restoring marsh and wetland habitat can have significant benefits for dozens of species throughout the Bay and Delta—that’s beyond dispute. But when it comes to saving the Estuary’s most imperiled fish, how much habitat improvements can help in the absence of dramatically increased freshwater flows is a question that has dogged and divided scientists and […]

  • Defining Unimpaired Flows
    Defining Unimpaired Flows

    For the second time in four years, a proposal for a voluntary agreement between agencies and water contractors on flows into and through the Delta from the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers and their tributaries is wending its way through the State Water Resources Control Board. The proposal, which would replace the regime outlined in […]

  • Flow Rules Stalled As Tunnel Advances
    Flow Rules Stalled As Tunnel Advances

    As California stares down the barrel of yet another dry year, alarm bells are already ringing over conditions in the Delta. Environmental groups, fishermen, tribes, and a host of others are calling on the State Water Resources Control Board to complete and implement a long-delayed update to the Water Quality Control Plan for the Bay […]

  • Choppy Waters for Flow Rules
    Choppy Waters for Flow Rules

    The winter kicked off with the State Water Resources Control Board’s December vote to adopt increased flow objectives for the southern Delta. The vote provoked an immediate volley of lawsuits, both from water users and from environmental organizations. “Governor Newsom has staked out turf against the Trump Administration,” says San Francisco Baykeeper’s Jon Rosenfield…

  • River Flows on the Brink
    River Flows on the Brink

    It was a rare decisive moment in California water. On December 12, the State Water Resources Control Board resolved, at the close of a marathon meeting, to require more water to be left in the Tuolumne, Merced, Stanislaus, and lower San Joaquin Rivers.

Further Selections

  • Flow Deal: Peace Treaty or Trojan Horse?
    Flow Deal: Peace Treaty or Trojan Horse?

    Promising up to 825,000 acre-feet a year of new water to protect endangered fish and thousands of acres of habitat improvements, the Newsom administration and others hailed the March announcement of a proposed voluntary agreement on Bay-Delta flows as the beginning of the end of California’s water wars, and a boon to the Bay-Delta ecosystem.  […]

  • Flows and Ecosystem Function Dominate Delta Plan Amendment
    Flows and Ecosystem Function Dominate Delta Plan Amendment

    With the Delta lagging behind the Bay on four of the State of the Estuary Report’s five indicators, the last long-range plan for restoring its ecological health abandoned, and the threats from climate change becoming ever more alarming, the need for a new regulatory vision for the region may never have been greater. A pending […]

  • Reflowing the Sierra to the Sea
    Reflowing the Sierra to the Sea

    The semantics of ‘unimpaired’ and ‘impaired’ flow have laced the language of California water management debates since some engineer invented these politically ‘neutral’ terms long ago. The terms refer to our alteration of freshwater flows from snowmelt and runoff by dams and diversions. But whatever the labels, or whichever estuary you’re referring to, keeping these flows from reaching the sea via rivers can starve these aquatic ecosystems of their liquid life force.

  • Editor’s Pick Flows Stories 1993-2013
    Editor’s Pick Flows Stories 1993-2013

    Walk back through time with this selection of early stories from Estuary’s first two decades of publication. Stories cover the enduring competition among beneficial uses of the state’s waters for scarce fresh water flows, and the various management initiatives of the day, from the Bay Delta Accord and CVPIA to CALFED.

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