Current Thoughts – Lower Yuba River Accord

by YCWA Board Chairman Brent Hastey

May 2018 officially marked 10 successful years of the Lower Yuba River Accord, a statewide model settlement agreement between 18 different agencies, with many different interests and needs, all working together to make the Yuba River better.

The Lower Yuba River Accord improves conditions for salmon and steelhead in the Yuba River, provides funding to reduce the risk of flooding for the people of Yuba County, protects water rights for local farmers and ranchers, and provides critical water supplies during a drought year for communities throughout California. It is literally a win-win-win.

Getting this deal done was no small feat.

After nearly two decades of controversy and fighting in and out of a courtroom, Yuba County Water Agency led competing interests to a consensus, showing that collaboration can truly work when different agencies are willing to sit down and hash-out their differences.

And it is working today. During the summer and early fall, the water temperature of the Yuba River is typically 7 to 15 degrees cooler than other rivers in the region, since implementation of the Accord. Some of the water that is released for the benefit of the fish can be sold to downstream communities in need, and that revenue comes right back to YCWA, to pay the local cost of our major levee improvements in Yuba County, which have us on track to be the first community in California to reach the state’s requirement for 200-year levee certification in urban areas. There are way too many other accomplishments to list them all, but there’s a video on our website that goes into more specifics, if you’re interested.

Reflecting back on the 10 years of success, a couple things stand out. The Accord has proven to be a durable solution that can withstand the test of time, and every single organization involved had a leader at the table and someone willing to find a way to make it work until the final deal was done.

Without every single one of those important leaders, the end result may have been completely different, or perhaps the whole deal would have even fallen apart. But they stuck it out, fought through the challenges and made something great happen.

We recently hosted an event celebrating the success of the Lower Yuba River Accord, and it was great to have so many of the original players and the who’s who in California water attend. And I cannot tell you the pride I felt at hearing so many power players in the water world repeatedly say how Yuba County Water Agency was setting a high bar and had developed a model that should be replicated, both for water management as we face more extreme weather patterns, and for solving complex water problems in California (are there any other kind?).

We certainly live in an unusually divisive time, where understanding and even public discourse have really taken a hit. So, I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to have the Accord remind us that collaboration is something to be embraced. It’s not a dirty word! Reasonable people can come together with a focus on their interests and find science-based approaches that work for everyone. I can only hope that we will see more of that in the years to come, with the many challenges we have ahead of us.

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