The Putah Creek Accord

The Accord – It Contains Six Elements From Fish to Water Rights

In the summer of 1989, the state was settling into a seven-year drought and the creek went dry. The drought was not the only problem. The state of California never required flows to protect the creek’s environment following completion of the Solano Project (Monticello Dam, Lake Berryessa, and Lake Solano) in 1957.

In 1993, in response to stalled negotiations and a direct legal action by the Council, a coalition was formed between the Council, UC Davis, and the City of Davis. The cornerstone of this alliance involved the university and city joining the Council’s 1991 suit for greater instream flows.

By early 1996 our day in court had arrived and we pursued our case for five weeks before Judge Richard Park of the Sacramento Superior Court. The judge ordered 50 percent more water for the creek. This was not all that the Council sought. The judge did not find the case for salmon and steelhead strong enough and perhaps he was concerned that the “water cost” to the Solano agencies to release water for these fish might be too high. Still, the Solano agencies appealed, halting implementation of new flows and, in time, starting new negotiations.

After years of legal action, both the Solano County Water Agency and the Council agreed to accept the Putah Creek Accord, a flow regime that satisfied both sides and allowed for anadromous flows.

The accord is supported by the best studies of what the creek’s environment requires and contains six elements:

The flows for resident native fish include important spring spawning and rearing components and guarantee a continuous flow to the Yolo Bypass.

 Flows for ocean-run steelhead and salmon were not granted by Judge Park’s 1996 ruling. As the post-trial evidence mounted that these wondrous fish do return to Putah Creek, the Council redoubled its effort for them. We developed flows that will attract and support salmon and steelhead in the creek, and these were incorporated into the accord.

The settlement adds a drought schedule that could take effect in up to 25 percent of water years. This is good for Solano, and good for the creek. It is fair to share in cutbacks when they must occur. From the Council’s perspective, it is better to have a schedule set now than to find ourselves in court later arguing about drought reductions. Our experts worked with Solano to set a schedule that will protect the native fish and stress the system in ways similar to what may have occurred pre-development.

The settlement creates the Lower Putah Creek Coordinating Committee, composed of five Yolo County and five Solano County representatives. The Council, City of Davis and UC Davis are the permanent core members for the Yolo side. The Coordinating Committee will oversee implementation of the settlement, hire a permanent streamkeeper, and coordinate creek studies and restoration.

The settlement provides a onetime $250,000 grant for preservation and enhancement of the natural values of Putah Creek, and $160,000 per year indexed for inflation for fish and wildlife monitoring and the streamkeeper program.

The settlement will change Solano’s relations with downstream creek-side landowners who hold water rights. Before the 1996 court ruling, Solano was only required to make releases from the diversion dam. Any need on the part of Solano to accommodate downstream landowners more or less ended at that point. However, the establishment of downstream flow compliance points (at I-80 and the Bypass) to protect the creek’s environment will mean there is more water year-round for creek-side landowners to pump, and thus the legal limits of their diversions will be more closely monitored. Intricate measures were adopted to ensure that if Solano-landowner disputes do occur, and steps are taken to resolve the disputes, Solano water costs caused by landowner pumping will be capped.