Putah Creek Accord, Now 20, Remains Key to Habitat Restoration, Water Flows

May 21, 2020 at 9:00am

Daily Republic, By Todd R. Hansen

WINTERS — Near the Lake-Sonoma counties border – not far from Mount Saint Helena and Snow Mountain – Southwest Peak of Cobb Mountain stands higher than all else in the Mayacamas Mountains.

On the east side of Cobb Mountain flows the headwaters of Putah Creek.

The downstream landscape of the creek changed dramatically with the construction of the 304-foot Monticello Dam between 1953 and 1957.

Another historical landmark was constructed 20 years ago. The Putah Creek Accord was signed May 23, 2000, during a ceremony at the Putah Diversion Dam.

“They set up tables and chairs,” said Rich Marovich, the streamkeeper for the Lower Putah Creek Coordinating Committee and the Solano County Water Agency.

“It was like signing a peace treaty on the deck of a battleship and that was as close to a battleship as we had.”

Whiskey and water

Mark Twain famously wrote, “Whiskey is for drinking. Water is for fighting.”

And when the source of the water runs dry due to drought, the fight is most definitely on.

It was during the drought in the late-1980s that Robin Kulakow and her fellow birdwatchers began noticing that Putah Creek was running dry.

The same observation was being made at places such as Camp Davis, a popular site near the university where youth paddled their canoes and participated in other activities.

“The area turned muddy, the fish were dying and it smelled bad,” said Joe Krovoza, who became chairman of the Putah Creek Council at the time the accord was negotiated and signed. “It got pretty ugly.”

So Kulakow formed the Putah Creek Council, and along with other environmental advocates began looking into where the water was going.

As it turns out, most of it was going to farmers trying to keep their crops alive.

Former state Sen. Lois Wolk was elected to the Davis City Council in 1990 and found herself drawn into the fight.

“Before we got into litigation, there was an effort by the Putah Creek Council to mitigate this,” Wolk said. “Sadly, that did not work.”

Krovoza said, “You had these old guard Solano farming-types and the Davis environmentalists.”

The council took the water agency to court, citing the Public Trust Doctrine, which gives the public standing in matters of the public good.

Another weapon was a little-used provision of the Fish and Game code that essentially stated that an agency that operates a dam has the legal responsibility to protect environmental interests.

But historically, prior to the existence of the dam, the creek would go dry each summer. 

“We took the position that the extra water in Putah Creek was not needed, or at least not as much as (the Putah Creek Council) asked for,” said David Okita, who was the general manager of the Solano County Water Agency at the time.

Wolk eventually convinced the Davis council to join the fight.

And Peter Moyle, then a professor and researcher at the University of California, Davis, and still one of the pre-eminent fish biologists in the nation, brought the university on board.

The interesting twist to that is UC Davis was then, and still is today, the largest water user from the creek, and in a very real sense, was on both sides of the battle.

Depending on who is being quoted, those years were generally amicable or they were very tense.

Okita described it as amicable. Yes, it was adversarial in court, but the individuals on both sides of the issue got along pretty well. He recalled meetings, prior to the start of official business, where folks stood around talking about their children.

Krovoza said it was less amicable as it was professional.

Solano County Supervisor Skip Thomson, who sided with the environmentalists on many of the issues, called the political environment “testy.”

“It was somewhat controversial,” Thomson said. “And as I recall, it wasn’t as friendly as you are hearing.”

Wolk said she remembers that when she was considering a run at the state Assembly – a district that included Solano County – she wondered if her role on the litigating side of the Putah Creek fight would cost her.

Feelings run hard and long.

Read more of the original article here.