Delta Stewardship Council meeting Sept. 27: National Heritage Area designation for the Delta, water rights enforcement and the EPA’s Action Plan

Click here for more from the Delta Stewardship Council.

National Heritage Area designation for the Delta, increased authority for the State Water Board, and the EPA’s Bay-Delta Action Plan were some of the items on the agenda for the September 27, 2012 Delta Stewardship Council meeting.


Mike Machado and Alex Westhoff from the Delta Protection Commission are asking for the Council’s support for the proposal to establish the Delta as a National Heritage Area (NHA). An NHA is a congressional designation for areas considered to be important landscapes that tell key stories about the nation’s development. If approved, the Delta would be the first NHA on the west coast.

The proposed mission of the NHA is to recognize, enhance, and promote the Delta as a place and to help cultivate and retain appreciation and understanding of the Delta as an ecological, agricultural, recreational, historical and cultural treasure. The vision is to have a regional network of partner sites that have interpretive and educational components that would be linked wherever possible.  Mr. Westhoff said that there are numerous organizations willing to partner on the effort, including the Delta counties, local chambers of commerce, and historical organizations.

NHAs are not national parks; the federal government doesn’t manage or acquire any lands.  Instead, NHAs are inhabited regions with fully functioning economies that are managed by local entities. The benefits of an NHA designation include national recognition, technical and limited financial assistance from the National Parks Service, and the use of the NPS arrowhead symbol. In addition, the designation can help develop partnerships and leverage funds for creating interpretive signage and to develop necessary visitor amenities such as public restrooms, garbage receptacles, and directional signage.

The designation could help with garnering public support for restoration of the Delta: “I think bringing better recognition to the Delta for its many facets of what it has, including the water resources, could help break down some of the barriers that have existing to meeting and accomplishing some of the pressing problems, such as water and land management,” said Mr. Westhoff.

The opportunity to have a well thought through, broadly based program to help people enjoy and learn about the Delta can really contribute to the support for restoration of its resources and wiser management of its water,” said Dan Ray, the Council’s Chief Deputy Executive Officer. “This is a chance to really put the Delta, not just on the map of people who live within the region, but also on the map of the United States and draw attention to its importance.”

The area proposed for the NHA includes the legal Delta, as well as the Suisun Marsh, the city of Rio Vista, and the Carquinez Straits.

A feasibility study was completed in July of 2012.  The designation has the support of both Senator Feinstein and Congressman Garamendi who have introduced legislation that is now pending in committees.

The Council approved a motion (4-0) to authorize the Chair of the DSC to communicate to Congress and the California congressional delegation the Council’s support for the designation of the Delta as an National Heritage Area.

  • Click here to read the Delta Protection Commission’s feasibility report for the Delta’s designation as a National Heritage Area
  • Click here to view the power point for the presentation.
  • Click here to find out more about National Heritage Areas.


Craig Wilson, Delta Watermaster, presented his latest report that makes specific recommendations for increasing the State Water Resources Control Board’s authority for water right enforcement.

In comparing the State Water Board’s authority for water quality to the Board’s authority for water right enforcement, Mr. Wilson found it weaker by almost every measure: “The deficiencies are glaring,” he said.  “The administrative civil liability authority is weaker, the ability to inspect facilities is weaker. The ability to require diverters to prepare technical and monitoring reports is nonexistent. Service of process more difficult. The process itself, more cumbersome.”

Many of these deficiencies have been pointed out in the past, most notably by the Delta Vision process. The Delta Reform Act made some attempts to strengthen water right enforcement authority, but deficiencies remain.

Mr. Wilson presented the report, Improving Water Right Enforcement Authority, to the State Water Board at the Board’s September 19th meeting.  The report makes specific recommendations for dealing with the issues of service of process, the ability to investigate alleged water rights issues, and the ability to require monitoring reports, as well as broader administrative civil liability authority.  “To me, the question is not whether to enhance the water right authority, but how best to go about it,” said Mr. Wilson. Noting that whether one takes a comprehensive approach or addresses each individual issue is a judgment call, Mr. Wilson said “What shouldn’t be a judgment call is to make a serious effort to reform these statutes to make them consistent with the water quality side.”

Mr. Wilson also briefed the Council on the Watermaster’s efforts to determine the number of diversions in the Delta, the amount of those diversions being made, and the validity of the water right claims themselves.  By using a mix of informational gathering, compliance and enforcement activities, along with the more robust water use monitoring statements that will be required next year, Mr. Wilson hopes to have more certainty of water use within the Delta.  “Informed decision making requires information, so the more information we have regarding use of water in the Delta, the better and more informed our decision making can be,” said Mr. Wilson.

  • Click here to read the Delta Watermaster’s report on increasing the State Water Board’s water right enforcement authority.
  • Click here to find out more about the Delta Watermaster.
  • Click here for Maven’s story on the Delta Watermaster’s report.


Crashing fish populations and persistent water quality impairments are evidence that Clean Water Act programs are not adequately protecting aquatic life, the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined, and in response, the agency has developed an Action Plan for the Delta. The Plan lists seven actions that the EPA will take either directly on its own or in a supporting role.

Erin Foresman from the EPA detailed those actions for the Council:

  1. Strengthen estuarine habitat water quality standards by supporting the State Water Board in their effort to update the 2006 Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan flow objectives.
  2. Provide funding for the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board’s development of the Delta Regional Monitoring Program, an efficient system for collecting, accessing and evaluating contaminant water quality information that will be used to support regional assessments of beneficial use protection, as well as prioritize the importance of stressors on aquatic life.
  3. Accelerate water quality restoration through TMDL programs by partnering with the water boards to ensure that the load limits for nine adopted TMDLs that address the most important stressors in the Delta are achieved in a timely manner.
  4. Strengthen selenium water quality criteria by issuing a draft selenium water quality objective at the end of this year.
  5. Work to prevent pesticide pollution by to collecting water quality data that will be needed for pesticides for their next registration review, and by working the water boards to determine measurable and enforceable low-impact development strategies that can be used in urban stormwater permits and water quality certifications.
  6. Work to address the challenge of controlling mercury in contaminated sediments during wetland restoration by funding research for methods to reduce that formation and mobilization of methylmercury, a toxic form that can be potentially released during restoration activities .
  7. Support the development of the BDCP; the EPA will play significant roles by reviewing the EIR under NEPA and under the Clean Water Act, making sure that water quality and aquatic habitat beneficial uses are protected.
  • Click here to read the EPA’s Action Plan for the Delta.
  • Click here to visit the EPA’s Bay-Delta Office online.
  • Click here for Maven’s summary of the EPA’s Action Plan.


Dr. Peter Goodwin updated the Council on several new science reports available on the Delta, as well as the development of the Delta Science Plan, which will be the subject of a town hall meeting on the first day of the Bay-Delta Science Conference in October.

The Delta Stewardship Council said goodbye to Legislative Director Curt Miller and Executive Officer Joe Grindstaff,who are both  retiring, while at the same time,welcoming the new Executive Officer Chris Knopp. Mr. Grindstaff said of his ‘thirty-something’ years dealing with California water issues: “It’s been a wonderful experience for me, and I come away from it believing even more strongly that we can make progress, that as difficult as it is, it’s the right thing to do.”

For more on the new Executive Officer:

  • Click here for the Delta Stewardship Council’s announcement of the selection of Chris Knopp.
  • Click here for Maven’s interview with Chris Knopp.


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