New PPIC report prescribes relief for the Delta’s ailing ecosystem

DWR Delta patterns #1
Photo of the Delta by Department of Water Resources

While there may not be an miracle cure for the ailing Delta, there is a path forward that would achieve better environmental results than current efforts while at the same time, keeping costs under control, says a new report from the Public Policy Institute of California.  The report, Stress Relief: Prescriptions for a Healthier Delta Ecosystem, recommends comprehensive management of the Delta’s multiple stressors, institutional changes to the highly fragmented existing system of governance, and the creation of a joint powers authority to manage science efforts.

At the heart of the approach is the concept of ‘reconciliation ecology’, which seeks to improve ecosystem processes and support desirable species while acknowledging that humans will continue to rely on the Delta’s resources.  A reconciliation approach would restore natural processes wherever possible, optimize different areas of the Delta based on that area’s potential to support desirable species, make modifications to infrastructure and use technology to support native species.

However, in order for a reconciliation approach to be successful, it needs to be guided by science and broadly supported, but is that even possible in the Delta where consensus has proven to be elusive?  The researchers surveyed the scientific community and engaged policymakers and stakeholders to find out, and the results revealing a surprising amount of agreement.

Despite years of heated debate, there is broad agreement on the nature of the problem and some agreement on the solutions,” said Ellen Hanak, senior policy fellow and co-director of research at the PPIC in a press release.  “That suggests the potential for more constructive discussion.  But no agreement can be effectively implemented until we address our fragmented water management system.”

Costly delays, gaps in oversight and conflicting mandates are some of the consequences of this institutional fragmentation, the report says, and although the Delta Plan and Bay Delta Conservation Plan are promising efforts, neither are the comprehensive approach that is needed to address the many stressors on the ecosystem.

Therefore, changes are needed to the existing institutional structures, such as consistent planning, integrated and accountable management, and more comprehensive and integrated regulation.  The report also recommends the formation of a Joint Powers Authority for science in the Delta that would pool resources, share data, foster broad consensus on scientific results, and link science to management decisions.   Most of the changes the report recommends would not require new legislation.

Since much of the expense of improving the Delta will be borne by the stakeholders and the general public through either fees or new state bonds, garnering public support will require clear messages about the benefits.  It will be easier to make the case for more funding if policymakers can show that the money will be spent in an integrated and cost-effective manner, says the report.

However, it will take more than just funding, says Jay Lund, director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis and a PPIC adjunct fellow.  “We need a statewide conversation about the value of the Delta, not just a source of water but as a place of natural heritage for future generations.”


To read the report, Stress Relief: Prescriptions for a Healtheir Delta Ecosystem, click here.

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