Yolo Bypass Symposium, Part 3: Farms, flood, fish, and fowl: Putting the puzzle together
Land use in the Yolo Bypass is dominated by agriculture; it is part of Yolo County’s heritage as well as a vital of its economy. Farming activities in the bypass generally begin in late spring and extend through the summer, when flooding is uncommon. Primary crops grown in the bypass include rice, wild rice, corn, tomatoes, and safflower, with pasture lands in the south.
However, agriculture in the bypass is more than just an economic driver; it is actually integral to sustaining the multiple functions. The fields provides an important food source for waterfowl: rice is grown, harvested, and flooded to provide food for waterfowl while also aiding in the decomposition of rice stubble; cornfields are harvested to provide forage for geese and cranes, and safflower fields are prepped to provide seed for upland species. And just as importantly, agricultural practices help maintain the flood capacity of the bypass by controlling vegetation and thereby reducing the state’s responsibility for vegetation removal.
Floods, farms, fish and fowl – there’s a lot going on in the bypass, and agriculture is a crucial part. In this third and final portion of coverage from the Yolo Bypass Symposium: Meeting Nature Halfway on a Floodplain, Dr. Robyn Suddeth from UC Davis presents her research into the trade-offs for agriculture with increased flooding in the bypass, Bill Fleenor from UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences discusses hydraulic modeling needs in the bypass, and consultant Petrea Marchand gives her views on how the multiple plans and processes can be successfully integrated. Lastly, stakeholders give their views in a panel discussion.
DR. ROBYN SUDDETH: Agricultural economics and trade-offs in the Yolo Bypass
While increased flooding on the bypass will like have benefits for wildlife, it may also translate into financial losses for farmers and the local economy. Dr. Robyn Suddeth discussed her research into the economic trade-offs of increased flooding.
“The bypass is a great example of a reconciled landscape,” began Dr. Robyn Suddeth. “It is not a place where we are trying to reintroduce the natural geomorphic processes to allow the river to recreate riparian forests, vegetation and marshland that was part of the historical floodplain; we are not breeching levees to let the river reclaim the landscape in that way. Reconciliation is the idea that there isn’t enough land on the planet to restore habitats to what they once were, so we’re having to find ways to reengineer human dominated landscapes in ways that work for those species.”
“The Yolo Bypass is in fact a reconciled landscape in the sense that it was planned primarily as a flood control bypass, and it accidentally turns out to work really well for birds and fish in the system as well. There’s been lots of great scientific work over the last decade, 15-20 years that has come to show that,” she said.
The Yolo Bypass used to flood much more frequently before Shasta Dam was constructed; the dam has decreased the volume of flows in late winter and spring, reducing the frequency of inundation of the bypass. Currently, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan’s Conservation Measure 2 proposes to modify the Fremont Weir to include a notched gate that would increase the amount of flows into the bypass. “The point is to increase the amount of flows that are available for fish and bird habitat later on into the spring and for a longer duration of time for those species,” she said.
Dr. Suddeth noted that there are some perceived conflicts. Timing is an issue in that the period of time when the wetted habitat is advantageous to species conflicts slightly with the management goals of wetland managers and farmers. “Wetland managers are trying to plant the right types of plant that serve as good food for birds the following fall, and farmers are trying to maximize their yields that they get out of the summer growing season, so there’s that conflict.”
Depth can be a conflict as birds and fish have different depth preferences. “Fish habitat quality increases as the inundation gets deeper and deeper, but bird habitat quality decreases,” she noted.
Dr. Suddeth built an Excel model that considered the different tradeoffs between economics and habitat, focusing on the idea that if improvements were made to the Fremont Weir that would bring water into the bypass more often, how could that flow be optimally managed between the multiple purposes of the bypass.
Her model concluded that without making significant changes to land use within the bypass, there would be a huge benefit from being able to place flows in ways the optimize the current land use mosaic for fish and birds at a fairly minimal expense. The optimal start date for flooding would be in late January to early February and is dependent on the duration, she said. And the most economical way to add optimal habitat for birds and fish on the bypass is to exchange wetlands for pastureland in the south, she noted.
Dr. Suddeth noted that her model made an interesting finding. “The model in almost all cases wanted to flood the rice and wild rice for the first couple of weeks of flooding, and then move all the water on rice and wild rice into pastureland and wetland for the remaining weeks of flooding,” she noted. “This makes sense because that’s when rice farmers want their land to be cleared so they can start planting it. Rice is a productive landscape, and you can take advantage of that productivity by moving the water with the food downstream and the fish and the birds move with the water.”
She noted that more studies are needed to determine how hard it would be to be able to control the movement of water in that way.
BILL FLEENOR: Insights from hydraulic modeling
Looking at the detailed water operations needed to control the flows and assess the impacts demands new modeling tools, explained Bill Fleenor in his presentation. He explained that since the primary function of the Yolo Bypass is a flood management facility, most of the models that have been developed for the bypass are flood conveyance studies. These models are rather one-dimensional, and not capable of modeling the lower flows and the timing necessary to get the water on and off fields at lower volumes. It almost needs to be done on a field by field basis, he said.
While there have been many advances in modeling in recent decades, there are still issues with the models. There isn’t a lot of data on structures within the bypass, and these take on much more importance in low-flow conditions, Mr. Fleenor noted. Boundary conditions are often limited by computation speeds even today, although this continues to improve; and many boundaries and locations are not gauged so they are calculated, creating significant uncertainties. “Unless it is measured, we can’t know what it really is,” he said.
The modeling would be improved with better monitoring of the boundary conditions, better data on the various structures and their operations, and better transparency of these physical data and operations, he said.
Having more models will help reduce uncertainties. “If I may quote Dr. Peter Goodwin indirectly, ‘if one model is good, two models are better, because if you can get two models to agree, then you can have some pretty good confidence.”
PETREA MARCHAND: Yolo Bypass Issues and Hopes
Petrea Marchand began by stating that she owns the consulting firm, Consero Solutions, and although she does work on behalf of the Yolo County Board of Supervisors and the executive director of a JPA currently developing a HCP, this presentation is her own opinion and not on behalf of any of those agencies.
Existing land uses in the 57,000-acre Yolo Bypass include wetlands and terrestrial species habitat, agriculture, and flood protection, Ms. Marchand said, presenting a map of land uses and ownership in the bypass. “There’s also a real diversity of land ownership,” she noted, pointing out that there are major ranches in the north; publicly owned lands in the Yolo Wildlife Area and Fremont Weir Wildlife Area, and a number of smaller landowners in the southern portion.
The black hash marks are on the map indicate existing conservation easements in the Yolo Bypass. “What this map really shows you is that there’s a diversity of landownership in the bypass already, as well as a significant number of existing land use restrictions,” she said.
Another one of the primary functions of the bypass is agriculture, said Ms. Marchand. Some studies were done recently with the help of UC Davis, because not a lot was known about what crops were grown in the bypass, and how agriculture in the bypass actually worked, she said, presenting a map showing the different types of crops grown. “We have a lot of rice which is shown in green; the light green is the wild rice. We have tomatoes which is the other major cash crop in the bypass; it’s grown primarily in areas with good soils,” she said. “We also have a significant number of wetlands shown as the striped areas, there’s the Yolo Wildlife Area and we have wetlands down in the south as well, and we have a significant amount of pasture land shown in light blue and dark blue.”
“The pasture land in the bypass is actually becoming increasingly important because of the dearth of grazing land in Yolo County,” Ms. Marchand noted. “The competition for the leases for this bypass grazing land is becoming more significant as a result of the increasing scarcity of that pasture land.”
Most importantly and often overlooked is that agriculture is just not a business in the bypass, she said. “Agriculture in the bypass, especially the rice, is providing a significant amount of habitat for both endangered terrestrial species as well as for migratory waterfowl and shorebirds,” she said. “It also provides vegetation management for flood protection and in the absence of agriculture, state or federal agencies would have to come in and manage that vegetation. Another important aspect of agriculture is that they are providing lease revenue that pays for the operation for the Yolo Wildlife Area, which is the 16,000 acre refuge that was established by the state and federal government in the 1990s.”
The Yolo Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) and Natural Community Conservation Plan (NCCP) is currently under development right now and should be available to the public in March of 2015, she said. “The HCP is essentially a 50-year permit for take of 12 covered species, including the giant garter snake, to allow for development of all of the activities in the cities general plans, including the City of West Sacramento, the City of Davis, the City of Woodland, and the City of Winters, as well as the county of Yolo, and all of the public infrastructure – bridges, roads, you name it – that are taking place in the county itself,” he said. “In return for that 50 year permit, which are permits under the federal and state endangered species acts, the four cities and the county are committing to a 50-year conservation strategy to protect habitat for these twelve species.”
Ms. Marchand presented a map of showing where the giant garter snake has a significant presence, and noted that the species has a significant presence both in and around the Yolo Bypass. “According to the US FWS is working on with this particular permit, Yolo Bypass habitat is essential for the recovery of this particular species, so it features very prominently in the Yolo HCP-NCCP,” she said.
She then presented a map from the Lower Sacramento River Regional Flood Management Plan. “This really emphasizes just how significant the flood protection system is in Yolo County,” she said. “All the red lines are the levees in Yolo County; there’s currently 215 miles of Sacramento River flood control project levees in addition to the Yolo Bypass.”
Ms. Marchand said that it’s complicated enough to manage all the existing uses, but now there is talk of expanding on those existing uses.
She put the proposed changes into three broad categories:
Enhanced flood protection: Enhancing flood protection is encompassed in the basin-wide feasibility studies under development by DWR and the IRWMP, which is a locally-led process to identify flood protection opportunities,” she said. Ms.Marchand presented a graph from the adopted 2012 Central Valley Flood Protection Plan. “Although these proposals are still under discussion with local entities and nothing’s been agreed to yet, there are significant improvements to the entire system, but also there are proposals to expand the Yolo Bypass to increase the capacity of the bypass for flood protection.”
Expanded fish habitat: Ms. Marchand noted that Conservation Measure 2 of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan proposes to install an operable gate in the Fremont Weir to increase the duration and frequency of flooding; there is a another proposal being developed as part of the salmon and steelhead biological opinion to flood between 17,000 and 20,000 acres. “The proposal to create an operable gate in Fremont Weir and flood east side of bypass which could impact some existing land uses like wetlands in the Yolo Wildlife Area and agriculture,” she said. She noted that the blue on the map represents approximately 20,000 flooded acres and pointed out that it could have significant impact on existing land uses.
Enhanced terrestrial species habitat: “Yolo County has a very impressive history of protecting lands,” she said, presenting a map of existing protected lands in the County. “We’ve protected over 100,000 acres in cooperation with the state and federal government, and have purchased a number of easements with help from organizations like the Yolo Land Trust.” She noted that the Yolo HCP/NCCP, the upcoming giant garter snake recovery strategy from, USFWS, and other state and federal efforts proposed to enhance terrestrial species habitat. “The goal of the Yolo HCP/NCCP is to connect those existing protected lands and to improve management on those existing protected lands for the benefit of those 12 endangered species including the giant garter snake, the least hills vireo, and the tricolored blackbird.”
A process for integrating multiple proposals
“It’s difficult enough to integrate all the existing uses, so how do you develop a process to integrate these additional proposals, which are all being developed by different state and federal agencies?” she said. Ms. Marchand then outlined a seven step process:
Step 1: Start with input from local organizations, landowners, and government entities: “Too often, this is a step that comes much further in the process,” she said. “My recommendation is to start first with the people who know the land the best – there’s the Yolo Basin Foundation and the local government agencies and Solano County and Yolo County. Start with them when you’re just in the beginning of your process.”
Step 2: Develop reliable tools subject to independent peer review: Ms. Marchand said there are a suite of complex analytical tools that need to be used when proposing anything in the Yolo Bypass: a new hydraulic model, an agricultural impacts model, a waterfowl impacts model, and a fish benefits model. “Every single one of those models is based on assumptions that can change the results if you change the assumptions, and so in order for those tools to be accepted by local governments and stakeholders as well as I think the community at large, those tools need to be peer reviewed,” she said. “Peer review is a really essential part of developing a process where everyone can reach an agreement on integrating issues as complicated as those that we’re talking about in the Yolo Bypass.”
Step 3: Conduct public outreach: “By public outreach I mean the real thing, not check the box public outreach,” she said. “In my opinion, this is the type where you go out and meet individually with landowners and organizations that know the land. You bring maps with you, you have them draw on the maps, you have them tell you what their views are about your proposals and get their feedback, one on one, and then in large groups.” The best information really comes from the individual meetings with the people that know the land the best, she noted.
Step 4: Develop an inclusive governance entity for planning and implementation: “Right now, in the Yolo Bypass, there are state and federal agencies that are proposing different ideas, and then there are local governments and local organizations that are trying to respond to those ideas,” she said. “Everyone needs to have one place where they can come together and make decisions. It will minimize the number of meetings that everyone has to go to, and it will also create a process where everyone feels included and has an opportunity to express their views.”
Step 5: Compromise, then use adaptive management to build on success: “This is really tough, given the complexity and length of all of these processes, but I think that these types of agreements and this type of integration is more likely to happen if you start small and you build on those early successes.”
Step 6: Mitigate for impacts, including economic impacts: “I’ve been in any number of meetings with state and federal agencies where there are all sorts of different ideas about how you could mitigate, maybe not at the same level that a local government might require, but maybe you can get creative and do it a different way,” she said. “This is a real cost of the project. It has to be encompassed in the design and in the evaluation of the project, and it needs to be addressed up front and early to gain the trust of the people who you are working with at the local level.”
Step 7: Provide net benefits to local entities: “A good example is a study that was done in coordination with the Yolo Basin Foundation in Yolo County called the Drainage and Water Infrastructure Study,” she said. “In that study I worked with local landowners to identify improvements to the water supply and drainage system in the bypass that could be implemented to help their farming and wetlands operations. If you implement projects like that at the same time that you’re implementing projects that could impact them, the project is much more likely to move forward.”
Issues in the Yolo Bypass
She then briefly discussed some of the issues in the bypass, noting that she doesn’t have a solution to these, but this will demonstrate why integration of all of these various ongoing efforts is so difficult.
Giant garter snake: Giant garter snake “brumates” until March and forages in rice fields & wetlands until Sept/Oct and there is concern that additional flooding in the bypass for fish habitat could potentially affect the snake during its hibernation period, she said. “It forages in rice fields and wetlands in September and October, so right now the giant garter snake is very dependent on continued rice production as well as the continued management of the wetlands in the Yolo Bypass.”
Fish & Agriculture: Rice farmers need their fields to dry by early March in order to plant, but splittail benefit from floodplain habitat until May; winter run and spring run Chinook salmon benefit from floodplain habitat from December to April; and wetlands need to be drained in March for weed control and seed production, she said. “These timelines don’t always match so there’s going to need to be some creative processes to work through these issues.”
Lack of coordination within and between state and federal agencies: “There’s a lot of work that’s been done to coordinate, but I think there’s improvements that could be made there.”
Local governments and nonprofits don’t have the staff or funding to participate: “I know that the Yolo Basin Foundation has one staff person and will go to meetings where there are 15 people from state and federal agencies; same thing for Yolo County,” she said. “There isn’t sufficient staff for these local agencies to participate at the level that is needed with all of these different processes that are ongoing.”
No centralized decision making right now in the Yolo Bypass: “There’s no one place you can go where people are making decisions about all of these myriad of efforts.”
A very expensive environmental review process: “It’s unbelievably expensive and so time consuming, and it makes it very difficult to propose anything other than the biggest project, because you don’t want to have to go back and to it all again,” she said. “It’s just much too difficult and I don’t know the way around that, but I think it’s a reality that we all need to keep in mind. These state and federal agencies that are proposing these projects have a very, very difficult job.”
Hopes for the future of the bypass
Petrea closed by giving her hopes for the Yolo Bypass. “I am hopeful that we can develop a governance structure with an annual budget,” she said. “I think the financing is something that’s not talked about very often but it would solve some of those local governance issues. … If it’s organized, if it has annual funding, and it has representation from local government and other entities, I think that the integration of all these different uses in the bypasses could be improved and could happen.”
“My other hope is that we actually do reach an agreement,” she said. “The Yolo Bypass is an amazing place and it provides so many benefits to so many people, both in terms of the species and the flood protection and the recreational opportunities, but we need to reach an agreement using peer reviewed tools on the best way to manage the bypass for Yolo Bypass.”
“I really do believe it’s possible but we need to change the process through which we’re trying to reach these agreements, and we need to develop a governance entity that could be the central place for these discussions,” Ms. Marchand concluded.
PANEL DISCUSSION: Stakeholders discuss the path forward
The session of the day was a panel comprised of different stakeholder groups that use the Yolo Bypass. To start the discussion, each panelist first discussed how they use the bypass, and what they would like to see for the future of the bypass.
The first panelist to speak was Robin Kulakow, Executive Director of Yolo Basin Foundation. She noted that the Foundation is a non-profit organization formed in the early 90s to advocate for the creation of the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area; the Foundation also provides public education programs and recreation programs at the wildlife area as well as being actively involved in the bypass issues.
“The 17,000 acre Yolo Basin Wildlife Area is a successful example of reconciliation ecology,” said Ms. Kulakow. “Since the early 90s, we’ve been showing that flood protection, habitat, agriculture, and public use can work together and we just need to keep that model in mind.”
Ms. Kulakow said that a non-profit can play an important role in big agency-led efforts, such as improving aquatic habitat in the bypass and modifications to improve flood protection. “Since the late 90s, Yolo Basin Foundation has been working to get all the stakeholders in the room,” she said. “We started the Yolo Bypass Working Group back then, and now I can count at least five different stakeholder groups that effort has spawned.”
“We see fisheries habitat as adding another important public trust value to the wildlife area,” said Ms. Kulakow. “The bottom line for Yolo Basin Foundation is that whatever changes occur in the bypass, especially with fisheries habitat, we want to make sure that the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area is made whole, and that state fish and wildlife’s ability to manage the area and the diverse mosaic of wetlands and agriculture needs to continue. If that can, then all of our efforts can be successful.”
The importance of public access should not be lost in the discussion, Ms. Kulakow emphasized. “The Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area is one of the largest open space areas in the valley and it’s free and open to the public,” she pointed out. “We need people to be able go out and learn about the resource and enjoy it because they are the voters, and the children we educate in our school program are the future voters, the future biologists, and engineers.”
Non-profits can also play an important role in science, Ms. Kulakow noted. “We manage parts of the early methyl mercury studies, and we also were involved in the development of the land management plan for the wildlife area. Currently we are managing the Lower Putah Creek Habitat Restoration Project under a grant with the Ecosystem Restoration Program so there are activities that a nonprofit is much freer to do, not being in the bureaucracy.”
Next up was the team of John Brennan for Cal Marsh and Farm Ventures and Jacob Katz with California Trout, who together have been working on fish habitat projects in the Yolo Bypass. Mr. Brennan explained that Cal Marsh and Farm is a partnership of landowners and other proponents of building a fish project on the bypass at the north end. “We want to get fish on the bypass and we want to get fish off the bypass,” he said.
Jacob Katz added that he and Mr. Brennan shared a common vision and understanding that if both agriculture and environment are going to be successful in the future in California, it would be through collaboration. “There is more momentum and more collaboration now than there has been in a long time,” he said. “There might be this alphabet soup of different folks working, but they are collaborating and share a common vision for a California water infrastructure that was designed in a different era, but can now integrate a burgeoning knowledge of the environment and at the same time increases our capacity to protect our urban infrastructure and farms, providing flood protection and increasing the capacity for wildlife. The idea is process based reconciliation, or actually restoring specific natural processes which then create the habitat and maintain it.”
“Floodplains are the great engine of productivity for aquatic ecosystems, and that productivity is visually demonstrated in floods like this one where fish that have access to floodplains grow very rapidly,” Mr. Katz said. “That primary productivity is a direct result of the floodplain process – not just activating that floodplain, but keeping that floodplain wet. The residence times of our floodplains is incredibly important for the overall productivity that is passed to the aquatic ecosystem. … Our remnant floodplains can actually regain some of the ecological capacity that we lost and that capacity is regained by managing them for residence time.”
“A marsh was a system that had water on it for large periods of time,” Mr. Katz continued. “A bypass is the antithesis of that. It is designed to drain as rapidly as possible, so the future of Yolo Bypass then would be improving the water infrastructure by integrating our knowledge of natural history of biology, but doing it in such a way that we improve the water infrastructure and upgrading it so it’s good for fish, it’s good for waterfowl and shorebirds, and that it is managed in such a way that we can actually get to some of the mercury issues, and that we have the capacity to create the multiple benefits that we need today in the 21st century California.”
John Brennan added, “From the rice company’s perspective, we think it’s very important to realize that if you’re going to be in the rice business, you have to be in the water business, and if you’re in the water business, you have to be in the fish business. We need to be out there trying to solve some of these fish issues.”
Jeremy Arrich with the Natural Resources Agency said that everyone comes to the table with their own interests in mind. “What I’d like to do is challenge everybody as we move forward in partnership working together, is all of us to check our identities at the door, and let’s come with a balanced viewpoint and an open mind to look at things from a broader perspective and figure out how we can work together to integrate these challenges and solutions,” he said.
There are a lot of things going on in the Yolo Bypass and many things are converging in one massive landscape, he said. “It’s a tremendous opportunity for California to actually do some really good things in meaningful ways to serve multiple public values of ecosystem restoration, public safety, economic stability, and local sustainability,” he said. “So as we come together, the state definitely recognizes the legitimacy of all the interests that are at the table. Everybody’s viewpoint and perspective is important, everybody deserves to be heard, everybody deserves to be listened to, and everybody deserves to put their perspectives on the table.”
Mr. Arrich noted that the California Water Action Plan promotes integration and multiple benefit type projects and programs. “We’re working to create partnerships among all the participating agencies that are working in or around the Yolo Bypass to really streamline the development, the design, the permitting, and implementation and management of projects within the bypass,” he said. “We want to come together and we want to help shape the way the future from an integration and alignment perspective.”
Mr. Arrich said that at the state level, they’ve started a conversation on how to coordinate at the highest levels of state government, and they’ll soon be moving those conversations to the federal agencies and then the local agencies and other stakeholders. “We need to talk about how we work together, how can we create a single forum for discussion that we can talk about how to form partnerships, how to work through financing strategies to finance these projects over the long-term, how to work through permitting and implementation challenges related to policies and regulatory environments and how do we get long term management of the system that we can do in perpetuity and not have to mitigate for every little piece of management over time. We need to look at how are we going to communicate and coordinate and engage with the public and the broad stakeholders that are out there, and then finally, coordinating and aligning our implementation plans and schedules. We all have time frames, there are some regulatory mandates out there, there are others that aren’t mandated that we just want to get good things done so we need to align these schedules.”
Mr. Arrich closed by going back to an Albert Einsten quote on an earlier slide. “The quote was, ‘in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity’ and I think that really sums up where we’re at right now and the new paradigm,” he said. “We’ve talked about needing a new paradigm; I think a new paradigm is being shaped right now, right here in front of us and it’s exciting to be a part of it.”
Cindy Tuttle, Intergovernmental Relations Manager for Yolo County, then gave the local land use perspective. “I have to tell you for years I would classify my job as the ‘No’ agent for Yolo County,” she said. “’No, you will not widen the bypass,’ ‘No, you will not have a fish project, ‘No, you will not convert agriculture to habitat uses, ‘No, no, and what do you not understand about no?’ But I’m really actually pleased to report that we’ve seen the light in Yolo County and today I actually to classify myself as the change agent for Yolo County. Yolo’s new motto is how do we get to yes?”
It is this mind shift in Yolo County that is one of the key components to successful integration in the bypass, she said. “If the land use authorities are going to be fighting you at every step at the way, it’s just going to make the process impossible,” she pointed out.
Ms. Tuttle said that Yolo County has formed several meaningful and trusting partnerships. “This came about because of the Lower Sacramento Delta North Regional Flood Management Plan,” she said. “Going through that exercise that was funded by DWR gave us the opportunity to really build some really good relationships with landowners, NGOs, Reclamation Districts, and those people that are really on the ground, in the boots, and doing the work.”
“The motto is everybody’s boats have got to float,” she said. “The farmer can’t be hurt because we want to help fish, and the fish can’t be hurt because we want to help the fowl, and the fowl can’t be hurt because we want to help the farmer. All the boats have got to float, and so this local partnership is very interested and motivated to get it done so that everybody benefits at the end of the day.”
Ms. Tuttle then outlined what she saw are the four specific components needed for success:
Alignment: “This existing array of disparate state and federal actions that must be aligned into a single structured conversation,” she said. “Let’s face it – all of these activities that are going on, state, federal, fish, fowl, fun, whatever, Yolo County is ground zero, we have to deal with them regardless of who it is, regardless of authority, so we think that success is possible.”
Integration: “All three levels of government have to be equally represented, both at a staff level that’s doing the work, but also at the executive levels, because we have to be able to bring our elected officials along,” she said. “It has to be more than just coordination. It has to be active participation as a team that’s charged to basically transform the bypass … it has to be real, it has to be involved and it has to mean something, the work that these people are doing.”
Action-oriented and phased: “Success will only be possible through implementation of no regrets projects at a phased approach,” she said. “I think we can have small successes which are critically important to build trust.”
Transparency: “Even though we’ve made a lot of headway through the regional management flood plan, trust is still pretty low amongst all of the partners, and in order to build that trust, we need to have incremental success,” she said. “So by doing these no regrets projects and some of this phased work, I think that will start to build that trust so that we can be able to transform and change the bypass into the visions that all of you have articulated here today.”
“From Yolo County’s perspective, we’re really excited to be part of this,” concluded Ms. Tuttle.
The floor was then opened up for questions. A member of the audience asked the participants what their thoughts on what governance for the bypass looks like.
Cindy Tuttle said that Yolo County thinks that it’s important that all parties are represented equally so that everybody can have an equal say in what moves forward. It may require an overarching structure because there are different structures pertinent to certain projects, but more discussion is needed on this point, she said.
Jeremy Arrich said that from the state’s perspective, they were not prepared to say what a governance structure would look like or if a governance structure is the way to go. “The first and most important step is the agency alignment across the three levels of government, and it’s a heavy lift to get the state and federal agencies talking together at the highest levels, but the good news is that we’re doing that,” he said.
Robin Kulakow suggested considering something similar to how the Lower Putah Creek Coordinating Committee is structured. “They’ve been very effective in carrying out many years of restoration projects on the creek with a lot of success,” she pointed out. “An agency that represents the many different interests on the creek similar to the Lower Putah Creek Coordinating Committee could be effective, but they would need their own staff, their own budget, and they would need to be involved in both planning and maintenance issues related to flood protection, habitat management, and agriculture.”
John Brennan commented that he would be interested to know what the current governing situation is in the bypass. “No one’s out there to help the farmers,” he said. “Any help that we could get to actually operate out there would be welcome, but just adding one more layer of bureaucracy isn’t going to help us.”
Jacob Katz reminded that agriculture is integral to the bypass for maintaining the flood capacity of the bypass. “Anything that we can do to maintain the economic feasibility of farming out there doesn’t just help farming,” he said. “It helps our local communities and our economy, it translates directly into the safety of Sacramento and of the urban populace of the valley. It also translates directly into a managed landscape that has the capacity and the operability to produce the ecological benefits that we’re trying to regain, so a big part of governance that we envision is one that works to create multiple benefits.”
“We actually have to understand how that works if we’re going to govern it, so governance is going to be based on the design,” Mr. Katz continued. “You can’t put the cart before the horse but you have to have a governance structure set up into which you can integrate the actual design of either the gates in Fremont or internal gates that actually maintain residence time and give us the ecological benefits that the flood basin itself once had.”
Mr. Brennan and Mr. Katz were asked for their vision on how a reconciled bypass would work over the course of an annual cycle.
Mr. Brennan replied that for their project, the field would be a good field, but would also have the infrastructure to go from rice field to floodplain as quickly as possible. “We’re talking about having infrastructure in place north of I-5 that can back floodwater up and flood over a known footprint for a defined period of time that’s going to be seasonally determined,” he said. “We have to have the infrastructure in place to drain it off as quickly as possible without affecting anybody downstream, so we can keep it in the channel, it’s off the field and we can be farming again two weeks later. And if we need governance to control us, that’s fine, but I think we’re going to have that all defined in the project description when we actually build it.”
Jacob Katz then laid out the specifics for how the project would work. The multibenefit vision is that during the summer, the fields are in agriculture, and the farmer has the fields until they are harvested. At that point, the field is flooded for waterfowl, no more than 18”, and maintained through February; at that point, the field is brought down to a much shallower kind of mud flat for shorebirds. The depth can then be increased to give ideal rearing habitat for multiple species of fish, especially salmon. The fish would have two to four weeks of habitat, depending on how much water was available, and then the field is drained and becomes available for agriculture again.
Infrastructure improvements could include pneumatically-controlled bladder dams that can recede out of the way of floodwaters but can be elevated by pushing a button remotely to hold elevation, Mr. Katz said. “Elevation is destiny here. We’re not talking about deep flooding; it’s the shallow inundation that is the solar panel that catches sunlight, makes algae, algae grows the bugs, the bugs feed the fish,” he said. “It’s a very simple food web but one that is absolutely dependent on long residence times and shallow inundation. That shallowly inundated footprint can be managed very effectively during different water years if you improve the infrastructure to both benefit the agricultural production as well as this new reconciled ecological gains that we’re talking about.”
Cindy Tuttle noted that the Yolo Bypass Cache Slough Integrated Water Management Plan, a chapter in the Lower Sacramento Delta North Regional FMP, is the locally preferred alternative for a vision of a multi benefit project in the Yolo Bypass which integrates flood, fish, farm, fowl, water quality, recreation and other benefits. For more information on multi-benefit projects, Jacob Katz suggested the website, multiplebenefitprojects.org, a website sponsored by most of the large NGOs working in the Central Valley today that outlines many of these multiple benefit flood projects, as well as both governance and policy objectives.
But it all comes down to making the needed improvements in infrastructure, said Mr. Katz. “It’s not about getting water out there, it’s about getting water off,” he said. “It’s about drainage, so improving infrastructure means that you can move water where you want it, when you want it and you can get the water off much more effectively, especially when it gets warm. What happens when it gets warm, mosquitoes start to breed, farmers look out on their fields and say, I have to prepare my fields for planting, and the fish get out of there. There’s a real synchronicity in that time that spring transition and what allows that spring transition to be effective on the ground is improved infrastructure.”
Robin Kulakow agreed with Mr. Katz. “It’s improved infrastructure, and it’s also timing of any planned inundations,” she said. “March is an important month for drawing down wetlands, for moist soil management, and it’s also very important month for mosquito control. March is the time the farmers need to start planting too , so that’s the month where we’re going to have the most conflict and that’s where we can do integrated management.”
For more information …
- Yolo Bypass Symposium, part 1: A flood of plans and possibilities
- Yolo Bypass Symposium part 2: Fish, fowl, and the mercury conundrum
- For more information on the seminar and to watch the webcast, click here.