Randy Fiorini: The Delta Plan: Putting the pieces together

Randy Fiorini sliderRandy Fiorini, Chair of the Delta Stewardship Council, talks about the role of the Council and their efforts to implement the Delta Plan

There are literally hundreds of agencies that have at least some responsibility for the Delta; the Delta Stewardship Council is the only one charged with developing and implementing a single blueprint to integrate and guide all actions.

At the ACWA spring conference, Randy Fiorini, the current chair of the Delta Stewardship Council, spoke to attendees about the role of the Council and how they are working to implement the Delta Plan.

Here’s what he had to say.

The Delta.  It’s complicated,” began Randy Fiorini.

He then asked for a show of hands of those who live or work in the Delta, those who work in the watershed that feeds into the Delta, and those that receive water from the Delta.  “This is a pretty typical audience in California, about 85% are connected to the Delta,” he noted.

Mr. Fiorini said that in his speech, he will be covering four points:  to describe the altered Delta as it is today, talk about the role of the Delta Stewardship Council, highlight the activities underway to solve some difficult problems, and then to conclude with some personal thoughts about how he approaches his job as the chair of the Delta Stewardship Council.

Point 1.  The Delta is a shared responsibility, and over time, there are a lot of well-intentioned actions that have taken place in the Delta and resulted in many unintended bad consequences. 

For thousands of years, the Delta existed as an inland estuary, a tule marsh with riparian forests and grizzly bears and where herds of Tule Elk roamed the region,” said Mr. Fiorini.  “On any given day, 30 to 60% of that region was covered by water and tidal flows; in times of runoff, 100% of the area was covered by water.  Hundreds of native fish and wildlife species existed there, and a few hundred people lived around the periphery.”

Things changed about 165 years ago with the passage of the Swamp Act, where the federal government passed an act encouraging reclamation of areas like the Delta region. The state of California cooperated and provided private ownership opportunities, and that began the man-made alterations of the Delta that we know today.”

The levees that were constructed created 50 islands; 500,000 acres of farmland was available, but in that activity, most of the rearing habitat, most of the food web production, and most of the cover for native fish and protection from predation was lost.  Now only about 5% of the Delta is wetlands.”

The ship channels and the ports of Stockton opened up California to the world for commerce, but it also brought in invasive species in the ballast water of these ships that have heavily invaded the Delta,” said Mr. Fiorini.  “Now 90% of the aquatic species are invasive or introduced species.  Striped bass is an introduced species brought in for commercial and recreational fishing.  It was a very successful program, so successful now that the bass are eating the salmon and the smelt that we’re spending millions of dollars trying to protect.”

The world class water projects that were developed, the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project, use this area as a hub or a switchyard for moving water from north to south and east to west, but there are a number of negative environmental issues related to the operations of those projects in the Delta.  The farming that has occurred of the 500,000 acres has led to heavy land subsidence and an increased vulnerability of flooding because of that.  Now instead of a few hundred people, there are 500,000 people that live and reside in a flood prone area that is also negatively impacted the environment due to urban drool and wastewater treatment ammonium loading in the Delta.”

So the Delta that we have today is evolved over time.  We now refer to it as the status quo.  When Ronald Reagan was asked about status quo, he said, ‘that’s Latin for the mess we’re in.’  There’s a scientific term now in play that describes the mess we’re in, and that leads me to point 2.

Point 2.  The role of the Delta Stewardship Council

Last fall, four former Delta lead scientists prepared a report of the Delta challenges and recommendations for managing its future.

Randy Fiorini quoted from the report:

‘If the problem were just about allocating fresh water flows, it might be solvable.  Add in the complexity of moving water through a hydrodynamically complex Delta, it becomes complicated.  Add the uncertainty of ecological responses and the institutional complexity of many actors with many visions and the problem becomes wicked.  Then add the ever changing water supply and ecological and economic contexts within which decisions must be made and the problem becomes devilishly wicked.’

The Delta Stewardship Council was formed to unravel this devilishly wicked problem,” said Mr. Fiorini.  “There are over 200 state, local, and federal agencies that have some degree of responsibility or regulatory authority in the Delta, but the Stewardship Council that was created in the 2009 Delta Reform Act was created with a charge to create a comprehensive, long-term management plan for the Delta unto the year 2100; it should be a legally enforceable plan.  ACWA Randy FioriniIt’s designed to integrate and coordinate the activities of these many hundred agencies, and it is designed to meet the coequal goals of providing California a more reliable supply of water to restore and provide for a healthy Delta ecosystem and at the same time, recognizing the Delta as an evolving place where people live and work and recreate.”

So for me, go time was April Fool’s Day 2010, which was the first meeting of the Delta Stewardship Council.  I serve with six other council members.  Four of us are appointed by the Governor.  I am the full-time chair.  I have the distinct privilege of serving with a full-time Executive Officer Jessica Pearson, one of the smartest, most knowledgeable, strategic thinking women in water that I’ve had the privilege of working with.  I also have the opportunity to work with a former colleague of mine when I was on the ACWA Board Keith Coolidge.  Keith is the executive manager of our external affairs, and he does a marvelous job.  It’s a real privilege to be working with him every day.  We have a staff of about 60 people, mostly divided between science and planning.”

It took us three years to develop this legally enforceable long-term management plan called the Delta Plan that includes 73 recommendations, 14 regulatory policies, and most importantly, about 100 performance measures.  That was a real tough task, placing metrics on the recommendations so that we could track progress or the lack thereof for a Delta Plan that statutorily required to be updated and reviewed every five years.”

Mr. Fiorini noted that the completed Delta Plan, about 250 pages long, can be found at the Delta Stewardship Council website at www.deltacouncil.ca.gov.

3. Council activities currently underway

Mr. Fiorini then turned to touch on some of the activities currently underway to implement the Delta Plan.  “Reducing future reliance on the Delta; that’s now a requirement that many of you are going to have to include as a component in your ag and urban water management plans, calling attention to that,” he said.  “Restoring and improving floodplain connectivity and trying to expand the connection for food web and rearing habitat for fish that we’ve lost over the development of levees and so on in the Delta.  There is a lot of activity now in the Yolo Bypass and in the Mokelumne Cosumnes region and there is work underway for future expansion of the floodplain in the southern San Joaquin River area.

Several of the Delta Plan’s recommendations addressed an increased emphasis on water use efficiency and conservation.  “The drought has really driven that and achieved one of the goals of the Delta Plan, and now it seems that conservation is becoming a way of life.  Restricting new subdivisions in two areas that provide adequate flood protection.  With 500,000 people residing in the Delta, many behind levees that are subject to flooding, we don’t to add to the risk.  So there’s some pretty stern regulations preventing further development into the floodplain.”

“Improving Delta water quality.  Many of you involved at the State Water Board now.  We set a goal for the water board to get that done a year ago.  They are working on it.  Improving and updating water quality objectives for the Delta and the high priority tributaries remains a very high priority for the Council.”

Restoring habitat in six priority areas and preventing further development to preserve the opportunity to do habitat restoration.  One encouraging development recently is the potential for Metropolitan buying five islands in the Delta.  I welcome that, because I think it provides us an opportunity to act on one of the recommendations in the Delta Plan by finding ways to incentivize wildlife friendly farming.  I can’t think of an agency better equipped to help serve as a model for doing the right thing than Met, so I look forward to the future, hopefully, if the purchase goes through, to work together with the Council for developing some good models on those islands that can be replicated throughout the Delta.”

Improved conveyance – that’s a big one,” said Mr. Fiorini.  “Initially, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan was targeted in legislation to be included in the Delta Plan if it were permitted as an NCCP.  If it were not, it was left up to us to develop a series of recommendations for conveyance, storage, and principles.  With the pivot of BDCP to Water Fix and Eco Restore, we now are faced with that task of developing amendments to the Delta Plan to cover more fully conveyance, storage, and operations.  We’ve developed 19 principles that we’re working from that many of your agencies have had a hand in shaping, and now we’re moving on to recommendations and perhaps regulations.”

One of the things that was lost in BDCP is that there were 21 conservation measures.  Some of those conservation measures have been orphaned and lost to the move to Eco Restore, the 30,000 acre habitat restoration goal, and California Water Fix, the conveyance component.  So in addition to amending the Delta Plan to address more fully conveyance, storage, and operations, we’re also going to be looking to add rigor to the Delta Plan on further pollution reduction, invasive species control, reduced predation, and reduction of invasive aquatic weeds.

The Delta is defined by its levees. There’s about a $2 billion price tag associated with improving levee conditions up to a minimal standard.  The state doesn’t have that much money, the local landowners don’t have that much money, so we’ve been tasked with establishing a priority approach for state funding investment in levees, two-thirds of which in the Delta are privately owned.”

Mr. Fiorini said one of the ways facets of the Delta Plan are being implemented is through the Delta Plan Interagency Implementation Committee, or DPIIC.  “This is a group that is made up of seventeen state and federal agency leaders that meet every six months to assess progress on certain projects related to implementing the Delta Plan.  It’s a very, very important group.  Taryn Ravazzini started as a coordinator for this group and really formed it out of whole cloth.  We really didn’t know how this was going to go, because some pretty high powered people that we were expecting to come.  The goal for our first meeting was that everybody would attend and nobody would get hurt.  And we’ve built on that.

By statute, projects in the Delta are now required to have an adaptive management component.  “Nobody really knows what adaptive management looks like, and the Independent Science Board has recently released a report on adaptive management, so we’re going to be hearing from one of the authors of that report, and drive a conversation around the table among these state and federal agency leaders about what adaptive management looks like from their point of view.”

Finally, at the last DPIIC meeting in November, I mentioned this wonderment about how is it that the Great Lakes, the Chesapeake Bay, the Everglades, the Louisiana Coast, even Lake Tahoe and the Columbia River seem to attract more national attention than does the Delta, and in doing so, they seem to be able to attract more federal funding, particularly for science.  So in response to that, the week after our last meeting, a USGS representative suggested that they can bring representatives from all those key areas to conduct a workshop and discuss what they’ve learned in those regions and how they do science.  I’m pretty excited about this, because science is a key to solving these devilishly wicked problems that we’re facing.  Hopefully by late summer, early fall, we’ll conduct this workshop and out of it will come some recommendations to foster a greater national awareness of the kinds of problems that we’re dealing with here in the Delta.”

Point 4.  Six principles for building relationships

Lastly, Mr. Fiorini gave some of his personal views.  “You all very knowledgeable; you are the experts when it comes to water.  I spend a lot of my time reading, studying, but knowing a lot isn’t enough.  As you’ve heard many times throughout this week from many speakers, we’re trying to promote progress on behalf of the water supply industry in the face of a lot of opposition, and that opposition is formidable.  They may not always be right, but they serve oftentimes as an impediment to getting things done.”

I hope you’re encouraged by what I’ve told you about some of the progress, but one of my highest priorities and where I spend a lot of my time is developing relationships with people that don’t necessarily see the water world and the Delta as I do,” said Mr. Fiorini.  “So I want to share with you six principles that I bring to developing relationships, and I want you to listen carefully, because there’s going to be a challenge for you when I’m finished.”

#1.  Be prepared to change.  Change is the law of life, and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.  John F. Kennedy.

#2.  Enlarge your circle of influence. If you are a coalition and you’re comfortable, then you know it’s not broad enough.  American historian Bernice Johnson Reagan.

#3.  Build relationships with new stakeholders.  A great relationship is about two things.  First, find out the similarities.  Second, respect the differences.

#4.  Be a good listener.  Listen first and give your opponents a chance to talk.  Let them finish.  Do not resist, defend, or debate.  This only raises barriers.  Try to build bridges of understanding.  Dale Carnegie.

#5.  Be honest.  To be persuasive, we must be believable.  To be believable, we must be credible.  To be credible, we must be truthful.  Edward R. Murrow.

#6.  Expect success.  The price of success is hard work and dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.  Vince Lombardi.

My challenge for you, before the next ACWA conference, I want you to find someone who lives in the Delta, or someone who is affiliated with an environmental NGO, invite them out, meet with them, have a conversation about water in the Delta.  When we get to Anaheim, I hope to hear from some of you about how that’s gone.”

Thank you very much.”

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