The Delta Reform Act of 2009 defined the coequal goals of providing a more reliable water supply and protecting, restoring and enhancing the Delta ecosystem as overarching state policy; the legislation also specified that the coequal goals shall be achieved in a manner that protects and enhances the Delta as an evolving place. In addition, the Act set a state policy of requiring reduced reliance on the Delta through a statewide strategy of improved regional supplies, conservation, and water use efficiency.
In order to facilitate coordination across multiple entities with responsibilities in the Delta, the Delta Reform Act created the Delta Stewardship Council as an independent state agency and directed it to develop, adopt and implement a Delta Plan that furthers the coequal goals. The first iteration of the Delta Plan was adopted in May of 2013, and since adoption, the Delta Plan has been amended several times. The proposed ecosystem amendment would be the sixth amendment to the Delta Plan.
The first Delta Plan was adopted while the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) planning process was underway. At the time, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan was working towards compliance with endangered species regulations by developing the project as a habitat conservation plan and a natural communities conservation plan, and so it included a large, landscape-scale restoration program to address the many stressors in the Delta. The Delta Plan’s chapter 4 was developed based on the expectation that the Bay Delta Conservation Plan would be completed and subsequently incorporated into the Delta Plan.
However, completing the Bay Delta Conservation Plan as a habitat conservation plan proved to be too difficult, so in March of 2015, state and federal agencies pivoted to the California Water Fix, which sought a more traditional approach of compliance with endangered species act regulations that focused mitigation projects as required by the biological opinions for the Central Valley Project and State Water Project. At that time, the state established the Eco Restore program to bolster restoration efforts in the Delta.
The Notice of Preparation notes that while the Eco Restore program has made considerable progress, it isn’t enough to fully address the impaired conditions in the Delta, and so a more comprehensive approach to protecting, restoring, and enhancing the Delta ecosystem is required to achieve the Delta Reform Act’s goals.
DEVELOPING THE AMENDMENT
In the fall of 2016, the Delta Stewardship Council began the process of evaluating chapter 4 and preparing changes. Throughout 2017 and 2018, Council staff conducted listening sessions with a range of stakeholders, consulted with State, federal, and local agencies, Delta residents, and stakeholders; presented at public Council meetings; and received input from Councilmembers and Delta ISB members. Council staff developed three science synthesis papers that documented the best available scientific and technical information to inform the amendment. Staff used the synthesis papers and Delta ISB feedback to develop an approach to the Ecosystem Amendment along with preliminary draft revisions to the Chapter 4’s core strategies, policies, and recommendations, which were presented to the Council at the April 2019 Council meeting.
Subsequent input from councilmembers and the Delta Independent Science Board led to the further refinements with the release of the first draft ecosystem amendment in November of 2019. After taking into account the comments received, the draft amendment was further refined. In May of 2020, the Council accepted the second draft and authorized staff to begin the environmental review process.
WHAT’S IN CHAPTER 4?
Chapter 4 presents five core strategies to achieve the coequal goal of protecting, restoring, and enhancing the Delta ecosystem that form the basis for the chapter’s six policies and fifteen recommendations:
Create more natural, functional flows
Restore ecosystem function
Protect land for restoration and safeguard against land loss
Protect native species and reduce the impact of nonnative invasive species
Improve institutional coordination to support implementation of ecosystem protection, restoration, and enhancement
The chapter provides historical background on the Delta and its altered hydrology, the impacts of climate change, a vision for a restored Delta ecosystem, specific details for each of the core strategies, permitting and regulatory processes governing restoration projects, and a list of policies and recommendations. The chapter includes a robust discussion on functional flows, identifies priority areas for floodplain and habitat restoration, and addresses invasive species and predatory fish management.
The primary planning area consists of the Delta, as defined in Water Code 85058. The extended planning area includes the larger Delta watershed and all areas that receive Delta water. The study period is to 2050.
According to the Notice of Preparation, projects or actions taken by other public agencies in response to the proposed ecosystem amendment could include: changes in water flows; restoration of natural communities, including but not limited to wetland, upland, or riparian habitat; subsidence reversal activities; protection of native species and reduction of nonnative invasive species impacts; construction of new infrastructure and improvements to existing infrastructure, including screened diversions and improvements to fish passage, and modifications to improve hydrologic surface water connectivity and increase frequency of seasonal inundation.
However, what precise actions agencies will take in response to the amendment is not known and it is difficult to identify all the potential actions, so the program environmental impact report will assess the example projects of different types that could forseeably be undertaken by other public agencies.
An online meeting is scheduled for Thursday, May 28, from 4pm to 5:30pm to gather public input. Register here. To hear the audio portion of the meeting and provide comment, please call 1-877-402-9757, access code 4450441
Comments are due by July 10. Email to: email@example.com or by hard copy to Harriet Ross, Assistant Planning Director; Delta Stewardship Council; 980 9th Street, Suite 1500; Sacramento, CA 95814