At the July meeting of the Delta Stewardship Council, councilmembers heard briefings on the activities of the Delta Protection Commission and the Delta Conservancy, and an update on the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan.
DELTA PROTECTION COMMISSION UPDATE
Delta Protection Commission Executive Officer Erik Vink updated the councilmembers on the update of the Economic Sustainability Plan, the Delta National Heritage Area, and their activities related to the Delta Conveyance Project.
Update of Economic Sustainability Plan
One of the Delta Protection Commission projects is to update the agriculture chapter and the recreation chapter of the Commission’s Economic Sustainability Plan, which was last adopted in January of 2012.
Mr. Vink reported that the value of Delta agriculture has been increasing, mirroring the statewide trend in agriculture of moving towards higher value, permanent crops. There have been significant increases in almond plantings, continued increases in wine grape production, and increases in olive production as well.
He also noted that the anticipated restoration actions, at least as currently identified in Eco Restore, are not anticipated to have a significant effect on Delta agriculture. He attributed this to the fact that many of those parcels where the restoration projects are occurring have been in a slow transition away from agriculture and there isn’t high-value active agriculture on a lot of those parcels. Some of the restoration projects are being proposed in areas that never were really that productive agriculturally because they aren’t really well suited to farming; they are really more suited for being restored to a natural condition.
As part of the ESP update, they are looking at climate impacts on Delta agriculture of increasing summer and winter temperatures and a possible 5-foot sea level rise by the end of the century. A special concern were the chill sensitive perennial fruit and nut trees in the Delta; cherries, pears, and walnuts, in particular, would be sensitive to increasing wintertime temperatures. The increase in summertime temperatures would be a concern for heat-sensitive vegetable crops.
“What the Delta is contending with isn’t any different than what the Central Valley is contending with in terms of climate impacts,” said Mr. Vink. “We just have that added overlay of sea level rise having a direct effect on the Delta region, and what does that mean. It certainly means that levees continue to need to be maintained and improved and even heightened in response to that sea level rise.”
There is also a highly technical report that looked at salinity effects and specifically if there’s any evidence that salinity in the water column has affected Delta crop choice. “I think the short message from that report is that it’s hard to find a direct connection between salinity in Delta water and the crop choices that farmers are making. It’s far more true that farmers are making their crop choices based on agriculture economics, but in terms of making the connection between salinity, not a real conclusive finding.”
The ag update will be completed soon and reports transmitted to the Council and other interested parties.
Commission staff is still working on the update to the recreation and tourism chapter. They have held several focus groups consisting of recreation operators, recreation users, and other stakeholders to inform the update. There are also synthesis of different studies and reports that have been prepared. The update will include a recommendation on what other research might be necessary to help better inform the picture of the recreation and tourism economy in the Delta region.
National Heritage Area
The Delta Protection Commission is continuing the planning work for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Natural Heritage Area, a designation made by Congress in March of 2019.
“We’re proceeding on our development of the required management plan,” said Mr. Vink. “The Delta Protection Commission is the management entity for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta National Heritage Area and in the fall, we’re be going out with the first components of the management plan in seeking input from our very interested stakeholders, so more to come on that in the near future.”
Work related to Delta Conveyance Project
The Delta Protection Commission has been working with staff from both the Department of Water Resources and the Design and Construction Authority. The Design and Construction Authority has a very active stakeholder engagement committee that brings together people from throughout the Delta region. The engineering and design is coming into greater focus for that proposal as the project progresses and feedback is received from the stakeholder engagement committee on the emerging engineering design.
“I just want to say that the staff at the Delta Protection Commission have been very appreciative with how much more information and transparency even there is on this project as opposed to its predecessors Cal Water Fix and BDCP,” said Mr. Vink. “We’re in regular conversation with the personnel at DWR and we’ve found those conversations to be very helpful. Doing a lot of the engineering up front is incredibly helpful for people in the Delta region to understand the full impact of this proposed project. There’s probably still going to be much opposition to it, and there will undoubtedly be a lot that we will be gravely concerned about for this project, but it’s a breath of fresh air to see the different approach this time coming out of DWR in particular.”
During the Q&A, Councilmember Maria Mehranian asks if with the increased interaction with stakeholders, are the sentiments are more positive towards the Delta Conveyance Project?
“More details are emerging all the time,” said Mr. Vink, noting that Intake #2 has been taken off the table due to comments from the stakeholder engagement committee and others. “I wouldn’t say there’s a sudden love affair with the project from the Delta – everyone’s still pretty much opposed to it, but I think there is appreciation for the fact that the people doing the engineering and the design of it are listening and at least in some instances are responsive to the concerns they are hearing. … there’s appreciation for the fact that there’s input into that, as opposed to ‘here’s our fully baked idea, we’re presenting in an environmental impact report’, and there was no opportunity to have any input the features of the project.”
DELTA CONSERVANCY UPDATE
Campbell Ingram, Executive Officer of the Delta Conservancy, updated the Council on the activities of the Conservancy, which include their work disburing Prop 1 and Prop 68 funds, and the Conservancy’s work in developing the Delta carbon market. He noted that during the pandemic, the Conservancy continues to be open; they are working 100% from home and holding board meetings on Zoom.
Mr. Ingram also noted that the Delta Conservancy turns ten this year; their first board meeting was in March of 2010. “It is a momentous occasion and the opportunity to look back on the things that we’ve achieved,” he said. “I think by and large we’ve met our statutory purpose, which is to be a partner to the Delta community and show that the state can work in partnership with the community to do ecosystem restoration and economic development. We’re very proud of our achievements over the past ten years and feel like we’re really well situated to do great things in the future. Obviously funding is going to be a major driver there; if we’re well resourced, we should continue to be able to do great things.”
Update on Prop 1
The Delta Conservancy is an implementer of ecosystem restoration in the Delta. The Conservancy received $50 million from Prop 1, and over the last four years, they have had four open solicitations for projects. There are now 29 projects on the ground affecting about 8000 acres in the Delta. The projects vary widely in terms of the types of habitat that’s being created, but all projects are reviewed by independent experts and must also demonstrate local support and recognition that these projects fit well within the fabric of the Delta system and the local communities, Mr. Ingram said.
Early on, Conservancy staff spent time working with local interests and scientific interests in various regions of the Delta, focusing in on where in that region did restoration make the most sense but also have the least amount of impact on agricultural systems and the economic viability of the region.
“I think probably the best example of that is our public lands strategy that came out early in 2019,” said Mr. Ingram. “I think those nest nicely under the chapter for revision, and ultimately they provide us a pretty good framework and architecture about where we best do restoration, where it works the best within the Delta existing systems, and try to maintain economic viability as well.”
The Delta Conservancy’s Prop 68 funding is now underway; they have $12 million for community and economic enhancement. They have received 11 concept proposals so far; five of those projects have been invited to develop full proposals, two were ultimately deemed not consistent with the program; and three are still under review. Mr. Ingram noted it’s an noncompetitive ongoing solicitation, so hopefully more projects will trickle in over the coming months.
“It’s our first block of money to actually be moving some sort of economic development in the Delta,” he said. “There’s a wide variety of projects. There are public access projects, visitor centers, trails, museums, and parks, so it really is an opportunity to work with the community to put some state funds on the ground and hopefully help the overall economic vitality in the Delta.”
Delta carbon work
One area that the Delta Conservancy has been quite active in over the past several years is developing a carbon protocol and implementing pilot projects that demonstrate the potential for a carbon revenue stream that is commensurate with ag values.
In parts of the Central and Western Delta, there are about 200,000 acres that are deeply subsided that are typically being used for low-value crops, such as corn, alfalfa, and pasture because that is about all that grows in those deeply subsided areas. A carbon market could provide economic incentives to change agricultural practices and stop the subsidence that presents a threat as well as generates carbon emissions. In order to stop subsidence, the ground has to basically be rewetted, so the land could be used for either managed wetlands or rice cultivation.
Mr. Ingram said there’s been a groundswell of activity since his last update. There have been an increased number of pilot projects. The process for doing a third party validation of carbon credits for three of DWR’s wetland projects is wrapping up and represents the first time that wetland credits for a carbon market have been certified anywhere ever. DWR is doing groundbreaking on another managed wetland, and the Nature Conservancy has converted several hundred acres to rice cultivation on Staten Island and they’re looking at doing more next year. The Nature Conservancy is also doing about 1000 acres of managed wetland on Staten Island.
“A very prominent Delta rice farmer is converting over 1000 acres to rice and the Conservancy with our team of consultants are working with both TNC to give them the technical assistance to estimate their carbon credits, pay for the third-party validation to get those credits certified, and then help them connect through contracts to a carbon market and get a revenue stream moving,” he said. “It’s very exciting that we’re starting to see more interest and more people willing to take us up on our offer to help them get revenue streams from the carbon market.”
Mr. Ingram said that they recently had a meeting with the California Air Resources Board Compliance Offset Task Force which was created by the legislature to find viable carbon protocols to meet the need for carbon offsets in the future. Conservancy staff provided an overview of the Delta, the carbon protocol, how it was developed, how it works, the pilot projects, and where the Conservancy sees the system going to their wetlands subgroup.
“They were very excited about that and clearly that will be one of the protocols that they consider recommended to be adopted into the carbon compliance program. That’s important because working now in the voluntary carbon space, we can get about $62 an acre net, which competes with ag lease value, but if we get into the compliance market, we can get $180 per acre net, which outcompetes most commodities that are grown in the western Delta. So we’re very hopeful that the process moves forward and very excited to see their interest in looking at that protocol.”
Mr. Ingram gave an update to the SMUD board who had provided about a quarter of the funding to help develop the protocol that was developed in 2017; they are focused on trying to offset their current emissions and even really thinking about how to offset their past historic emissions. They see the Delta as a very fertile ground for projects that are very relevant to their community and their region, and so the Conservancy will be having further conversations with them about the types of pilot projects that they might want to be able to engage in.
He was also recently contacted by a consultant for the Pew Charitable Trust who expressed interest as well.
CENTRAL VALLEY FLOOD PROTECTION PLAN UPDATE
The Flood Plan and the Delta Plan both provide state-level planning objectives for flood facilities and operations in the Delta. Management decisions made for State Plan of Flood Control facilities (both in the Delta and upstream of the Delta) have impacts on Delta levees and ecosystem functions. The Flood Plan relates to numerous ongoing Council initiatives to amend and/or implement the Delta Plan, and ongoing coordination between the Council, DWR, and the Flood Board is critical for the success of these efforts.
The first Central Valley Flood Protection was adopted in 2012 and is updated every five years. The Department of Water Resources is currently developing the 2022 Flood Plan Update, and will be focusing on climate resilience, project implementation and tracking, and aligning with other State efforts, including implementation of Governor’s Newsom’s Water Resilience Portfolio and the California Water Plan Update 2023.
At the July meeting of the Delta Stewardship Council, Ruth Darling with the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan and Mary Jimenez with the Department of Water Resources Division of Multi-Benefit Initiatives updated the Councilmembers on the 2022 Central Valley Flood Protection Plan update.
What is the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan?
The Central Valley Flood Protection Plan is a strategic plan to improve flood risk management in the Central Valley that describes a system-wide flood management planning approach. Since its initial adoption in 2012, the plan has guided flood risk management investments to improve emergency preparedness and response capabilities, as well as increased critical flood protection in California’s Central Valley and address maintenance deficiencies in the flood system.
The Central Valley flood management system includes 1600 miles of levees, 380 of which are in the Delta, and an extensive system of flood bypasses and floodways. The system encompasses two major and very different river basins, the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins, each of which contains over five major rivers. The plan covers a diverse landscape that includes major urban centers, rural and small communities, agriculture, habitat, as well as critical infrastructure.
The Central Valley Flood Protection Plan was formulated to address flood risk to a wide variety of sectors, such as commerce, infrastructure, public safety, and water supply. Recognizing the significant risk in the Central Valley, the five-year updates to the plan are important, said Ms. Darling.
In accordance with the requirements of the Central Valley Flood Protection Act of 2008, as well as California Water Code Section 9600 through 9625, the Department of Water Resources develops the plan which is then adopted by the Central Valley Flood Protection Board. There are updates every 5 years in the years ending in 2 and 7. It’s a strategic long-range plan that describes a programmatic vision for flood system improvements.
“The Central Valley Flood Protection Plan is a descriptive document,” said Ms. Darling. “It’s not decisional. It’s not a funding or permitting decision for specific projects. It includes recommendations on investments and policies to support comprehensive flood risk management with actions locally, regionally, and system-wide, rather than promoting specific projects.”
The primary goal of the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan is to improve flood risk management; this means to reduce the chance of flooding damages, once flooding occurs, and to improve public safety, preparedness and emergency response. In addition, there are four supporting goals for the plan: improve operations and maintenance, promote ecosystem functions, improve institutional support, and promote multi-benefit projects.
Roles and responsibilities
The Department of Water Resources and the Central Valley Flood Protection Board have compatible responsibilities. The Department of Water Resources prepares the plan and works toward plan implementation, provides technical assistance, administers financial assistance programs, and operates and maintains parts of the State Plan of Flood Control Facilities. The Central Valley Flood Protection Board adopts the plan as well as works towards the implementation of the plan. The Flood Board is also the non-federal sponsor for State Plan of Flood Control facilities and projects and administers encroachment permits through their regulatory role. The Flood Board also provides a public forum for stakeholder engagement through several board committees as well as our monthly board meetings.
Local and regional input
Recognizing the importance of the local and regional input into the flood planning process, DWR funded six regionally-led flood management plans which describe local and regional flood management priorities, challenges, and potential funding mechanisms along with site-specific improvement needs. The Regional Flood Management Plans provide valuable perspectives from regional and local flood managers to help inform and align the Central Valley Flood Plan Protection investment strategies and implementation, as well as platform for meaningful engagement among the state and local and regional flood planners across both river basins.
Ms. Darling noted that the Sacramento Delta North region and the Lower San Joaquin and Delta South region both included planning recommendations for the Delta area.
“Because the CVFPP is a system-wide plan supported by details contained in the Regional Flood Management Plans, we wanted to highlight the process to you,” she said. “In addition, the Central Valley Flood Protection Board provides a public venue for stakeholders to engage with the state on flood management activities including the plan. The Board also has shown the importance of the local and regional perspectives through several committees that are designed to inform and engage stakeholders and solicit feedback from the community and stakeholders, in addition to our monthly board meetings.”
Updating the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan
The Central Valley Flood Protection Act of 2008 directed the Department of Water Resources to develop and the Central Valley Flood Protection Board to adopt the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan. The first plan was adopted in June of 2012.
“In that plan, we introduced the state system-wide investment approach and identified the goals and strategies to implement the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan over a 30-year horizon, consistent with the authorizing legislation,” said Ms. Jimenez.
The 2017 Central Valley Flood Protection Plan further refined the state system-wide approach that had been introduced in the initial plan and was organized around two foundation themes: integration with broader water resource objectives, more commonly known as multi-benefits, and the need for sustainable funding for flood system investments. The 2022 update is organized around the foundational themes of climate resilience, reporting of performance measures, and demonstrating alignment with other state efforts, notably including the Delta Plan.
The 2017 Update
The 2017 update to the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan recommended investments of $17 – $21 billion over the 30-year planning horizon. It was supported by a deep body of supporting technical and scientific work, including a conservation strategy and an investment strategy, as well as several comprehensive climate change analyses. The 2017 update identified eight major policy issues and made recommendations to address them.
“What’s important to understand about those policy issues is they were the latest and greatest at the time of what we felt working with our stakeholders were affecting our ability to implement the CVFPP, so we really needed to dig in and understand those policy issues and try to make meaningful recommendations to address them moving forward,” said Ms. Jimenez.
Themes for the 2022 update
Climate resilience: With respect to climate change resilience, here in California, we’re on the cutting edge of understanding the effects of a changing climate on our flood management system.
“Moving towards 2022, we have a great opportunity to build upon the analyses done in 2012 and 2017 and be informed by new data,” said Ms. Jimenez. “We continue to use a comprehensive risk management approach in the CVFPP to increase climate resilience and provide multiple benefits.
Tracking accomplishments and performance: This is also known as performance tracking. Building off the work in the 2017 update, as part of the update, a comprehensive performance tracking system will be developed to improve return on investment for state taxpayers and provide accountability.
“We have some ongoing efforts to develop a performance tracking system that we initiated after 2017 to track progress on implementing the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan,” she said. “It’s still in its relative infancy so we have some work ahead of us to move this forward in the next couple years, including consideration of both flood management and ecosystem restoration metrics as part of our multi-benefit plan.”
Improving alignment with other state efforts: The 2022 update will align with other state efforts, such as the Governor’s Water Resilience Portfolio, the California Water Plan update 2023, the Delta Plan, implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, Bulletin 118, DWR’s Climate Action Plan, and the Headwaters to Floodplain Initiative, a flood safety partnership which is focused primarily on floodplain management and emergency response.
The Central Valley Flood Protection Plan and the Delta Plan
The maps on the slide shows the State Plan of Flood Control planning areas in yellow, the primary zone of the Delta outlined in red and the secondary zone outlined in orange. The overlapping planning areas of the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan and the Delta Plan are the yellow shaded areas located within the primary and secondary zone of the Delta.
Ms. Jimenez noted that an MOU was signed between the Department of Water Resources, the Central Valley Flood Protection Board, and the Delta Stewardship Council in late 2017, and since early 2018, there have been regular working group meetings to better coordinate and collaborate on future Delta levee investments.
“The purpose of that working group is to really establish an effective working relationship between our agencies where we have overlapping authorities and responsibilities in the legal Delta,” she said. “So in the spirit of the MOU, we are also collaborating at the staff level on our climate change technical approaches. I’m very pleased to hear from staff that we’re already enjoying productive discussions between the Delta Stewardship Council’s climate initiative, Delta Adapt, and our CVFPP climate change analyses that we’re preparing for 2022.”
There are many other opportunities, she said. “We are just getting going in thinking through a consistency determination to prepare for 2022 and we are going to initiate early consultation at the staff level in the coming weeks on that. We also have opportunities ahead of us to collaborate on our performance tracking efforts and the theme and the flood protection plan and explore ways that that performance tracking system and information can help us meet our reporting requirements to the DSC on Delta progress.”
Chair Susan Tatayon asked for more details about the Conservation Strategy to the Flood Plan. What is the footprint area, what are the kinds of things that the strategy is considering, and how that aligns with other state programs such as Eco Restore or the Delta Plan’s ecosystem amendment?
Mary Jimenez said that the planning area is similar, but the conservation areas that go a little bit upstream up some of the tributaries, so it’s a little bit broader than the planning area.
As for the specific contents, Ms. Jimenez said, “We’re organizing the update of the contents of the 2017 strategy which are basically the tools, strategies, and policies affecting multi-benefit project implementation and related topics. Right now, it’s envisioned to be a more modest update of the deep body of work in 2017. We’re just starting to scope it in a little more detail working through the Board’s advisory committee into subtopics, and that kind of engagement and more detailed scoping is just starting to begin, so we can follow up as we move forward. I understand that Council staff is participating in that advisory committee and in the groups that are going to be formed to dig into the contents in more detail.”
In conclusion …
Jeff Henderson with the Delta Stewardship Council then concluded the agenda item with some closing remarks. He noted that the Delta Plan’s key objectives involve the coequal goals and reducing flood risks to state interests, as well as the water supply components, the ecosystem components, flooding, and Delta as an evolving place. The overlap between the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan and the Delta Plan is represented by the circle on the slide and includes the shared objectives of reducing flood risks, improving operations and maintenance, promoting ecosystem functions, and promoting multi-benefit projects.
“The way we see the flood plan really working integrally with some of the Council’s activities is the ongoing work on Delta Adapts, and we’re hopeful for maybe some integrated approaches with regard to the floodplains conservation strategy and the Delta Plan ecosystem amendment,” said Mr. Henderson. “We heard the Department describe earlier the initiation of early consultation, which is something we very much welcome with regard to the floodplain and we’re actively engaged in setting up a structure for that now and contributing in meaningful ways to come of the content of the conservation strategy through the advisory committees.”
As for next steps, the Department of Water Resources is in the process of developing a flood plan update for 2022, including a conservation strategy. “At that point, DWR would also be the lead agency for the CEQA process to support adoption of the flood plan. The flood board would be the responsible agency under CEQA and would take action to adopt that flood plan update, at which point we anticipate that DWR would prepare and file a certification of consistency for the flood plan update for the Delta Plan, and following that, both DWR and the Flood Board would be engaged in implementing the flood plan update.”