DELTA STEWARDSHIP COUNCIL: 2022 Central Valley Flood Protection Plan update, Recreation and tourism in the Delta

At the March meeting of the Delta Stewardship Council, the councilmembers were briefed on the 2022 on the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan and on the update to the recreation and tourism chapter of the Delta Protection Commission’s Economic Sustainability Plan.

2022 Update of the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan

The Central Valley Flood Protection Act of 2008 directed the Department of Water Resources to prepare and the Central Valley Flood Protection Board to adopt a plan focused on improving flood risk management in the Central Valley.  The first plan was adopted in 2012 and is updated every five years. The plan lays out strategies to prioritize the State’s investment in flood management over the next three decades, promote multi-benefit projects, and integrate and improve ecosystem functions associated with flood risk reduction projects.

The Flood Plan’s objective is to develop and guide a system-wide investment approach for sustainable, integrated flood management in areas currently protected by the State Plan of Flood Control (SPFC) facilities. The State Plan of Flood Control represents the Central Valley flood management system that the State is responsible for.  Approximately one-third of the levees in the Delta are a part of the State Plan of Flood Control.

The Department of Water Resources and the Central Valley Flood Protection Board are updating the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan, which is expected to be completed in 2022.  At the March meeting of the Delta Stewardship Council, Ruth Darling, Program Manager at the Central Valley Flood Protection Board, and Mary Jimenez, Manager of the System-wide Multi-benefit Initiatives Branch at the Department of Water Resources, briefed the Council on the progress made on updating the plan.

Erin Mullin, a Senior Water Resources Engineer with the Delta Stewardship Council, introduced the agenda item, noting that she was on the Department of Water Resources planning team for the first flood plan in 2012.

It was while I worked on that project that I developed my interest in the Delta,” she said.  “The interest stemmed from the fact that all upstream decisions that are made about flood management in the Central Valley would eventually flow downstream to the Delta. The Delta is the last link in the flood management chain. The Central Valley and the Delta are linked, and it’s this connection that makes coordination between the Delta plan and the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan so important.”

Overview of the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan

Ruth Darling is a Program Manager for the Central Valley Flood Protection Board and the lead for ushering the plan through adoption.  She coordinates with the Department of Water Resources planning team and the Conservation Strategy Team and handles the other technical aspects that go into developing the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan.

She began with a brief overview of the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan.  The Central Valley Flood Protection Act of 2008 directed the Department of Water Resources to develop the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan and the Central Valley Flood Protection Board to adopt it.   The first plan, adopted in 2012, is a strategic long-range plan that describes the programmatic vision for flood system improvements within the State Plan of Flood Control. She noted that the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan is descriptive, it’s non-decisional, and it’s not a funding or permitting decision for specific projects.

The primary goal of the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan is to improve flood risk management, which includes reducing the chance of flooding, reducing damages once flooding occurs, and improving public safety preparedness and emergency response.

The Central Valley Flood Protection Plan looks at the system as a whole, so we call it the system-wide investment approach,” said Ms. Darling.  “The supporting goals of the plan are to improve operation and maintenance of State Plan of Flood Control facilities, to promote ecosystem functions within the regions that the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan covers, to improve institutional support within our sister agencies, our stakeholders as well as the public, and also to promote multi-benefit projects.”

Major themes in the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan update

The 2022 update has three major themes:

Climate change resilience

The 2022 update will build upon analysis done in 2012 and 2017, incorporating new data and a comprehensive risk management approach to increase resilience and provide multiple benefits.

DWR, the Central Valley Flood Protection Board, and the Delta Stewardship Council have been coordinating over the last year on the Delta Adapts climate analysis.  Everyone coordinating on the Delta Adapts effort agrees with the report’s findings, which is also consistent with the climate change analysis occurring as part of the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan update.

As the work on the update continues, there will be several public outreach events.  In the summer of 2021, they will be holding stakeholder meetings on the climate change analysis. Later in the fall, they will be holding a coordinating committee and/or Central Valley flood protection board workshops that will focus specifically on the climate change analysis. Ms. Darling encouraged anyone interested to attend and participate. 

Tracking accomplishments and performance

Since many of the projects and planning that have come out of the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan are funded through bond measures, Ms. Darling said it is important to be accountable to the taxpayers.  This includes providing solid feedback on what has been accomplished by tracking performance measures that include flood risk management and ecosystem restoration metrics.  The goal is to develop a comprehensive performance tracking system that will improve return on investment for state taxpayers and provide accountability for planning and project implementation.

They will be working with the Central Valley Flood Protection Board Coordinating Committee in the upcoming months and holding a workshop on this topic during the summer.

Alignment with other state efforts

It’s important that the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan is consistent with the goals and the priorities of the state administration as well as other agencies that operate, plan, and implement projects within the Central Valley.

Governor Newsom’s Water Resilience Portfolio outlines several actions that address the plan and the plan’s recommendations, including the Yolo Bypass Cache Slough Partnership and streamlining permitting.

There are about three or four actions that were detailed in the water resilience portfolio that we’re tracking and providing consistency with,” said Ms. Darling.

There is consistency with the California Water Plan 2023 Update, the Delta Plan, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, the DWR Climate Action Plan, the Eco Restore initiative, and the Headwaters to Floodplains Initiative or H2S, which is a flood safety partnership being spearheaded by DWR. 

Timeline for completion

The slide shows the timelines to completion.  The admin draft of the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan update is expected to be ready in August of 2021, with the public draft to be released in the first quarter of 2022.  They are hoping to have the plan update finalized in the fall of 2022, with a subsequent adoption by the board.

DWR’s Conservation Strategy Team is currently working on the initial working draft, with a public draft to be released in November of 2021 and a final to accompany the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan in September 2022. 

The draft Central Valley Flood Protection Plan CEQA document is expected in January of 2022, with a final document following in September 2022.

Regional flood management planning

Mary Jimenez, Manager of the System-wide Multi-benefit Initiatives Branch at the Department of Water Resources, took over the presentation at this point.  She noted that DWR has funded updates to the six regional plans included in the planning area, two of which have portions of their plans that intersect with the Delta.

The regional flood management planning groups are not completing comprehensive updates of their previous plans for this update but instead are developing a series of white papers with updated content that is informing the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan’s investment and policy recommendations.

The regional flood management planning efforts began in September of 2020; they have been meeting monthly ever since and making good progress on their various deliverables. The deliverables include white papers with updated proposed project information and comments on progress on the 2017 Central Valley Flood Protection Plan’s policy recommendations.  She noted that there have also been periodic regionally led presentations to the board’s Coordinating Committee by the leaders of each of the six regions that have resulted in interesting and engaging conversations.

Recently, Ms. Jimenez noted that leaders from five of the six regions presented regional update summaries to the board’s Coordinating Committee, including the two regions that overlap with part of the Delta. The sixth presentation will be heard at their April meeting.

It is extremely informative for us and everyone engaged in the coordinating committee to hear the different regional perspectives on implementation progress that’s been made in each region and how their priorities are changing over time moving forward to 2022, so we can actively continue to work together over the coming months to well reflect their valuable input into the draft CVFPP as we move forward this year.”

Over the next couple of months, they will be reviewing the list of proposed projects submitted by the regions to update estimates of needed investments and to discuss performance tracking indicators and metrics, particularly flood risk reduction and the ecosystem metrics.

Conservation strategy

Likewise, the conservation strategy is being updated as it is an integral part of the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan main document. As such, its themes and information will align with those of the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan as a whole. 

In the last update, measurable objectives were set for an array of conservation metrics in five conservation planning areas to guide multi-benefit project formulation, and implementation of the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan.  The team is currently digging into available project information to estimate contributions to these objectives so they can have an informed update to the conservation strategy of the plan to assess progress and where the challenges still exist.

The primary venue where they have been discussing the conservation strategy is the board advisory committee that meets monthly.  The team is looking forward to continued conversations in that venue, as well as other venues with smaller groups and individuals outside of the advisory committee. 

The development of the conservation strategy update is well underway,” said Ms. Jimenez.  “We’re considering draft recommendations that we received from the board Advisory Committee, and we’re going through those recommendations now to inform the update of the conservation strategy and the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan itself.

An administrative draft for early review is expected to be available in May; they will use the feedback received on the draft and continued discussions in other venues to work towards the public draft later this year.

Delta Plan Consistency Determination

Ms. JIminez said they have been having regular discussions with the Delta Stewardship Council staff and are making good progress on their Delta Plan consistency determination.

The Stewardship Council staff have provided very helpful overviews of all the Delta planning chapters,” she said.  “We had engaging dialogue on how each of the policies could apply to our Central Valley Flood Protection Plan update and really started talking through what is the best way to address those policies.

Next steps

Ms. Jimenez says they are looking forward to their continued focus on alignment throughout the flood plan update’s continued development.  Discussions at the staff level on the climate change analyses are continuing with draft results expected later this year. 

We look forward to continuing to meet as we develop the contents of our consistency determination and leverage the valuable input and expertise of your staff,” said Ms. Jimenez.   “We will continue engaging at the board’s valuable forums, such as the Advisory Committee, the coordinating committee, the board workshops, and other meetings as needed.”

DELTA PROTECTION COMMISSION’S ECONOMIC SUSTAINABILITY PLAN

The 2009 amendments to the Delta Protection Act required that the Delta Protection Commission prepare an Economic Sustainability Plan (or ESP) for the Delta region. The Economic Sustainability Plan, initially published in January of 2012, includes information and recommendations on topics such as Delta agriculture, recreation and tourism, public safety, levees, and potential conveyance and restoration impacts. The 2012 Economic Sustainability Plan then informed the development of the Delta Plan’s Chapter 5 Delta as a place policies.

The Delta Protection Commission has been working on updating two chapters of the 2012 Economic Sustainability Plan.  The chapter on agriculture has been updated, as was reported to the Council at the July 2020 meeting.  Click here to read the post.

The second chapter to be updated is the chapter on recreation and tourism.  Since 2012, several developments have impacted or may impact recreation and tourism in the Delta.  These include the designation of the Delta as a National Heritage Area, continued work on the Great Delta Trail, creation of a marketing Task Force, the proposed Delta conveyance project and its prior iterations, and most recently, the covid-19 pandemic.

Delta Protection Commission Executive Officer Erik Vink updated the Council on the plan’s recommendations.  He began by reminding that the agriculture chapter was recently updated, and the Commission staff are working on completing the update to the chapter on recreation and tourism.

In order of importance to the Delta economy, agriculture is the predominant force in the Delta economy for recreation, and tourism is the number two contributor,” said Mr. Vink.

The real purpose of the economic sustainability plan is to describe how best to protect and enhance the unique Delta values – that is, the cultural, agricultural, recreational, and natural resources,” said Mr. Vink.  “As Council members, you’re aware of the coequal goals.  We always remind people that the coequal goals are to be accomplished in a manner that protects and enhances unique Delta values. And so that’s the baseline or the foundation for the work on the Economic Sustainability Plan.”

There are some areas of the recreation and tourism economy that are doing well.  Farms with direct sale operations, such as farm stands, you-pick operations, agritourism, or recreation sales, have increased in the six Delta Counties since 2002.  In addition, many wineries and wine tasting establishments have opened. 

However, other areas of the Delta recreation and tourism economy are not doing so well.  Marinas in the Delta have decreased from 112 in 2008 to 97 in 2020.  Recreation-related establishments located in the primary zone have decreased from 96 in 2008 to 70 in 2020.  Boat building is also down by 50% since 2008; Mr. Vink acknowledged that although there were not many boat builders in the Delta, they are a high-value economic contributor to the Delta recreation economy.  Other recreation-related businesses, including camping, restaurants, and boat repair, have likewise declined.

This chart shows the declining boat ownership in the Delta market area, which is considered the Delta and the nearby areas that would likely do their recreational boating in the Delta region.  The chart documents an increase to 2000, and then a decrease beginning in 2010 that continues to this day.

This might say something about shifting demographics and the general movement away from recreational boating,” Mr. Vink said.  “We’ve certainly seen an increase in other forms of recreation – non-motorized boating, such as kayaks, stand up paddleboards, etc., as well as birdwatching.  In general, nature-based recreation has increased.”

These declines are reflected in the economic numbers.  Direct spending in the Delta is down, from about $312million in 2012 to roughly $250million (in 2020 dollars), a decline of almost 20%.  Delta recreation and tourism now support fewer jobs in the five Delta counties, from about 3,000 jobs in 2012 to nearly 2,300 in 2020 (26% decrease).  Most spending occurs in Legacy Communities and at marinas.

With a reduction in marinas and some challenging circumstances in legacy communities, one would anticipate seeing these types of declines,” Mr. Vink said.

The Delta market area population, which includes the large metropolitan areas at the periphery, has seen substantial increases in population in the market area.  However, recreation visitation in the Delta is the same as it was in 2012.  

We did have some indication it’s anecdotal and that there was pandemic-related boating increases in the Delta in 2020,” said Mr. Vink.  “A report said that boat sales had increased and that marinas had seen increased traffic in the last year since the pandemic. It’s an interesting question whether that will continue or whether that’s more just a feature of people recreating very close to home during travel restrictions over the last year. Time will tell a little bit more on that.”

The report included a series of recommendations that revolve around Delta marinas as boating is still a cornerstone recreation activity in the Delta, and then the legacy community-related businesses.  

The recommendations include:

  • Pursue partnerships that can expand access to existing public recreation facilities or existing public lands.
  • Restart the Delta Dredged Sediment Long Term Management Plan, an effort initiated with the US Army Corps of Engineers back in Cal Fed days. The Delta Watermaster has been leading an effort to address channel sedimentation in the South Delta, but it is an issue that is experienced throughout the Delta region that does become a challenge to the recreational boating community at some point.
  • Develop permit and planning assistance for Legacy Community small businesses.
  • Removing water hazards and abandoned vessels, always a critically important issue in the Delta region.
  • Bring the ‘Save the waters you love’ campaign to the Delta, which focuses on public awareness and getting people thinking about issues of the challenges in the waterways related to boating recreation.
  • Increase law enforcement funding and presence throughout the Delta, primarily in the vast rural reaches of the Delta
  • Expanding the Delta Marketing Task Force efforts and VisitCADelta.com promotion to promote Delta tourism
  • Prioritize National Heritage Area and Great Delta Trail planning and implementation
  • Institute regular Delta recreation and tourism surveys

Next Steps 

The next steps are to convene the potential participants a workgroup with the Delta Stewardship Council, the Delta Conservancy, State Parks Division of Boating and Wildlife, State Lands Commission, and other state agencies, and private entities to present the recommendations and begin developing a work plan for how to make progress on those efforts.

DISCUSSION HIGHLIGHTS

Councilmember Maria Mehranian asked what other activities besides boating and wine tastings are included?

Certainly fishing, hunting, bird watching, bicycling, using trails, hiking, walking, and even pleasure driving,” said Mr. Vink.  “There are plenty of people, especially this time of the year, that are just driving out to the Delta region because it’s incredibly scenic and beautiful. All of those activities would be considered recreational-related activities. It’s a pretty broad definition and certainly does include pleasure driving as well.”

Councilmember Christy Smith asked about the decrease in the number of marinas and if any particular data points stand out with respect to that? Is it a combination of economic factors and environmental factors?

A lot of this really started leading up to the 2012 report,” said Mr. Vink.  “The recession that occurred in 2008 did a number on recreational boating in the Delta. So it was already in a weakened condition. These marinas, in particular, were suffering from that decline in business and making some of that decline up in the intervening years. But it’s also environmental factors as well because the channel sedimentation makes it very challenging to operate some of these marinas, and we do have marinas where that is a big, big issue. As the channels accumulate sediment, they foster invasive aquatic weeds, and water hyacinth has been a very big issue for recreational boating. It’s really an issue for all aspects in the Delta, whether you’re operating the export pumps in the south Delta or a farmer trying to siphon water onto your leveed Island, a recreational boater, or a marina operator. All those entities are challenged by the growth of invasive aquatic weeds, which is a function of channel siltation, water temperatures. There’s a host of factors, but those two are critical.”

There’s an environmental overlay to it as well,” Mr. Vink continued.  “Some of these facilities are just not investing in improvements.  They perhaps feel their future is uncertain. The prospect of the tunnel project has been weighing over people in the Delta. I’m not saying that that’s the rationale for everyone’s decision-making, but we believe there are marina operations in the Delta that don’t know which direction this thing is headed. And that’s leading to a decrease in making needed improvements. And then it becomes almost a self-fulfilling prophecy at that point. There are a host of factors that are contributing to that decline.”

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