Over the years, the state has established three Delta-focused agencies, each with different missions and responsibilities: The Delta Stewardship Council, the Delta Protection Commission, and the Delta Conservancy. In this post, I’ll tell you what these agencies do and what they have planned for 2022.
This post includes coverage from the February meeting of the Delta Stewardship Council, in which Council staff discussed the 2022 priorities for the Council and the Delta Science Program. Erik Vink, Executive Officer of the Delta Protection Commission, and Campbell Ingram, Executive Officer of the Delta Conservancy, also were on hand to discuss their activities for their respective organizations.
The Delta Stewardship Council
About the Delta Stewardship Council
In November 2009, the California Legislature passed SBX7 1, otherwise known as the Delta Reform Act, establishing the Delta Stewardship Council, and charged the newly-formed Council with developing the Delta Plan, an enforceable long-term plan to manage the Delta’s resources to achieve the ‘coequal goals.’ The legislation defines the coequal goals as a more reliable statewide water supply and a healthy and protected Delta ecosystem, both achieved in a manner that protects and enhances the unique characteristics of the Delta as an evolving place.
The first Delta Plan was adopted in 2013 and has chapters on water supply reliability, ecosystem restoration, protection of Delta as an evolving place, water quality, and flood risk reduction. The Delta Plan includes regulatory policies that agencies and projects must comply with as well as non-binding recommendations. And while some of the Delta Plan’s regulations do apply to habitat restoration projects and development within floodplains, the Delta Stewardship Council does not have any land use authority. Click here for a list of all the Delta Plan’s regulations.
The Delta Reform Act requires any state or local agency proposing to undertake a covered action must submit to the Council a written certification of consistency with the Delta Plan. The legislation defines a covered action as a plan, program, or project that a state or local agency proposes to do within the Delta and Suisun Marsh that is covered by one or more policies of the Delta Plan. Any person, be it a Council member, another agency, or a member of the public, who believes a covered action is inconsistent with the Delta Plan may appeal the certification of consistency to the Council within 30 days of the submission date. It is important to note that the scope of the appeal is limited to only the consistency of the plan or project with the Delta Plan’s regulatory policies.
The Council is comprised of seven members from various backgrounds and from different parts of the state that provide a statewide perspective and diverse expertise. Of the seven members, four are appointed by the Governor, one each by the Senate and Assembly, and the seventh member is the Chair of the Delta Protection Commission. The current Council members are listed here.
To ensure coordinated action at the federal, state, and local levels, the Council convenes the Delta Plan Interagency Implementation Committee (or DPIIC), which brings together the heads of state, federal, and local agencies to collaborate on Delta Plan implementation through the support of shared national, statewide and local goals for the Delta. DPIIC meets at least twice yearly.
The Council also includes the Delta Science Program, which provides the best possible unbiased scientific information to inform water and environmental management decisions for the Delta. The Council appoints a Delta Lead Scientist to oversee the program.
The Delta Reform Act also established the Delta Independent Science Board (or DISB), which replaced the previous CalFed science board. The DISB is a ten-member board comprised of prominent scientists from across the nation who have appropriate expertise to evaluate the broad range of scientific programs that support adaptive management of the Delta. The DISB provides oversight through periodic reviews of research, monitoring and assessment programs in the Delta. Since its inception, the DISB has produced reports on restoration, adaptive management, water quality, invasive species, and other important topics. They have also reviewed and provided input on important documents that inform decision-making, such as the Council’s Delta Plan amendments and environmental review documents for Delta conveyance.
2022 Delta Stewardship Council priorities
At the February meeting of the Delta Stewardship Council, Executive Officer Jessica Pearson noted that in the coming year, Council staff will be focusing on completing several multi-year projects that will further the Council’s mission and provide critical support for a more resilient Delta. Initiatives such as the Delta Levees Investment Strategy and the Ecosystem Amendment to the Delta Plan are set to be completed this year, and the Delta Adapts project and the environmental justice issue paper will make significant progress within the coming ten months.
“These priorities continue our agency’s focus on three primary objectives,” said Ms. Pearson. “One is to strengthen and implement the Delta Plan, two is build capacity for our vision of One Delta, One Science, and three is to strengthen council leadership and communications.”
Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI): Since 2020, Council staff has led an initiative focused on justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (or JEDI). The Delta Diversity Team was formed and meets monthly; it serves as the umbrella effort that includes a monthly JEDI discussion group. To support and further this work in 2022, staff will hold a series of JEDI-focused training, undertaking a JEDI assessment to better understand the Council’s JEDI climate, and the development of a JEDI strategic plan that will provide a roadmap for the agency to make any needed changes that are identified.
“Council staff and leadership are working together on this effort and are open to hearing how we can be a more inclusive and equity-focused agency,” said Amanda Bohl, Special Assistant for Planning and Science.
Delta Plan Interagency Implementation Committee: In addition to the newly-formed restoration subcommittee, the Delta Plan Interagency Implementation Committee (or DPIIC) will be focusing on releasing the third Delta crosscut budget and convening three DPIIC meetings where ecosystem-based management across the estuary, collaboration, environmental justice, and best available science are expected to be discussed. In 2022, DPIIC will meet on March 28, July 18, and November 7.
“Leading up to each DPIIC meeting, Chair Tatayon and I meet individually with each of the different agencies to hear what their current Delta priorities are and to give them an idea of what to expect during the DPIIC meeting,” said Ms. Bohl. “We find these pre-DPIIC meetings incredibly useful in helping us connect with our agency partners and in shaping the DPIIC agenda.”
Environmental justice issue paper: Staff is committed to working with their environmental justice expert group to inform the environmental justice paper and the recommendations that will ultimately be included to truly be responsive to the environmental justice community’s issues related to the Delta Plan. The Council will be updated on the progress of the issue paper throughout the year.
Delta Levees Investment Strategy (DLIS): The Delta Reform Act also charged the Council with leading a multi-agency effort to set priorities for state investments in the Delta Levee system to reduce the likelihood and consequences of levee failures. The project, known as the Delta Levee Investment Strategy (DLIS), was withdrawn from the rulemaking procedure in March of 2020 to consider new levee condition data. The updated DLIS was presented to the Council in 2021, and the Council subsequently authorized staff to reinitiate the rulemaking process at the August 2020 Council meeting. Staff now anticipates conducting a public hearing for the rulemaking process this summer, with the regulation becoming effective in January of 2023.
Delta Plan Ecosystem Amendment: The Delta Plan ecosystem amendment includes recommended actions to help protect existing ecosystems, restore ecosystems, and enhance working or urban landscapes that provide habitat resources for species. The Council released a draft program EIR for public review in September of 2021, with the public comment period ending in November. Council staff is preparing the final program EIR, which is anticipated to be released this summer; public hearings will be conducted. If approved, a rulemaking process for the ecosystem amendment would follow.
Delta Adapts Adaptation Strategy: In May of 2018, the Council directed staff to begin work on the Delta Adapts project, a comprehensive climate change vulnerability assessment and adaptation strategy for the Delta. The vulnerability assessment phase of the project was completed last year and the final report is available here. Building on the vulnerability assessment, Council staff are now working on the second phase of the project, developing the adaptation strategy that will detail the different tools that state, regional, and local governments can use to help communities, infrastructure, and ecosystems thrive in the face of climate change. The work is supported by a stakeholder workgroup and several topic-specific focus groups. The work will continue throughout 2022 with an update to the Council during the summer. Completion of the adaptation strategy is anticipated early in 2023.
Covered actions appeals: The Council’s experience with the appeals proceedings over the past five years has shown many areas where existing procedures could be improved. The 2019 five-year review of the Delta Plan also called for reviewing those procedures for possible amendments. In December, proposed revisions to the procedures were released for public review and comment. Staff anticipates convening a workshop to review those proposed revisions and public comments received later this year. Following the workshop, staff would present the proposed revisions to the Council for adoption at a subsequent meeting, with the intention of completing that process this year in 2022.
Covered actions and consistency determinations: Staff consistently meets with proponents for covered actions and implements the Council’s appeals process. In 2021, the Council did receive ten certifications of consistency. However, appeals were submitted by four parties for the Lookout Slough habitat restoration project when it was first presented in 2021. The Council’s findings on appeal remanded that covered action in part on issues related to Delta Plan policies GP1v3 and DPP2. DWR submitted a second certification for the Lookout Slough project in December. It was subsequently appealed by two parties, and those appeals are currently in process. The Council is under ex parte restriction for matters related to the project and new appeals. In 2022, the hearing process is expected to be completed for the Lookout Slough appeal. Staff continues early consultation on a number of the projects identified on the active projects list each month.
Delta 2022-2026 Science Action Agenda: The final 2022 to 2026 Science Action Agenda is expected to be released in April of this year, the culmination of two years of collaborative work to identify priority management needs, questions, and corresponding science actions that will reduce uncertainty in managing the Delta. “The forthcoming science Action Agenda provides 25 Science actions across six major management needs and will serve as a framework for guiding solicitations for research proposals and collaborative science efforts over the next four to five years,” said Dr. Louise Conrad, Deputy Executive Officer for Science.
State of Bay Delta Science: This year, the State of Bay Delta Science will be released, which is part of the Delta science strategy that provides a vision for achieving a cohesive science community. The State of Bay Delta Science is a peer-reviewed report on the current understanding of a major theme; this year’s theme will be on the services and disservices of plants and algae in the Delta. Publication is anticipated in the fall of this year.
Delta Science Fellows: Six to eight new Delta Science Fellowships will be awarded this year; applications are due to Sea Grant on April 20. The Delta Science Fellows Program is a long-standing partnership between the Delta Science Program and California Sea Grant. It provides two years of research support to graduate students and postdoctoral scholars to advance Applied Science in the Delta. The call for applications is guided by the Science Action Agenda.
Delta Science Tracker: The long-awaited launch of the Delta Science Tracker will occur in the first half of this year. The Delta Science Tracker is a public web-based tool that tracks science activities and funding to increase transparency in science funding and promote collaboration. “There is a large universe of science in the Delta, which can be difficult to follow, and the Delta science Tracker will provide a way to search for and visualize the work that’s underway,” said Dr. Conrad.
Science workshops and symposia: The Delta Science Program has a busy year planned for science workshops and symposia. These public events provide space for an in-depth discussion on specific themes with broad interest. Upcoming workshops include salinity management in the Delta and harmful algal blooms. A symposium on restoration and climate change was held at the beginning of February. The Delta Science Program is working on a modeling summit to convene members of the Delta science and modeling community to discuss a vision for a virtual modeling collaboratory. This collaboratory was identified as a need by the DPIIC Integrated Modeling Steering Committee, among other groups. It would provide a platform for improved cohesion and focus for advancing the capacity for predictive modeling.
Delta residents’ survey: A survey of Delta residents will be launched this summer to advance capacity for social sciences to support decision-making in the Delta. The goal of the survey is to establish, collect, and track social data on human communities of the Delta, with the idea of becoming a repeated survey event that generates a consistent and long term set of data. Dr. Rudnick will use an advisory committee to help oversee the effort with representation from the Delta Protection Commission, local governments, and experts in relevant fields of social science.
Delta Independent Science Board (DISB): The Delta Independent Science Board is finishing up two major thematic reviews on water supply reliability and the monitoring enterprise; those reports are expected to be published in the first half of this year. DISB members are currently in discussion on the topics of the reviews they will undertake next, and they are considering subsidence reversal, food webs, and environmental flows, while also holding space for a review of the environmental impact report for the Delta Conveyance Project when it is released later this year.
In closing …
Executive Officer Jessica Pearson noted that one aspect that can’t be controlled is their regulatory workload, so that is an uncertainty that must be managed throughout the year.
“I’m personally excited about bringing to a close several long-term policy initiatives that the council has invested so much of its time and effort into,” she said. “That will allow us to free up time and resources so that we can look ahead to what’s next in keeping the Delta Plan relevant and being actively implemented by the DPIIC agencies and others.”
The Delta Protection Commission is the oldest of the three Delta agencies, established by the Delta Protection Act of 1992 and most recently amended by the 2009 Delta Reform Act. The mission of the Delta Protection Commission is to protect, maintain, and, where possible, enhance and restore the overall quality of the Delta environment consistent with the Delta Protection Act. The goal of the Commission is to ensure orderly, balanced conservation and development of Delta land resources and improved flood protection.
The Delta Protection Commission is charged with adopting, maintaining, and implementing the Land Use and Resource Management Plan, which guides projects impacting land use, agriculture, natural resources, recreation and accessibility, water, levees, and utilities and infrastructure in the primary zone of the Delta. General plans and projects in the five Delta counties must be consistent with the LURMP.
The Delta Protection Commission is advised by the Delta Protection Advisory Committee (DPAC). They provide recommendations to the Commission on diverse interests within the Delta, including the Delta’s ecosystem, water supply, socioeconomic sustainability, recreation, agriculture, flood control, environment, water resources, utility infrastructure, and other Delta issues.
2022 Delta Protection Commission update
At the February meeting of the Delta Stewardship Council, Delta Protection Commission Executive Officer Erik Vink updated the Council on projects underway.
Great Delta Trail Master Plan: The Delta Protection Commission has adopted the Great Delta Trail Master Plan, a strategic plan for creating the great California Delta trail, which the legislature envisioned would connect trail networks in the East Bay with trail opportunities along the Sacramento River in the cities of Sacramento and West Sacramento. The Commission has already begun initiating trail planning efforts with a couple of jurisdictions. Executive Officer Erik Vink pointed out that this is a long-term effort, so don’t plan to hike or bike through the entirety of the Delta just yet. “But we have already stitched together a number of segments, and there are some real promising opportunities to continue that web further out into the heart of the Delta,” he said.
National Heritage Area Management Plan
The National Heritage Area Management Plan is on track to be completed and brought to the Commission by the fall of this year. After approval by the Commission, it will be submitted to the Secretary of Interior, as mandated by the federal legislation that established the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta National Heritage Area. Mr. Vink noted there is a lot of ongoing planning among several different parties, including a comprehensive group of advisers working on the management plan, as well as specific task forces.
Prospective CalTrans partnership: The Delta Protection Commission is working on establishing a partnership with Cal Trans District 10, which is the Cal Trans District covering San Joaquin County, one of three districts in the Delta. If established, it would also extend to Cal Trans District Three, which is Sacramento and Yolo counties. The project would involve the installation of signage, both wayfinding signs to direct people from the interstates into features within the interior Delta and interpretive signs to help people better understand particular features once they’re within the Delta.
“It’s a very nascent effort, and we’re just getting it underway,” said Mr. Vink. “It’s part of the Governor’s Clean California initiative, which we were very thrilled to see extended all the way to signage in the Delta, which is fantastic. And so hopefully, that’s something I will be able to report good progress on to you all on future updates.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION ...
Visit the Delta Protection Commission online at Delta.ca.gov.
The Conservancy goals include protecting and enhancing habitat restoration, Delta agriculture, and working landscapes; providing increased opportunities for tourism and recreation; working in conjunction with the Delta Protection Commission to promote legacy communities, economic vitality, and flood risk reduction and response; protecting and improving water quality; and protecting, conserving, and restoring the region’s physical, agricultural, cultural, historical, and living resources.
The Delta Conservancy collaborates with local communities, interested groups, fellow science experts, and state and federal agencies to seek creative opportunities to address challenges and progress these efforts within the Delta.
The Conservancy runs several grant programs disbursing funds from Prop 1, Prop 68, and the Delta Drought Response Program.
2022 Delta Conservancy Update
At the February meeting of the Delta Stewardship Council, Delta Protection Commission Executive Officer Campbell Ingram updated Council members on their current programs.
Proposition One Grant Program
Proposition 1 established $50 million for ecosystem restoration in the Delta. The Conservancy is finalizing the fifth and last solicitation that will spend down the remaining funds. Eight proposals are being reviewed currently; recommendations for funding are expected to be presented to the Board at the May meeting.
Proposition 68 Community and Economic Enhancement Program
The Delta Conservancy continues to approve projects under Prop 68; three more projects are expected to be considered at the March Board meeting.
Delta Drought Response Program
The Delta Drought Response Program was recently initiated in partnership with the Delta community, the Department of Water Resources, and the Delta Watermaster. The program is intended to pay Delta farmers for practices that reduce their consumptive water use during times of drought.
“We’re offering them $900 per enrolled acre, and we see lots of activity around planting less water consumptive crops, changing crop rotations, and other things that do conserve water. The intent here is to help us learn and better understand how to manage drought in the Delta, and what practices are most effective, and how to invest if this drought persists, and for future droughts.”
Mr. Ingram said the program has really taken off; they have received 81 proposals. They have approved 23 projects with about 6500 acres enrolled in the program. The program has about $8 million, with $6 million already set aside for the approved projects. The purpose of the program is to allow the water to remain in Delta for environmental and water quality purposes. The selection panel was meeting in a few days, and he expected the funds for the program to be completely utilized at that point.
“The estimated water conserved here is about 17,000-acre feet,” said Mr. Ingram. “So that 17,000-acre feet is what we hope to be able to demonstrate is left in the system and then provides the benefits that we’re seeking.”
Mr. Ingram noted that they will be using Open ET, the remote sensing program, to quantify the comparison between baseline and how much water is actually conserved with each of these practices. This will give a better sense of which practices are the most effective and the best way to invest in the future.
He also noted that they have a contract with UC Davis to place six Eddy Covariance Towers throughout the Delta, which are instruments that can measure the flux of evapotranspiration, carbon, and other parameters. This information will help to calibrate the Open ET program.
Councilmember Don Nottoli asked if there was any potential for additional funding for the Delta Drought Response Program?
“I think the ability to move any additional funding for this year is challenging for state funding sources,” said Mr. Ingram. “There have been initial discussions about what funding sources might be available for next year. And ideally, we would be able to start the program much earlier next year, as well. This year, it was a challenge to get a state grant program up and running in the best possible time to meet the needs.”