At the April meeting of the Delta Stewardship Council during a public hearing, the Council voted to deny the appeal of DWR’s certification of consistency for the Lookout Slough Tidal Habitat Restoration and Flood Improvement Project, clearing the way for the project to move forward.
It was the second time the project has been through a public hearing on the matter; previously, the Department of Water Resources had filed its Certification of Consistency in the spring of 2021. Subsequently, that certification was appealed by Liberty Island Access, Solano County Water Agency, Reclamation District 2060 & Reclamation District 2068, and the Central Delta Water Agency. Portions of the appeal, largely those regarding public access and recreational opportunities, were upheld, and the project was remanded to the Department of Water Resources for reconsideration in July of 2021.
The Department of Water Resources resubmitted the Consistency of Determination on December 30, 2021; on January 31, the determination was appealed again by Liberty Island Access and the Solano County Water Agency.
The Department of Water Resources made changes to the project, adding new public access features, such as repaving Liberty Island access road, adding legal parking areas, and creating bank fishing areas. The Department will also be constructing a boat ramp for hand launching and opening up over 20 miles of new waterways to the public for boating, fishing, waterfowl hunting, and bird watching.
Taylor Dahlke, representing Liberty Island Access, said it wasn’t enough. He argued in favor of the appeal at the hearing, pointing out that the site is used mainly for bank fishing, so adding a boat ramp wouldn’t be useful and would conflict with existing uses. He also noted that about 40% of those using the site are fishing to put food on the table.
In their appeal, Solano County Water Agency stated that they are not necessarily seeking to stop the project, but see the project as improving conditions for the Central Valley Project and State Water Project operations at the sole expense and detriment of Solano County interests. However, they did not speak at the public hearing. It’s worth noting that in November of 2021, the Solano County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to support the project.
Although the Delta Protection Commission itself did not take a position on the appeal, Executive Director Erik Vink said he and Commission staff think that the Department has met the standard of substantial evidence to support the determination of consistency. However, he expressed concerns that the findings would set a precedent that undermines the protection of the Delta’s unique values in future certification of consistency appeals.
Delta Plan policy DP P2 states that water management facilities, ecosystem restoration, and flood management infrastructure must be sited to avoid or reduce conflicts with existing uses where feasible, public lands should be used first, and mitigation for the impacts created. “So DP P2 is not just about siting, and that’s the focus of the draft determination,” said Mr. Vink. “It’s also about respecting local land use.”
Council staff did make some adjustments to the text based on the Commission’s comments and added that they think DP P2 is largely about siting projects, but not at the exclusion of other means by which to avoid those negative effects. They also assured that any legal conclusions or interpretations of the Delta Plan in this determination are not binding going forward on future appeals.
In the end, the Delta Stewardship Council determined that the Department of Water Resources had provided enough to support the determination of consistency, so they unanimously voted to accept and adopt the determination, thereby allowing the project to proceed.Lookout Slough Determination