Restoring ecosystems can have multiple benefits, such as recovering endangered and threatened species, increasing water supply reliability, and adapting to climate change
In recent decades, planning and conservation efforts to preserve and recover endangered species have often recognized that habitat loss, fragmentation, and/or degradation are among the stressors driving declines of native species populations, and restoring ecosystems and habitat is often among the actions identified as necessary for their recovery. In California, ecosystem restoration has become especially integral to addressing flood management, water quality, and water supply concerns.
Ecosystem restoration seeks to improve the conditions of modified landscapes and the plants and wildlife that depend on them to provide for their sustainability now and into the future. Since few, if any, of California’s ecosystems can be restored to their pre-development condition, restoration efforts generally focus on the important elements of ecosystem structure and function, such as mimicking the natural flows in streams and rivers, controlling invasive species, removing barriers to fish migration, recovering wetland and floodplain habitats, and reducing or eliminating the discharge of waste and toxic contaminants into water bodies.
Successful restoration of aquatic, riparian, and floodplain species usually requires at least partial restoration of the physical processes that are driven by water, such as seasonal floodplain inundation, sediment deposition, and more natural streamflow patterns.
Many important ecosystem restoration efforts are underway by a variety of state and regional agencies, such as the Natural Resources Agency’s Eco Restore program, the Department of Water Resources, the Delta Stewardship Council’s Delta Plan, and the Central Valley Joint Venture. In addition, several non-governmental organizations, such as The Nature Conservancy, are also actively working to restore habitats and landscapes.
BENEFITS OF RESTORATION
With numerous state and federal regulations driving most ecosystem restoration efforts, restoration projects are generally aimed at recovering endangered and threatened species and their habitats. Successful restoration projects that help increase the abundance of endangered species can help increase water supply reliability by decreasing the amount of species conflicts that often lead to disruption of water supplies.
Managing and restoring forest ecosystems can affect both water quality and quantity by reducing erosion and removing pollutants, and has the potential to yield water supply benefits as well. (Click here more on Forest Management.)
Water supply and flood management projects that include ecosystem restoration benefits are likely to be more sustainable than those that are not, as projects that use natural processes to distribute water and sediment are easier to maintain and less vulnerable to disruption. In addition, multi-benefit projects can bring in additional sources of funding for the project, as well as being easier to earn public support.
Ecosystem restoration can also play a role in climate change mitigation and adaptation. Riparian forests and wetland environments have the potential to sequester carbon and serve as carbon sinks to offset carbon emissions. Floodplain restoration can help the state prepare the frequent and larger floods predicted as a result of climate change.
VALUING ECOSYSTEM SERVICES
In recent years, a new direction in protecting and restoring ecosystems is to develop markets for the ecosystem services that rivers and floodplains provide – benefits such as water purification, groundwater recharge, hydropower generation, carbon sequestration, fish and wildlife, and recreation.
Numerous pilot projects are underway to identify management practices, develop economic valuations, and establish mechanisms for beneficiaries to pay for the services received. While difficult to do, estimating the value of ecosystem services is important for resource managers who often only view ecosystem protection only in terms of costs and not benefits.
FLOOD MANAGEMENT AND ECOSYSTEM RESTORATION
Ecosystem restoration and flood management projects often occupy the same place on the landscape and depend on the same physical processes as water and sediment distribution, and as such, often go hand in hand.
Many ecosystem restoration projects can also support more sustainable flood management. The use of setback levees and bypass channels can provide flood protection while also allowing more frequent inundation of floodplains, which can serve as an important fish rearing habitat. Ecosystem restoration can improve flood protection by reducing levee erosion, deflecting dangerous flows, strengthening levee surfaces, and increasing floodwater conveyance capacity.
However, ecosystem restoration and traditional flood management practices often have conflicting objectives. Most of the potential ecosystem restoration opportunities require incorporation of habitat into the flood protection system, but currently consensus is lacking on how to design such a system.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Some ecosystem efforts underway in California …
- California Eco Restore: California EcoRestore is an initiative to help coordinate and advance at least 30,000 acres of critical habitat restoration in the Sacramento – San Joaquin Delta over the next four years.
- Ecosystem Restoration Program: The Ecosystem Restoration Program (ERP) is a multi-agency effort aimed at improving and increasing aquatic and terrestrial habitats and ecological function in the Delta and its tributaries. The program’s area of focus includes the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, Suisun Bay, the Sacramento River below Shasta Dam, the San Joaquin River below the confluence with the Merced River, and their major tributary watersheds directly connected to the Bay-Delta system below major dams and reservoirs.
- Baylands Ecosystem Habitat Goals Project: The Baylands and Climate Change: What We Can Do is an update to the 1999 Baylands Ecosystem Habitat Goals, which for the first time set comprehensive restoration goals for the San Francisco Bay estuary. Produced by a collaborative of 21 management agencies working with a multi-disciplinary team of over 100 scientists, it synthesizes the latest science—particularly advances in the understanding of climate change and sediment supply—and incorporates projected changes through 2100 to generate new recommendations for achieving healthy baylands ecosystems.
- Central Valley Joint Venture: The Central Valley Joint Venture (CVJV) is a self-directed coalition consisting of 21 State and Federal agencies, private conservation organizations and one corporation. This partnership directs their efforts toward the common goal of providing for the habitat needs of migrating and resident birds in the Central Valley of California.
- Central Valley Project Improvement Act: The Central Valley Project Improvement Act, mandates changes in management of the Central Valley Project, particularly for the protection, restoration, and enhancement of fish and wildlife.
- Sierra Nevada Watershed Improvement Program: The Sierra Nevada Watershed Improvement Program is a coordinated, integrated, collaborative program to restore the health of California’s primary watershed through increased investment and needed policy changes.
- Southern California Wetlands Recovery Project: The Southern California Wetlands Recovery Project is dedicated to acquiring, restoring, and expanding coastal wetlands and watersheds throughout Southern California.
For more information on ecosystem restoration …
- California Society for Ecological Restoration: The California Society for Ecological Restoration is a non-profit membership-based organization dedicated to facilitating the recovery of damaged California ecosystems through educational and networking activities — conferences, field tours, workshops, and more — which empower our members to address the diverse aspects involved in restoring native California habitats.
- SER International Primer on Ecological Restoration: A primer available in ten different languages, covering attributes of restored ecosystems, exotic species, monitoring and evaluation, planning and more.
More on habitat restoration from Maven’s Notebook …
- Delta Stewardship Council begins development of an ecosystem amendment to the Delta Plan Posted on: November 7, 2017
The planned amendment to the Delta Plan’s Chapter 4 will incorporate new scientific information developed since 2013 At the time the Delta Plan was adopted in 2013, the state was pursuing a comprehensive approach to infrastructure and habitat restoration through the Bay Delta Conservation Planning (BDCP) process. The Delta Plan, as written at the time, anticipated that many of the [...]
- DELTA STEWARDSHIP COUNCIL: The Delta Conservation Framework: Looking ahead at restoration to 2050 Posted on: September 12, 2017
Document attempts to chart a course for long-term restoration beyond EcoRestore The Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), the predecessor to the California Water Fix, was conceived as a habitat conservation plan, and as such, was intended to provide benefits to threatened and endangered species that went beyond what would normally be required as mitigation for the construction and operation of [...]
- BROWN BAG SEMINAR: The Delta as Changing Landscapes Posted on: June 21, 2017
Letitia Grenier is the principal investigator for the San Francisco Estuary Institute’s Delta Landscapes project, which recently completed an in-depth analysis on the change in the Delta overtime and is now offering science-based guidance on how the Delta’s ecosystem health can be recovered as part of a working landscape. Ms. Grenier is one of a number of authors on the [...]
- Fish Restoration Program Update: Prospect Island Tidal Habitat Restoration Project, Real estate acquisition, Regional salinity monitoring, and Restoration RFP Posted on: May 22, 2017
From the Department of Water Resources and the Department of Fish and Wildlife: The Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Fish Restoration Program (FRP) addresses specific habitat restoration requirements of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) biological opinions (Biological Opinions) for State Water Project (SWP) [...]
- BAY DELTA SCIENCE CONFERENCE: Advancing Tidal Wetland Restoration in a Regional Adaptive Management Framework Posted on: February 16, 2017
Dr. Gerrit Platenkamp: Adaptive management in a regional context faces challenges with monitoring, experimentation, and adaptation At the Bay Delta Science Conference, Dr. Gerrit Platenkamp, Director of Biological Resources at ESA, gave this presentation on adaptive management and wetland restoration from a practitioner’s perspective. “We’ve collectively worked on thousands of acres of tidal marsh restorations that have been put in [...]