Aerial view looking South West, foreground is White Slough and to the left is Empire Tract, both part of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in San Joaquin County, California. Photo taken March 08, 2019.
Ken James / California Department of Water Resources, FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY
Statewide and Delta Planning Processes
California Water Plan, Bay Delta Plan, Delta Plan, Delta Conveyance Project, and more … this handy information page will help sort out the multitude of water planning processes currently underway
This page last updated on April 12, 2020.
Currently, there are three major planning processes focused exclusively on the Delta, two broader statewide plans, and multitudes of smaller plans and programs that affect the Delta in some way. Some plans are regulatory which means agencies/entities have to comply with them such as the Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan or the Delta Plan; some plans make recommendations and are meant to inform other processes and plans such as the California Water Plan, and still others assess progress and detail how multiple agencies will work together to achieve common goals such as the San Francisco Estuary Blueprint.
What are all these different plans and processes? This page will help sort them all out for you.
In April 2019, Governor Newsom directed state agencies through Executive Order N-10-19 to develop a “water resilience portfolio,” which was described as a set of actions to meet California’s water needs through the 21st century.
The Executive Order listed seven principles for the portfolio:
Prioritize multi-benefit approaches that meet several needs at once
Utilize natural infrastructure such as forests and floodplains
Embrace innovation and new technologies
Encourage regional approaches among water users sharing watersheds
Incorporate successful approaches from other parts of the world
Integrate investments, policies, and programs across state government
Strengthen partnerships with local, federal and tribal governments, water agencies and irrigation districts, and other stakeholders.
On January 3, State agencies released a draft California Water Resilience Portfolio intended to improve California’s capacity to prepare for disruptions, withstand and recover from climate-related shocks, and adapt into the future.
The draft portfolio proposes 133 separate actions which fall into four main categories: to maintain and diversify water supplies; to protect and enhance natural systems; to build connections of all kinds, from physical to digital to human; and to be prepared by planning and making investments. Some elements of the portfolio highlight the need for greater state government efficiency such as coordinating grant and loan programs across state agencies to fund multi-benefit projects; evaluating state water-related plans and consider modifying, consolidating, or discontinuing; and developing expedited and cost-effective permitting mechanisms for restoration projects. Other proposed actions are aimed at gathering, creating, and better disseminating the information to water managers and local, state, or federal agencies.
The appendices of the draft portfolio contain the assessments for each of the ten hydrologic regions of the state that consider sources and uses of water, major surface and groundwater pollutants, instream flow requirements where they have been set; likely climate change effects; and water rights, such as the total volume associated with water rights in the region, as well as an assessment of water-related vulnerabilities by region.
Public comment on the draft portfolio closed on February 7, 2020. The state has yet to release the final document. (At the time of this page update, the government is addressing the coronavirus pandemic, so when the final portfolio will be released is unknown.)
The California Water Plan is the state’s long-term strategic plan for guiding the management and development of water resources. Updated every 5 years, development of the California Water Plan is led by the Department of Water Resources with extensive stakeholder involvement from other government agencies, nonprofits and NGOs, tribal, regional, and local interests as well as environmental, agricultural, and urban stakeholders. The Plan is intended to inform legislative action as well as planning processes and decision making at all levels of government.
Update 2018 provides recommended actions, funding scenarios, and an investment strategy to bolster efforts by water and resource managers, planners, and decision-makers to overcome California’s most pressing water resource challenges. It reaffirms State government’s unique role and commitment to sustainable, equitable, long-term water resource management; it also introduces implementation tools to inform sound decision-making.
The State Plan of Flood Control is a descriptive document that details the infrastructure and operation of the state-federal flood management system that includes 1600 miles of project levees, five major weirs, four dams, six pumping plants, floodways, bypasses and drainage facilities. SPFC infrastructure influences flooding and flood management on more than 2.2 million acres in the Central Valley that stretch from Red Bluff to Fresno and include facilities within the Delta.
The State Plan of Flood Control facilities are comprised of numerous separate projects along the mainstem and tributaries of Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers which have been built incrementally over the years since the project was first federally authorized in 1917.
State Plan of Flood Control Facilities are those structures and facilities for which the Central Valley Flood Protection Board or the Department of Water Resources has provided assurances of cooperation to the federal government; it is these State-provided assurances that are an important distinction for what constitutes the State-federal flood protection system. These other flood protection facilities in the Central Valley that are not covered by State assurances and are not part of the State-federal system are included in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Flood Management System defined in the California Water Code Section 9611.
It is important to note, however, that State Plan of Flood Control facilities are only a portion of a larger flood control system; other non-SPFC facilities work in conjunction to provide flood protection. For example, upstream reservoirs regulate flows to levels that can be managed by SPFC facilities; private levees and locally operated drainage systems work in conjunction with SPFC facilities; and emergency response, floodplain management and other management practices are all part of the overall flood protection system.
The State Plan of Flood Control Descriptive Document, November 2010, provided the first inventory and description of the flood management projects and features (facilities), lands, programs, plans, conditions, and mode of operations and maintenance for the State-federal flood management system in the Sacramento River and San Joaquin River watersheds of California. In 2017, an update document was developed to describe changes that have occurred to the SPFC since the 2010 Descriptive Document due to project implementation and other related changes. The 2017 update to the State Plan of Flood Control is structured as a reference document and should be used in conjunction with the 2010 Descriptive Document to represent the State Plan of Flood Control as of June 30, 2016.
Even though California is working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions reductions to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, nonetheless climate impacts such as increased wildfires, floods, severe storms, and heat waves are already occurring and will only become more frequent. Taking action now to adapt to climate change will save lives as well as the state’s economy.
California’s plan for adapting to these impacts is embodied in the Safeguarding California Plan, which details what actions state agencies are taking and planning to take to protect communities, infrastructure, services, and the natural environment from climate change impacts. The Safeguarding California plan lays out the steps to achieve the state’s goals in the over 1,000 ongoing actions and next steps, organized by 76 policy recommendations across 11 policy sectors that were developed through the scientific and policy expertise of staff from 38 state agencies.
California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment provides information to build resilience to climate impacts, including temperature, wildfire, water, sea level rise, and governance. The Fourth Assessment is intended to advance actionable science to serve the growing needs of state and local-level decision-makers from a variety of sectors.
The Fourth Assessment is part of California’s comprehensive strategy to take action based on cutting-edge climate research. It was designed to address critical information gaps that decision-makers need at the state, regional, and local levels to protect and build resilience of California’s people and its infrastructure, natural systems, working lands, and waters.
Local and regional governments need information to support action in their communities. To address this need, the Fourth Assessment includes reports for nine regions of the state. These summary reports were included for the first time as part of the State’s assessment process in part because the vast majority of adaptation planning and implementation will happen at local and regional scales. Each of these reports provides a summary of relevant climate impacts and adaptation solutions for a region of the state.
The Fourth Assessment includes reports covering critical topics for California such as climate justice, tribal and indigenous communities within California, and California’s ocean and coast. A summary report provides an overview of the findings and context for the entire Fourth Assessment.
California Aquatic Invasive Species Management Plan
The California Aquatic Invasive Species Management Plan proposes management actions for addressing aquatic invasive species threats, such as non-native algae, crabs, clams, fish, plants and other species. State surveys indicate that at least 607 species of aquatic invaders can be found in state’s waters. Some non-native species were intentionally introduced; others arrived as hitchhikers on transoceanic shipping vessels, and others are accidentally transported from water body to water body by recreational boaters. New non-native species continue to arrive in the state’s creeks, wetlands, rivers, bays and coastal waters.
Aquatic invasive species can disrupt agriculture, shipping, water delivery, recreational and commercial fishing; undermine levees, docks and environmental restoration activities; impede navigation of the state’s waterways; and damage native habitats and the species that depend on them. As the ease of transporting organisms across the Americas and around the globe has increased, so has the rate of aquatic invasive species introductions.
The California State Wildlife Action Plan 2015 Update provides a vision and a framework for conserving California’s diverse natural heritage. The Plan examines the health of wildlife and prescribes actions to conserve wildlife and vital habitat before they become more rare and more costly to protect and promotes wildlife conservation while furthering responsible development and addressing the needs of a growing human population.
The plan is not a regulatory document; rather, it calls for the development of a collaborative framework to sustainably manage ecosystems across the state in balance with human uses of natural resources.
The California State Wildlife Action Plan is prepared by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and is required to be updated every 10 years by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Developing the plan is required to be eligible for millions of dollars in federal grant funding for programs that benefit at-risk species such as the Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, coho salmon and others.
The California State Wildlife Action Plan identifies many desirable conservation actions that are beyond the jurisdiction of the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s jurisdiction, the Department determined that more-detailed coordination plans are needed. Nine sector-specific plans were developed, including the Water Management Companion Plan and the Agriculture Companion Plan.
Trans-Delta System, Peripheral Canal, Bay Delta Conservation Plan, California Water Fix, and now, the Delta Conveyance Project – the idea of a canal to route water around the Delta is certainly not new. It was originally thought of as part of the master plan for the State Water Project, but wasn’t included in the initial construction due to cost considerations. In the 1980s, plans were begun to construct such a canal, but it was put to a statewide vote which was soundly defeated.
But the idea did not end there. Over the years, building some sort of bypass around the Delta has continued to be discussed intermittently despite setbacks and strong opposition, which seems largely decided by geography, with more opponents found in the northern part of the state, and the most vocal perhaps within the Delta itself.
Water interests assert that such a project is needed to shore up the water supplies that are critical for the state’s economy, and that the new infrastructure will benefit the Delta’s ailing ecosystem and native species by utilizing state-of-the-art technology and allowing for more natural flow patterns. Delta advocates insist the Plan is too expensive and say that the new facilities will deprive the estuary of needed freshwater flows that will only hasten the collapse of the Delta’s ecosystem and native fish populations.
Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan (Bay-Delta Plan)
In recent years, declining water quality, plummeting populations of native fish, and increasing demand for limited water resources have been at the heart of several state agency planning processes, one of those being the State Water Resources Control Board’s Bay-Delta Plan.
The ‘San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Estuary Water Quality Control Plan,’ blessedly known as ‘Bay Delta Plan’ for short, identifies existing and potential beneficial uses of water and then establishes water quality objectives to protect those uses. The State Water Board is the agency responsible for developing and modifying the Bay Delta Plan under the authority of the Federal Clean Water Act and the state’s Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act. Usually water quality control planning is generally done by the regional water boards; however, the State Water Board develops and adopts the Bay Delta Plan due to the importance of the Delta as a major source of water supply for the state.
The Delta Plan is California’s long-term comprehensive plan for managing the water and environmental resources of the Delta as well as dealing with the multiple stressors that impact its ecosystem.
Fundamentally different than any previous attempt to solve the Delta’s myriad of problems, the Delta Plan represents a new era in governing the Delta by setting a legally-enforceable path forward – both for the Delta and for the state.
With only about 5% of the historical wetlands remaining, restoration of habitat is still considered a critical component of the state’s plan to improve conditions in the Delta. Restoration activities in the Delta are being pursued through the California EcoRestore program, which proposes to restore more than 30,000 acres of habitat by 2020.
California EcoRestore is proposing 17,500+ acres of floodplain restoration; 3,500 acres of managed wetlands; 9,000 acres of tidal and sub-tidal habitat restoration; and an additional 1,000+ acres of habitat and flood management projects. Much of the restoration proposed is part of regulatory requirements long imposed by the biological opinions that govern the operation of the state and federal water projects, but progress on meeting the restoration requirements have been slow, at best. The program proposes to accelerate completion of those projects, as well as 5,000 acres of additional restoration beyond what is mandated by the biological opinions.
Costs for implementing Eco Restore projects are expected to be at least $300 million with funding coming from multiple sources. The restoration required by the biological opinions will be paid for by the state and federal water contractors with the Administration assuring that that the contractors will receive no help from Prop 1 funding for fulfilling their regulatory mandates. Funding sources for habitat enhancements not associated with the biological opinions or other mitigation will come primarily from Propositions 1 and 1E, the AB 32 Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, and local, federal, and private investment.
The California Eco Restore program, an initiative led by the California Natural Resources Agency, began during the Brown Administration and is continuing under the Newsom Administration.
The Delta Conservation Framework is an effort led by the Department of Fish and Wildlife to collaborate with federal, state, and local agencies, and the Delta stakeholder community to develop a 25-year, high-level conservation framework for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, Yolo Bypass and Suisun Marsh.
The history, culture, politics and ecosystems of the Delta are complex, and the Delta is connected in many ways to the lands, watersheds and communities that surround it. The Delta Conservation Framework holds the vision of a Delta composed of resilient natural and managed ecosystems situated within a mosaic of towns and agricultural landscapes, where people prosper and healthy wildlife communities thrive.
The Delta Conservation Framework includes broad goals that acknowledge the importance of effective communication, community engagement, and education, making decisions based on science, and working collectively on conservation permitting and funding. The Framework suggests multiple strategies that could be used by all Delta stakeholders to move conservation forward.
The Delta Conservation Framework was completed in 2017 and is intended to be the long-term continuation of the California Eco Restore program, guiding Delta conservation efforts beyond 2040.
The Delta Protection Commission is the agency responsible for maintaining and implementing a resource management plan for the Primary Zone of the Delta, which includes includes approximately 500,000 acres of waterways, levees and farmed lands.
The Delta Land Use and Resource Management Plan guides projects that impact land use, agriculture, natural resources, recreation, water, levees, and utilities and infrastructure within the primary zone. The Plan extends over portions of Solano, Yolo, Sacramento, San Joaquin and Contra Costa counties, who are required to be consistent with the Management Plan.
The latest plan was adopted in 2010. The Delta Protection Commission has begun work on an update.
The Delta Science Plan, a product of the Delta Science Program, seeks to address the fragmentation of science in the Delta by developing shared agendas, priorities, and data, and by creating a plan to build more effective interactions between the scientific community and policy and decision makers. The vision is to build an open science community, “One Delta, One Science,” that will work together to build a shared body of scientific knowledge that will have the capacity to adapt and inform management decisions across multiple organizations and programs.
To achieve this shared vision, the Delta Science Plan identifies six objectives, which are collectively supported by 26 actions. Together, these actions guide the development, coordination, and communication of science to provide relevant, credible, and legitimate decision-support for policy and management actions. The Delta Science Plan is also an element of the three part Delta Science Strategy, a collection of guidance documents to achieve the vision of One Delta, One Science. The other two elements are the State of Bay Delta Science, and Science Action Agenda.
Initially released in 2013, the Delta Science Plan fulfills a recommendation in the Delta Plan and also supports requirements in the 2009 Delta Reform Act, which calls for the use of science in the development and implementation of all Delta policies and management.
The Delta Reform Act of 2009 tasked the Delta Protection Commission with developing an Economic Sustainability Plan to inform the Delta Stewardship Council’s development of the Delta Plan. The first Economic Sustainability Plan was adopted by the Commission in January of 2012.
The Economic Sustainability Plan includes recommendations for public safety and flood protection, continued socioeconomic sustainability of agriculture and its infrastructure and legacy communities in the Delta; and recommendations for encouraging recreational investment along river corridors. The report’s recommendations can be grouped into four categories: water conveyance, habitat creation, levees, and land use regulation. The report also considers many aspects of economic sustainability in the Delta that are unrelated to these water policy proposals including economic development recommendations in the 2008 Delta Vision Strategic Plan.
Currently, the Delta Protection Commission is working to update two chapters of the Economic Sustainability Plan to gather the most current data on agriculture and recreation.
San Francisco Estuary Blueprint – Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan / CCMP
The San Francisco Estuary Partnership was established in 1988 by the State of California and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Water Act’s National Estuary Program when the San Francisco Estuary was designated as an estuary of national significance. The Partnership is a collaboration of local, state, and federal agencies, NGOs, academia and business leaders working to protect and restore the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary. The Partnership’s work is guided by the development and implementation of the Estuary Blueprint, a comprehensive, collective vision for the Estuary’s future.
The San Francisco Estuary Partnership’s Estuary Blueprintt is a collaborative agreement about what should be done to protect and restore the Estuary — a road map for restoring the Estuary’s chemical, physical, and biological processes to health. The 2016 Estuary Blueprint update reflects the changing context of managing the estuary by focusing on the need to plan and adapt to climate change.
The Estuary Blueprint contains goals, objectives, and actions to improve the health of the estuary. The goals provide the 35-year vision; the objectives detail desired outcomes that make progress toward achieving those goals; and the actions lay out a set of priority tasks for the next five years to reach one or more objective. The 32 actions meet multiple goals and objectives and represent a cohesive, comprehensive approach to addressing frontiers and gaps in Estuary management.
The Delta Reform Act of 2009 called on the Delta Stewardship Council to lead a multi-agency effort to update priorities for state investments in the Delta levee system to reduce the likelihood and consequences of levee failures, to protect people, property, and state interests, while advancing the coequal goals of improving water supply reliability, restoring the Delta ecosystem, and protecting and enhancing the values of the Delta as an evolving place. In response, in the spring of 2014, the Council launched the Delta Levees Investment Strategy (DLIS) that combined risk analysis, economics, engineering, and decision-making techniques to identify funding priorities and assembled a comprehensive investment strategy for the Delta levees.
The Delta Levees Investment Strategy is an innovative approach for determining priorities for State funds for levee improvement in the Delta and Suisun Marsh. The DLIS, which considers the assets protected by levees, the threats to levees, and the multiple beneficiaries of levee investments, uses a risk analysis methodology to recommend priorities for State investments in levee operations, maintenance, and improvements.
The Delta Smelt Resiliency Strategy is a science-based document that has been prepared by the California Natural Resources Agency to address both immediate and near-term needs of Delta Smelt, to promote their resiliency to drought conditions as well as future variations in habitat conditions.
The Strategy is intended to be an aggressive approach to implementing any actions that can be implemented in the near term, can be implemented by the State with minimal involvement of other entities, and have the potential to benefit Delta Smelt.
The strategy was finalized in 2016; a progress report was issued in 2017.
The Sacramento Valley Salmon Resiliency Strategy is a science-based document developed by the California Natural Resources Agency in 2017 to address specific near-and long-term needs of Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley spring-run Chinook salmon, and California Central Valley steelhead. The Strategy mirrors the approach taken with the Delta Smelt Resiliency Strategy developed by the State in 2016: science-driven, focused,and designed to provide resource agencies, the public, Congress, and the California State Legislature with information critical to collaborative approaches to species resiliency.
The Strategy is intended to be an aggressive approach to improving species viability and resiliency by implementing specific habitat restoration actions. The State will take leadership roles in each action, although in all cases federal and local agency leadership, coordination, and partnerships are required for success.
The social sciences encompass dozens of theoretical and applied disciplines and sub-disciplines, such as anthropology, geography, economics, public administration, psychology, and sociology. Particularly in contexts where humans deeply impact and are impacted by the state of the natural system, the social sciences can help answer a myriad of questions related to ways in which human and natural systems interact to influence the outcomes (and side effects) of environmental policy and natural resource management. Fundamentally, the integration of social and natural science recognizes that humans are a central part of the system, as is the case in the Delta—and that overlooking this human component often leads to unintended consequences and management ineffectiveness.
In the fall of 2018, a six-member independent Social Science Task Force was charged by the Delta Stewardship Council’s Delta Science Program to develop a strategy for strengthening and integrating social sciences into the science, management, and policy landscape of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
The specific objectives of the proposed strategy are to identify: (1) Opportunities to strengthen the Delta science enterprise; to improve the integration of social sciences into the science, management, and policy institutions that address Delta issues; and to improve social science integration into decision-making about the Delta; and (2) Critical steps and priorities for establishing a social science research program that enhances our understanding of the values of an evolving Delta, and that considers both people and the environment.
The Baylands Ecosystem Habiat Goals Project is an effort begun in the 1990s to prepare the San Francisco Bay Area for the impacts of climate change. The project is a set of plans and strategies to protect the bay with a goal to restore 100,000 acres of baylands (tidal marsh, essentially).
The Baylands and Climate Change: What We Can Do is an update to the 1999 Baylands Ecosystem Habitat Goals, which was the first set of comprehensive restoration goals developed for the San Francisco Bay estuary. The report 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.
The habitat acreage goals set in 1999 remain the same. Recommendations have been updated and many new restoration approaches have been suggested for the region, its major subregions, and local shorelines. These actions must be integrated with civic and economic planning to arrive at appropriate implementation strategies. The report provides technical information that policy makers and others can use in deciding how to maximize ecosystem health.
In 2012, the Board adopted the first Central Valley Flood Protection Plan (CVFPP), which is a system-wide flood management approach to reduce the risk of flooding for about one million people and $70 billion in infrastructure, homes and businesses. The ultimate goal of the CVFPP is to increase flood protection to 200-year protection (1 chance in 200 of flooding in any year) to urban areas, and to reduce flood risks to small communities and rural agricultural lands.
The Central Valley Flood Protection Plan was updated in 2017, which provided further refinements and more specificity to the concepts in the original 2012 plan. Those changes include significant State investment in levees and other flood risk reduction improvements to protect major urban areas, along with levee improvements and non-structural and multi-benefit improvements for small communities. Changes for rural areas include State investment to repair erosion sites, construction of all-weather roads on top of rural levees, repair of identified weak spots in the levees, and removal of non-compliant encroachments. Other changes focus on improving operations and maintenance of the flood control system, re-operating and better coordinating releases from large reservoirs to mitigate downstream damage, improving the flood emergency response system, and constructing improved and better managed habitats to protect and enhance the environment by integrating them as part of projects.
Only portions of the Delta that are covered by the State Plan of Flood Control are included in the CVFPP, which amounts to about a third of the Delta’s levees.
CV SALTS: Central Valley Salinity Alternatives for Long-Term Sustainability
Elevated salinity and nitrates in surface water and groundwater are increasing problems affecting much of California as well as other western and arid regions throughout the world. To address this, in 2006, the Central Valley Water Board, the State Water Board, and other stakeholders began the Central Valley Salinity Alternatives for Long-Term Sustainability (CV-SALTS) program, a collaborative basin planning effort aimed at developing and implementing a Central Valley-wide Salt and Nitrate Management Plan. In July 2008,those stakeholder groups formed the Central Valley Salinity Coalition (CVSC) to organize, facilitate, and fund efforts needed to fulfill the goals of CV-SALTS.
In January 2017, the Central Valley-wide Salt and Nitrate Management Plan was submitted to the Central Valley Water Board. In March 2017, the Board adopted a resolution accepting the Salt and Nitrate Management and Plan (SNMP) and directing Board staff to initiate Basin Plan Amendments to incorporate recommendations from the SNMP into the Basin Plans. The Central Valley Water Board adopted the proposed amendments in May 2018. The State Water Board adopted The Salt and Nitrate Control Program basin plan amendments on October 16, 2019. On January 15, 2020, the Office of Administrative Law approved the amendments.
Water Quality Control Plan for the Sacramento River and San Joaquin River Basins
The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board designates beneficial uses of water bodies, establish water quality objectives to protect those uses, and defines an implementation plan to achieve the objectives, much as the State Water Board does. Whereas the State Water Board’s Bay-Delta Plan sets objectives for salinity and water project operations, the Central Valley Regional Water Board’s basin plan sets objectives for contaminants such as toxic chemicals, bacterial contamination, pesticides and methylmercury. The State Water Board’s Bay-Delta Plan is intended to be complementary to the Central Valley Regional Water Board’s basin plan, but supersedes the regional water board’s plan to the extent there is any conflict.
This page is meant to be a reasonably complete listing of plans and programs underway; however, with so many agencies at work with a hand in the Delta, not every plan or program may be listed here. Did I miss something important? Let me know. Your comments and suggestions welcome. Email Maven