The Delta Stewardship Council has released the final two white papers that will help guide the creation of the Delta Plan. The documents address agriculture and water resources.
The Council has now issued six white papers. The earlier reports examined the Delta ecosystem, flood risk, emergency preparedness and land use. The Council was briefed on the final two white papers at its recent December meeting.
Delta as a Place: Agriculture White Paper
Delta agriculture is a significant contributor to the regional and state economies, but farming and other agricultural development over the past 100 years have changed the natural ecosystem in the Delta.
Consultants to the Council say balancing both will be an important part of the Delta Plan.
“Agriculture in general, and the importance of agriculture in the Delta, goes back to the beginning of California. It’s a vital part of the economy,” said Jeff Goldman, a consultant with AECOM Inc., an engineering firm that helped prepare the white paper. “[But] agriculture has changed the environment of the Delta.”
Agriculture is currently the main land use in the Delta, accounting for a little more than 531,000 acres as of 2008. According to the white paper, the exact contribution from the Delta to the state’s GDP is not known, but the value-per-acre contribution is greater than other agriculural regions in the state.
While no one disputes agriculture’s economic power in the Delta, Council members want more accurate measurements for Delta planning purposes.
“Are there professionally recognized rules of calculating this number?” asked Council Chair Phil Isenberg. “I’d like to compare the same information and formulas. I’m interested in trends to see where we’re heading.”
“I strongly urge [the consultants] to study this situation on a crop-by-crop or commodity-by-commodity basis because it varies widely,” added Council Member Randy Fiorini, who is also a farmer.
The Council also acknowledged the delicate balancing act between agricultural practices and ecosystems and how it can lead to conflict. Council Member Don Nottoli noted that sometimes water usage helps a particular species, but it may not be the best conservation policy.
In the development of the Delta Plan, the Council will also consider water rights for agricultural uses.
Water Resources White Paper
This white paper is intended to provide a summary of historical and existing conditions, and also provide context to water resource management on a statewide basis.
Groundwater overdraft is one of the most serious problems facing the state, according to staff.
“We use more [ground] water than we have as a natural supply,” said Joe Grindstaff, executive officer for the Council. “It’s a fact. There is much greater usage than we have supply. It’s a significant problem moving forward.”
Fiorini agreed, saying that overdrafting groundwater is the “real water crisis.”
Better use of surface water to replenish groundwater supplies will be a critical component of the Delta Plan, but the Council admits that a variety of solutions are needed to confront the problem.
“Conservation is the first item of order,” Fiorini said. “It’s the easiest method to achieve adequate supplies.”
There won’t be any substantial edits to the white papers, but the content will be adjusted as it’s folded into the environmental impact report.
All of the white papers are available here.