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Council Brings Delta Plan into Sharper Focus - Latest draft reflects improvement in all areas to achieve coequal goals

July 2011

During its June meetings the Delta Stewardship Council worked through the fourth staff draft of the Delta Plan, which features a refined list of 14 proposed regulatory policies and 59 proposed recommendations, the bulk of which cover water supply reliability, ecosystem restoration, and reducing risk to people, property and state interests in the Delta.

Any revisions will be incorporated into the fifth staff draft, which is scheduled to be released on August 2, 2011. The accompanying Environmental Impact Report will be released shortly thereafter.

In this latest staff draft, however, near-term actions that should occur in the Delta while studies such as the Bay Delta Conservation Plan are being completed, and while requests for additional information and policies by state, federal and local agencies are received, have been identified.

Additionally, the staff draft seeks to promote statewide collaboration, provide incentives where possible, enforce key actions, and to ensure accountability among agencies and stakeholders once the Plan is implemented.

“We’ve been educating ourselves and defining the problems, and I believe we’ve done a good job,” said Council Member Randy Fiorini. “Now we begin to deal with real policies and real recommendations.”

“It’s an ever-evolving plan,” said Council Member Gloria Gray.

“We can make changes as we go and input is important. But we don’t have all the answers and not everyone gets what they want.”

Water supply reliability drew particular attention during the two-day June meeting as this most recent staff draft includes proposed policies focusing on statewide implementation of existing water planning and conservation laws along with expansion of local and regional water supplies. These efforts would help prepare the state should a catastrophic interruption of Delta exports occur. They’re also designed to implement local and regional water supply projects, as well as rate structures, that would ultimately reduce reliance on the Delta.

The draft also includes proposed recommendations including improving groundwater management and supporting the timely conclusion of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

Council member Hank Nordhoff acknowledged the staff diligence in the construction of the draft, but says there are already state laws in place governing water supply planning, conservation and efficiency. He suggested the Plan should do more to emphasize the regulations already in place.

“We [the state] have got these great policies and recommendations, but they’re not being enforced,” Nordhoff said. “Let’s state the problem sooner in the Plan with more recommendations for the legislature.”

QuoteThe latest proposed policies regarding ecosystem restoration seek to ensure that habitat projects are consistent with the state’s restoration strategy. They’re also designed so that other actions taken in the Delta do not preclude opportunities for future habitat restoration and floodplain expansion or increase stressors on the Delta. Proposed recommendations for ecosystem include development, implementation and enforcement of new, updated flow objectives for the Delta and implementation of habitat restoration projects. On the issue of flow requirements, Council member Felicia Marcus suggested to her colleagues that they should tackle the question in smart increments.

“Ecosystem (restoration) is not about big flows,” Marcus said. “It’s more about how you use flows.”

Delta Science Program Lead Scientist Cliff Dahm said all three of the key components—creating a more natural flow regime, improving habitat and reducing threats and stressors—should work together.

“We are advocating an integrated approach that tries not to do them one at a time,” he said.

The fourth staff draft also makes refinements to policies and recommendations reducing risks in the Delta. They relate to issues like preventing encroachment or diminishment of floodways, and requiring compliance with minimum standards for Delta levees.

Policies and recommendations in the staff draft also focus on prioritizing State investments in the Delta levees, as well as addressing emergency preparedness and response strategies. Guidance documents being prepared by other agencies, such as DWR and Cal EMA, will assist the Council in its efforts.

The protection of people and property lies at the heart of this section and the Council is concerned about a spike in population in high-risk floodprone areas.

“A goal is to minimize the number of people at risk,” said Council Chair Phil Isenberg. “There seems to be an unwillingness to address a possible population increase in threatened areas.”

The Council is expected to release the fifth of seven drafts of the Plan in late July.

For a complete view of the current draft, please click here.

Coequal goals

The Delta Stewardship Council was created in legislation to achieve the state mandated coequal goals for the Delta. "'Coequal goals' means the two goals of providing a more reliable water supply for California and protecting, restoring, and enhancing the Delta ecosystem. The coequal goals shall be achieved in a manner that protects and enhances the unique cultural, recreational, natural resource, and agricultural values of the Delta as an evolving place." (CA Water Code §85054)