Habitat restoration is one of the critical elements of the Delta Stewardship Council’s Delta Plan. And in August, the Council members had the opportunity to see for themselves some of the projects and programs already underway.
“Too often policymakers read about things, but don’t experience them,” said Council Chair Randy Fiorini. “It’s very important for us to get out into the field and see the things that we read about and hear about. It will lead to better decisions.”
Chair Fiorini’s thoughts evolved into a Council Field Trip of the Antioch Dunes (Antioch, CA) and the Dutch Slough (Oakley, CA) held on the morning of August 28, 2014 – before the Council meeting scheduled for later in the day in Oakley, located in Contra Costa County. The sites were chosen, in part, because of a Habitat Restoration Issue Paper on the Council’s meeting agenda, which augmented what the members experienced on the field trip.
The trip began with a welcome and a preview from Oakley City Councilmember Diane Burgis.
“We’re the newest city in Contra Costa County,” said Burgis. “What you’re going to see during your field trip are visible features, such as our fantastic Delta coastline, that could potentially help us grow our community and also improve the environment.”
Contra Costa County Supervisor Mary Piepho also welcomed the Council members. Her remarks included her concerns about the growing invasive weed problems in the Delta, some of which the Council members viewed during their stop at Dutch Slough. Pictures of the invasive weeds can be seen by clicking here.
“They affect the entire Delta structure, the water conveyance, the environment, water quality, water quantity, really the entire spectrum of the water supply system including the water distribution into the Central Valley,” said Piepho. “It’s a problem that is not diminishing and requires a long-term management plan Delta-wide from all levels of government.”
Before the members began their journey, they also heard from John Kopchik, Executive Director of the East Contra Costa County Habitat Conservancy. Using a PowerPoint presentation, he elaborated on how the county’s habitat conservation plan created new partnerships to help protect natural areas while also accommodating well-sited development.
“Our habitat issues are very intertwined with those the Council faces, which is why I want to show you the local government approach to these complicated environmental, developmental, and agricultural conflicts – and how local governments try to deal with them,” said Kopchik. “We have a different niche than maybe state agencies do, but there may be things that we can learn from each other.”
Council members then traveled a short distance to the 14-acre Sardis Unit of the Antioch Dunes National Wildlife Refuge in Antioch, which the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) began managing in 1980.
FWS Dunes Assistant Manager Louis Terrazas said the site is designed to preserve and enhance rare and endangered species that are unique to the Antioch Dunes. A short history of the agency’s restoration efforts and an overview of the site as offered by Mr. Terrazas are available on a video located here. A map of the site is located here. And photo galleries of the protected birds, butterflies, plants, and other animals can be found here.
Mr. Terrazas also took the Council members to a second location of the refuge known as the 41-acre Stamm Unit. Here a sand dune system is being restored through the reuse of dredged material from the nearby San Joaquin River.
The Council’s Program Manager for Ecosystem Restoration and Land Use, Jessica Davenport, pointed out that the FWS’s efforts are in alignment with the Delta Plan. “The reuse of dredged material is one of the recommendations in the Delta Plan,” said Davenport. “The recommendation was suggested by the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) for wetland and refuge development.”
An explanation of the restoration efforts by Terrazas about the larger Stamm Unit is available on a video located here. More extensive information about the Antioch Dunes can be found here. And information on the availability of public tours of the area can be found here.
Next the Council members visited the Dutch Slough Tidal Marsh Restoration Project, administered by the CA Department of Water Resources (DWR). The area formerly was slated for urban development, but will soon become more than 1,100 acres of habitat for fish and wildlife in the Delta following extensive negotiations with the area’s landowners and the lengthy process to gain the necessary permits to proceed.
On hand to explain the particulars of the restoration project was Patty Finfrock, DWR’s Dutch Slough Project Manager, and John Cain, Conservation Director for California Floodplain Management for American Rivers.
Dan Ray, the Council’s Chief Deputy Director, believes the restoration project makes sense.
“This was property where the landowners decided that it didn’t make sense to farm anymore,” said Ray. “The City of Oakley had been urbanizing, and urban development had been proposed on adjacent properties. If they had built homes as originally intended, think what that would have meant in terms of the needed levee improvements to adequately safeguard the people and property living in those homes. In a way, this habitat restoration project was a smart levee management decision.”
Ken Strelo, a senior planner for the City of Oakley, completed the Dutch Slough presentation by discussing the City’s plan for a Dutch Slough Community Park. The 55-acre site will be a gateway to the various lands of the restoration project. It’s slated to include ball fields, picnic areas, playgrounds, and interpretive trails along the slough. To view the City of Oakley’s complete Conceptual Master Plan, please click here.