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Frequently Asked Questions

In November 2009 the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Reform Act was passed by the California Legislature and signed by Governor Schwarzenegger. It established state policy of coequal goals for the Delta and created the Delta Stewardship Council as a new, independent state agency that will delineate exactly how to meet these goals through development and implementation of the Delta Plan.

The Council’s principal task is to develop and implement the Delta Plan, a legally enforceable document that will include all the actions necessary to ensure the state’s coequal goals for the Delta are met.

In the Delta Reform Act, the Legislature declared that the basic goals of the state for the Delta are the following:

  1. Achieve the two coequal 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.

  2. Protect, maintain, and, where possible, enhance and restore the overall quality of the Delta environment, including, but not limited to, agriculture, wildlife habitat, and recreational activities.

  3. Ensure orderly, balanced conservation and development of Delta land resources.

  4. Improve flood protection by structural and nonstructural means to ensure an increased level of public health and safety.

The Delta Stewardship Council is composed of seven members who represent different parts of the state and offer diverse expertise in fields such as agriculture, science, the environment and public service. Of the seven, four are appointed by the Governor, one each by the Senate and Assembly, and the seventh is the Chair of the Delta Protection Commission.

The Delta Stewardship Council held its first meeting on April 1, 2010. Since then it has appointed an Independent Science Board, adopted an Interim Plan and begun work on developing the Delta Plan. The Plan is set for adoption in Spring 2013 and for implementation later that year.

The Delta Science Program was established to develop scientific information on issues critical for managing the Bay-Delta system. That body of knowledge must be unbiased, relevant, authoritative and then integrated across state and federal agencies.  It must also be communicated to Bay-Delta decision-makers, agency managers, stakeholders, the scientific community and the public.

The 10 members of the Delta Independent Science Board, which reports to the Delta Stewardship Council, provides oversight of the scientific research, monitoring and assessment programs that support adaptive management of the Delta. By law, all Delta scientific research, monitoring and assessment programs must be reviewed at least once every four years.

The Interim Plan describes a review process for a committee of the Council to consider and recommend actions that should be taken prior to completion of the Delta Plan, as well as projects and programs for inclusion in the Delta Plan. That process is complete.

The Delta Plan, on the other hand, will be a legally enforceable document and will guide federal, state and local agencies working to achieve the coequal goals of providing a more reliable water supply for California and protecting, restoring, and enhancing the Delta ecosystem. The Delta Plan will also guide protection and enhancement of the unique resources, culture and values of the Delta as an evolving place.

Final Interim Plan (Council Adoption) — August 27, 2010
Publish Notice of Preparation (NOP) — December 2010
Scoping Meetings — January 2011
First Draft Delta Plan - February 2011
Second Draft Delta Plan - March 2011
Third Draft Delta Plan - April 2011
Fourth Draft Delta Plan - June 2011
Fifth Draft Delta Plan - August 2011
Public Draft Programmatic EIR — November 2011
Public Review of PEIR — November 2011-February 2011
Final Staff Draft Delta Plan - May 2012
Proposed Final Draft Delta Plan - September 2012
Final Draft Delta Plan - November 2012
Recirculated Programmatic EIR - November 2012
Regulations & Rulemaking Process - November 2012
Public Review of R-PEIR & Rulemaking Docs - December 2012-January 2013
Final Delta Plan Published - Spring 2013
Delta Plan Regulations Adopted - Spring 2013
Final PEIR Certified - Spring 2013
Delta Plan Regulations Take Effect - Summer / Fall 2013

The Delta Reform Act of 2009 granted the Council authority to ensure the consistency of state and local public agency actions within the Delta Plan. Water Code section 85225.30 required the Council to adopt administrative procedures governing appeals, which are exempt from the normal state rulemaking process.

State and local agencies proposing to undertake a project covered by the Delta Plan must prepare and file a “consistency determination” with the Council, meaning that they must demonstrate that the project is consistent with requirements in the Delta Plan. Any person may challenge that consistency determination by bringing an appeal to the Council. The Council, in turn, must hold a hearing on the appeal and issue written findings, either denying the appeal or remanding the matter to the state or local agency for reconsideration of the proposed project based on the finding that the consistency determination is not supported by substantial evidence in the record before the agency.

No. In order to meet the coequal goals of a reliable water source and a restored ecosystem, coupled with the recognition of the Delta as an evolving place, the California Legislature has given the Delta Stewardship Council authority over any project or action that stands to affect the Delta. Given the amount of water supply that flows through the Delta, its inter-connectedness with the majority of the state’s watersheds, and its critical role in the state, the scope of the Delta Plan stands to encompass much of California.

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) is a voluntary collaboration of urban and agricultural water suppliers, environmental interests, state and federal agencies and other interested parties intended to secure long-term permits for water supply by developing and implementing a Natural Communities Conservation Plan and a Habitat Conservation Plan under state and federal law respectively.

The Delta Reform Act says that BDCP is to be included in the Delta Plan providing it is approved by state regulatory agencies and meets certain additional criteria. The Act also says that the Council is to serve as an appellate body should any person or group appeal regulatory approval of the BDCP by the state department of Fish and Game.

The Delta Reform Act of 2009 (Act) acknowledges several other ongoing Delta plan processes by name including the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan and the Delta Protection Commission Plan. The Act allows the Delta Stewardship Council (Council) to review them and authorizes the Council to incorporate those plans in whole or in part if they meet the statutory criteria of the Delta Plan.

Subsequently, Section 85350 of the Act offers an all encompassing statement which stipulates that “the Council may incorporate other completed plans related to the Delta into the Delta Plan to the extent that the other plans promote the coequal goals.”

The Delta Stewardship Council is the successor to the California Bay-Delta Authority and CALFED Bay-Delta Program. Legislators created the seven-member Delta Stewardship Council to be small and authoritative as compared to the more than two dozen state and federal agencies that made up CALFED. The Council will oversee Delta activities by consulting with state, federal and local agencies and ensuring that their projects and activities in the Delta are in compliance with the Delta Plan. One key difference: The Delta Stewardship Council’s work product – the Delta Plan – will be state law.


The Delta is formed by the confluence of the state’s two largest rivers: the Sacramento, flowing south from its headwaters near Mt. Shasta, and the San Joaquin, flowing north from its origins high in the southern Sierra Nevada. Joining the Sacramento and San Joaquin are the Mokelumne, Cosumnes and Calaveras rivers. These rivers plus their tributaries carry about half of the state’s total annual runoff. Freshwater from the rivers mingles with saltwater from the Pacific Ocean, forming the largest estuary on the west coast of North America. It includes about 1,100 miles of levees and 57 leveed island tracts.

The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta spans about 738,000 acres in Northern California, at the western edge of the Central Valley. The Delta includes area in five counties: Alameda, Contra Costa, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Solano, and Yolo. Major cities at least partly within the Delta include Sacramento, West Sacramento and Stockton.

The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is a regional, state and national treasure.

More than 515,000 people in dozens of communities call the Delta home. It is also home to more than 750 animal and plant species, some of them threatened or endangered. It supports California’s $27 billion agricultural industry with an average annual gross value of more than $500 million in corn, grain, hay, sugar beets, alfalfa, pasture, tomatoes, asparagus, safflower, a range of fruits and more. More than 1,800 agricultural users draw water from the Delta.

It is also the hub of state, federal and local water systems that provide at least a portion of the water supply needs for two-thirds of all Californians – about 25 million people. Diversions directly from the Delta include the State Water Project, the federal Central Valley Project, the Contra Costa Canal, the North Bay Aqueduct, the City of Vallejo and the Western Delta Industry.

The Delta is also a world-class recreational destination, attracting about 12 million visitors per year, who take advantage of its 290 shoreline recreational areas, 300 marinas, 57,000 navigable waterways and more than 20 species of sport fish.

Over several decades, the competing demands for the Delta to provide both habitat and water supply have impaired the Delta’s ability to meet either need. The needs of the ecosystem and water users particularly clash during dry years, when there is simply less water to go around.

Many factors have contributed to the Delta’s decline. Agricultural, industrial and urban runoff has polluted its waters. Invasive, non-native species have adversely impacted the food chain and, as a result, native fish and wildlife populations suffer.

Gradual changes, such as sea level rise, rising water temperatures due to climate change, or additional invasions of exotic species, could also transform the current ecosystem in ways that are difficult to anticipate or manage. Some climate change projections indicate a likelihood of more frequent and intense storms. These conditions, combined with the aging levees, increase the risk of levee failure. Massive levee failures could be difficult to repair and cause saltwater intrusion into the Delta that could only be reversed over a long period of time using high volumes of fresh water from upstream reservoirs or storms. Increased salinity would substantially degrade the Delta aquatic habitat, Delta water supplies, Delta agriculture and recreation.

One of the best-known issues related to these challenges is the plight of the Delta smelt, a small fish having a big impact on Delta management. In 2007, a California judge protected the endangered Delta smelt by curtailing water export deliveries from the Delta.

The Council will listen to the Delta Independent Science Board, stakeholders, policy makers and other agencies to make decisions that further the coequal goals set down in statute.

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)