A view of the California Aqueduct, part of the California State Water Project.

A view of the California Aqueduct, part of the California State Water Project, which moves water from the Delta to the San Joaquin Valley, the Central Coast, and to southern California. Photo: Ken James/California Department of Water Resources

California Water Resilience - What’s in Your Portfolio?

September 4, 2019

By Susan Tatayon

“The only thing that is constant is change.” - Heraclitus of Ephesus

Recognizing the dynamic nature of the largest estuary on the west coast of the Americas, the Delta Reform Act tasked the Delta Stewardship Council with creating a sustainable management plan for the Delta to further the state’s coequal goals of a reliable statewide water supply and a restored Delta ecosystem, while protecting the Delta as a place where people live, farm, and recreate. Unlike previous approaches to Delta governance, this new plan was to weather the only true constant in the Delta - change.

Building on more than a century of lessons learned in California natural resource management, the Council’s Delta Plan is a long-term, comprehensive plan designed to adapt to changing conditions and achieve the state’s coequal goals. This portfolio of policies and recommendations addresses the many complex challenges in the Delta and establishes foundational actions needed for a resilient Delta ecosystem, more reliable water deliveries, and sustainable Delta communities. Earlier this year, Governor Newsom issued an executive order aimed at applying the concepts of sustainability and adaptability statewide. The executive order directs the California Natural Resources Agency, the California Environmental Protection Agency, and the California Department of Food and Agriculture “to prepare a water resilience portfolio that meets the needs of California’s communities, economy, and environment through the 21st century.”

This initiative to design and implement the state’s water portfolio is a tremendous opportunity for California’s natural resource agencies to integrate and strengthen existing policies and associated actions as part of California’s water future. As Chair of the Council, I am working closely with the state agency leaders developing the Water Resilience Portfolio as they prepare draft recommendations for the Governor to review this fall. In this role, I am grateful for the opportunity to share several ways the Water Resilience Portfolio can leverage the Delta Plan and the Council’s approach to implementing it.

The Delta Plan and the Council’s implementation approach embody many of the principles outlined in the Water Resilience Portfolio Initiative, including improving regional self-reliance, prioritizing multi-benefit projects, evaluating how conveyance, storage, and operations can complement natural infrastructure like floodplains and wetlands to meet current and future needs of people and the environment, and strengthening partnerships.

Acknowledging that the Delta is a fragile ecosystem and the hub of the state’s water supply system, the Delta Plan outlines several strategies to reduce reliance on exports from the Delta and increase regional self-reliance. Implementation of these strategies will strengthen California’s water supply in the face of a rising sea, more extended periods of drought, more frequent flood events, and other climate-related challenges.

Using a science-based adaptive management approach to improve our understanding of problems and uncertainties in the Delta, adaptive management ensures the Council has the information it needs to adjust the strategies in the Delta Plan in response to the ever-changing conditions of both the Delta and our socioeconomic landscape. Applied to the state’s Water Resilience Portfolio, a similar framework would promote increased interagency collaboration and improve the outcomes of multi-benefit projects.

Another vital aspect of the Council’s management approach is its close coordination and collaboration with agencies that have the authorities and capabilities to implement specific actions in the Delta Plan. The Delta Plan Interagency Implementation Committee (DPIIC), an 18-member group of high-level state and federal agency leaders, meets at least twice a year to deliberate and prioritize actions related to the implementation of the Delta Plan. These priorities span DPIIC’s collective responsibilities and missions, from aligning funding to coordinating permitting for multi-benefit ecosystem restoration projects. This body exemplifies the Governor’s call for strengthened state, federal, and local partnerships and integration across the state; it can also serve as the collaborative venue to orchestrate implementation of Water Resilience Portfolio items related to the Delta.

By leveraging the Delta Plan and its adaptive management framework, the state can advance regional strategies and actions for the long-term resilience of the Delta and California. I encourage all Californians to participate in designing our state’s climate-resilient water portfolio by attending one of the Water Resilience Portfolio Initiative’s listening sessions and by submitting ideas to the portfolio team at input@waterresilience.ca.gov.

Delta Stewardship Council Chair Susan Tatayon.

About the Author

Susan Tatayon is Chair of the Delta Stewardship Council and has more than 30 years of experience in water resources policy, planning, and management. Her monthly blog shares updates about the direction of the Council, progress toward implementing the Delta Plan, and achieving the coequal goals of water supply reliability and restoring the Delta’s ecosystem.