Delta Adapts: Creating a Climate Resilient Future
Changes in climate are putting California's, including the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta's, water supply, economy, and biodiversity at risk – decreasing water quality and increasing stress on levees that protect residents, farmland, and the state’s network of public utilities from mass flooding, and the species who thrive in the region’s ecosystems.
To address these impacts and reduce the Delta's vulnerability to climate change, including the human communities who rely on the Delta, regional adaptation rooted in science-based decision-making is more critical than ever. We must move quickly, and we must move together to both plan and respond.
The Council embarked on its climate initiative, Delta Adapts, in 2018. Delta Adapts consists of two parts: (1) a climate change Vulnerability Assessment for the Delta and Suisun Marsh, and (2) an Adaptation Plan (formerly referred to as the Adaptation Strategy) detailing strategies and actions to adapt and respond to the identified vulnerabilities. It takes a comprehensive, regional approach to climate resiliency that cuts across regional boundaries and commits to collaboration across state, local, and regional levels.
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Developing the Adaptation Plan
Council staff is currently working with a diverse group of interests (community-based organizations, environmental groups, reclamation districts, local and State partners, etc.) to prepare a draft Adaptation Plan for public review in early 2024.
The Adaptation Plan is informed by the Vulnerability Assessment (completed in 2021), input from project partners, and quantitative analyses (described below). It will provide high-level strategies for decision-makers, practitioners, and agencies to consult when working to make the Delta more resilient.
To inform the adaptation planning process, staff engaged with a diverse array of interests to identify climate impacts that are of greatest concern to these groups and their desired outcomes for adaptation. This included:
- Convening the cross-sector SWG and four technical focus groups associated with ecosystems, climate-smart agriculture, water supply, and flood risk reduction;
- Interviewing and presenting to farmers and landowners across the Delta and Suisun Marsh;
- Meeting with the Council’s Environmental Justice Expert Group for guidance on incorporating equity into adaptation; and
- Conducting additional targeted outreach and meetings with state and local agencies and other Delta interests.
Adaptation strategies and supporting actions are also informed by quantitative analyses conducted by Council staff that provided information on the relative costs of certain adaptation actions (such as the cost of improving levees to account for projected climate impacts), alongside other inputs including community feedback, best practices, and best available science.
The next steps include incorporating input on the draft adaptation strategies from the four technical focus groups; releasing a public review draft Adaptation Plan ; and releasing the final Adaptation Plan in 2024 following the close of the public comment period.
The Adaptation Plan will also include:
- The range of costs of adaptation,
- How it can be funded,
- Who will implement strategies, and
- A general timeframe for implementation.
Publishing the Vulnerability Assessment
The Council adopted the Delta Adapts Vulnerability Assessment in 2021. The Vulnerability Assessment evaluates the vulnerability of the Delta and Suisun Marsh to climate impacts through the end of the century.
- Vulnerability Assessment and supporting appendices
- Flood Hazard Assessment Technical Memorandum
- Water Supply Technical Memorandum
- Ecosystem Technical Memorandum
- Equity Technical Memorandum
- Crop Yield and Agricultural Production Technical Memorandum
- Economic Impact and Exposure Analysis Technical Memorandum
- Outreach and Engagement Summary
- Planning Context for Climate Change in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta
As part of the Vulnerability Assessment, the Council created a custom social vulnerability index to identify areas within the Delta that are socially vulnerable to climate change impacts. For more detail on the factors considered in the index or the identified areas, see the Delta Social Vulnerability Index interactive map.
The Council also created a flood explorer map which allows users to select various climate scenarios to visualize areas exposed to flooding.
Other resources include:
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- Information sheet
California relies on the Delta in many ways. It supplies a portion of the drinking water for 27 million Californians, fuels California’s $3 trillion economy, and is a biodiversity hotspot for more than 750 plant and animal species. It is also home to more than 627,000 people spread across rural agricultural communities, legacy communities, and urban areas including Sacramento, West Sacramento, Stockton, Lathrop, Manteca, and the eastern Bay Area. Changes in climate put the state’s water supply, economy, and biodiversity at risk—decreasing water quality and increasing stress on levees that protect residents, farmland, and the state’s network of public utilities from mass flooding, and the species who thrive in the region’s ecosystems.
As the world continues to feel the pressures of climate change and experience hotter temperatures, regional adaptation rooted in science-based decision-making is more critical than ever. We must move quickly, and we must move together to both plan and respond.
The Delta Stewardship Council decided to take action in the Delta and Suisun Marsh in response to climate change at its May 2018 meeting, directing staff to begin a two-phase effort:
- a Vulnerability Assessment, completed in 2021, that improved understanding of regional vulnerabilities in order to protect the vital resources the Delta provides to California and beyond with state interests and investments top of mind, followed by
- an Adaptation Plan detailing strategies and tools that state, regional, and local governments can implement to help the Delta thrive in the face of climate change.
Together, these two phases form the Delta Adapts: Creating a Climate Resilient Future initiative, a comprehensive, regional approach to climate resiliency that cuts across regional boundaries and commits to collaboration across state, local, and regional levels.
- The Delta Reform Act, passed by the California Legislature in 2009, which mandates the consideration of “the future impact of climate change and sea level rise” in restoration planning and identifies a restoration timeline horizon of 2100. The Act also notes that the Delta Plan may address “the effects of climate change and sea level rise on the three state highways that cross the Delta.”
- Executive Order B-30-15, signed by Governor Brown in April 2015, which requires California state agencies to incorporate climate change into planning and investment decisions. It also requires agencies to prioritize natural infrastructure and actions toward climate preparedness among the most vulnerable populations.
- The Delta Plan, California’s roadmap for the region in support of the coequal goals of a reliable statewide water supply and resilient Delta ecosystem. Research on climate change has advanced significantly since the Delta Plan’s adoption, with important implications for the Council as it seeks to fulfill its mission of furthering the coequal goals – which are sure to be continuously impacted by climate change.
As an agency of experienced planners, engineers, scientists, and communicators, the Council is uniquely equipped – and authorized – to steward the region toward resiliency. The Council regulates actions to ensure they support statewide water supply reliability and Delta ecosystem resiliency, and has the resources needed to guide climate adaptation in the region. Through its strong working relationships with government agencies on the federal, State, regional, and local levels, the Council has the ability to influence action in the Delta to improve its resilience over time and communicate the statewide implications of anticipated regional impacts.
The Council’s role in Delta Adapts has three core elements:
- The convener bringing various partners together to work as part of a broader team,
- The initiator of the regional planning process, and
- An active participant collaborating with a robust group of experts and interested stakeholders.
Goals and Process
The goals of Delta Adapts are to:
- Inform future work at the Council
- Provide information and recommend strategies for the Council and others to use
- Integrate climate change into the state’s prioritization of future Delta actions and investments
- Serve as a framework to be built upon by the Council and others in years to come
Council staff are pursuing these goals across two phases, while following the statutory requirements outlined in the Delta Reform Act.
Phase One: Vulnerability Assessment
The first phase is a vulnerability assessment characterizing climate change stressors as well as potential physical hazards posed by these stressors.
The Vulnerability Assessment identified risks posed by these hazards to Delta communities (including vulnerable communities) and a variety of regional assets, including agriculture, community facilities and services, water management and flood control infrastructure, parks and recreation, transportation, water supply, and ecosystems. The first phase of the Delta Adapts initiative has been completed.
Phase Two: Adaptation Plan
The second phase is the development of an Adaptation Plan identifying a range of strategies and actions that could be taken, both by the Council and others, that would improve regional resilience to climate change. The Adaptation Plan will highlight cross-cutting strategies that address multiple priorities and provide information on the approximate costs and funding opportunities for adaptation implementation.
The Adaptation Plan identifies how we can respond to the climate vulnerabilities consistent with the following resilience goals.
- Promote statewide water conservation, water use efficiency, and sustainable water use (Water Code 85020(d)).
- Improve water quality to protect human health and the environment consistent with achieving water quality objectives in the Delta (Water Code 85020(e)).
- Improve the water conveyance system and expand statewide water storage (Water Code 85020(f)).
- Restore the Delta ecosystem, including its fisheries and wildlife, as the heart of a healthy estuary and wetland ecosystem (Water Code 85020(c)).
- Restore critical physical and biological processes; connectivity; complexity and diversity; redundancy; at large scales with a long-time horizon in mind.
- Protect and enhance the unique cultural, recreational, and agricultural values of the California Delta as an evolving place (Water Code 85020(b)).
- Reduce risks to people, property, and state interests in the Delta by effective emergency preparedness, appropriate land uses, and investments in flood protection (Water Code 85020(g)).
- Increase the resilience of Delta communities, especially those with characteristics that make them more vulnerable to climate risk due to physical (built and environmental), social, political, and/or economic factors. These factors include, but are not limited to, race, class, sexual orientation and identification, national origin, and income inequality (OPR 2018).
- Prioritize actions that protect the most vulnerable populations (EO B-30-15).
- Maintain and improve local economic vitality and access to diverse employment opportunities by preserving and growing, where appropriate, key economic and employment drivers and associated infrastructure that support the Delta economy and communities.
- Promote the development of urban growth strategies that reduce climate risks by focusing new development in more resilient areas, enhancing the Delta ecosystem, and supporting resilient farming and recreation activities.
- Improve and enhance the resilience of the Delta transportation network while supporting the achievement of regional and statewide greenhouse gas reduction targets.
- Foster collaboration and build capacity among federal, state, and local agencies, non-governmental and private organizations, and communities in the Delta.
- Commit to working cooperatively to identify and mitigate climate change impacts and risks.
- Improve coordination among regulatory agencies to reduce program or legal barriers to addressing current and future flood, drought, wildfire, and other risks that will be exacerbated by climate change.
- Incorporate climate change into state and local Delta planning and investment decisions (EO B-30-15).
- Prioritize actions that incorporate natural and green infrastructure solutions (EO B-30-15).
- Define the Council’s role in coordinating adaptation responses in the Delta.
While the Council is leading these two phases, both phases are being developed in partnership with technical experts, state and local governments, and community representatives to ensure the use of best available science, to allow for broad engagement in the planning of the initiative, and to reflect the broad range of stakeholder interests in the Delta. To promote the exchange of information between these groups, Council staff established a Stakeholder Work Group (SWG).
In addition to the SWG, a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) provided expert knowledge, review, and guidance throughout the development of the Vulnerability Assessment. Many of the TAC members are now participating in the development of the Adaptation Plan through technical focus groups associated with flood risk reduction, ecosystems, agricultural resources, and water supply reliability. The technical focus groups include experts from public agencies, academic institutions, non-profit organizations, the private sector, and individuals with knowledge of climate change, the Delta, and its resources.
For any questions or to receive an invitation to the final SWG meeting, please email email@example.com.