CALFED and the Bay-Delta Accord - Beginnings of an Integrated Approach to Water Policy and Use

California’s water wars are legendary, the stuff of books and the Hollywood drama, Chinatown, and they’ve been fought largely in agricultural ditches and the courts up until the creation of CALFED in 1994.


California’s water wars are legendary, the stuff of books and the Hollywood drama, Chinatown, and they’ve been fought largely in agricultural ditches and the courts up until the creation of CALFED in 1994. CALFED was a coalition of federal and state agencies that came together, subsequent to six years of drought, with environmentalists, agriculture and urban water interests in acknowledgment that courtroom battles were doing little to address the state’s water woes.  CALFED agencies signed the San Francisco Bay Delta Accord which created programs that would address four urgent but interconnected problems related to water:
  • water supply reliability
  • water quality
  • ecosystem restoration
  • Bay-Delta levee system integrity
In essence, the crisis of a 6-year drought had made plain that business as usual could not continue without devastating California’s aquatic ecosystems.  In particular populations of sensitive species such as Delta Smelt were suffering the long term effects of mortality from the pumps that shunt water through the Delta, while salmon had declined precipitously from a combination of water diversions, dams, and siltation of their natal streams.

Thus, the Bay-Delta Accord began a process of project implementation and negotiation which succeeded in addressing some issues and kept most interests as partners at the table and out of the courts.  

The CALFED Ecosystem Restoration and Watershed Programs

Key environmental elements of the CALFED program are the Ecosystem Restoration Program, which disbursed grants to improve and increase aquatic and terrestrial habitats and improve ecological functions in the Bay-Delta, and the  Watershed Program, which provided both financial and technical assistance for watershed activities that help achieve the mission and objectives of CALFED, by promoting collaboration and integration among community-based watershed efforts.

Both the Ecosystem Restoration and Watershed Programs have focused on areas upstream from the Delta, where the greatest level of investment has taken place. These areas are showing the strongest results. Significant investments made there in fish screens, temperature control, fish passage improvements and upstream habitats have resulted in an improved outlook for salmon throughout the Central Valley. Additionally, watershed funding, training and staffing has been a strong focus, primarily upstream from the Delta. Unfortunately, efforts have been less successful at acquiring and protecting important lands in the Delta along its tributary rivers and streams. The decline of pelagic organisms, most notably Delta smelt, and the increasing proliferation of non-native, invasive species in the Delta, has made it one of the most invaded ecosystems in the world.

Examples of the types of projects involving private lands that have received funding under the ERP and Watershed Program include:
  • Assessment of levee setback in the lower Deer Creek floodplain to improve salmon habitat and reduce flood damage.
  • Acquisition of conservation easements in the Northwest Delta to secure sensitive areas along the Delta’s Barker slough.
  • Funding of a watershed coordinator, materials, equipment, and office space for the Yuba Watershed Council to provide coordination and assistance, adaptive management and monitoring, education and outreach to landowners and others living within the watershed.
  • Survey and mapping of the invasive Purple Loosestrife along with a site specific adaptive management plan and comprehensive local eradication and control efforts.
  • The Battle Creek Salmon and Steelhead Restoration Project to restore approximately 42 miles of historical anadromous fish habitat in Battle Creek, and an additional 6 miles of habitat in its tributaries. Components of the project include removal of 5 diversion dams, installing of fish ladders and screens at 3 diversion dams, and increased flows from all remaining diversion dams affecting anadromous fish.
  • On February 3, 2010, under Senate Bill No. 1, the new Delta Stewardship Council was created as an independent state agency tasked with developing the Delta Plan for achieving the coequal goals of providing a more reliable water supply for California and protecting, restoring and enhancing the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta ecosystem. Under the same bill, the CALFED Science Program became the Delta Science Program, reporting to the new Council.
SOURCE: CALFED archived website