The Delta Stewardship Council and Bay Delta Conservation Plan

In 2005-06, a long-range strategic visioning process was begun to take the state of California beyond the 1994-2024 time frame of the Bay-Delta Accord.  This long-range process resulted in the “Delta Vision Strategic Plan” of 2008.

From the Delta Vision:

“Restore the Delta ecosystem and create a more reliable water supply for California.

The priorities that form the foundation for a sustainable Delta include the following ‘fundamental actions’:
•    A new system of dual water conveyance through and around the Delta to protect municipal, agricultural, environmental, and the other beneficial uses of water;
•    An investment commitment and strategy to restore and sustain a vibrant and diverse Delta ecosystem including the protection and enhancement of agricultural lands that are compatible with Plan goals;
•    Additional storage to allow greater system operational flexibility that will benefit water supplies for both humans and the environment and adapt to a changing climate;
•    An investment plan to protect and enhance unique and important characteristics of the Delta region;
•    A comprehensive Delta emergency preparedness strategy and a fully integrated Delta emergency response plan;
•    A plan to significantly improve and provide incentives for water conservation – through both wise use and reuse – in both urban and agricultural sectors throughout the state;
•    Strong incentives for local and regional efforts to make better use of new sources of water such as brackish water cleanup and seawater desalination; and
•    An improved governance system that has reliable funding, clear authority to determine priorities and strong performance measures to ensure accountability to the new governing doctrine of the Delta: operation for the coequal goals. Completion of this fundamental action is absolutely essential to the sustained operation and maintenance of all of these recommendations.”

Successor to the CALFED Bay-Delta Authority

In 2010, subsequent to approval of this Delta Vision, the California legislature created the Delta Stewardship Council made up of diverse community representatives and water interests, to implement the vision.  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.  By law, the Delta Stewardship Council must adopt and implement a comprehensive management plan for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Guided by an independent board of nationally and internationally prominent scientists, the Council is in the process of creating that Delta Plan to achieve its coequal goals of water and ecosystem sustainability in the face of projected increases in human population, droughts, sea level rise and reduced snowpack.  Prime strategies proposed to meet these challenges include water conservation, enhanced water storage and conveyance, continued ecosystem restoration, and new technologies and agricultural markets.

As with the former Bay-Delta program, the Delta Stewardship Council’s future programs are sure to provide many opportunities for private landowners to participate in shaping the future of their regions and to access dedicated funds or technical assistance to implement water conservation, conveyance or restoration projects.

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) is another plan of significance to Bay-Delta Conservation, involving voluntary collaboration of urban and agricultural water suppliers, environmental interests, state and federal agencies and other interested parties.  The Plan is 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 the BDCP is to be included in the Delta Plan, provided it is approved by state regulatory agencies and meets certain additional criteria. The Act also says that the Delta Stewardship 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 BDCP approach to addressing the Delta’s challenges reflects a significant departure from the species-by-species approach utilized in previous efforts to manage Delta-specific species and habitats. Instead, the BDCP seeks to improve the health of the ecological system as a whole. Each conservation measure plays a part in an interconnected web of conservation activities designed to improve the health of natural communities and, in so doing, improve the overall health of the Delta ecosystem.  Among the species being considered under the BDCP are delta smelt, chinook salmon, rare riparian species such as brush rabbit, least bell’s vireo and others including vernal pool and grassland species.

A Regulatory Plan 

The purpose of the Plan is regulatory in nature. In the most basic sense, the BDCP provides a regulatory vehicle for project proponents to agree to implement a suite of habitat restoration measures, other stressor reduction activities, and water operations criteria in return for regulatory agency approval of the necessary long-term permits for the various projects and water operations (covered activities) to proceed.

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan is in process as of early 2012, with various documents available for review and comment online.  A public document is scheduled for release June 29, 2012.

The BDCP attempts to balance contributions to the conservation of species in a way that is feasible given the variety of important uses in the Delta including flood protection, agriculture, and recreation, to name a few. The Plan is undergoing intensive environmental review—in the form of a state EIR and federal EIS—to evaluate the impact of the Plan on all aspects of the environment, including the human environment, and identify alternatives and potential mitigation actions.

Implementation of the Plan will occur over a 50-year time frame by a number of agencies and organizations with specific roles and responsibilities as prescribed by the Plan. A major part of implementation will be monitoring conservation measures to evaluate effectiveness, and revising actions through the adaptive management decision process.   

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