Nature Conservancy Shares Delta-saving Ideas

The Nature Conservancy on Jan. 7 released its Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta Conservation Strategy, a report that provides recommendations for restoring key habitats and species in the Delta.

The Delta, the largest estuary on the West Coast, is widely acknowledged to be on the verge of collapse, with through-Delta conveyance being a key contributor to the system’s decline. The Conservancy’s plan calls for restoration of more natural water flows in the Delta. It recognizes that a peripheral canal, designed and operated to promote a healthy Delta ecosystem, must be part of a comprehensive Delta solution. The plan also recommends improving governance to manage the Delta’s resources in an ecologically sustainable manner.

“If we don’t take steps to repair some of the Delta’s natural ecological functions, we have no hope of saving the species that depend on this delicate ecosystem,” said Mike Sweeney, executive director for The Nature Conservancy's California Program. “The Nature Conservancy’s analysis led us to the conclusion that, short of ending water exports from the Delta, a peripheral canal is an essential component to restoring the conditions that Delta species need to survive.”

Over a span of nearly 50 years, The Nature Conservancy has protected and restored more than one million acres of California’s most important lands and waters, including 25,000 acres in the Delta. As a science-based conservation organization working and managing land in the Delta, the Conservancy has been deeply engaged in several major Delta planning efforts and studies, including the Bay Delta Conservation Plan and Delta Vision.

“Existing water operations in the Delta are incompatible with ecosystem health,” said Anthony Saracino, water program director for the Conservancy’s California Program. “Plants and animals in the Delta didn’t evolve to live in a freshwater lake, but that’s exactly what much of the Delta has become.”

Recommendations in The Nature Conservancy’s Delta Conservation Strategy are designed to protect habitats and species whose survival is critical to the overall health of the Delta. The conservation targets include:

  • Brackish tidal wetlands
  • Freshwater tidal wetlands
  • Riparian/floodplain habitat
  • Northern clay pan vernal pools
  • Native resident and anadromous fishes
  • Migratory waterfowl, shorebirds and water birds

Conservation strategies identified in the report include:

  • Wetlands restoration
  • Improvements to floodplain habitat and bypass facilities
  • Reducing development that impacts critical habitat and increases flood risk
  • Improvements to in-Delta flows
  • Support for a comprehensive science program
  • Establishment of a new, independent governance structure

“The key to success lies in the governance structure,” added Saracino. “History has shown that the existing process for managing and regulating the Delta does not work. We are in critical need of a new, independent form of governance if we hope to meet the multiple objectives for the Delta, and we cannot afford to wait another year for this to happen. The Nature Conservancy will be actively engaged in the efforts outlined in the Delta Conservation Strategy, working closely with state and federal resources agencies and local partners,” Saracino continued. “Saving the Delta’s biological diversity is no doubt a daunting task, and success will require years of commitment from all stakeholders. But, by working together, we can find solutions to this crisis.”