The Delta Plan Interagency Implementation Committee (DPIIC) had its eighth meeting in West Sacramento on November 13, where committee members from multiple agencies weighed in on the future of the Delta over the next 35 years.
Leading the discussion, DPIIC Chair Randy Fiorini asked the group to describe that future. “As you look ahead 35 years from now, knowing the work that you're all involved in today, what is it that you hope is accomplished by the year 2050 as it relates to the Delta ecosystem?”
Karen Ross, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, echoed that sentiment, adding, “In 35 years, I would hope that we don't even have to use the terminology 'wildlife friendly,' it's just [art of how we farm and steward our ecosystem. I would also hope in 35 years that everything that is threatened and endangered now is actually off the list.”
While those are big goals, Ross described the way she sees us getting there and the importance of non-confrontational management. “We're not saying, 'fish or farming,' 'the economy or the environment,' it's just very integrated in a systems approach to how we live and coexist,” Ross said.
The current political climate around state management of the Delta is anything but non-confrontational. Some might even suggest that confrontation is written into the Delta Reform Act itself via the coequal goals. But Ross didn't let the politics of today hinder her aspirations. “That's my dream,” she said with a smile.
West Coast Regional Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association Barry Thom weighed in on the idea of management with an appreciation for interconnectedness as well. “We're interested in it form both a Delta perspective, and how do we interconnect all those habitats, but then how do we actually connect to the entire ecosystem,” Thom said. He described planning with a vision of how multiple environments connect to each other, and how, ultimately, the Delta is tied to decisions throughout the watershed, including those above Shasta Dam. As an example, Thom considered the fish reintroduction process.
“From a science perspective, we want to maintain the whole life cycle, but then from the management perspective, I think there's some value to actually tying those fish to the people across that landscape so that everybody has an incentive to actually maintain and support those fish as they go through their life cycles.”
One of the inherent obstacles to successfully achieving a true systems-oriented management structure derives from the dispersed nature of our societal interests. The way we manage does not come from the same mind, but rather, disparate perspectives with diverse interests. Solving that conundrum is a bigger task than any one ecological project in the Delta.
Ross probed the issue further with Lower Yolo Bypass project ideas suggested by Kris Tjernell, Special Assistant for Water Policy for the California Natural Resources Agency. Ross asked if connecting all the parties involved in that project area is a potential challenge. Tjernell said, “Absolutely. I think getting a more clear sense [would help], for example, from the agricultural community about what are some of their concerns when it comes to restoring habitats.”
Tjernell explained that this kind of localized engagement can lead to the wide-angle view of management previously discussed. “So you start getting really quickly...a potential for safe harbor agreements or other sorts of protections that can give the agricultural community piece of mind, while also being able to pursue large-scale, landscape scale habitat restoration, Tjernell said.
Skip Thompson, Delta Stewardship Council member and Chair of the Delta Protection Commission, planted that seed well before the discussion commenced and is sprouted at that moment. “Without local involvement, you're gonna have a heck of a fight on your hands, and I say that locals probably know better than anyone, what is going on [and] how they can be helpful, but without their involvement, it is going to be another battle.”
Large-scale management makes sense in a room full of agency representatives, but it's a much bigger dream when that room has to account for all of the competing interests involved. Until we all share one mind on these matters, reconnoitering the site, engaging people on the ground, and recording the concerns of those most directly affected puts that dream on the table as something to be addressed, shaped, and hopefully managed.