Delta Protection Commission Releases Second Draft of Economic Plan

Establishing a firm cap on habitat conversions and creating a Delta Investment Fund to enhance recreation and tourism would help protect the economic sustainability of the Delta, according to a draft plan released today by the Delta Protection Commission.

The second draft of the commission’s Economic Sustainability Plan identifies agriculture as the main economic driver in the Delta and warns that loss of agricultural productivity as a result of new habitat creation could affect the region’s vitality.

Though the draft notes that recreation and tourism have the most potential for growth in the area, is says those activities have relatively low multiplier effects on the regional economy.

“Most agricultural impacts could be offset by recreation economy gains. However, even with its growth potential, the magnitude of growth in recreation and tourism cannot replace agriculture’s contribution,” the draft plan says. “Thus, the loss of agricultural productivity in the Delta to pursue water supply and ecosystem goals must be limited.”

Comprehensive water legislation enacted in 2009 tasked the commission with developing the Economic Sustainability Plan to provide a blueprint for a sustainable economy in the Delta and establish a basis to evaluate potential policy decisions and physical changes that could affect the region’s long-term economic sustainability.

The plan is intended to include recommendations to help guide the Delta Stewardship Council’s policies as directed by the 2009 legislative package. The legislation called for the co-equal goals of water supply reliability and ecosystem health to be achieved in a way that protects and sustains the unique cultural, historical, recreational and agricultural values of the Delta as an evolving place.

The draft plan recommends several specific actions determined to be consistent with the requirement to restore and enhance the Delta. It also identifies a number of water supply and ecosystem proposals that “create large conflicts with economic sustainability” and are therefore not recommended in the plan.

Two actions not recommended by the plan are creating large-scale tidal marsh in the South Delta and constructing a high-capacity tunnel to convey water. The plan notes that a much smaller and better-targeted program for creating tidal marsh would reduce conflict, while other alternative options for improving water supply reliability exist. A tunnel with the capacity of 15,000 cubic feet per second would have significant negative effects on all aspects of the Delta economy, the plan says.

“There are unacceptably high risks surrounding the financial feasibility, environmental impacts, and operations of the project. There are many alternative options for increasing water supply reliability, and the large cost of isolated conveyance could drain resources that could support the state policy of reducing reliance on the Delta,” the draft plan concludes.

The draft Economic Sustainability Plan is available here.