The Next Decade in the Delta: Consensus on "Near-Term" Projects

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Stakeholders from throughout California’s water world came together in Martinez Monday Oct. 15 to unveil a list of improvement projects for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta that could be undertaken in the “near-term” while longer-term solutions for the Delta are studied.

The Senate Select Committee on Delta Stewardship and Sustainability held the informational hearing to unveil the list of projects supported by a loose-knit group of farmers, environmentalists, and water providers calling themselves The Coalition to Support Near-Term Delta Projects. The coalition has reached consensus on moving forward with projects that range from levee improvements to ecosystem restoration.

The hearing, dubbed The Next Decade in the Delta, was chaired by Sen. Lois Wolk (D-Davis) and featured representatives from water districts, state agencies and county governments. Speakers spoke in general terms of support for moving forward with 43 projects in the Delta totaling about $770 million.

Wolk noted at the outset that a number of factors are contributing to an ongoing crisis in the Delta. Long-term solutions are under study, but they are a decade or more away.

“Even under the most optimistic scenario, the current infrastructure in the Delta will remain the same for the next 10-plus years,” Wolk said. “But the Delta crisis will not wait. It’s there now. We can’t wait to address some of these serious risks.”

She credited the coalition for focusing “not on what divides us, but on what common purpose we may have.”

“There is an emerging consensus on a number of very promising projects that may well improve conditions in the Delta,” she said.

The “near-term” Delta projects include: levee/emergency management; ecosystem restoration; water supply/quality improvements and other actions such as research, education and economic development.

Several of the projects would be funded by existing bond monies that in some cases would require local matching funds.

“The most challenging issue is funding, but it is not the only issue of challenge, the other is getting the projects through the permitting process,” Greg Gartrell, of the Contra Costa Water District, said. “It takes about two years of permitting, design and environmental work for every one year of construction,” Gartrell added.

Mark Cowin, director of the Department of Water Resources, said that he believes there has been “significant, meaningful progress” on a lot of issues related to the Delta.

“But we’re still in the mode of low-hanging fruit in terms of projects in the Delta,” Cowin added.

Wolk called it encouraging to see there is common ground.

“The next step is the hard one, which is prioritizing and funding these projects,” Wolk said at the conclusion of the hearing.

A list of the “near-term” projects is available here.