FAIRFIELD — Solano County will have to keep waiting for specifics on what the state’s $23 billion Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta plan will mean for local farms and the environment.
The Brown administration last week released the first four chapters of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, calling the occasion “a major milestone.” Another eight chapters are to be released in coming weeks.
“We are making real progress,” state Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin said in a press release. “We are now closer than ever to finally safeguarding a water supply critical to California’s future and restoring vitality and resiliency to the Delta ecosystem.”
Solano County officials have yet to find out precisely how much habitat might be restored in the county to help make the Bay Delta Conservation Plan a reality. Nor are they certain what the state’s water management plans will mean for Suisun Marsh water quality.
Such parties as the Suisun Resource Conservation District, which represents Suisun Marsh property owners, are still watching and waiting. The mood would seem to fall between upbeat and downbeat.
“I think ‘wariness’ might be a good description,” Suisun Resource Conservation District Executive Director Steven Chappell said.
California and the federal government presently capture water targeted for Southern California cities and Central Valley farms in vast reservoirs in the Sierra Nevada foothills. They then release the water to flow through the Delta and pump it into aqueducts for delivery.
Court orders have interrupted water deliveries to protect the rare Delta smelt from getting sucked up by the pumps. Also, state officials have expressed fear that an earthquake could cause Delta levees to collapse, interrupting water deliveries.
Under the Bay-Delta plan, pumping plants would be built in the Sacramento River near Sacramento, north of the Delta and away from such rare species as the Delta smelt. Water bound for cities and farms would then travel under the Delta for 35 miles in two tunnels.
All of this proposed infrastructure – the tunnels, pumps and forebays – at its closest would be several miles east of Solano County, according to a Bay Delta Conservation Plan map.
The draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan chapters also call for restoring 145,000 acres in habitat over 50 years to help 57 species that have Endangered Species Act protection. Species range from the Delta smelt to the Suisun shrew to the side-flowering skullcap to the riparian brush rabbit to the Suisun thistle to the salt marsh harvest mouse.
A minimum of 65,000 acres of tidal wetlands and adjacent uplands – more than 100 square miles – is to be restored in the Delta to help rare fish. These restored areas are to primarily be in Cache Slough and Suisun Marsh areas of Solano County and in the south Delta, the draft plan said.
Another section of the plan said that “at least” 5,000 acres is to be Cache Slough area and “at least” 7,000 acres in Suisun Marsh, with “at least” 8,600 acres in areas outside the county. But this total falls far short of 65,000 acres.
All of this makes it unclear exactly how much of Solano County’s Delta and Suisun Marsh landscape might get reshaped in coming decades. Media officials with the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife – the new name for the Department of Fish and Game – could not provide an immediate answer Monday afternoon.
Solano County Water Agency General Manger David Okita said the 5,000 acres mentioned in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan for the Cache Slough area sounds like a floor. Local officials would like to know what the upper limit might be, he said.
“The idea is to get them to be more specific on Cache Slough sooner rather than later,” Okita said.
The Cache Slough area is a rural area with farmland in the eastern county. Solano County officials have expressed fear that farmland and property tax dollars could be lost to habitat restoration, with no compensation for the county.
Solano County is doing a $125,000 study on the Cache Slough area. Okita said the study will show which levees would be the most practical to breach for habitat restoration and what the economic impacts of habitat restoration might be to the county.
Suisun Marsh property owners have their own concerns. The properties are mostly duck clubs that manage wetlands behind levees to create habitat for waterfowl and other creatures.
For duck clubs, priorities include keeping Suisun Marsh sloughs with the proper mixture of fresh and salt water to maintain managed wetlands. Another priority is promoting the value of managed wetlands amid a push for more tidal wetlands to benefit rare fish.
The district and state and federal agencies in recent years worked on the Suisun Marsh Habitat, Preservation and Restoration Plan. It calls for restoring 5,000 to 7,000 acres of tidal wetland in the marsh over 30 years, while also making it easier for duck club owners to do such things as shore up levees.
Now comes the draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan saying that “at least” 7,000 acres in Suisun Marsh will be restored to tidal wetlands habitat. The minimum acreage listed in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan is the maximum listed in the Suisun Marsh Habitat and Conservation Plan.
Chappell said no inconsistency necessarily exists between the two plans. He noted that the draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan has a timeline that is 20 years longer than that of the Suisun Marsh plan.
The entire draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan and the accompanying draft environmental impact report are to be released by year’s end. Please go to http://baydeltaconservationplan.com to read the first four chapters of the draft plan.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.