In June 2002, the Delta Wetlands Project, a critical water management tool for California, announced it had received its final federal permits, making it the only surface water storage project that can be fully developed in the next decade. During this 15-year environmental review process, a number of influential conservation groups, including the California Waterfowl Association, Ducks Unlimited Inc., Natural Heritage Institute and the Planning & Conservation League, recognized the environmental benefits of Delta Wetlands.
"California Waterfowl Association supports the Delta Wetlands Project for the outstanding habitat and wetlands improvements that it will bring to the Delta for waterfowl and other wetland-dependent wildlife," said Robert McLandress, California Waterfowl Association President. "The project will also provide increased recreational opportunities and improvements to water supply and salinity levels (in the Delta) during key times of the year."
"The politics of developing new surface water storage projects in California are obviously complicated and fraught with conflicts," said Jim Easton, general manager for the Delta Wetlands Project. "However, the Delta Wetlands Project has successfully weathered a stringent environmental review process, is able to be operational before all other projects currently under consideration and has the additional and politically potent value of providing significant environmental benefits."
Located in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and straddling San Joaquin and Contra Costa counties, the project involves four Delta islands. By fortifying the surrounding levee systems, the project will be able to store significant amounts of water on two of the islands, forming a greatly needed new surface water storage facility. The islands will be able to capture water when it is available (typically during storms or other events that produce large flows through the Delta), for later use when water is scarce. Delta Wetlands has successfully completed more than fifteen years of environmental reviews, receiving necessary approvals from nearly a dozen state and federal agencies. The rulings, permits and official opinions all conclude that the project will have no adverse impact on the surrounding Delta system or on local wildlife.
Nine thousand acres on the two remaining islands will be set aside permanently as wetland and wildlife habitat. The islands will form a mosaic of seasonal and permanent wetlands, riparian woodland zones, ponds and lakes, and open grassland areas. The habitat islands will provide extremely valuable wetland and wildlife benefits to the Delta, supporting a wide variety of species, including listed and endangered plants and animals and migratory waterfowl.
In addition to the habitat that will be created and permanently preserved, project operations are expected to lower salinity levels in the Delta during hot summer months, when water levels are lower and waterborne pollutants are concentrated. Since the project will release stored water during dry months, overall salinity levels in the Delta should be reduced. Indirect environmental benefits are also expected through the project's increases to the water supply, since demand on other water sources could be expected to diminish.
"Delta Wetlands offers tremendous improvements in available habitat, which is crucial to migrating waterfowl," said Fritz Reid, Ducks Unlimited's Director of Conservation Planning. "California has lost a significant percentage of our seasonal wetlands, and any water project that can increase water supply while increasing the amount of wetland habitat is a major benefit to migratory birds and other wetland-dependent wildlife. The mitigation proposed for the habitat islands and their location in the heart of the historic waterfowl wintering area provide significant benefits to waterfowl and wetland-dependent species."
"Delta Wetlands is a unique water storage program now available to the state, its residents and businesses," continued Jim Easton. "We have carefully designed a project that satisfies two goals previously thought incompatible -- increased water supply and increased wildlife habitat. Delta Wetlands is a good example of how solutions can be found that balance human and wildlife needs."
In addition to a potential purchase by the CALFED Bay-Delta Program, and in light of evolving California policies and regulations, many other opportunities for project implementation exist. Recognizing the large supply of new water that the Delta Wetlands Project will provide, potential partnerships could include urban or agricultural water agencies, environmental mitigation efforts, large developers and other business entities.
For more information on the Delta Wetlands Project, please visit its website at http://www.deltawetlands.com.