DELTA FLOWS 2/10/22: “Adapting Restoration for a Changing Climate” 

Restore the Delta policy and science staff plug into many state and regional water discussions. We recently joined the “Adapting Restoration for a Changing Climate Symposium” held by the Science Program of the Delta Stewardship Council. The event was held Feb 2-3, 2022.

Here are some highlights from the event.

Laurel Larsen (Delta Science Program Lead Scientist) touted the symposium as an opportunity for “practical and visionary aspirations” that “move our projects into creating more carbon capturing sinks, and that they would be a “boon to recreational uses” in landscapes. She then gave an extensive land acknowledgement that included a reference to California’s “violent past,” and that the Delta Stewardship Council benefits from their dispossession. She stated that there is “much we need to learn from tribal approaches to stewardship.” 

Dylan Chapple of Delta Science Program defined Ecosystem Restoration as a “process of assisting recovery of an ecosystem that was degraded, damaged, or destroyed.” He offered a friendly amendment that it is also a two-way human-nature relationship. He agreed with Dr. Larsen that it is important to incorporate Indigenous knowledge into climate adaptation approaches.

Dr. Jennifer Norris of California Natural Resources Agency coordinates Governor Gavin Newsom’s 30X30 initiative, saying that it is “a commitment to act” to protect nature in California. 30 percent more land in natural preserves by 2030. The initiative is intended to protect biodiversity, expand nature access and build resilience to mitigate climate change effects. She performatively added that it was also to achieve “justice, equity, and inclusion” without examples of 30×30’s actions in that area. Restore the Delta believes this program should include waterways.

Josh Collins of San Francisco Estuary Institute (SFEI) summed up the threat of global climate change to local ecosystem restoration—sea level rise, rising temperatures, species moving to avoid both. He stated, memorably, “if you build [ecosystem restoration projects] they [species] will come—and then they will leave” due to a continually changing climate. “Field of (Dashed) Dreams”? He ominously stated his fear that the estuary is likely to change faster than “we” will. Science enterprises need to move faster, he argued, and face threats by getting in front of them. The question nagging all at the conference was “how?” 

Letitia Grenier, also of SFEI, said we’re failing to manage ecosystems for the species and communities on justice and equity grounds too. She acknowledged that the settler colonial mindset is hard to break out of. Grenier bemoaned ecological damage done to the Delta wetlands in the 19th century, and their continued absence today. With maps she showed how the loss of “capillary” sloughs penetrating from channels into islands has desiccated island landscapes, comparing their loss to a person afflicted with a disease where you lose your small capillary systems. 

Stuart Siegel, from the San Francisco Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, explained that the estuary was becoming inaccessible. His point was that we must ensure that habitats remain linked and that roads and other types of obstacles were cutting off those habitats from one another. Siegel mentioned first Mallard Slough, China Camp, and Rush Ranch as locations that they were making changes to water pathways. He also said that the Peters Pocket and Cache Slough, mixes of wetland and marshes, could help in habitat linkages for the Delta.

A very moving presentation was given by Corrina Gould, one of the founding matriarchs of Sogorea Te Land Trust in Huichun in the East Bay (extending from Oakland to Richmond and quite a ways inland). She spoke about the land trusts work, “first we needed to steward and restore our people,” and they have done a lot on that front. They received a small plot in East Oakland adjacent to an organic nursery where they have created a community garden and an arbor space that has become a focal point for community gatherings—indigenous and non-indigenous neighborhood people alike—for graduations, celebrating returnees from prison, weddings, and remembrances, “a cultural touchstone,” she called it, “for all who are close to our home.” The land trust models inclusivity locally in East Oakland. They worked with a Mendocino lumber company to obtain redwood logs suitable for their arbor. They collect tules to re-engage with after a few hundred years of neglect, she stated, but they have thousands of years of memories with which to re-engage. They also maintain the health of a local creek. 

Michelle Stevens, from California State University at Sacramento, focused on California Indian people in relation to maintaining habitat and looked to their strategies for mitigating wildfires in Bushy Lake. She emphasized the need to protect White root habitat because it is used by basket weavers and is important culturally for California Indians. During the panel discussion, she advocated for a voice for those without one, specifically animals and plants.

Curt Schmutte, MWD consultant, focused on floating marshes acting as a carbon capture mechanism. He mentioned that subsidence is causing huge issues and how the Delta is not sustainable in current form. He took portions of floating peat and put it in a pool that ended up growing much bigger and capture carbon in its biomass. Could this perhaps  be a method to reverse subsidence and capture carbon too? Schmutte did not elaborate on a source of water in which floating marshes would eventually float.

UC Davis researcher Brett Milligan presented on the California Department of Water Resources’ Emergency Drought Barrier in False River and its effects on salinity intrusion in Franks Tract, an inland water body just east of the barrier. Spencer Fern, RTD’s science coordinator, asked Milligan about the effect of reduced flow to Franks Tract from the Barrier on harmful algal blooms (HABs), which occurred there last summer and fall, but on Zoom the question did not reach him.

Phoenix Armenta, with the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project made a presentation on Oakland Shoreline Leadership Academy. The academy teaches underprivileged youth about water rights and quality issues in the area and helps give them educational opportunities to be more involved in decision-making processes.  

Sarah Yarnell, with the Center for Watershed Science at UC Davis, brought the focus to functional flows in dammed rivers. She wants to maximize resiliency with the flow types and use it as a way to drive ecosystem functions and raise biodiversity. Altering the flow to mimic natural tendencies at the right time helps give cues for species of fish to migrate. It can also facilitate movement of sediment through river and stream channels. She acknowledged that more functional flows could decrease harmful algal blooms (HABs), distinct from areas with low flow and static sediment would likely cause HABs to form and spread like other algae.

Jacob Katz, with Cal Trout, made a presentation showing that floodplains—the areas along a river where flooding would occur naturally–are high in nutrients when they get flow. These flows cause explosions of small animals and invertebrate organisms fuel fish growth when conditions are right. Floodplains from the 1800s are still mostly present and that there needs to be more of an effort to use them to help rearing fish. During the panel he also stated that he wanted there to be more action by the government than just talking about it; it is hard to disagree with that.

From Brad Henderson we learned that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is doing what it can to streamline that department’s permitting processes for ecosystem restoration projects—to cut through “green tape,” as he put it, for even the most complex projects. 

Harriet Ross, assistant planning director with the Delta Stewardship Council, presented her agency’s Delta Adapts climate change process, in which Restore the Delta participated a year ago (including our comment letter), gave a presentation on that process as well as the Council’s preparation of a final environmental impact report on its Delta Plan ecosystem chapter amendments. Her presentation highlighted to the larger symposium audience that ecosystem restoration policies will soon be in place for the Delta.

Last but not least was Nohal Ghoghiae’s presentation. Ms. Ghoghiae is an environmental justice permitting coordinator with the Bay Conservation and Development Commission in San Francisco, where she implements environmental justice-related permitting requirements where project developers are required to seek out and work with local communities adjacent to their Bayfront development or ecosystem restoration projects to ensure that their views help shape the final outcomes. She plausibly contended that permittees have been able to build trust with these communities—many of whom are disadvantaged and have long faced environmental injustices—out of which they get more innovative projects, and see the communities themselves build greater capacity to organize and develop themselves. Unfortunately, she lacked sufficient time to present any case studies.

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