A counterpart to the California WaterFix, California EcoRestore is a state effort to restore and protect more than 30,000 acres of habitat in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta ecosystem by 2020, with additional acreage to follow.

Like the much-debated WaterFix project that often overshadows it, EcoRestore is a state-led program that had its roots in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, but has since been separated in an effort to concentrate resources and accelerate implementation.

While the WaterFix project aims to improve the reliability of the water flowing through the Delta and protect it from sea level rise and natural disasters, the EcoRestore projects are intended to restore thousands of acres of habitat for fish and wildlife, including aquatic, sub-tidal, tidal, riparian, flood plain and upland ecosystem.

The improvements to the Delta under EcoRestore are intended to restore some of the habitat for fish and wildlife that has been lost due to human development over many years.

Why is restoration necessary?

The Delta’s ecosystem has been transformed by 150 years of straightening channels, draining marshlands, removing riparian forests and diverting water flows to support human development and protect property from flooding.

According to a recent report by the San Francisco Estuary Institute, 98 percent of the freshwater emergent marsh in the Delta has been lost. These marshes and floodplains used to provide a lot of the food for fish and wildlife. Many of these wetland and floodplain areas also provided critical rearing, spawning and refuge habitat for numerous fish and wildlife species. The deepening, straightening, and leveeing of Delta channels has disconnected these land areas from the waterways and eliminated many of the important functions they served. As a result of these and other changes, several native species are now threatened or endangered, and many non-native species which are more suited to these changed conditions now outnumber the native ones.

About 40 percent of our county’s water supply comes from the Delta through the State Water Project and Central Valley Project. As the number of native fish species decreases, regulatory restrictions are set by state and federal agencies to protect the fish. This limits the water distributed from the Delta during certain seasons, compromising the reliability of our imported water supplies. Restoring habitat to help native fish species recover, improves the overall health of the Delta ecosystem and contributes to building the reliability of a critical water supply.

What are the projects?

EcoRestore comprises a number of projects that are in planning, under construction or have already been completed. They range throughout the Delta area. The latest one to break ground was the Tule Red Restoration Project in the Grizzly Bay area of Suisun Marsh. The water district contributed to this project – a little over $400,000 of the $1.23 million purchase price to help acquire the property, and additional funds through its membership fees to the State and Federal Contractors Water Agency, for the planning, design, environmental documentation, permitting and construction of the project.

A comprehensive list of projects is available here. Generally, the projects include:

  • Creating 3,500 acres of managed wetlands
  • Restoring 17,500+ acres of floodplain
  • Restoring 9,000 acres of tidal and sub-tidal habitat
  • Restoring 1,000+ acres of aquatic, riparian and upland habitat
  • Completing 5 fish passage improvement projects
  • Creating 35,000 feet of riparian habitat

California EcoRestore will use funding from several sources including from the water agencies that import water from the State Water Project and federal Central Valley Project such as the Santa Clara Valley Water District. The projects are expected to total at least $300 million in the first four years. Some of the funding is also expected to come from Propositions 1, 1E, the AB 32 Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund and local, federal and private investment.

Where does the water district stand?

Environmental stewardship is an important tenet of the water district’s mission. While the water district’s board of directors is still gathering information on the WaterFix project before deciding whether to support or participate in it, the board has been supportive of EcoRestore and other environmental improvements in the Delta.

Learn more about EcoRestore and the WaterFix project objectives here.

 

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