A New Comprehensive Plan for the Estuary

by Ariel Rubissow Okamoto

Changing estuarine conditions and new pressures from ongoing urbanization and development, as well as from climate change, inspired estuary planners to undertake a revision to the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) in 2014. The CCMP, first published in 1993 and most recently updated in 2007, was the first master plan for improving the health of the estuary encompassing San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento- San Joaquin River Delta. The intent of the current update — a project still led and managed by the San Francisco Estuary Partnership (SFEP) — is to streamline the current plan, which contains more than 200 actions, and refocus on contemporary concerns.

“We’re now seeing the forecasts for faster rates of sea level rise and lengthier periods of drought come true. We’re having to revise our plans in anticipation of a much more tumultuous future for estuary’s wildlife and for Bay Area residents,” says Marc Holmes of The Bay Institute, one of the early and current framers of the CCMP.

“So much has changed since 2007 that has a direct impact on the Bay and Estuary,” says Carol Mahoneyof Zone 7 Water Agency, who is also working on the CCMP revision. “From legislative actions like SBx7-7 (20% water conservation by 2020) and the local plastic bag bans to greater use of stormwater cleanup and capture technologies, new fronts have opened up to help assess and protect this vital resource in our own backyard.”

Since ESTUARY last reported on the CCMP update project in December, SFEP staff has pulled together alist of draft actions developed by teams made of expertsand members of a steering committee. Draft actions revolve around three topic areas: habitats, living resources, and water quality and quantity. Next steps will involve soliciting feedback from the larger BayArea community, and review of the draft actions by the steering committee working under SFEP’s Implemen- tation Committee.

“The teams have really rolled up their sleeves and proposed a robust set of possible actions,” says Caitlin Sweeney, a senior planner for the Partnership. Sweeney is now working with each team to cross reference and refine proposed actions across program areas. “Everyone is much more aware these days of how every action affects others,” she says.

As mentioned in the December article, the revised CCMP will look forward to 2050 while crafting a small set of strategic actions that can result in measured progress over the first five years of implementation.

“We continue to harness the big picture spirit and strong partnerships of the first CCMP in this new revision,” says Partnership director Judy Kelly.

Short History of the CCMP

Clapper Rail PicThe San Francisco Estuary Project had its origins in the Clean Water Act, and its purview is one of the America’s 28 “estuaries of national significance.” In 1987, the Project began assembling a series of ground-breaking status and trends reports on key environmental and management issues troubling San Francisco Bay and the Delta — linking them into one estuary for the first time. Building on this foundation, it developed the strong vision for addressing these issues now known as the CCMP.

“The first time we took a serious look at the estuary in a comprehensive way was the CCMP. All successive efforts have built on that foundation,” says western water consultant Barry Nelson. Nelson was one of more than a hundred stakeholders from diverse interests, ranging from business and environmental groups to government agencies, invited to pull up a chair at the negotiating table. The resulting 300-page CCMP aimed to restore the ecological functions of an estuary that drains almost forty percent of the state, while at the same time sustaining its use by humans and wildlife.

Within the CCMP process, stake- holders winnowed their ideas down to 145 specific actions tackling pollution, dredging, land use, water use, wet- lands, fish and wildlife issues, among others. “The CCMP provided a structure for allowing people to do what they care about—a kind of church of the estuary,” says Will Travis, former director of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC).

On the 20th anniversary of the CCMP, the Partnership published a special 24-page issue of ESTUARY News magazine. The issue summarizes twenty years of progress, including everything from planting root balls of eelgrass in the mudflats to warning the public about the dangers of eating too much Bay-caught white croaker. This snapshot review suggests that almost 600 projects, undertaken by diverse partners, have implemented the CCMP in some way or another in the last 20 years.

Many of the more obvious results of the CCMP include cleaner water, stronger science, nearly 50,000 acres of wetlands in some stage of restoration, thousands of volunteers involved in hands-on stewardship, and whole rivers returned to their floodplains. Much of the progress comes thanks to the investment of taxpayers in state water bonds.

New Challenges & Actions

Asked about how the proposed new CCMP will be different from the last one, Kelly had this response: “Clearly regional climate change adaptation is going to be a major theme as we plan for the next 35 years. In addition, new water quality issues such as contaminants of emerging concern are taking their place as areas of possible focus alongside long-standing concerns about legacy PCBs and mercury.”

According to Sweeney, some of the more immediate priority actions CCMP revision teams are considering in their drafts include:

• Leveraging natural processes through “green” infrastructure to provide multiple benefits such as flood protection, aquatic habitat, and water quality.

• Developing freshwater inflow standards to protect all beneficial uses in the Estuary.

• Addressing emerging contaminants.

• Planning for extended droughts.

• Protecting and increasing fish and wildlife populations.

• Restoring and sustaining ecosystems, and increasing the adaptive capacity of our shorelines, in the face of climate change.

• Developing and sustaining reliable funding sources and collective leadership to meet our future goals.

“We are already working with our partner organizations in small group settings to explain the process and get feedback and ideas for the new plan,” says Kelly.

Later this spring, the Partnership will start a wider outreach effort. By the next State of the Estuary Conference, set for September 17th and 18th at the Oakland Marriott, the Partnership hopes to have a complete first draft of the 2016 CCMP ready for review and comment.

“One of the issues commonly cited as a big challenge in restoring the ecological functions of the estuary is that there are so many different agencies and jurisdictions involved,” says Letitia Grenier, lead scientist for the 2015 Baylands Ecosystem Habitat Goals Update, which includes new science and recommendations to be considered in fleshing out the new CCMP. “The CCMP is one of very few regional plans that treats the full estuary as a single system, recognizing that actions and changes in one part of the system will affect the other parts, and championing strong integration across different planning efforts.”

For updates on CCMP development:

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About the author

Ariel Rubissow Okamoto is both today’s editor-in-chief and the founding editor of ESTUARY magazine (1992-2001). She enjoys writing in-depth, silo-crossing stories about water, restoration, and science. She’s a co-author of a Natural History of San Francisco Bay (UC Press 2011), frequent contributor of climate change stories to Bay Nature magazine, and occasional essayist for publications like the San Francisco Chronicle (see her Portfolio here). In other lives, she has been a vintner, soccer mom, and waitress. She lives in San Francisco close to the Bay with her architect husband Paul Okamoto.

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