In Recognition of Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Week 2020

By Campbell Ingram, Executive Officer, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy

This week marks the third annual Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Week, in which we celebrate the crucial role of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in California’s economy and environment. While so many things around us have suffered setbacks due to the impacts of COVID-19 and California wildfires, we at the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy think it is still important to recognize Delta Week and the work that is pushing forward. We are proud of the efforts still progressing to preserve, protect, and restore the Delta, including the advancements of our Delta Carbon Program.

It is an exciting time in the Delta with more landowners, public and private, converting to land use practices that stop subsidence and the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that are caused by subsidence. When the highly-organic peat soils in the deeply-subsided areas of the Delta are drained for agriculture, microbes take advantage of the oxygen in the system and digest the peat. The byproduct is CO2 that volatizes into the atmosphere. This oxidation results in subsidence and is the reason there are islands in the Delta that are 25 feet or more below sea level. Fortunately, subsidence can be stopped simply by re-saturating the soil, and better still the carbon market can provide a revenue stream that can be a strong incentive to make these changes.

The American Carbon Registry (ACR), a registry for the voluntary carbon market, approved a protocol for the Delta that allows landowners to re-saturate the land and grow rice, or allow the natural wetland vegetation, tule reeds, to cover the land. These managed wetlands stop subsidence and carbon emissions, and the protocol provides a method for quantifying the CO2 emissions reduction and certifying carbon offsets that then can be traded on the voluntary market.

Recently ACR certified the first wetland carbon offsets, the first time this has been done anywhere globally. The Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the Delta Conservancy used the protocol to evaluate three managed wetland projects, totaling 1,700 acres. The resulting offsets were verified by a third-party auditor, a requirement of the protocol, and certified. This will allow DWR to either sell the offsets for revenue (approximately $60/acre/year) or retire the offsets to count toward their carbon emission reduction goals. While the value of the credits, about $60/acre, may not be the most compelling incentive today, the market is expected to grow. Additionally, if a farmer chooses to grow rice the carbon revenue is on top of the rice production revenue, which is significantly higher than most of the commodities currently grown in the region.

There are also habitat benefits from converting to managed wetlands and rice cultivation: both improve biodiversity by supporting birds, waterfowl, amphibians, and aquatic invertebrates.

This win, win, win opportunity is attracting attention! We have been working with several public and private landowners and expect that in the next two to three years between 4,000 and 5,000 acres will be converted to rice or managed wetlands. The Delta Conservancy and our team of consultants and carbon market experts is working to provide technical assistance to help these landowners connect their projects to the carbon market.

As California continues to display resilience in the face of many current challenges, Delta Week 2020 is a reminder of what the efforts of the Delta community can accomplish for our region!

If you have questions about this program, please reach out to Campbell Ingram, Executive Officer of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy: campbell.ingram@detlaconservancy.ca.gov.