Delta Conservancy Board Approves $13 Million for Nature-Based Solutions: Wetland Restoration Projects

October 25, 2023
OAKLEY – The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy Board on Wednesday approved awarding up to $13.3 million for three climate-benefit projects that will provide fish and wildlife habitat, halt or reverse subsidence, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, support the Delta economy, and more.

The grant funding for these projects was made possible by the Amended Budget Act of 2022, which provided the Delta Conservancy with a general fund allocation of $36 million for projects that support Nature Based Solutions: Wetland Restoration.

“This funding offers a great opportunity to implement projects that offer nature-based solutions to habitat loss, subsidence, and carbon emissions on Delta islands. We have the science that tells us rewetting the landscape will be beneficial; now we can start putting this knowledge into practice,” said Karen Buhr, Delta Conservancy Deputy Executive Officer.

The projects approved Wednesday will contribute to California’s 30×30 goal of conserving 30% of our lands and coastal waters by 2030.

Delta Rice Conversion Program

The Board approved an award of up to $4.3 million to The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to support conversion of at least 3,000 and up to 7,500 acres of current agriculture in San Joaquin and Contra Costa counties to wildlife-friendly rice for the purpose of stopping subsidence (reduction in land elevation); reducing greenhouse gas emissions; providing ecosystem benefits, particularly for migratory birds; and supporting the local Delta economy.

The money TNC receives will support lands where farming has been hindered by subsidence, which is caused by the drainage of wetlands and the oxidation of peat soil, resulting in the release of carbon. In addition to climate benefits, rice cultivation has community benefits, including decreased flooding risk and increased economic viability since rice can be a higher priced commodity than other crops.

“Rice farming is an important part of a resilient future for the Delta. This incentive program for interested landowners will lead to economically viable agricultural operations that also reduce land subsidence, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and improve habitat for wildlife. The Delta Rice Conversion Program is a win-win opportunity; we appreciate the State of California and Delta Conservancy’s leadership in making it possible,” said Rodd Kelsey, TNC Land Program Director.

Wetland Restoration on Staten Island

The Board also approved an award of up to $6.7 million to TNC to restore 426 acres of wetland on Staten Island in San Joaquin County. The wetland restoration effort will be part of a broader carbon farming project on the island to create and support vital habitat for birds and other species, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and restore carbon stocks, halt and reverse subsidence, provide other co-benefits like improved water quality, and serve as a demonstration project to help scale similar wetland and carbon farming projects across the Delta.

“The Nature Conservancy’s vision for its Staten Island farm is to maintain and expand its role as a learning laboratory advancing wildlife-friendly farming, wetland restoration, and climate-responsive agricultural practices in the Delta. The Wetland Restoration Project on Staten Island will demonstrate how wetland restoration in some of the more subsided portions of the Delta can support higher-quality wildlife habitat, reduce greenhouse gases and stop land subsidence, and maintain economic returns for landowners,” said Sydney Chamberlin, TNC Project Manager. “The Nature Conservancy will be pursuing private funding to complement this public investment.”

Land Acquisition on Bethel Island

Lastly, the Board approved an award of up to $2.2 million to John Muir Land Trust (JMLT) to acquire a 600-acre property on Bethel Island in Contra Costa County for permanent environmental protection and stewardship.

Acquisition is the first phase of an anticipated multi-phase project to restore wetlands, riparian forest, and sand dunes on the property. Once constructed, the managed wetlands will reverse subsidence and reduce carbon emissions; protect native and special status species; and enhance quality of life for Bethel Island residents, including severely disadvantaged communities on and near the island, by providing public access to open space.

“Few conservation priorities are as important to Californians as protecting the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and San Francisco Bay, a region essential to the health of freshwater and marine habitats and to the well-being of many cities and towns,” said Linus Eukel, John Muir Land Trust Executive Director. “On Bethel Island, nature-based solutions will address the multiple threats posed by climate change and encroaching development. This project will improve vital habitat for native wildlife and preserve the rural character of a place cherished by residents and visitors for generations to come.”