The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is the heart of the statewide water delivery system. In July 2016, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California purchased Bacon Island, Bouldin Island, Holland Tract and Webb Tract, lands that are strategically located in the center of the Delta and part of Chipps Island in the far western Delta. Collectively, the lands represent an important investment in a crucial part of the Delta for multiple potential values that are consistent with the state’s co-equal goals of a restored Delta and a reliable water supply for California.
The five islands and tracts are in important locations in the estuary. Water supplies for Metropolitan and the State Water Project pass by four of the parcels in the Central Delta. Chipps Island in the far western Delta, as well as Bouldin Island and Webb Tract are in the migration pathways of important fish species such as salmon and delta smelt.
“…Our goal is to use this land in a way that is locally beneficial and provides benefits to the community.”
GM Kightlinger at Sacramento Bee public forum July 13, 2016
Most of these lands have long been farmed with various seasonal crops. As a public water agency looking for long-term stability in the Delta through an enhanced ecosystem and improved water supply reliability, Metropolitan seeks to explore sustainable land management options that are viable in the decades to come.
The properties are located along the Pacific Flyway. Conversion of some lands to non-tidal wetlands, or preserving cultivated land with food for bird species could significantly improve waterfowl habitat and achieve possible mitigation requirements for these critical species. Chipps Island is perfectly located for tidal wetlands restoration, providing both food and shelter for migrating salmon and delta smelt. Other areas may provide good conditions to develop food production (zooplankton) for fish. Restoring some lands with native tule vegetation would both rebuild peat soils to increase land elevation and reduce carbon emissions, providing a potential offset in the California carbon market and reducing harmful compounds in drinking water supplies.
Were Delta levees to fail due to an earthquake or other natural event, an “emergency freshwater pathway” would have to be constructed for fresh water supplies to move north-to-south through the Delta to the existing pumping facilities of the State Water Project and Central Valley Project. Bacon Island is along this pathway. In addition, Webb and Holland tracts are two of the eight priority islands identified by the state for special protection because of their location in the western Delta, counteracting salt water intrusion. Ownership would help to assure continued progress to prepare for a future emergency response
Maintaining the reliability of existing imported supplies is Metropolitan’s primary goal, as conservation and new local supplies in Southern California are anticipated to meet all future needs due to population growth. Bouldin and Bacon Islands are along the path of the proposed tunnel pipeline alignment for California WaterFix, which proposes to modernize the Delta’s water delivery systems with new intakes in the northern Delta and a tunnel pipeline system to move this supply to the existing aqueducts.
As a major steward of the region’s water supply resources, Metropolitan has been addressing the challenges of climate change for more than a decade through a comprehensive Integrated Water Resources Planning (IRP) process. The 2015 IRP builds on these actions with continued progress in the following areas:
“We want to figure out what is a good value use of that land in a way that also doesn’t interfere or have adverse impacts on the neighbors. Metropolitan owns 20,000 acres in the Palo Verde Valley near Blythe on the Colorado River. We have owned some of that land since the early 2000’s and have worked very closely with both the city and community there as well as the local water district and maintained it in farming and we’ve also fallowed parts of it to move water to us. We meet with them regularly to tell them our plans. And try to make sure it works in a way that works for the community and for us. We listen to that and try to work closely with them. That is what our goal is. We want to use this land in a way that is locally beneficial and provides benefits to the community.”