It wasn’t so long ago that the San Francisco Estuary Project was airing public service announcements that explained the nature of an estuary. The 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 a grand vision for improving the health of this estuary: the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (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, stakeholders winnowed their ideas down to 145 specific actions tackling pollution, dredging, land use, water use, wetlands, fish and wildlife issues, among others. “Before the CCMP, there was very little coordination among agencies working on water quality and those working on water quantity, for example. But that’s essential in a complex system,” says Nelson.
Fish biologist Bruce Herbold, formerly with the US EPA, agrees: “Taking the various pieces of the Estuary Project and making it into the CCMP was the start of the CALFED program, and CALFED was the start of everything else, of integrated management and science.”
“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 Conserva- tion and Development Commission (BCDC).
This special issue of ESTUARY News magazine celebrates the CCMP’s 20th anniversary. Like the black skimmer (Rynchops niger) that frequents San Francisco Bay, it barely breaks the surface of the myriad activities that have either grown out of the CCMP, or contributed to its implementation. A mere 24 pages cannot do justice to twenty years of progress, whether it was planting root balls of eelgrass in the mudflats or warning the public about the dangers of eating too much Bay-caught white croaker. Even just the snapshot review done by the Partnership for this special issue suggests that almost 600 projects, undertaken by diverse partners, have implemented the CCMP in some way or another in the last 20 years.
Among the greatest achievements of the CCMP has been the trust its framers placed in a strong foundation of good science. From the plan’s very inception, they recognized that the CCMP needed an independent science entity, one that could rise above the fray of specific agency mandates and integrate the focus areas of the CCMP. “Some entity had to be established that could tell the truth about how effective CCMP implementation was at any given time,” says Rainer Hoenicke, former director of the resulting entity, the San Francisco Estuary Institute. “I really think we became an honest broker among parties with different interests to inform management decisions—a true bridge organization.” Today, the Institute is known for the relevance and credibility of its data, and the information it has provided to managers now goes far beyond its original scope – an across-the-board CCMP success story.
Perhaps the toughest job for CCMP partners over the past two decades has been continuing their collaborations. The new focus on landscape-scale restoration, which transcends many of the original CCMP program areas, requires building more bridges than ever across jurisdictions.
“In this region, we’ve recognized that working together cooperatively, we can actually get more done,” says BCDC Deputy Director Steve Goldbeck. “But there is a lot of cost with being collaborative. You can’t go to endless meetings with every stakeholder every time. We have to find ways that are expeditious but still collaborative.”
Many of the more obvious results of the CCMP over the last two decades are described in the pages that follow: cleaner water, nearly 50,000 acres of wetlands in some stage of restoration, thousands of volunteers involved in hands-on stewardship, whole rivers returned to their floodplains. Much of the progress comes thanks to the investment of taxpayers in state water bonds.
Save the Bay recently estimated it would cost $1.4 billion dollars to do all the habitat restoration and associated flood management now on the drawing boards. Yet doing this work will also save billions of dollars in the future. The upward creep of sea level, brought about by global warming, will alter the Estuary’s shorelines and riverbanks forever.
“The implications for Silicon Valley are profound,” says Barry Nelson. Projections suggest that storm surges, augmented by sea level rise, could soon flood dozens of corporate campuses in the South Bay, as well as Bay Area airports and freeways. Climate change also threatens California’s water supply and pushes the boundaries of wildlife habitats. “In this context, it is very difficult to separate environmental issues from business issues today,” says Nelson.
That is why many of the CCMP’s first framers are now searching for new funds to tackle these problems. One potential new funding source could be tax revenue specifically set aside for wetland restoration, flood protection, water quality improvements and public access. Indeed the fledgling, multi-agency San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority is championing a parcel tax measure in all nine Bay Area counties for the 2014 general election (not more than $10 per parcel).
The proceeds, $150 million over ten years, would help the region finish wetland restoration projects and protect the region from climate change impacts, among other things. “There are a lot of properties already in public ownership, ready to go,” says Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, who serves on the Authority.
“We need a mix of federal, state and local dollars, and the restoration authority would be a fantastic way to apply local and regional funds to this mix,” says Amy Hutzel of the California State Coastal Conservancy.
Gioia says the proposed tax measure has polled well: “Bay Area residents realize an investment of that amount in the health of the Bay is worth it.”
What’s also been worth it has been the journey to where we are today. “The greatest strength of the San Francisco Estuary Partnership over the years has been the dedicated, long-term commit- ment of its partners in setting the goals of the CCMP and seeing them acted upon,” says director Judy Kelly. “Even though every action was not necessarily done under the banner of the CCMP, it’s the spirit of the CCMP that everyone has kept in mind. It’s one of the reasons we changed the word Project to Partner- ship in our name.”