As part of its ongoing commitment to restore Delta ecosystems and habitat, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) recently took a significant step in launching a 3,000-acre multi-benefit tidal wetlands restoration project in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. At the end of 2018, DWR entered into a partnership with Ecosystem Investment Partners (EIP), a private company investing in large-scale ecological restoration projects nationwide, to establish the Lookout Slough Tidal Habitat Restoration Project.
Lookout Slough, located in the Cache Slough region at the lower end of the Yolo Bypass in Solano County, is a critical site for endangered Delta smelt as it is one of the few areas in the Delta that has favorable elevations for maintaining historical tidal habitats. Once completed, Lookout Slough will be the Delta’s largest tidal habitat restoration project, twice as large as Dutch Slough. The project will enhance food productivity, spawning and rearing habitat for threatened and endangered native fish populations.
In addition to ecosystem benefits, the project also will provide flood protection by expanding flood conveyance and storage for the Yolo Bypass.
“Lookout Slough is the quintessential multi-benefit project, and one that seamlessly integrates our flood risk reduction and Delta habitat restoration needs,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “And this project is just a taste of what’s to come – the multiple public benefits and diverse partnerships working towards success are a model for DWR’s work in the Delta and beyond.”
The project will create new protective levees along the west and north edges of the property, to allow for breaching of the existing degraded levee along the Yolo Bypass. Breaching the levee will restore historical tidal influence to the site, increasing seasonal floodplain rearing habitat for salmonids and providing food web and other benefits to Delta smelt.
As an added benefit, Lookout Slough is adjacent to other tidal habitat restoration efforts being implemented by DWR including Yolo Flyway Farms and Lower Yolo Ranch. These projects, along with other existing tidal wetlands, create a contiguous tidal wetland restoration complex spanning 16,000 acres in the Cache Slough region.
By partnering with EIP and leveraging their unique expertise in planning, permitting, and constructing large-scale restoration projects, DWR can actualize the project’s benefits much sooner than a traditional project. EIP is the current owner of the Lookout Slough site, which totals 3,400 acres, and will handle the necessary permitting and construction. Upon completion, DWR will maintain the project site and partner with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for long-term monitoring. The project is expected to be complete by 2022.
The Lookout Slough Tidal Habitat Restoration Project is part of the California EcoRestore initiative which aims to advance 30,000 acres of critical Delta habitat restoration and enhancement. Under the 2008 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biological Opinion (Endangered Species Act), DWR is required to restore 8,000 acres of tidal wetlands to offset impacts to Delta smelt that result from State Water Project and Central Valley Project operations. Once completed, the restoration effort at Lookout Slough will deliver one-third of the necessary acres to meet that requirement.
Funding for this project will be provided through two separate sources based on project benefits. The habitat restoration objectives of the project will be funded by the State Water Project and the State Water Contractors, and Proposition 1 will fund the flood protection objectives for multi-benefit and systemwide flood improvements.
DWR is utilizing all available tools to deliver tidal habitat restoration projects including direct acquisition of land with in-house design, as well as developing partnerships through contracts and agreements.