Large infrastructure projects typically develop a set of commitments made by the project proponent as a “community benefits program” that is created in coordination with the local community. These commitments are usually made separate from, and in addition to, permit terms or environmental mitigation required of the project as a condition of agency approval and can include a wide range of benefits.
The purpose of a community benefits program goes beyond traditional concepts of “mitigation” and is to demonstrate goodwill and a concern regarding potential adverse effects that communities may endure through construction of major capital construction works. This type of program attempts to provide greater flexibility in addressing these potential effects than what is afforded in existing regulatory processes.
A community benefits program for the Delta Conveyance Project could involve several components of community benefits, depending on community input:
- Creating a fund to identify and implement projects to protect and preserve the unique cultural, recreational, agricultural, natural resource and economic values of the Delta.
- Identifying economic development opportunities for the Delta community, including education and training, jobs and local business utilization commitments.
- Integrating benefits into Delta Conveyance Project implementation, including potential multipurpose projects related to logistics and infrastructure (e.g. roads, utilities, emergency services) and ensuring input on site specific development (e.g. architecture and landscaping).
Grassroots input—including Disadvantaged Communities and Tribal Members—is vital to developing the Delta Conveyance Project’s Community Benefits Program. Working collaboratively ensures the local community has a voice in generating and prioritizing ideas that can provide local benefits from the Delta Conveyance Project. The economic and social opportunities could be significant; but will benefit from local insight as the program is developed.
As a first step, the Department of Water Resources has prepared a concept paper to describe the potential for community benefits and thoughts about the process for developing the program in collaboration with the community. DWR staff presented the concept to the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority’s Stakeholder Engagement Committee in December. In the first few months of 2021, DWR will interview community members and will later host public workshops. The objective will be to develop a Community Benefits Program Framework to include as an appendix to the Draft Environmental Impact Report. The framework will identify goals, objectives and project types, but will also provide a roadmap for ensuring meaningful community participation in developing the program.