In a recent episode in the Delta Conveyance Deep Dive video series, we invited Genevieve Taylor, executive director of Ag Innovations, to tell us about the Environmental Justice Survey implemented by the company in the fall of 2020 as part of the Delta Conveyance Project’s public engagement plan. The Environmental Justice Community Survey Report was published on DWR’s website in May 2021.
Ag Innovations is a nonprofit organization specializing in facilitating collaboration and community engagement around issues at the intersection of agriculture and natural resources.
Environmental Justice is defined as the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin or income, with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.
DWR’s Pat Clark hosted the interview.
Watch the full interview on DWR’s YouTube channel.
PAT CLARK: Genevieve, can you help us understand the goal of the Environmental Justice Community Survey?
GENEVIEVE TAYLOR: The objective of the survey was to inform DWR through gaining a better understanding of the priorities, values and needs of the Delta's diverse communities. It also aimed to gather perspectives and information about how community members value, experience, and depend on the region's cultural, recreational, natural, agricultural and economic resources. We did that in order to identify how the project may impact those resources or potentially bring benefits to Delta communities.
It’s important to point out how “disadvantaged community” is defined. One way that we might define it is as communities who are predominantly non-white. Another way is when a household income is less than $60,000. Or, it might be designated by combining a ZIP code and household income that is less than $75,000. We also looked at severely disadvantaged community members where household income is less than $45,000, or by ZIP code and household income less than $60,000.
PC: Could you highlight some of the important takeaways from the survey? What did we learn about disadvantaged communities in the Delta, and the Delta generally?
GT: I think the thing that struck me, when I look at all the survey responses, was the care for the natural environment of the Delta. People tied it to both a desire to preserve the Delta, because they love it as it is, but they also tied it to its economic vitality and its agricultural viability, and its sense of community and heritage. People were very aware of the natural environment in the Delta and spoke eloquently and passionately about it.
They also talked about life on the water. In Chapter 7, we study the results from the mapping exercise. In one of the questions, respondents could drop a marker onto a map and write about fishing activities or outdoor activities. The responses really spoke to us about how much people were on the water, how important it was, how they traveled by the water, how they had dinner with friends on the water, its relationship to restaurants and marinas and the place that it held for the community. So, that sense of how interwoven it is with life on the water really came through.
PC: So, looking at the disadvantaged communities in the Delta as a group, what are some important takeaways that we learned?
GT: The one thing that I would say is they tended to speak more strongly about basic needs: clean air and drinking water, quality housing, transportation, roads and transit, those kinds of things. Members of disadvantaged communities in the Delta region tended to prioritize those basic needs more consistently than the larger set of participants. The natural environment is very important, too, and interestingly enough, when you compare the results from the larger set of all respondents to disadvantaged community members, many times they had similar priorities in the top three slots but they would change in terms of order.
One thing, too, that I would say about the larger set is that we believe there were many who were actually a part of that subset of disadvantaged community members, but they just decided not to share their income or ZIP code or things that would have helped us include them in that subset. We think that was one of the reasons why there was so much commonality between both the larger group and the subset of disadvantaged community members.
One other consistent theme in the comments by members of disadvantaged communities in the Delta region was the need for services in the Delta, and specifically services around homelessness and food banks. Those were the two that were really called up to the top as they were talking about what services were needed. There was a strong desire for services that would support the homeless in terms of poverty, looking for jobs, and managing their environmental impact on the Delta, because there are many homeless people that live in the Delta and there was concern about their impact on the Delta.
One other thing that people talked about in general was trash and pollution in the Delta. Although, I think, in the larger context, this wasn't entirely associated with homelessness but many times the two issues were seen as connected. However, the Delta is a place where many things come to rest so there was certainly a challenge with trash and pollution that was talked about there, too.
PC: How will the Environmental Justice Community Survey report be used in the future?
GT: It's already been used to inform the conversation around the Community Benefits Framework that's been developed this last spring of 2021, and it will be used as a resource for questions arising from the Community Benefits Program as it evolves if the project is permitted. The report has also been used to inform the Environmental Impact Review currently being drafted. Another important point is that the survey is a part of a larger environmental justice outreach plan and more opportunities for environmental justice engagement are included in the review of the Environmental Impact Report that will happen next year in 2022. So, I'd encourage people who are interested in environmental justice issues around the Delta Conveyance Project to certainly stay engaged, involved, and add your voice into the review process next year.