CALFED Bay-Delta Program heading
  • Governor Brown
  • John Laird, Resources Secretary
  • Joe Grindstaff, CALFED Director

History of CALFED Bay-Delta Program

The Delta before CALFED

The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta was formed about 18,000 years ago, when melting glaciers carved out and subsequently filled San Francisco Bay with water and northern rivers dragged debris and sediment from the Sierra toward the ocean, creating a huge swamp. Human activity in this wildlife-rich swamp did not cause significant damage until about 250 years ago. In the mid-1800s, Congress enacted reclamation laws, and by the turn of the century, miners with the help of Chinese laborers, had constructed small levees to hold back water, transforming the swamp into productive farmland.

Over time, the Delta’s levees were enlarged and its waters became more and more vital across California. Over the next 50 years, local, state and federal governments developed systems to convey Delta water throughout the state, giving the Delta the role of reconciling three major water imbalances: seasonal snow and rain fall in the winter while water demand is higher in the summer; snow and rainfall in the North while demand for water is greater in the South; and climatic patterns that led to periods of flooding and prolonged drought. The Delta was where all these inequities were seemingly balanced, and where competing interests of agriculture, urban users and environmentalists fought over where and how to use the state’s finite supply of water.

Crisis and Conflict Set Stage

California’s water “wars” came to a head in the years of 1987-1992, when a six-year drought slowed water deliveries, water quality deteriorated and two fish species unique to the Delta – the Delta smelt and winter-run Chinook salmon – were pushed to the brink of extinction. During these six years, average runoff to the state’s two largest rivers dipped precariously: 44 percent to the Sacramento River and 53 percent to the San Joaquin.

State and federal officials entered the picture, trying to deal with issues of water quality, protection of Delta fisheries and water impacts on the state’s huge agricultural industry. Gov. Pete Wilson and the State Water Resources Control Board worked to draft and enforce guidelines for water quality without jeopardizing agriculture, and environmentalists mounted legal attacks to protect fish. Congress took action to counter past negative impacts by adopting the Central Valley Project Improvement Act, which reallocated a portion of Central Valley Project water supplies to benefit fisheries and the ecosystem. Day-to-day coordinated operations of the state and federal projects come under the review of the Operations Group, which manages in consultation with water user, environmental and fishery representatives.

The result of what appeared at the time to be a chaotic situation, was that the cornerstone for future cooperation was laid when three long-time adversaries – environmentalists, agriculture and urban water users – agreed to work together to find common ground. Four federal agencies -- the Environmental Protection Agency, Bureau of Reclamation, National Marine Fisheries Service and Fish and Wildlife Service -- began collaboration on Delta issues and became known as “Club Fed.” After being on the losing side of a five-year-old state-federal tug of war over water quality standards, Governor Wilson joined forces with Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to propose alternative water quality standards and a program for Delta restoration.

CALFED is Born

In June 1994, two years after the historic California drought ended, Club Fed and California signed an agreement to coordinate activities in the Delta, particularly for water quality standards. This was the beginning of CALFED. State and federal agencies, along with stakeholders, worked for six months to develop a science-based proposal for water quality standards, which then led to the signing of a document titled “Principles for Agreement on Bay-Delta Standards between the State of California and the Federal Government.” This agreement is known as the Bay-Delta Accord, and it initiated a long-term planning process to improve the Delta and increase the reliability of its water supply.

The signing of the Accord began a 10-year period in which the CALFED Framework, Record of Decision, final Programmatic EIS/EIR and California Bay-Delta Act were adopted; the Bay-Delta Public Advisory Committee was formed and Congress authorized federal CALFED participation. The Framework document formalized cooperation among state and federal agencies with management and regulatory responsibility in the Bay-Delta. Signatories to the Framework agreed to work together to formulate water quality standards, coordinate operations of the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project and work toward long-term solutions to problems in the estuary.


CALFED Record of Decision

In August of 2000, the CALFED Record of Decision and an accompanying memorandum of understanding executed by the then 13 state and federal implementing agencies was finalized. It was an agreement that all parties would work collaboratively toward achieving balanced improvements in the Delta. In addition to the four program objectives, the ROD also established 11 program elements, including a science program, to improve and increase the scientific basis for sound decision-making. Later, 12 more state and federal agencies signed onto the ROD for a total of 25 state and federal implementing agencies.

The primary objectives established by the CALFED Record of Decision are treated as resource management objectives that are interrelated and interdependent, to be carried out concurrently.

Water Supply Reliability: Expand water supplies to ensure efficient use of the resource through an array of projects and approaches.
Water Quality: Improve water quality from source to tap for 25 million Californians who receive at least some of their drinking water from the Delta.
Ecosystem Restoration: Improve the health of the Bay-Delta system through restoring and protecting habitats and native species.
Levee System Integrity: Improve Bay-Delta levees to provide flood protection, ecosystem benefits and protection of water supplies needed for the environment, agriculture and urban uses.

Principles were established through the ROD on how program objectives would be carried to ensure fairness to all parties. These fundamental guiding values are called the CALFED Solution Principles in that they guide development and evaluation of the program.

Affordable: An affordable solution is one that can be implemented and maintained within the foreseeable resources of the CALFED Bay-Delta Program and stakeholders.
Equitable: An equitable solution will focus on resolving problems in all problem areas. Improvements for some problems will not be made without corresponding improvements for other problems.
Implementable: An implementable solution will have broad public acceptance, legal feasibility and will be timely and relatively simple compared with other alternatives.
Durable:  A durable solution will have political and economic staying power and will sustain the resources it was designed to protect and enhance.
Reduce Conflicts
in the System:  
A solution will reduce major conflicts among beneficial users of water.
No Significant
Redirected Impacts:
A solution will not solve problems in the Bay-Delta system by redirecting significant negative impacts, when viewed in its entirety, in the Bay-Delta or to other regions of California.

CALFED Governance

While the CALFED Record of Decision laid out key components for governance, it would be another two years before the state Legislature would enact the California Bay-Delta Act, establishing the California Bay-Delta Authority as the governing oversight body of CALFED. It would be another two years after that, 2004, until Congress authorized federal participation in CALFED.

The California Bay-Delta Authority is comprised of 24 members, six each representing state and federal agencies, seven public members, one member from the Bay-Delta Public Advisory Committee and four non-voting ex-officio members. This body is responsible for developing policies and making decisions at program milestones and providing direction to achieve balanced implementation, integration and continuous improvements across program objectives. Another key responsibility of the California Bay-Delta Authority is to track progress of all program projects and activities, and assess overall achievements toward fulfillment of program goals and objectives.

The Bay-Delta Public Advisory Committee is a 30-member body comprised of Delta stakeholders and is a Federal Advisory Committee Act-sanctioned group. The Bay-Delta Public Advisory Committee provides advice and recommendations on program implementation to the California Bay-Delta Authority.

CALFED’s Independent Science Board is a standing body of distinguished scientists and engineers with a range of multi-disciplinary expertise relevant to the Delta. They assist the California Bay-Delta Authority and the CALFED Science Program in establishing an independent and objective view of science issues that are important to the Delta. Further, they advise the state Secretary for Resources on matters of science as related to the Delta.

Recent History: CALFED Refocusing

CALFED’s early years were fraught with complaints that the program was not accomplishing what it was created to do. Complaints were that CALFED was not able to exhibit the kind of leadership necessary to push forward the program’s agenda and that it was unable to show or measure the results it claimed to have achieved. Much of this was due to the fact that despite its name, the California Bay-Delta Authority did not have any real authority to direct the 24 other CALFED implementing agencies, all of which had their own organizational priorities and values. Additionally, while several attempts were made to try to measure CALFED’s progress, none had been successful. Neither of these belies the fact that CALFED did complete many of the actions set forth in the Record of Decision, and recorded within the pages of its annual reports and in the Program Performance section of this website, doing so by persuasion and coordination rather than by authority.

In May 2005, in his Budget Revise message, Governor Schwarzenegger called for an independent review to help CALFED refocus and revitalize to deal with issues about its operation and emerging crises in the Delta. An independent review by the Little Hoover Commission, state Department of Finance and management consultant KPMG followed. A 10-Year Action Plan emerged, based on recommendations from the independent review, which serves as an informal update of the CALFED Record of Decision.

The plan outlines the new way CALFED is to work – still as an integral part of the overall California Water Plan – to bypass old stumbling blocks and forge ahead to solve crises in the Delta. This Plan has support and commitment from the 25 state and federal agencies that comprises CALFED and their commitment to working with policymakers, local and regional entities, the state’s environmental justice and tribal communities, and other stakeholders to make CALFED a success.

Learn more about CALFED’s revitalization and refocusing efforts:

CALFED Refocused

As a result of the review and refocusing efforts of 2005-06, CALFED has taken significant action toward achieving revitalizing and refocusing goals set forth in the review. The most notable of these were to establish a strategic planning function and develop program performance measures.

In the past, the CALFED agencies used the CALFED ROD and its milestones set out by stages to guide its annual focus. However, the need set forth for strategic planning beyond the ROD was made evident through the review and refocusing process. A new Strategic Planning Division was formed, which brings CALFED closer to meshing its end of Stage 1 efforts with the Governor’s Delta Vision initiative as it unfolds.

The long-known criticism of how to effectively measure its progress toward implementing the CALFED ROD beyond primary or gross measures, was also dealt with. A new Program Performance and Tracking Division was formed with the expertise to develop performance measures and tracking infrastructure and capabilities. The initial program performance products were completed in June of 2007, which provide online users with the ability to search an informational database.