San Francisco Bay Delta Watershed:

Wide Range of Restoration Efforts Need Updated Federal Reporting and Coordination Roles

GAO-18-473: Published: Aug 16, 2018. Publicly Released: Aug 16, 2018.

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J. Alfredo Gómez
(202) 512-3841
gomezj@gao.gov

 

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The San Francisco Bay Delta watershed supplies drinking water to 25 million people and irrigation for about half the nation's fruit and vegetable production. Federal and nonfederal entities carry out activities to protect and restore the watershed, which has seen declines in water quality, flood protection, and habitat.

We found federal agencies are not all using their plan to coordinate restoration efforts. Also, Congress required annual reports on these efforts, but reporting ceased after a key state agency was abolished in 2009.

We made 7 recommendations aimed at improving coordination and gathering the required information for Congress.

Restoration Project at the South Bay Salt Ponds in San Francisco Bay Delta Watershed

These are photos of a dry salt pond in 2008 with no vegetation and a shot of the same area in 2009 with extensive growth.

These are photos of a dry salt pond in 2008 with no vegetation and a shot of the same area in 2009 with extensive growth.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

J. Alfredo Gómez
(202) 512-3841
gomezj@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

Federal entities, including the Department of the Interior, and nonfederal entities, such as California state agencies and nonprofits, carry out and coordinate a wide range of restoration efforts in the San Francisco Bay Delta watershed. These efforts have multiple benefits, such as improved water quality and habitat in restored marshland (see fig. below). The entities coordinate comprehensive efforts in the San Francisco Bay area (Bay) and Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (Delta) through two groups. Federal efforts across the watershed are to be led and coordinated by Interior and the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) through a 2009 Interim Federal Action Plan, but not all federal entities are using the plan. Interior officials said the plan is no longer relevant because state and federal roles have changed. For example, they said a state-led committee acts as the coordinating body for federal entities; however, this committee focuses on one region of the watershed, while federal funding supports efforts in all three regions. By updating or revising the Interim Action Plan, Interior and CEQ could help clarify federal roles in supporting restoration efforts in the watershed.

Restoration Project at the South Bay Salt Ponds in the San Francisco Bay Delta Watershed

Restoration Project at the South Bay Salt Ponds in the San Francisco Bay Delta Watershed

Photo shows transition from former industrial salt pond (left) to tidal marsh (right) through a restoration project by multiple federal and nonfederal entities. Map shows watershed's three regions.

Information on the status of all restoration efforts across the watershed, including their accomplishments, is unknown because information is not being fully collected or reported. Also, related expenditures for fiscal years 2007 through 2016 are unknown, in part because federal reports do not include complete or reliable data for restoration efforts in the watershed. The 2004 CALFED Bay-Delta Authorization Act requires Interior and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to report annually to Congress on restoration accomplishments and federal and state expenditures in the watershed, respectively. Interior has not issued these reports since 2009, when the state agency from which Interior had obtained the state data was abolished. OMB has issued its reports with federal, but not state, data for the same reason. However, Interior and OMB have not reached out to other state entities for this information. Without obtaining and reporting available information, as required by law, Interior and OMB will not have reasonable assurance that they are providing Congress with the information needed to monitor federal and nonfederal restoration efforts and expenditures.

Why GAO Did This Study

The San Francisco Bay Delta watershed—which drains a vast area of California from the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the Pacific Ocean—supplies drinking water for 25 million people and provides irrigation for about half the nation's fruit and vegetable production. Decades of development and agriculture have led to large reductions in water quality and supply, natural flood protection, and habitats across the watershed's three major regions: the Bay, the Delta, and the upper watershed. Federal entities have been working with nonfederal entities for decades to protect and restore the watershed. GAO was asked to review restoration efforts in the watershed.

This report examines, among other objectives, (1) the extent to which federal and nonfederal entities coordinate watershed restoration efforts and (2) information on the status of these efforts and related expenditures for fiscal years 2007 through 2016, the most recent data available. GAO reviewed laws; regional databases, plans, and reports; and budget documents. It also surveyed the 72 members of interagency groups (48 responded) and interviewed federal and nonfederal officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO made seven recommendations, including that Interior and CEQ update or revise the Interim Federal Action Plan and that Interior and OMB coordinate with the state to meet the CALFED Act's reporting requirements. Interior partially concurred with the recommendations, and CEQ and OMB neither agreed nor disagreed with them. GAO maintains its recommendations are valid.

For more information, contact J. Alfredo Gómez at (202) 512-3841 or gomezj@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: In October 2018, the Department of the Interior reported that it believes revisiting the Interim Federal Action Plan is not the most efficient course of action because the California Delta Plan Interagency Implementation Committee (a state-led committee) serves as the coordination group. Interior stated that it will continue to actively participate in the committee and that its bureaus are concurrently engaged with the state in multiple activities in the Bay-Delta that span their respective mission areas. Interior reported that these actions are broadly summarized in the annual Bay-Delta Federal Budget Crosscut report and that it considers its response to this recommendation to be complete. However, as we discussed in this report, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) continues to reaffirm the federal government's commitment to the Interim Federal Action Plan as the unifying vision for federal agencies--including while working with nonfederal entities through collaborative bodies--under the leadership of Interior and the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). Further, as we also discussed in this report, the President's fiscal year 2019 budget states that federal activities are coordinated through the Interim Federal Action Plan, rather than the state-led committee. Also, the committee focuses on the Delta, one of three regions of the watershed, and federal agencies fund and carry out efforts across all three regions. Therefore, Interior should work with CEQ to clarify the federal government's overall role, including any gaps with OMB, because there is value in agreeing on how federal agencies will work together on these issues.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should work with the Chair of CEQ to update or revise the Interim Federal Action Plan for the California Bay-Delta to outline and reflect entity roles and responsibilities in light of changes in the state of California's role and other relevant developments since 2009. (Recommendation 1)

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: In October 2018, Interior reported that it believes revisiting the Interim Federal Action Plan is not the most efficient course of action because the California Delta Plan Interagency Implementation Committee serves as the coordination group. Interior reported that it considers its response to this recommendation to be complete. However, as we discussed in this report, OMB and the President's fiscal year 2019 budget continue to reaffirm the federal government's commitment to the Interim Federal Action Plan under the leadership of Interior and CEQ. Therefore, Interior should continue working to clarify the federal government's overall role, including any gaps with OMB, because there is value in agreeing on how federal agencies will work together on these issues.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should notify all participating entities to ensure they are aware of the Interim Federal Action Plan and their role in it. (Recommendation 2)

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: In October 2018, CEQ reported that it does not believe that updating or revising the Interim Federal Action Plan would be appropriate or efficient since the memorandum of understanding that established it has expired and restoration efforts are currently being implemented and coordinated through the state-led California Delta Plan Interagency Implementation Committee. CEQ stated that, instead, it believes federal agencies should continue coordinating their efforts with state entities through the committee and by participating in the update of the ecosystem chapter of the state's Delta Plan. However, as we discussed in this report, OMB continues to reaffirm the federal government's commitment to the Interim Federal Action Plan as the unifying vision for federal agencies--including while working with nonfederal entities through collaborative bodies--under the leadership of Interior and CEQ. Further, as we also discussed in this report, the President's fiscal year 2019 budget states that federal activates are coordinated through the Interim Federal Action Plan, rather than the state-led committee. Also, the committee focuses on the Delta, one of three regions of the watershed, and federal agencies fund and carry out efforts across all three regions. Therefore, CEQ should work with Interior to clarify the federal government's overall role, including any gaps with OMB, because there is value in agreeing on how federal agencies will work together on these issues.

    Recommendation: The Chair of CEQ should work with the Secretary of the Interior to update or revise the Interim Federal Action Plan for the California Bay-Delta to outline and reflect entity roles and responsibilities in light of changes in the state of California's role and other relevant developments since 2009. (Recommendation 3)

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Council on Environmental Quality

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: In October 2018, CEQ reported that it does not believe that updating or revising the Interim Federal Action Plan would be appropriate or efficient since the memorandum of understanding that established it has expired and restoration efforts are currently being implemented and coordinated through the California Delta Plan Interagency Implementation Committee. However, as we discussed in this report, OMB and the President's fiscal year 2019 budget continue to reaffirm the federal government's commitment to the Interim Federal Action Plan under the leadership of Interior and CEQ. Therefore, CEQ should continue working to clarify the federal government's overall role, including any gaps with OMB, because there is value in agreeing on how federal agencies will work together on these issues.

    Recommendation: The Chair of CEQ should notify all participating entities to ensure they are aware of the Interim Federal Action Plan and their role in it. (Recommendation 4)

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Council on Environmental Quality

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: In October 2018, Interior reported that the California Delta Stewardship Council (a state agency) compiles and reports on funding information and progress for federal and state agencies and that, by 2020, Interior will seek to coordinate with the state to modify that report for any information not currently reported by the council or in the annual Bay-Delta Federal Budget Crosscut report.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should coordinate with appropriate state entities to obtain and report the information available to meet the requirements under section 105 of the Calfed Bay-Delta Authorization Act (CALFED Act). (Recommendation 5)

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  6. Status: Open

    Comments: In October 2018, OMB staff told us the agency is working to provide an update soon on actions taken or planned in response to this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the agency has taken, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Director of OMB should coordinate with appropriate state entities to obtain and report the information available to meet the requirements under section 106 of the CALFED Act. (Recommendation 6)

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

  7. Status: Open

    Comments: In October 2018, OMB staff told us the agency is working to provide an update soon on actions taken or planned in response to this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the agency has taken, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Director of OMB should direct staff to update OMB's written guidance for federal and state agencies on submitting data for the budget crosscut reports OMB is required to submit under section 106 of the CALFED Act. (Recommendation 7)

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

 

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