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Much gratitude to Steve Gaines, PhD, 30 x 30 Advisory Committee member and Dean of UCSB’s Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, for pointing out, during the Jan. 12th virtual meeting , the quite conspicuous, IMO, omission from the Draft Pathways to 30×30 report of any nature based solutions pertaining to inland waters. As he noted, the only water the report discusses is coastal.

Apparently, we “stakeholders” are supposed to be satisfied that the document references the Water Resilience Portfolio, which documents the laundry list of state agency actions related to water but absolutely no nature-based solutions that were not already ongoing when the Newsom administration came into office. In terms of nature-based solutions I include the Prop. 1 funding for Sierra meadow restoration that was ongoing since the Brown administration, as well as the state’s role in Klamath dam removal efforts.

And, BTW, I have it on good authority that the hydrological basis for expansion of the mountain meadow restoration initiative in the Sierras came from the same source that helped me define my efforts toward catchment/ watershed restoration for baseflow augmentation (Ponce 1989 and Ponce and Lindquist 1990 a, b, c see Citations on this site) – which I’ve simplified to Rainfall to Groundwater (R2G).

‘Gotta admit that my reaction when I first learned of the state’s Nature-Based 30 X 30 initiative last year was to roll my eyes, “Oh, now you want nature-based solutions, eh?”

This was following a year of feeling woefully frustrated that the California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA) did not even open a tiny space in its collective mind to consider how my proposed Rainfall to Groundwater nature-based solution – restoring catchment a.k.a. watershed functions – would support our state’s water resilience in CNRA’s portfolio.

I did not even bother to comment on the Draft Water Resilience Portfolio released in early 2020, because it was clear by that point that CNRA was completely closed to my input. No use wasting more time on that process. From my perspective, the Water Resilience Portfolio seems primarily about what state bureaucrats can do – nothing about the actual sources of our state’s water – those catchments/ watersheds – other than the examples noted above.

Granted, there is much that we Californians can and must do to sustain human resilience to the ever-more evident impacts of anthropogenic climate change on our water resources. Speaking of which, I do hope everyone read/reads the excellent Jan. 22nd Mercury News Opinion piece by Janine Zacharia, “Greywater rain systems save water, alleviate sprinkler guilt”, that appeared in the following day’s e-edition with the headline, “REBATES NEEDED”.

That’s one example of what water agencies around the state could do to achieve profound water conservation if they got serious – in some cases more serious – about rebates for installing greywater systems. Compare that with the state’s mostly punitive approach to urban water wasters. “Sticks” may be necessary, but “carrots” always do go down better.

Getting back to the Dec. 2021 Draft Pathways to 30 X 30 report, it seems clear from the draft report that if any nature based solutions pertaining to inland waters are to be implemented, the impetus will come from entities outside of CNRA. My hope continues to be that water agencies will eventually sit up and take notice, as they have elsewhere, and begin to see how their ratepayers’ dollars will be more effectively spent on catchment restoration than on currently proposed, costly, 20th century-style engineering fixes that seem to be getting played out by now.

Don’t wait for the Newsom administration, as they continue to offer no real leadership on water, other than perhaps the coastal waters emphasized in the Draft Pathways … report. They aren’t even offering leadership on nature-based solutions, as seemingly promised.

I plan to discuss what others elsewhere are doing regarding catchment restoration in my next post, upcoming soon.

H. L. Todd, 1884 Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons, Source:  Freshwater and Marine Image Bank

I hadn’t had a chance to view the Draft Pathways to 30 X 30 report until December 30th and when I attempted to download the report at the provided link, it was unavailable. I wrote to California Nature about it and heard back from them in January, when it became clear the file had been impacted by the Amazon Web Services meltdown that impacted many organizations in Dec.. I suggested they needed to and presumably this is why CNRA extended the comment period to February 15th, although they provided no explanation for the extension.

So I did a perhaps cursory review of that report in early January and was definitely left with a frowny face to find essentially nothing pertinent to inland waters, catchment functions or salmonids. Dr. Gaines’ Jan. 12 Advisory Panel comments mirrored my initial impression.

Through more recent, methodical scrutiny I do find some rather general statements in section 8 of the Strategic Actions, along with minor notations in Appendix A, which I’ll get to later in this post.

I did already recognize that California Nature was not taking my catchment restoration approach seriously in the Draft Natural and Working Lands Climate Smart Strategy report released October 21, 2021. I did submit comments on that draft, but already figured they would likely fall on deaf ears, as has 98% of my input to date. (I believe they may have accepted a couple of my literature citations, maybe one comment unrelated to R2G.)

Definitely, I had felt so jaded by the start of the CNRA 30 x 30 process last year, I oscillated for some weeks on whether to even submit input, until late on what had been announced as the very last day for public input, May 14, 2021, when I wrote up five and a half pages on different topics and attached my existing R2G Executive Summary, along with the initial, July 2019, R2G input to the Water Resilience Portfolio, since I considered that equally applicable in both cases.

I did attend one of the regional virtual workshops, in my case the April 28th workshop for the Sierra Nevada, since that’s where I currently am, though my geographical concerns are broader. So on to the Draft Appendix A. Regional Opportunities here, since that appendix appears to be cobbled together from the results of the regional workshops..

It is not clear at all what the Appendix A. Regional Opportunities report is supposed to do for us. I could find no explanation of that within the appendix itself, the main report or elsewhere. If anyone knows, please enlighten me.

Since this process is supposed to be at least partly about conserving biodiversity, some of the language is a bit disquieting. Specifically, the articulation of “Iconic Species” for each of the regions. That language suggests something like a popularity contest from a human perspective, or maybe a tourist brochure, and perhaps the species chosen to be listed were based on how many times they were mentioned by regional workshop participants – ? Not clear at all.

“Iconic Species” may indicate what we once referred to in conservation-speak as “charismatic megafauna”, although the regional lists do include some butterfly and plant species. These lists are definitely a mix.

Charles Frederick Holder, 1910, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons; Source: Freshwater and Marine Image Bank 

But, especially in the context of the main report’s sole water focus on coastal waters, I find it curious that salmonids appear only in the shortlists of “Iconic Species” for the North Coast and San Diego Regions. Had I attended the Central Coast workshop I would have spoken up for steelhead, but I know I definitely spoke up for salmonids in the Sierra Nevada workshop and they are not mentioned there. So what was the process here? Did species selected for these lists have to be suggested more than once in order to make the list? Or did CNRA just select the ones they wanted to deal with, as seems the case???

Beaver?  Furthermore, having been among those who signed onto a group missive urging the state to find ways to facilitate the nature-based solution of translocating beavers in California from places where their impacts are not tolerated, to places where they might achieve significant catchment detention functions (i.e., rather than simple extirpation) in the context of process-based restoration, I know there are many folks out there probably wondering, like me, why beavers as a nature-based water detention solution appear nowhere in any report documents.

LG Nyqvist, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Given the main report’s apparent delegation of inland water to the Water Resilience Portfolio, this Appendix A pattern of including salmonids in only coastal regions at the extremes of California’s coastline suggests something decidedly un-fishy about the inland biodiversity covered by this project.

And the Appendix A “Potential Nature-Based Solutions” are so utterly milquetoast and “been there, done that” as to seem almost pointless.  I recall the phrase “innovative solutions” being bandied about during this process and perhaps I’ve missed something but I’m just not finding anything “innovative” in this report or appendices, unless perhaps you count making GIS tools accessible to the public via CA Nature and I have some questions/ caveats about that also. 

Had I known this would be the outcome from the beginning I definitely would not have wasted my time trying to talk to “the Hand” at CNRA re 30 x 30. As it was, when I later discovered that the agency would accept public comments related to the Advisory Panel workshops, I submitted three other sets of comments, not all related to Rainfall to Groundwater matters.

Considering the outcome in the October and especially the December 2021 draft reports, I had to wonder, did I miss something at the outset of this process??? I’ve gone back to my records to attempt to suss that out.

There was an April 15, 2021 email from CNRA Outreach, with subject: “Join CNRA for Upcoming Regional Meetings and Earth Day Events”. Within that message was the announcement, “Registration for Nature-Based Solutions Regional Meetings Now Open!” and “To sign-up for email updates, email with “NBS” in the subject line.” A lot of emphasis on Nature-Based there, for sure.

Following the May 14, 2021 deadline for initial input, there was a May 18, 2021 email with subject: “Advancing Nature Based Solutions and 30×30” So “Nature Based” was still part of the emphasis then. They did not explicitly exclude inland waters there, so I see no reason any of us should have known they were going to. And it seems even CNRA may have had other thoughts on that themselves.

Chinook salmon on the Lower Tuolumne River, November 7, 2008 by Dan Cook (USFWS), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Witness: During the Sept 24, 2021 Budget Briefing for Stakeholders CNRA Secretary Wade Crowfoot, at approx. 1:10:53 minutes into the video, states, “certainly on the water side, while we emphasize and prioritize nature-based solutions …” Since he didn’t specify coastal waters there, one might reasonably interpret that remark as indicating that inland waters were still under consideration for nature-based solutions at that point.

At 2:25 pm that day a stakeholder asked via chat, “Is there a plan to save our Salmon fisheries and waters that they need to survive?”.

At 1:11:23 minutes into the video, Andrea Ambritz restates that, “There’s another question around investment opportunities for our fisheries, specifically about salmon, about our salmon fisheries and waters; perhaps I can turn that over to Nancy to talk about some of the investments through the Water Resilience package”

At 1:11:42 min., Deputy Secretary (Nancy) Vogel fumbles a bit in her fairly general response, then notes, “Our drought management is very much focused on making sure that streams stay connected and cool enough for our salmon, that iconic California species, which is difficult to do in a drought. But I don’t have a total figure that’s targeted at salmon streams, I’m sorry.” [So, CNRA had apparently settled on “iconic” by that point.]

1:12:33 min. Secretary Crowfoot states:

Y’know we talk about climate change being sort of code red, or we’re at a code red moment in climate, for some salmon species we’re at a code red for their viability or existence and so we ____ to do everything we can and that includes what Nancy talked about, which is emergency drought actions where fish and wildlife, in some cases literally trucking fish to ensure they have enough water and water at the right temperature to survive, like the very near term actions, and then over the next couple of years identifying additional flows of in streams and rivers both through some of this funding, but also through, you know, the regulatory update at the water board and then building much more habitat or restoring habitat and much more quickly that we’ve ever done.


Simply put, we have to move faster restoring habitat than we’ve been able to do to date, and that’s some of the work we’re doing we call cutting the green tape, which is how do we help truly environmentally beneficial restoration happen more quickly and cost effectively. So it’s both – I’d summarize it by saying emergency actions, more water in the streams and rivers, and more habitat more quickly is our approach to actually, you know, saving salmon.

Note that I used the running transcript at the bottom of the video to help get these comments down as accurately as possible, in addition to re-listening to these key sections more tediously than is probably reasonable, but I’m driven, like tracking clues in a mystery.

Why that sense of urgency Secretary Crowfoot expressed in September did not carry through to any nature–based efforts to improve conditions for salmonids, such as that proposed by Rainfall to Groundwater, in either subsequent draft report is a good question.

24-inch steelhead from Maria Ygnacio Creek in Santa Barbara County.  January 1, 2000 by Mark Capelli, Pacific Southwest Region USFWS from Sacramento, US, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

As noted, there was the Draft Natural and Working Lands Climate Smart Strategy report released October 21, 2021 and, while I could see they had resisted my input regarding catchment restoration in that report, I still held out some hope for something promising to come in the next report, that, for some reason I expected to emphasize Nature-Based Solutions. The term is still employed in the Oct 21, 2021 draft, e.g., “Highlights priority nature-based climate solutions to address the climate crisis”.

But it turned out that “Nature-Based” was eliminated from the title and most of the document by December, giving us a much more generalized, Draft Pathways to 30×30 report. It seems that both inland waters and “nature-based solutions” have been downgraded as priorities through this 30 X 30 process.

If anyone can make better sense out of what happened here than I am able to, please either: 1.) submit a public comment on this post, or 2.) reach me privately through the Contact form or my email address if you have it

Given Secretary Crowfoot’s Sept 24th comments that “for some salmon species we’re at a code red for their viability or existence and so we ____ to do everything we can”, I can only wonder now whether he meant that the state is willing to implement emergency reactions, like trucking salmon, but implicitly, that they are unwilling to do anything proactive about the situation – since CNRA has been consistently unwilling to even consider the catchment restoration I’ve been advocating and since there is little else in this Pathways draft document for salmonids.

‘Thing is, I think I’ve always made clear that I envision the R2G approach being paid for by water users, not state funds per se. I’ve only been seeking to get the state to at least recognize and evaluate this approach in the context of state water resources since CNRA resources are far, far greater than mine. So why are they consistently evading an approach that would benefit both salmonids and water agencies???

They don’t seem to be doing much else specifically for salmonids, despite acknowledging “code red”. Are they waiting for them to just wink out like the Delta smelt so salmonids advocates stop bothering them??? There is certainly no bold call to action for new approaches to restoring conditions that support native salmonid restoration, “code red” notwithstanding.

I agree about the “code red” status and that is why I find it so frustrating that this administration seems to be “fiddling while Rome burns” with respect to the plight of statewide salmonids, as well as the potential for catchment restoration as a hedge against anthropogenic climate change impacts on human water resources.

Photo by Gary Kramer October 4, 2011/ Photo courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Among the Draft Pathways … Strategic Actions to Achieve 30×30, there is the Cutting the Green Tape initiative that I know many folks provided input to in 2021, which should prove helpful. Other potentially promising language appears in section “8. Restore degraded landscapes and priority habitats”, including the following, with my comments in red:

8.6 Implement watershed-scale restoration projects to integrate conservation actions across both land and coastal water habitats. Sounds good but lacks specifics, especially since CNRA folks, along with most everyone else out there says “watersheds” when they really mean the surface water streams. [See Stream Networks vs Watersheds/ Catchments]

8.7 Remove aging or obsolete barriers from waterways to restore connectivity and processes in watersheds. Good, but that’s been a goal for as long as I’ve been paying attention, so hardly new. Furthermore, removing barriers won’t help if the water and water quality is not there.

8.8 Utilize flood protection tools and levee removals to restore floodplains and riparian areas. Good, but already ongoing before the Newsom administration, so again, not a new proposal.

8.9 Manage invasive species in terrestrial and freshwater habitats to restore functional ecosystems. Good, but, again, already ongoing; not new.

8.10 Restore historic fire regimes (frequency and intensity) to conserved areas. Good, we’ll see how this goes.

8 11 Incentivize restoration of working lands that improve drought resilience and protect California’s food security through conservation easements. Sounds good, but they’ve consistently ignored catchment restoration, despite that it would absolutely improve drought resilience, so what, specifically, are they referring to here?


Koninklijke Bibliotheek 1658, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The CA Nature publicly-accessible geographic information system (GIS) sounds good in theory, but I sincerely hope the land cover classifications used there are not equivalent to those used in Appendix A. Regional Opportunities. Specifically relevant to Rainfall to Groundwater are nonnative annual grasslands, which are lumped into “Herbaceous” landcover there.

Looking at the Central Coast Region, for example, one finds on Appendix A, page 21, that “Herbaceous” comprises the greatest percentage of any single landcover class in the region, at 35.17%. One might be forgiven for thinking that class might be composed of California poppies and other native wildflowers. This “Herbaceous” category completely obfuscates the fact that these are anthropogenically disturbed lands now dominated by nonnative annual grasses.

I know for a fact that’s what they are because, not only have I at least had windshield exposure to much of the area, this is the region I focused my steelhead GIS analyses on. And I’ve since witnessed how the state’s lumping of anthropogenically disturbed lands into such innocuous terms in other contexts confuses even the locals.

Since the Paso Robles Basin, part of the greater Salinas River watershed/ catchment, was a focal area in my analyses, just begging for catchment restoration to help Upper Salinas River steelhead, as well as groundwater recharge benefiting humans, I interacted with the Paso Robles Basin Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) early on regarding their Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) process.

Among my early comments was pointing out the error in their land cover map(s), which showed what I knew to be nonnative annual grassland as something like “natural vegetation”, citing Department of Water Resources (surely the authority on landcover, afterall). I spent only enough time kibitzing on that GSP process to confirm to myself that they were not up to considering ways to improve natural recharge, despite that the basin could surely benefit and it does seem pretty vulnerable to climate change impacts.

What I’m getting at is that such terminology/ descriptions by the state matter and can have real impacts on the public’s understanding of their environments. So this “Herbaceous” term as it’s used in Appendix A is wholly misleading and, again, obfuscatory of the truth of the anthropogenically disturbed condition of these lands.

That is, that they merit ecological restoration to restore their drought resilience, support salmonids that must pass through at least the mainstem of these degraded lands, support natural groundwater recharge and sequester carbon in the especially recalcitrant belowground carbon stores engendered by healthy soil ecosystems.

So while CA Nature sounds promising, its efficacy remains to be seen, especially given the rather noncommittal language in the Draft Pathways to 30×30 report.

Again, I plan to discuss attention to catchment restoration in other parts of the country and world in my next post.


Verna Jigour, PhD