Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta National Heritage Area Establishment Act
STATEMENT OF DR. STEPHANIE TOOTHMAN, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, CULTURAL RESOURCES, PARTNERSHIPS, AND SCIENCE, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SENATE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES, CONCERNING S. 630, TO ESTABLISH THE SACRAMENTO-SAN JOAQUIN DELTA NATIONAL HERITAGE AREA.
JUNE 15, 2016
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior’s views on S. 630, a bill to establish the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta National Heritage Area.
The Department supports enactment of S. 630 as the proposed Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta National Heritage Area has been found to meet the National Park Service’s interim criteria for designation as a national heritage area.
However, along with designating any new national heritage areas, the Department recommends that Congress pass national heritage area program legislation. There are currently 49 designated national heritage areas, yet there is no authority in law that guides the designation and administration of these areas. Program legislation that establishes criteria to evaluate potentially qualified national heritage areas and a process for the designation, funding, and administration of these areas would provide a much-needed framework for evaluating proposed national heritage areas. It would offer guidelines for successful planning and management, clarify the roles and responsibilities of all parties, and standardize timeframes and funding for designated areas. The Department also notes that newly-authorized national heritage areas will compete for limited resources in the Heritage Partnership Program. The President’s FY17 Budget proposes $9.4 million for the current 49 areas. The authorization of additional national heritage areas will leave less funding for each individual national heritage area.
The Feasibility Study for a Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta National Heritage Area was completed and published by the Delta Protection Commission in July 2012. The Delta Protection Commission is identified as the Heritage Area’s local coordinating entity. The proposed national heritage area will cover the counties of Contra Costa, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Solano, and Yolo, in the State of California.
The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas, a rare inland/inverse Delta at the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers. The delta was formed after the last ice age 10,000 years ago, when a rapid rise in sea level inundated the alluvial valley of the Sacramento River.
Native Americans lived among the extensive freshwater and brackish marshes, oak woodland, savannah, chaparral, and riparian habitat rich with wildlife. Early fur traders such as Jedediah Smith trekked into the region in search of otter, mink and beaver. Then, gold seekers on their way from San Francisco to the gold fields in the Sierra Nevada recognized the fertility of the delta’s soils. Beginning in the 1880s, using Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, East Indian, Portuguese and Italian laborers, one of the largest reclamation projects in the United States converted the vast swamps into the leveed landscape that characterizes the delta today.
The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is the lynchpin of a huge watershed that links San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean to waterways flowing from the Cascade, Coastal and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges. After more than a century and a half of reclamation and development, the delta still supports over one hundred crop types, and hundreds of species of flora and fauna. It is a key stopover on the Pacific Flyway. While its quiet waterways and historic towns are untapped recreational and tourism attractions for large adjacent populations in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Central Valley, the delta supplies irrigation and drinking water to far away California farmers and households, and is at the heart of statewide water conflicts.
The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is a hidden gem of a region located at a key geographic and historic crossroads in our country. It is a land of ethnic diversity, innovation, industry, enduring history, and both fragile and robust physical features. Artists such as Jack London and Joan Didion have written about the delta as both a place and an idea.
The mission of the proposed Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta National Heritage Area is to recognize, enhance and promote the theme ‘Delta as Place’ to help cultivate appreciation and understanding of the Delta’s heritage, and to build support and economic activity around its preservation and enhancement. The Delta Protection Commission has conducted a Delta Narratives project in collaboration with regional academic and cultural institutions to communicate the region’s historic and cultural importance. A cultural resources inventory and planning for the Great Delta Trail are underway. Agri-tourism businesses – markets, farm stays, wineries – increasingly showcase and share the region’s agricultural traditions.
Through the work of such partnerships in a Sacramento-San Joaquin National Heritage Area, the Delta Protection Commission has significant potential to engage the broader community in protecting, enhancing, and enjoying the heritage values of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta region well into the future.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared remarks. I would be happy to answer any questions you or any other members of the subcommittees may have.