Since its inception, NHI has been a leader in the formulation and enforcement of environmental regulations and planning mechanisms. Yet, we recognize that the conventional tools for resolving resource conflicts, while necessary, are no longer sufficient to move beyond the prevention of harm to the restoration of natural processes and from engineered to non-structural patterns of resource management.
While it is inevitable that water resources will continue to be developed to meet genuine and growing needs for water supplies and hydropower around the world, it is not inevitable that further development need come at the expense of aquatic ecosystems and the services that they provide. Indeed, water supply augmentation schemes can serve as an opportunity and vehicle for initiatives to restore more natural flow regimes and aquatic habitats. A new paradigm has emerged in California, the Great Lakes region, Australia, South Africa, and in a few other places in the world in which major water projects – both infrastructure and transfers – are only likely to be politically viable and eligible for public financing if they incorporate a net environmental restoration component. The converse also is likely to be true: substantial new aquatic ecosystem restoration will probably only be accomplishable as a component of broader water supply enhancement schemes.
For example, on the US-Mexico border, NHI was part of a bi-national team that examined the hydro-physical opportunities to achieve an array of possible water management objectives, including satisfying currently unmet consumptive and environmental water needs, in the Rio Grande Basin. In the bi-national Great Lakes Basin, NHI worked with local partners Cornell University, the Nature Conservancy, and the Toronto & Region Conservation Authority to identify the most feasible and ecologically beneficial restoration opportunities in Lake Ontario. This resulted in a replicable framework, complete with a decision support analytical tool and a process for its utilization, made available throughout the entire Great Lakes region.
Since its inception in 1989, NHI has undertaken several initiatives to restore stability and sustainability to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta:
- Acted as a leading environmental advocate through eight years of administrative trials leading to the current water quality control plan that limits water exports from the delta to protect its fish and wildlife;
- Successfully petitioned for listing of endangered fish species under the Endangered Species Act;
- Negotiated the “delta accords” that produced the CalFed Bay Delta Program;
- Staffed and infused the CalFed program with some of its core concepts including the Environmental Water Account, conjunctive management of surface and groundwater, and restoration as a way to reduce seismic risk, through the promulgation of the ‘Environmentally Optimal Alternative: A Response to the CalFed Bay Delta Program’;
- Negotiated the Vernalis Adaptive Management Program, a water quality compliance alternative for that part of the system, with the San Joaquin water districts, the U.S, Bureau of Reclamation, and other federal and state agencies;
- As a member of the BDCP Steering Committee, NHI actively negotiated a Habitat Conservation Plan and Natural Communities Conservation Plan for the Bay Delta with water exporters and the fish and wildlife agencies; and
- In partnership with the Contra Costa Water District and several state and other local agencies, NHI worked on the Dutch Slough Tidal Marsh Restoration Project to restore tidal marsh and associated wetland and terrestrial habitats on 1,166 acres near Oakley in eastern Contra Costa County.
Currently, NHI is working on implementation of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, sustainable management of California’s groundwater resources, realigning public funding for delta levees, and promoting water conservation.