What is a Regional Conservation Investment Strategy?
A Regional Conservation Investment Strategy (RCIS) is a science-based, nonbinding, voluntary conservation strategy that identifies at-risk natural resources and species, as well as potential actions to protect them. The Kaweah RCIS is focused on supporting a viable future for working lands, encouraging the creation of native habitat, and creating options for landowners who need to reduce their groundwater use to comply with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).
Importantly, an RCIS does not create, modify, or impose any regulatory requirements or standards. It does not regulate land use, establish land use designations or affect the land use authority of a public agency.
Who is developing the Kaweah RCIS and why?
The Kaweah Regional Conservation Investment Strategy is being developed through a Wildlife Conservation Board grant awarded to the East Kaweah Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA). East Kaweah GSA and its partners are developing the RCIS in order to create a vision of an integrated landscape for the region that supports the local agricultural economy and important wildlife habitat, while sustainably managing water supplies. The consulting firm ICF is writing the Kaweah RCIS plan at the direction of East Kaweah GSA and the Kaweah RCIS Steering Committee.
The Steering Committee is made up of GSAs, farmers, cities and counties, local conservation organizations, and representatives from disadvantaged communities.
Do I have to participate in the RCIS?
The RCIS is a voluntary plan designed by local stakeholders with public input from residents in the region through public meetings. The groundwater sustainability agencies, landowner representatives, local conservation nonprofits, and county representatives intend the RCIS plan to serve as an optional tool for landowners and GSAs to help address anticipated land use change in the Kaweah Subbasin.
Residents in the region can provide input during public meetings and public comment periods.
Once the plan is approved, local landowners will be able to participate in the implementation of the RCIS conservation strategy, if they are interested.
How will this plan help me comply with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act?
Implementing SGMA will require the Kaweah Subbasin to reduce groundwater use to balance groundwater supply and demand. Landowners will have to make difficult decisions about how to manage their land which may involve taking some land out of production. One option is for landowners to repurpose some of their land to reduce groundwater use and create new values such as habitat, for which they can be compensated.
The RCIS can help attract public and private funds to cover a portion of the costs of SGMA implementation through projects that require little to no water, or those that actively recharge the aquifer through wildlife friendly recharge. It also outlines actions to create habitat along water conveyance systems and on groundwater recharge projects.
The RCIS plan is designed to help landowners access conservation and mitigation funding to repurpose cropland to other multibenefit uses when water supplies are not available for active irrigation.
What is the difference between a "conservation project" and a "mitigation project"?
There are two overarching categories of projects that can be developed under an RCIS.
- A conservation project is funded by local, state, or federal grants that support species. Landowners may be more competitive in grant awards if their projects align with the RCIS Plan. These can be permanent or temporary projects.
- A mitigation project (or “mitigation credit agreement”) also will align with the RCIS. These projects are designed to offset impacts to a species somewhere else within the RCIS region. These projects are defined by “credits” that can be sold to entities who need mitigation to fulfill their regulatory permits. These projects can be temporary or permanent. Because of the additional rules, regulations, and required verification of mitigation projects, they are often create higher value than a conservation project. An RCIS makes the process of developing a mitigation project (or mitigation credit agreement) easier.
How does this plan impact my operations?
The RCIS will not impact your operations unless you voluntarily choose to create a conservation or mitigation project.
For growers interested in conservation or mitigation projects on some or all of their property as a way to offset the financial cost of transitioning to groundwater sustainability, the RCIS can:
- Provide guidance on what actions would be most beneficial for local species.
- Help facilitate the delivery of funding to support the participating landowner. These funding sources could come from either public sources (e.g. state grants) or private sources (e.g. mitigation payments).
How do I start a project?
The RCIS can help landowners understand what types of conservation or mitigation projects might be feasible on their land.
The landowner should consider:
- How much land they are willing to commit to the project.
- Their interest in a temporary or permanent project.
- The complexity of the project they are willing to undertake.
All these factors will help inform the type of funding that will be available.
Working with advisers, such as Sequoia Riverlands Trust or Tulare Basin Watershed Partnership, as well as legal and tax advisors will be important during these early stage conversations. Groundwater Sustainability Agencies may also be willing to act as consultants to landowners when considering groundwater recharge projects.
How are wildlife agencies involved?
California Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW) reviews and approves the RCIS plan based on their guidelines.
They will not be involved in implementing a projects unless:
- There is a mitigation component (see above) and they have to approve the mitigation credit agreement. The agreements are negotiated between CDFW and the landowners who want to develop a project. Some terms of a potential agreement include timeline of development, mitigation payment and cost, and other components relevant to stewardship of the land and project.
- They are the funding source (like Wildlife Conservation Board grants).
The landowner who is creating the habitat project will negotiate with CDFW to develop a project that is mutually beneficial for the landowner and the species. All requirements will be clearly described in the project management plan and mitigation credit agreement.