Greenhouse gas project gets funding

By Matt Weiser
July 23, 2008

The California Department of Water Resources has awarded a $12.3 million contract to launch a carbon-capture experiment in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Announced today, the project aims to discover whether greenhouse gases can be stored in marsh plants and soils while also restoring Delta islands. This could have the additional benefit of strengthening levees.

Grant recipients are UC Davis and the U.S. Geological Survey. The USGS proved, through a 14-acre pilot project on Twitchell Island, that growing native tules in carefully controlled conditions increased soil depth as much as 10 inches from 1997 to 2005.

Delta islands consist mostly of organic peat soils, which evaporate when exposed to the atmosphere via farming and development. As a result, many islands have become bowls, with interiors more than 20 feet below sea level. This increases hydraulic pressure on surrounding levees.

The new project will expand the USGS test to 400 acres on Twitchell Island, and UC Davis will help gather data on carbon capture. If successful, the sale of carbon credits to grow tules could fund a new kind of farming in the Delta while improving habitat and flood control, avoiding billions of dollars in cost to strengthen levees.

"It could provide sustainable farming opportunities for Delta farmers and an economic incentive to sustain the existing Delta levee system," said Dave Mraz, chief of DWR's Delta-Suisun Marsh Office.

Construction of the new project is scheduled for next spring.