Perceptions of Risk and Management of the Delta Levee System

Start/End: April, 2017 to March, 2019

As a central hub of California’s water supply, transportation, and agricultural systems, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is precariously positioned for change as a result of climate change, sea level rise, and its seismic activity. Research on how stakeholders perceive management planning and historical issues in the Delta levee system is critical to analyzing obstacles in the region.

By identifying key drivers in resistance for reconciling expert opinion, stakeholder interests, and landowner priorities, this research will increase the understanding of how social values motivate the measures supported for adaptation to climate change. The fellow is especially interested to explore the viability of alternatives to the current levee system, such as consolidated islands (polders), expanded waterways, and setback levees.

This project will be divided into three parts:

  1. Conduct data analysis to understand the role of culture and values in risk perceptions regarding the Delta through studying archival documents, conducting semi-structured interviews with scientists and professional experts, and participant observation at public and agency meetings.
  2. Using the Q method, identify paths to scientific conflicts and the communication of science through interviews with stakeholder groups, including local farmers, water exporters, environmentalists, developers, and public utilities officials.
  3. Determine the feasibility of adopting transformative changes to the levees through surveys, interviews, and participatory mapping with a wider group of Delta landowners.

The results will benefit the CA Department of Water Resources and local agencies when developing comprehensive plans for the Delta levee system and preparing for future natural hazards.