Haggles over the what, where, and when of Delta conservation got a reset this January with the state’s release of a new collaborative framework focused on opportunities, not species.

Haggles over the what, where, and when of Delta conservation got a reset this January with the state’s release of a new collaborative framework focused on opportunities, not species.

The California Department of Fish & Wildlife’s new Delta Conservation Framework tries to fill the vision vacuum left by former Governor Brown’s early pivot away from the 2013 Bay-Delta Conservation Plan, a plan that touched in some shape or way on 160,000 acres of the Delta. “It was too big and too unwieldy for people to manage, and there were too many questions about its effects, and how it would be implemented – particularly as it related to the Delta...

For the first time ever, an annual fish-counting survey has turned up zero Delta smelt—a dire milestone in Bay Area aquatic biology.

This does not mean the fish is extinct—yet—but it does mean that the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta ecosystem is in disarray. The species, which lives its entire life in the estuary, is a key ecological indicator—and it was prolific until just a couple of decades ago. According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Fall Midwater Trawl survey, which provides an annual index on abundance for several fish species in the Delta, the Delta smelt index generally averaged several hundred fish...

Sleuthing Sturgeon Snags

Local green sturgeon are struggling. The population that spawns in the Sacramento –San Joaquin River Delta was declared federally threatened in 2006. Researchers at UC Davis, which hosts the world’s only green sturgeon rearing program, are now trying to figure out why the fish is in trouble. “If we knew how large they are when they’re moving through each portion of the system, we’d know a lot more about the threats they face at each life state, and where we...

The Nature Conservancy’s venture in growing food crops for wintering cranes on Staten Island is under fire from an unexpected source—the Wetlands Preservation Foundation.

The nonprofit, headed by Stockton tomato packer Dino Cortopassi, is suing TNC and the California Department of Water Resources, which holds a conservation easement on Staten Island, alleging farming practices that cause soil subsidence and threaten levee integrity, and misuse of revenue from farm operations. The 9200-acre farm, acquired by TNC in 2001, is a major destination for migratory greater and lesser sandhill cranes (the latter a California endangered species) as well as Aleutian cackling geese and other birds. As...

Restoring wetlands is an extremely effective way to cool land surfaces, a study conducted in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta indicates.

For three years, Kyle Hemes of UC Berkeley and colleagues kept tabs on the heat flux and air flow above three restored Delta wetlands on Twitchell and Sherman islands, and an alfalfa field on Twitchell Island. Surface temperatures at wetlands with open water were up to 5.1 degrees Celsius cooler than the crop field during the daytime. As expected, the dark open water absorbed more solar radiation, and released the energy slowly at night. But wetland vegetation played a role...

MEGA-PEARLS, Oct 2018

A Stream of Science Takeaways. ESTUARY News sent reporters to the biennial Bay-Delta Science Conference in September. This special edition of Pearls shares more than 20 takeaways.

Recent Milestones for the Twin Tunnels and WaterFix

Spring and summer 2018 saw frenzied activity around California WaterFix, the latest iteration of a decades-long, on-again-of-again effort to convey fresh water from the Sacramento River to the South Delta while bypassing the Delta itself. Governor Jerry Brown has made WaterFix a top priority, but the project – including twin tunnels comprising the largest infrastructure project in state history – still faces a raft of uncertainties.

Big Restoration Experiment for the Delta’s Dutch Slough

Development agreements were already in place for three parcels of land around Dutch Slough when John Cain first took a hike in this West Delta area in the spring of 1999. “It was clear as day to me that removing the levee would be a great way to restore freshwater wetlands at the mouth of Marsh Creek,” says Cain, who now works for American Rivers. Almost two decades later, earthmoving equipment is now preparing 1,178 acres for conversion to marsh...

Kitchen Sink Update on Every Last Invader

On multiple fronts, with multiple forces and weapons, California’s battle against invasive aquatic organisms continues. Notoriously, San Francisco Bay is the world’s most invaded estuary. The state’s lakes, rivers, and other freshwater wetlands have their own problematic exotics. Keeping them out, and preventing their spread once established, requires coordination among agencies and levels of government. At best, meshing jurisdictional gears can be a challenge. Legislation pending in Congress could make treating ships’ ballast water to remove invasives yet another source...

A new online portal from the Delta Stewardship Council offers everyone from scientists to tourists an accessible window into the Delta’s identity and importance.

“Although I had studied freshwater and marine ecology, I really was not familiar with the Delta before I started working there,” says 2017 Sea Grant Fellow Heidi Williams, who developed the Beginner’s Guide to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. “I was looking for a way to dive in and learn about the Delta and realized that there wasn’t an easily accessible place to turn for the basics.” As a science communications fellow, Williams suggested to the Council that she create one...

Vital and Vulnerable? Delta Contemplates Climate Change

With its pivotal role in California’s ecology and economy, the Delta’s ability to adapt successfully to climate change and sea level rise will have an enormous influence on how well the state as a whole adapts. “Most of the climate vulnerability work in the Delta so far has focused on water resource management, not the array of other potential impacts,” says Delta Stewardship Council’s Kate Anderson. In May, the Council issued an RFQ for an assessment of the Delta’s potential...

Corps Explores New Ecological Territory

A levee replacement project near the small town of Hamilton City is breaking ground as the first project that the US Army Corps of Engineers has approved based in part on potential benefits to an ecosystem. “We’ve been told this will be a national model once it’s completed,” says Lee Ann Grigsby of Hamilton City. The levee, whose original construction failed to meet modern standards, had needed to be fixed for a long time: recent estimates gave it only a...

Table Set for Snails

Several months ago, Mike Moran of the Delta’s Big Break Regional Park got a call about a cluster of unusual looking eggs. “We thought we might be looking at this channeled apple snail thing,” he says. Native to the Amazon and Plata river basins of South America, the snails are now officially identified and documented in northern California by the USGS. “What we are worried about is the snail’s voracious appetite for aquatic plants,” says Moran. How the snails ended...

Searching for a Few Good Weevils

“They’re pretty charismatic,” says Julie Hopper of the tiny herbivorous weevil N. bruchi. Native to Argentina, these weevils were first brought to North America to combat the spread of the invasive weed water hyacinth. Like the weevil, Hopper also started far from the Delta. Originally a student of marine biology, she became interested in parasitology and discovered the value of biological control. “Biocontrol can make a huge impact, from reducing disease transmission to controlling invasive species, you name it,” she...

Broad buy-in is the hoped for result of a proposed new landscape-level vision for conservation of the Delta.

For decades, government agencies, stakeholders, scientists, and planners have tried to develop a common vision for the future Delta, only to be stymied by environmental and economic politics. A new paradigm developed by diverse interests, however, proposes six regional conservation strategies to be achieved through collaborative, phased projects tailored to the needs of each sub-region, with a priority on improving public lands first. Proponents of the new framework say long-term conservation of the Delta is not a choice but an...

Indecision Point

The Delta Stewardship Council endorses the “Delta Plan Amendments for Conveyance, Storage Systems, and the Operation of Both.” The council was created in 2009 but given no say over the pending dual tunnels plan. The state was pushing a grand program called the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan. However, the BDCP was abandoned in 2015 in favor of two new, independent programs: EcoRestore and California WaterFix (popularly known as the twin tunnels). Rather than adopt a new policy on conveyance, the council...

The Delta from Within

As an outsider, it’s easy to see the Delta as a mess. Once a paradise of wildlife, it’s now an ecological disaster and the nexus of the fierce water wars between the state’s wet north and dry south. But there’s much more to the Delta, which was settled beginning with the Gold Rush. The 33 miles between Rio Vista and Sacramento on highway 160 feel like another world. The sky is big and the land stretches out in all directions,...

Flood Plan Boosts Floodplain

The 2017 update to the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan, to be released later this summer, radically revises the flood control strategies that have prevailed for more than a century. The plan recognizes the connections between the flood system, the water system and the ecosystem, and relies less on levees and more on floodplain restoration to upgrade the state’s aging and inadequate flood control infrastructure.

Back to the Bones of the Delta

Chris Rose likens a 500-acre farm
 in the northwest Delta to a bakery in downtown Manhattan. Each property has obvious characteristics that would be hard to replace. In the Delta it’s some of the best water rights available and land that isn’t so subsided and salty you can’t grow good grass. In Manhattan, it’s the chance to bake and sell comfort food in the heart of a city with a big appetite. Each property is prime real estate in terms...

Options for Orphan Species

Off a bustling Delta highway, next door to a branch of the California Aqueduct, sprawls a tidy collection of shipping containers, humming pumps, and cylindrical tanks. Paved in cracked asphalt and encircled by chain link fencing, it resembles any number of light industrial sites at the margins of many communities. In fact, this resolutely artificial site is devoted to preserving a disappearing piece of natural California: the Delta smelt. “Our fish are a refuge population,” says Tien-Chieh Hung. Director of...
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