Vital and Vulnerable? Delta Contemplates Climate Change

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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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,...
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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.
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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...
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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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Keeping the Salt Field at Bay II

After four of California’s driest years on record, the rain we’ve gotten this winter is hardly a drought buster. But it’s still a relief. Just a year ago, our “wet” season was so dry that state water officials panicked. Major reservoirs were drawn way down, and record-low snowpack would limit replenishment to a trickle. Water managers worried about the hot, dry months. Would reservoirs still hold enough for freshwater releases to keep saltwater from pushing deep into the Sacramento-San Joaquin...
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Scaled-Down Plans to “Fix and Restore”

Surprising many observers, Governor Jerry Brown announced late in April that the Bay Delta Conservation Program, which had embraced the new water conveyance popularly known as the Twin Tunnels and a broad program for restoring the complex and heavily impacted Delta environment, was being split into two new entities: Cal WaterFix and Cal EcoRestore. This was followed
by the release of a Partially Recirculated Draft Environmental Impact Report/Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement spelling out the changes: on the conveyance side, reduction...
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No Scapefish in Drought Wars

According to the Biblical book of Leviticus, the ancient Israelites designated a goat to bear the weight of their sins. Nowadays, the scapegoat is not required to be a goat. When it comes to assessing blame for the worsening California drought, a scapefish will suffice. Some media outlets, notably the Wall Street Journal in a recent op-ed piece, point to the hapless Delta smelt as a culprit in the state’s water crisis, as well as a prime example of the...
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Offers They Can Refuse

The numbers are daunting: 8,000 acres to be restored to fish-friendly tidal habitat in order to comply with federal wildlife agencies’ Biological Opinions; another 65,000 if and when the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan is implemented; more still if you add in mitigation for levee operations. Where will that acreage come from? State agencies and other public entities already own some parcels suitable for restoration, but not nearly enough: the rest will need to be purchased from its current owners or covered...
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Defter Delta Restoration

An issue paper endorsed by the Delta Stewardship Council this August seeks to spark progress throughout the myriad stages of habitat restoration. As public and private interests gear up to help endangered fish and migrating birds by restoring habitats in six priority zones of the Delta and Suisun Marsh, this paper lays out tools and concepts for getting the most out of these investments and learning from our mistakes. The paper details steps for achieving effective restoration, reviews barriers such...
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Keeping the Salt Field at Bay

As the dry, warm days went on and on and on this winter, two guys intimate with California’s Sacramento San Joaquin River delta shifted gears. One reassigned staff from flood to drought response, and the other lay awake at night imagining barriers across various slough openings. By early February, some Sierra reservoirs were so low, and so close to “dead pool” level, that the water projects stopped pumping and delivering. Farmers had to retrench, communities realized they might only have...
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