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E-News Magazine

Science in Short

SNAPSHOT: How Fish Interact with Wetlands Topography  In this podcast, Estuary News reporter Alastair Bland and UC Davis PhD student and fish researcher David Ayers discuss the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, its fish, its marshlands, its flows, and its future. Ayers explains the focus of his research, which seeks to reveal how underwater topography in the wetlands fringing the estuary affects interactions between predators and small fish. While restoration projects often focus on adding more water to this ecosystem and encouraging that...
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Small Farmers Shortchanged by SGMA

When governor Jerry Brown signed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) into law in September 2014, he said that “groundwater management in California is best accomplished locally.” With the first round of plans made available for public comment this year, it appears that, while the state certainly ceded control to local management agencies, those same agencies have prioritized the interests of big agriculture and industry over small farmers and disadvantaged communities. A June 2020 paper from UC Davis published in...
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Nursing Salmon on Flooded Farms

In 2012 a team of salmon researchers tried a wild idea: putting pinky-sized Chinook on a rice field in the Yolo Bypass, a vast engineered floodplain designed to protect the city of Sacramento from inundation. The team found that rearing fish on farms works better than they had ever dreamed. Salmon in this managed floodplain grew so fast — averaging more than one millimeter per day — that they outpaced young Chinook elsewhere in the region. Now, after nearly a...
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Londons Roam and Feast on the Bay circa 1910

Jack London usually sailed west whenever he left the Oakland Municipal Wharf, but on December 18, 1913, he headed east — because he could. Although the canal connecting the Oakland Estuary to San Leandro Bay had been completed in 1902, it wasn’t until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers widened and deepened the canal in 1913 that it became navigable. Aboard the Roamer, a 30-foot yawl London bought used in 1910, Jack and his wife, Charmian, approached the Park Street...
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Heavy Lifting for Fish

Ted Frink recalls watching Jacques Cousteau’s television specials when he was growing up in coastal Orange County. “I envisioned myself as Cousteau,” says Frink, a fisheries biologist with the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) now approaching retirement. “My folks encouraged my interest in science. I knew I could be a biologist.” That early inspiration sparked a long and varied career, culminating in his work as chief of DWR’s Special Restoration Initiatives Branch and his role in mitigating obstacles to...
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Covid Clues from Wastewater

As COVID-19 continues its unrelenting rampage, wastewater plant managers and university researchers are ramping up their efforts to monitor wastewater for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease. Their goal is to give public health departments a powerful tool: an early warning system for new outbreaks in communities. In Yosemite Valley, for instance, wastewater testing revealed the presence of the virus in the community before swab testing of individuals showed a problem. “There’s a time delay before cases appear in...
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Creeks & Quilts for Climate

The Estuary News team has been working behind the scenes with partners on a cool new build out of our sister Acclimatewest project called the California Climate Quilt. Acclimatewest.org is a pilot storytelling site that gathers stories about creeks, sloughs, and shorelines adapting to sea level rise, describing who lives around them and what concerns they have about their environment, as well as exploring the local natural and human history of the area. At the same time, in a world...
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A Fragile Fleet

The naming of boats and ships is a serious matter. Each larger vessel’s name starts with a code that tells what it carries, what propels it, or what purpose it serves. If it were your hobby to keep tabs on traffic on San Francisco Bay, you’d see a lot of big UCCs (container ships) and TCHs and TCRs (tankers). You’d see ferries emblazoned with MV, standing for “motor vessel.” Before COVID-19, you would have spotted the occasional SS, standing for...
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More Grants for Real People

Even as “environmental justice” and “community engagement” have long been watchwords of restoration and resilience efforts, economically disadvantaged communities on San Francisco Bay’s shoreline have often felt sidelined by them. But that may be changing: the summer of 2020 saw new initiatives to give communities more power to shape and participate in restoration projects in their own backyards. In July, the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority kicked off its new Community Grants Program, allocating $200,000 of its $25 million 2020-21...
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The Delta’s Blooming Problem

Bright-green blotches of algae have been popping up all over the Delta since early summer, from Discovery Bay to the Stockton waterfront, befouling the air and poisoning the water with toxins that can sicken or even kill humans and animals. Veteran Delta watchers believe that this year’s harmful algal blooms may be the worst ever, and worry that some features of Governor Gavin Newsom’s recently released Water Resilience Portfolio for California will aggravate the problem. “We don’t have enough data...
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Match Points in Stormwater Soup

Scientists studying environmental pollutants tend to divide them into two distinct groups. One includes “legacy” contaminants that drew attention during the early stages of the environmental movement, like mercury, PCBs, and some pesticides. The other is a much larger class of “emerging” contaminants whose production or monitoring began more recently and about whom less is known; think pharmaceuticals, plastic additives, and flame retardants. Effluent from wastewater treatment plants is often seen as the primary source of emerging contaminants in San...
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Trolling for Salmon by Kayak

Whales scare us much more than sharks. They erupt from the ocean with a rush of displaced water and a poof of air. A collision could be disastrous. “Whale – go-go-go!” I shout. We pedal double-time to dodge the humpback, behind us and approaching from the left. A moment later it surfaces again, with another poof, now off to our right, moving away. We relax and slow back to our standard trolling speed of about 2.5 miles per hour, and...
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Retrofitted Houseboat IDs Fish in the Shallows

On a hazy Delta morning at Isleton’s B & W Resort, more than a dozen trucks are already neatly arrayed in the double-long parking spaces with empty trailers facing the boat launch: evidence of fishers and boaters getting an early start on their Labor Day weekend. Randy Mager, sporting a flannel shirt and worn baseball cap, radiates earnest enthusiasm, which for a 20-year state government veteran is as refreshing and rare as a Delta smelt. “I am more excited about...
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Makeover for Delta Weed Patch & Salt Trap?

What began as a project to convert a submerged Delta island into habitat for endangered native fish has morphed into a multi-benefit package with additional payoffs for water quality and recreation. The collaborative design process for the Franks Tract Futures project brought initially skeptical local stakeholders on board and is being hailed as a model for future initiatives. Yet major uncertainties remain as interested parties explore the challenges of implementing a complex redesign of a big chunk of the Delta....
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Yet another non-native aquatic species may have made itself at home in the Delta.

As described by US Fish and Wildlife Service fish biologist Brian Mahardja and his co-authors in San Francisco Estuary & Watershed Science, the newcomer is an inch-long, minnow-like fish called the bluefin killifish (Lucania goodei), indigenous to Florida and adjacent southeastern states. It was first detected in the Delta Cross Channel during a beach seine survey in October 2017, and subsequently found in Beaver and Hog sloughs and at Decker, Sherman, and Brannan islands. With surveys curtailed by the coronavirus...
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By looking solely at the results of a single annual fish-counting survey, Californians may be seeing an incomplete reflection of Bay-Delta fish population trends.

A team of scientists analyzed 14 survey programs carried out by state and federal agencies, as well as UC Davis, and concluded that employing such a diverse variety of long-term surveys is essential for accurately tracking and assessing the overall health of San Francisco Estuary’s ecosystem and its resident fishes. The research is described in the June issue of San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science. Lead author Dylan Stompe, of UC Davis, explains that the research arose from concerns that...
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A unique adaptive behavioral trait that may once have helped winter-run Chinook salmon thrive in the Sacramento River system could now be working against the fish as they face extinction.

The trait – which cues fish when to spawn based on water temperature – isn’t syncing up with current conditions in the Sacramento River below Shasta Dam. A paper published in the June issue of San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science, reports that cooler springtime river temperatures seem to prompt earlier winter-run spawning while warmer temperatures push back the peak spawning period by a week or two. Under historic conditions, when winter-run Chinook spawned in high-elevation streams now inaccessible to...
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Better scientific preparation could help Delta water and environmental managers respond to droughts more effectively.

That’s one key takeaway from a review of environmental management and the use of science during the 2012-2016 drought commissioned by the Delta Science Program and published in the June 2020 issue of San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science. “There are lots of mysteries about how to manage water to benefit species, agriculture, upstream and downstream users. I think science is going to be the best solution,” says lead author John Durand of UC Davis’ Center for Watershed Science. Durand...
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Two recent exercises in modeling the hydrological effects of forest thinning and wildfire are yielding intriguing insights.

Hydrogeologist Fadji Maina and colleague Erica Siirila-Woodburn of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory ran simulations of wildfire effects in the Cosumnes River watershed (see map). “We chose the Cosumnes because it’s one of the largest rivers that has no dam in California,” explains Maina. The most significant findings concerned the way wildfire affects groundwater recharge and storage. “It depends on where the wildfire occurs,” says Maina. The underlying rocks—foothill volcanics or High Sierra granites—make a difference. Consistent with earlier studies, the model also...
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A team of scientists is close to chasing down every last thing that happens to nitrogen in wastewater as it passes through the soils and plants of a horizontal levee.

Not only is 97% of the nitrogen removed, but also trace pharmaceuticals. “You just have to focus on where the water is going,” says environmental engineer Aidan Cecchetti, referring to the UC Berkeley-Stanford-ReNUWIt team’s experimentation with three components of flow through the levee system—under the surface, over the surface, or into the air (through evapotranspiration). “In the wastewater pumped to the subsurface, you see full removal of every contaminant except phosphorous.” What’s most astonishing is how much of the work...
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The San Francisco Bay-Delta is named in the federal Clean Water Act as one of 28 “estuaries of national significance." For over 20 years, the San Francisco Estuary Partnership has worked together with local communities and federal and state agencies to improve the health of California’s most urbanized estuary.

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