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E-News Magazine

Bay Fish Still Not Good Eating

After decades of efforts to clean up San Francisco Bay, its fish still carry a toxic load that makes them unfit for human consumption. A new Regional Monitoring Program (RMP) report on its 2019 sport fish survey contains some positive news: an overall decline in polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE), hopeful trends in polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxin, and continued low selenium levels. But no downward trend was found for mercury. Then there are per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which the...
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Trail to a Fire-Safe Watershed

Long insulated from severe risk by mild temperatures and the fog that regularly swaddles the Santa Cruz Mountains, San Mateo County now finds itself — like the rest of the Bay Area — facing the climate-driven prospect of catastrophic wildfire. The threat is leading one of the county’s largest landowners to devote unprecedented resources to fire-prevention efforts in the Peninsula Watershed — efforts that will also restore parts of the landscape to an approximation of their historical condition. “In the...
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Thinking Like Beaver to Aid Yellow Creek

Last fall, the Maidu Summit Consortium, a nonprofit composed of nine Mountain Maidu tribal member groups, installed 73 BDAs—beaver dam analogs—in Yellow Creek, a tributary to the North Fork Feather River and a state-listed heritage trout stream. Swift Water Design and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designed the structures, and Mountain Maidu tribal youth worked with Swift Water to build them. The idea behind the structures, which mimic beaver dams, is to slow erosion, catch sediment, and build up the...
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Perspective:

As drought parches California, obliterates its snowpack, and reduces rivers to trickles, a familiar feud over water has resurfaced. Farmers want more of it to irrigate their crops, while fishermen and environmentalists want more left in rivers to protect the state’s Chinook salmon. Mainstream news outlets often portray the struggle as one between two groups ravaged by environmental whims and climate change. However, this interpretation weaves a false equivalence through the narrative. Whereas the state’s Chinook and coho salmon runs...
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Moonrise over Giant Marsh: New Monitoring Data from Two-Year-Old Supershore Project

Kathy Boyer is used to getting up in the dark so she can slide across the mudflats into the Bay at first light. But this past May, she got a once-in-a-decade treat. As the professor from SF State’s Estuary & Ocean Science Center aimed her boogie board at some two-year-old eelgrass beds growing off the Richmond shoreline, the Super Flower Blood Moon rose in the blue field of the western sky. “It’s hard to get up at 4 a.m. but...
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Cooking Food in a Sacramento Shipping Channel?

The learned doctors attending the bedside of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta agree on one thing: the patient is not doing well. What ails it, many students of the case suggest, is dehydration: the perennial artificial drought induced by withdrawals of water for human use, whether pulled from feeder rivers or extracted from the Delta itself. The obvious prescription — that society moderate its demands — is politically very hard to fill. Recently, though, attention has turned to what might...
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Three Ways to Feed the Marsh

Seal Beach is drowning. As a result of sea-level rise, subsidence, and limited sediment supply, much of the 920-acre National Wildlife Refuge in Orange County can no longer keep its head above water. Pacific cordgrass, normally exposed at low tides, is being completely inundated. Rare nesting habitat for the endangered light-footed clapper rail is disappearing at high tides. It’s a marsh manager’s worst nightmare, and a potential harbinger of things to come later this century for tidal wetlands up and...
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Ballpark Battlegrounds

In June, Mountain View’s Permanente Creek is barely a trickle. Culverts burp water into a concrete channel abutted by schools, houses, and ballparks. A pair of mallards splash through the water, not even up to their ankles. After a dry winter, it’s hard to look at these conditions and imagine that gurgle of water rising up over its concrete banks to flood the city, which might explain part of the decade-long push and pull between some residents and flood managers...
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The Coast Whisperer

Sam Schuchat, outgoing chief of the California State Coastal Conservancy, is perhaps one of the most dapper state officials I’ve ever met. He often wears an elegant hat with a brim and band, no Giants bill cap or REI wooly for the leader of a powerful state agency, one that has done more to ensure that the coast is accessible to all Californians than any other. Of course, Schuchat would say he had a lot of help — partners everywhere,...
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Ancient River Channels Could Speed Groundwater Recharge

By the time California finally began regulating groundwater use in 2014, most of the San Joaquin Valley was in critical overdraft. The Public Policy Institute of California estimates that groundwater pumping in the region has exceeded replenishment by an average of 1.8 million acre-feet per year over the last few decades. This imbalance was even worse during our last drought, when overuse shot up to 2.4 million acre-feet per year. Overpumping puts groundwater aquifers at risk of compaction, permanently reducing...
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Bay Trail Retreat at Bothin Marsh

The Bay Trail connecting Sausalito and Mill Valley is a bustling pathway where recreational bicyclists, bike commuters, and pedestrians all mix amidst the bayfront marsh scenery of the Bothin Marsh Open Space Preserve. Around thirty times per year, though, this scene looks dramatically different, as high tides flood the area with seawater, making the path impassable. Experts say this demonstrates how vulnerable the path and marsh are to sea-level rise, and an ambitious new project is underway to re-engineer the...
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Little Mud, Lotta Work

For decades, patches of Creekside Marsh at Hal Brown Park in Corte Madera lay barren. “There wasn’t a single thing growing,” says Sandy Guldman, 80, a recently retired environmental consultant who is also president of the nonprofit group Friends of Corte Madera Creek Watershed. “The soil was all old fill.” Many of the bare patches are now covered with planted and volunteer pickleweed, saltgrass, marsh baccharis, and more. The remainder is at least partially vegetated, thanks to a recently completed...
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New research indicates that survival of juvenile Chinook salmon in the Sacramento River system can be significantly boosted by achieving key thresholds for river flow.

The findings, published in the journal Ecosphere, add important context to the general scientific understanding that more water in the river improves fish survival. Previous studies, the authors explain in their paper, have demonstrated that more juvenile salmon migrating toward the sea complete their journey when the Sacramento River system contains more water. Just how much water has been the source of much controversy among user groups. “These studies have not explored the potential nonlinearities between flow and survival, giving...
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Electrofishing is a powerful but underutilized tool for monitoring Delta fish, particularly species favoring “structured” habitats that are difficult to sample using more common methods like trawls and seines.

By analyzing fish catch data from past surveys, researchers Ryan McKenzie, of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and Brian Mahardja, of the US Bureau of Reclamation, determined that electrofishing resulted in better detection rates for many native and non-native species than net-based surveys. Although electrofishing is currently restricted to freshwater areas of the Estuary and is more selective of larger fish and those with swim bladders, McKenzie and Mahardja recommend that resource managers employ the technique more widely to...
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The robust monitoring programs established to track now-rare Delta smelt could benefit other native fishes, too.

Decades ago, resource managers first learned of declining Delta smelt numbers not through surveys targeting the once-abundant native fish, but rather as a byproduct of long-term monitoring programs for non-native striped bass. Now, the authors of a new study published in the March 2021 issue of San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science advocate for the use of bycatch data from the recently established Enhanced Delta Smelt Monitoring (EDSM) program to better understand juvenile Chinook salmon distribution. “The scope of [this...
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New insights into Delta smelt swimming behavior could help locate the increasingly elusive fish and prevent losses at the pumps.

Scientists know that smelt use tidal ebbs and flows to migrate landward to spawn, but the degree to which external cues influence behavior remains unclear. In a new study published in the March 2021 issue of San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science, researchers used computer modeling to predict smelt distribution based on hypothesized swimming behaviors. Six increasingly complex behaviors were tested. For example, the “passive” category assumes that smelt do not swim at all, simply drifting with currents and tides....
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Water turbidity in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta can be used as a reliable indicator of smelt entrainment rates in the fish screens of the export pumps at the southern edge of the Estuary.

In a new study published in the March 2021 issue of San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science, researchers Lenny Grimaldo, William Smith, and Matthew Nobriga used advanced statistical approaches to understand what factors best predict Delta smelt entrainment at the pumps. The paper builds upon research that Grimaldo conducted in the 2000s, which provided the basis for regulations established in the 2008 Delta smelt Biological Opinion. “This study reinforces previous work that adult Delta smelt salvage is largely explained by...
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moss ball oregon USFWS

Invasions

Almost two months after invasive zebra mussels were discovered in imported “moss balls” (actually algae) in a Seattle PetCo store, federal and state agencies are still trying to track the Trojan moss balls and keep the mussels out of vulnerable water bodies, including California’s. So far, contaminated moss balls have been found in 46 states (Virginia, Delaware, Rhode Island, and Hawaii are the exceptions) and most of Canada’s provinces. The US Fish & Wildlife Service has issued detailed guidance for...
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northern harrier-hull lab-UC Davis

Migrations

Northern harriers, long-winged rodent-hunting hawks, make impressive migrant journeys. Research by UC Davis’ Hull Lab sheds new light on these journeys. Harriers are a familiar sight in California’s wetlands, especially in winter. Researchers captured fifteen female harriers–ten in winter, five in spring–in Suisun Marsh and equipped with 14-gram GPS backpack transmitters, too heavy for use with the smaller males. Telemetry data from seven of the ten winter females revealed migrations of up to 600 miles, to nesting sites from the...
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Photo of bird watchers by Rick Lewis

Three Great Migration Stories -Tracking the Birds

Like water rains down and flows, spreads and seeps through an Estuary, touching the land along its path, so too do birds migrate across our planet.  ESTUARY loves a good bird story, and our reporter Joe Eaton writes most of them with great care for both birds and words, while photographer Rick Lewis always has his lens aimed at the feathers flying overhead or dipping in the water (see above). Read three great migration stories ….
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About Us

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.

San Francisco Estuary Partnership 1515 Clay Street, Suite 1400 Oakland, CA 94612 (510) 622-2304

Association of Bay Area Governments