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E-News Magazine

Of Mice and Marshes: Surveying Salties to Save Them

It’s five in the morning, and Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge remains in the tight velvet grip of night. All is peaceful and quiet, despite the fact that the toll plaza of the Dumbarton Bridge is less than a quarter-mile away. By 5:15, car dome lights and slamming doors have transformed this lonely spot at the watery edge of Newark into a hub of activity. People are taking last sips of coffee, strapping headlamps to their foreheads,...
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California will spend big bucks on beavers to try to boost their numbers and reap some of the benefits—including slowing wildfire—these ecosystem engineers can provide.

After years of advocacy by beaver “believers,” the state has allocated funding for a beaver restoration program. The $1.67 million in license plate funds for fiscal year 2022-23 and $1.44 million the following year represents a new way of thinking about beaver management in California, says Kate Lundquist, of the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center. “Until recently, the Fish and Game Code has focused on recreational and commercial beaver trapping and permitting the depredation of nuisance beaver,” she explains. “I...
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Climate change is heating, salinizing, and expanding the San Francisco Estuary, a review of nearly 200 scientific studies concludes.

Sea level rise, changing snow and rainfall patterns, and warmer waters are some of the changes already observed in the Estuary and expected to continue through the rest of the century as greenhouse gas concentrations rise. Changes to water are at the heart of the documented and further expected impacts; there’s less of it entering the system overall, but more arriving in torrential bursts, and more saltwater creeping inland from the Bay. The scope of the research is expansive even...
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In the absence of a government program to contend with harmful algae blooms (HABs) in the Delta, a loose coalition of academics and environmental and community groups has been studying their spread and potential health impacts both from ground level and from the air.

San Francisco Baykeeper has been sending up drones to monitor eight sites between Discovery Bay and downtown Stockton, as well as photo-documenting the spread and intensity of HABs from airplanes flown by Lighthawk Conservation Flying. At the same time, volunteers with Restore the Delta have been conducting water quality testing for HABs and the toxins they produce. “The airplane and drones together allow us to get a really broad geographic understanding of where these neon green HABs are occurring, says...
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Light and nutrients are the staples of every phytoplankton production recipe, but wind and tides in the Delta affect phytoplankton production too, say researchers.

Several projects in the lower Sacramento River and Delta have been exploring strategies for increasing the quantity and quality of food for migratory and resident fish. As part of a broader whole-ecosystem experiment that added nitrogen into the Sacramento River Deep Water Ship Channel, Leah K. Lenoch and colleagues at USGS and UC Davis looked into the channel’s hydrodynamics to explore whether the environmental conditions there hold promise for increasing the quantity of phytoplankton (the microscopic algae at the base...
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Researchers are applying a novel genetic technique as part of the development of an annual estimate for the number of juvenile spring-run Chinook salmon entering the Delta.

The technique, spearheaded by geneticist Melinda Baerwald from the California Department of Water Resources, allows researchers to accurately distinguish young spring-run salmon from other runs by targeting DNA sequences specific to these fish.   In a paper published in San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science, lead authors Baerwald and Peter A. Nelson explain some of the challenges of developing this estimate, called the spring-run juvenile production estimate. A key hurdle is differentiating spring-run fish from salmon that migrate during other...
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Groundwater pumped from subsided islands back into Delta channels through 200 or more active outfalls can be laden with excess nitrogen transported from island soils, report the authors of a new study.

The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta contains more than 50 peat islands. Most have subsided—some as much as three meters — as a result of drainage for farming, and must maintain artificial water tables below the land surface via managed pumping. According to researchers from the University of California at Santa Cruz and the US Geological Survey, these pump stations are an underappreciated source of nutrients in nearby waters, with potentially significant implications for habitat and water quality.   To get a...
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Drought Plan Means Full Lake, Empty River

In the mountains and foothills of California, an enduring drought has depleted the state’s major reserves of water. There is virtually no snowpack, and most of the state’s large reservoirs are less than 40 percent full. But in the central Sierra Nevada, a trio of artificial lakes remain flush with cold mountain water. The largest of them, Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, from which millions of Bay Area residents receive water, is more than 80 percent full. This remarkable plentitude is the...
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The Tunnel Plan: Thoughts a Month Later

It’s now five weeks since Governor Newsom’s Delta tunnel plan was unveiled in a Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Time enough for the main ideas to sink in; time enough for familiar players to strike their familiar positions; and time enough for some of us to burrow deep into its tables, figures, and appendices. To recap briefly: water taken from new intakes near Hood on the Sacramento River would enter a tunnel and flow 45 miles underground before being lifted again...
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Finding Her Way to Fish: Denise Colombano

The path into a career is not always a straightforward one. “I hated school. I mean, hated school,” says Denise Colombano, a postdoctoral fellow and Delta Science Fellow working on fisheries research at UC Berkeley. Today, Colombano feels that it is important to talk about her story as a way of encouraging inclusiveness and opportunity within her field — and in the sciences in general.  “I actually flunked ninth grade, and was attending a continuation school, when my science teacher...
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Over time, the median actual flow to San Francisco Bay in the ecologically critical winter and spring months has declined to less than half of the unimpaired runoff. This bar chart divides actual inflow (the amount that actually made it to the Bay) and unimpaired runoff (the inflow to the Bay that would occur if there were no dams or diversions) into quintiles from wettest to dry, and marks years drier than 2015 (roughly, the driest 2% of years) as “super-critically dry” years. Over the last 54 years, “super-critically dry” runoff conditions in the Bay’s watershed occurred naturally only once, in 1977, but the Estuary received runoff volumes in the super-critical range in 22 years, or 40% of the time. Overall, flow volumes characteristic of the driest 20% of years now occur more than half the time as a result of storage and diversion of runoff for consumptive uses. Source: The Bay Institute, based on data from California Department of Water Resources.

Defining Unimpaired Flows

For the second time in four years, a proposal for a voluntary agreement between agencies and water contractors on flows into and through the Delta from the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers and their tributaries is wending its way through the State Water Resources Control Board. The proposal, which would replace the regime outlined in the Board’s most recent update to the Bay-Delta Plan, calls for substantially less water remaining in the system than the update, but comparing the two...
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Building Buy-in for Restoration

The success of a restoration project is in the eye of the beholder. Take the recently revitalized salt marsh edging Drift Creek in Alsea Bay, Oregon. To ecologists, the sight of new channels winding through bare, brown mud is a thing of beauty, heralding the abundance of life to come, from sedges and rushes to fish and shorebirds. But, as researchers learned while speaking with people living nearby, not everyone shares this view. Some locals favored the unrestored side for...
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Top Photo: Sailboats crossing under Delta drawbridge. Photo: Caltrans

The Grande Dames of the Delta

The moveable bridges that cross the rivers and sloughs in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta were built in the first half of the 20th century, and most are operated by control panels as old as the bridges themselves. A day spent touring these strong-boned grande dames on backwater levee roads or zigzagging across the Sacramento River on scenic State Route 160 is time well spent. But that’s leisure time, and for the tens of thousands of commuters who use the heavily...
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Listening to Vital Voices

Jessica Rudnick’s first love was earth science. But after discovering that people’s beliefs and behaviors were key to solving environmental problems, she fell for social science. Now, as the California Sea Grant extension specialist for the Delta, Rudnick is working to better integrate local people into plans for the region. Understanding the needs of people who live, work, and recreate in the Delta could make the difference between fixes that are rejected or embraced.  Delta planning has historically focused largely...
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Reorienting to Salmon Recovery

The days when salmon and steelhead teemed in California’s coastal watersheds faded away last century. Today, many populations of the fish are gone or dwindling, the river systems where they spawn drained by diversions or too warm for native fish to survive. Warming trends and drought are squeezing water resources tighter. Nearly all efforts to revive the state’s ailing salmonids have failed, often stalemated by political tensions, and it takes hatcheries and truck transport of juveniles to saltwater to maintain...
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Adrienne Ernst among the Phragmites. Photo: Michael Adamson

Living with a Novel Landscape: Suisun Evolves

Morning at Suisun Marsh is a living watercolor with a soundtrack. Miles of tule and pickleweed populate the foreground, split by canals glinting silver from the sun. In May, the hills undulate across the northern boundary in classic California gold. A red-tailed hawk’s iconic hoarse screech punctuates the insectine buzz as it takes off from a powerline. At 7:40 AM, it’s already 72 degrees and there’s no trace of a breeze. I’ve come to visit the Marsh from downtown Oakland...
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Baldocchi at the end of one of the levees breached to restore tidal action at Dutch Slough. Photo: Janet Byron

Sniffing the Delta for Greenhouse Gases

Dutch Slough in Oakley, on the southern edge of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, is less than a mile from where biometeorologist Dennis D. Baldocchi (above) grew up on his parents’ orchard and fished with pals in nearby Marsh Creek. In October 2021, the California Department of Water Resources breached the levees here, restoring nutrient-rich tidal flows to degraded ranchland. Early in the 20th century, Baldocchi’s father grew dry beans and sugar beets on the peat soils of the Delta’s Liberty...
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Greenbacks

Greenbacks for Blueprint

For the first time in decades, California’s federal estuary management and water quality programs are getting a big bump in bankroll. Priority actions in the newly updated Estuary Blueprint, a 25-action consensus plan for improving the health of San Francisco Bay and the Delta, are poised to take advantage of a new influx of federal money. “We’re fortunate with timing,” says San Francisco Estuary Partnership (SFEP) environmental planner Darcie Luce. Completed this spring, the 2022 Blueprint includes some well-thought-out actions...
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Cutting Green Tape

A novel exemption lawmakers passed to California’s landmark Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in late 2021 has helped fast-track at least four habitat restoration projects so far, with more to follow in the next couple years. The Statutory Exemption for Restoration Projects, or SERP, offers a rare reprieve from California’s stringent environmental review and permitting process — and a clear indication of the urgency the state’s leaders feel in advancing ecological restoration work. “When [SERP] passed, it was a little bit...
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Bagman for Bay Mussels

Martin Trinh practically bounces along the dock at the Coyote Point Yacht Club on a breezy, sunny spring morning. He’s carrying a case full of instruments and scopes out an open slip at the end of the pier. Soon he’s lowering a probe into the water, alongside kelp clinging to the underside of the dock. Another trip back to his Prius, still sporting South Carolina license plates, and he’s got a white plastic dish pan and a scrub brush. He...
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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

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