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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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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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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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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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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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Flow Deal: Peace Treaty or Trojan Horse?

Promising up to 825,000 acre-feet a year of new water to protect endangered fish and thousands of acres of habitat improvements, the Newsom administration and others hailed the March announcement of a proposed voluntary agreement on Bay-Delta flows as the beginning of the end of California’s water wars, and a boon to the Bay-Delta ecosystem.  “We think this has the promise to give us more benefit for ecosystems because we would be combining both flow and habitat assets,” says California...
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Science in Short: Daylighting Delta Data

Once you know how many fish are present in a particular part of a river, including additional details like the time of day and water temperature, what do you do with this information? For decades, Delta researchers have collected millions of similar data points from daily visits to the San Francisco Estuary, not all of which are available or immediately useful. How that information is then translated into a language relevant to water and conservation managers requires serious number, or...
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Atmospheric Rivers Intensifying as World Warms: How the West Will Know What’s Coming

In just a few years, tracking the West Coast’s atmospheric rivers by airplane has gone from what one hydrologist called “really wild-eyed stuff” to a Congressionally-funded operation. This Atmospheric River Reconnaissance program, which wrapped up its latest season in March, monitors these increasingly powerful storms as they shoot across the Pacific Ocean and delivers real-time data to National Weather Service forecasters. Knowing when, where, and how hard atmospheric rivers will hit is vital to ensuring water supplies and avoiding floods....
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West Coast Salmonids All Tired Out?

West Coast salmon and steelhead populations have declined steeply in the past century – a plight that biologists have primarily blamed on habitat loss. Dams, for instance, block adult fish’s access to historic spawning grounds, and juvenile survival is impacted by streamside development and water diversions. Now, it turns out, microplastic pollution may be a much bigger factor than anyone knew just several years ago. In 2019, scientists with the San Francisco Estuary Institute and the Los Angeles-based nonprofit 5...
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Will Salmon Simmer Again?

After two critically dry years that coincided with Trump-era rollbacks to environmental protections, some iconic Delta fish are closer than ever to the point of no return. Last fall, for the second year in a row, the fall midwater trawl found zero wild Delta smelt, while a coalition of environmentalists and fishermen is asking a federal court to help prevent a repeat of 2021’s near-obliteration of endangered winter-run Chinook salmon. Their lawsuit is just one of the balls to watch...
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Gone Fishing

As the weekend dawns and California slumbers, the sportfishers descend, like clockwork, on the banks and waves of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. They carry nets for herring or poles for sturgeon, heavy and light tackle, bloodworms or anchovy or any number of delectable morsels to attract the desired target. They tread industrialized East Bay shorelines and marshy Delta banks, hop aboard sporty six-pack boats for more ambitious trips or humbler craft for a leisurely solo excursion....
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South Bay Trawls Show Fish Like Restored Shores

Twelve years ago, scientists at UC Davis began a survey of the southern end of San Francisco Bay — the Lower South Bay — to see how fish responded to the South Bay Salt Ponds Restoration Project. They discovered an unexpectedly diverse and robust aquatic community and a previously unknown spawning ground for the longfin smelt (Spirinchus thaleichthys), listed as endangered in California and a candidate for federal protection because of its declining numbers. The team, led first by Jim...
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Big Boulders, Big Benefits to Coyote Creek Fish

As a source of flowing water, upper Coyote Creek is unreliable at best. Though storms swell its banks in winter, Mediterranean-climate summers shrink this South Bay stream to a series of isolated pools by August. “By October right before the rains come, we’re down to these really small pools that have all the fish in them,” says retired U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ecologist Rob Leidy. Leidy and UC Berkeley fish ecologist Stephanie Carlson began monitoring the annual dry-down of upper...
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Murky Future for Herring

This winter, herring spawns in San Francisco Bay – visible from land as frenzies of birds and pinnipeds and even water discolored by herring milt – have been few and far between, according to recreational fishers who pursue the fish each year using hand-thrown cast nets. With few other eyes on the resource, it seems reasonable to assume that the downward trend in biomass documented through the 2019-2020 winter has continued. But nobody knows for sure. For decades, the California...
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Natives Who Can Rough It

Name a native fish. One that spends lots of time in the Delta. One that’s not a salmon, smelt, or sturgeon. One whose population isn’t plummeting, and in fact seems to be doing just fine. By now the list of possibilities has been shortened severely — though not exhausted. A number of native fish still ply Delta waters in stable numbers, but precisely because there are no restoration projects, monitoring programs, or conservation efforts designed to save them — or...
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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