As anthropogenic factors like salt accumulation through irrigation and freshwater storage combine with drought and sea-level rise, the Delta is headed for a saltier future. The June 2021 paper, published in San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science, integrates biological and physical sciences to draw a comprehensive picture of Delta salinity and changing freshwater inflow. Changing salinity patterns could have a profound impact on the region’s ecology, affecting how and when fish like the Delta smelt or Coho salmon spawn, and which aquatic plants survive. The paper insists that the patterns observed suggest that the future will be difficult to predict, as extreme weather events will lead to bigger fluctuations in salt levels, and recommends that management agencies encourage interdisciplinary coordination when approaching future challenges. The paper concludes that researchers and policy-makers should work more closely together, and consider water-management projects as science experiments. Co-author Ted Sommers believes that this type of management will require substantial investments in science support and flexibility from regulators and water managers, but “the good news is that there is an increasing interest in using science to guide annual decision-making.” As with any experiment, “clearly-stated assumptions, alternative hypotheses, and predictions should be part of the planning process.” Funding can then be structured in a way that permits monitoring before and after implementation, and enable managers to more effectively respond to a rapidly changing system.
Related Prior Estuary News Stories