The California Bay-Delta is just a tiny part of California, but a huge part of the conversation/argument about California water. Find out what it is and why it is so important in this picture-rich slideshow.
What is this placecalled the Delta? By Chris Austin www.MavensManor.com
Photo by Chris Austin In the world of California water, much of the conversation – nay, argument, really, centers around this place called the Delta. Northern Californians think Southern Californians want to drain it dry. Southern Californians, for the most part, don’t even know where the Delta is, much lesswhy it would be important to them. I’m just guessing, but I would be willing to betthat most Californians who don’t live near the Delta don’t know where it is or why it is important, either.
Photo by Chris Austin So in this slideshow, using pictures of my own and borrowing a few pictures fromothers, I will try and answer the question, what is the Delta and why is it important?
First of all, let’s take a look atwhere the Delta is. The Delta encompasses 738,000acres, stretching inland from Antioch to Stockton, and includes portions of Sacramento and West Sacramento at its northern point down to Tracy at its southern point.
(source: USGS)Five rivers flow into the Delta, accounting for nearly half of the snowmelt and runoff of the entire state. Because the Delta is connected to San FranciscoBay, and thus to the ocean, it is affected by tidal action and has two high tides and two low tides every day. Although the water in the Delta remains fresh, this tidal action affects the depth of the waterways.
(Source: WikiMedia)Once a vast marsh, unsuccessful miners turned to farming and began draining and reclaiming the land in the mid 1800s, encouraged by federal swampland reclamation laws and the Delta’s rich, fertile peat soil. Levees were built, creating islands of productive farms. The reclamation of the marshy Delta progressed steadily for many decades, and was pretty much complete by the 1930s.
Photo by Chris AustinToday, this is what the Delta looks like from above. It is a maze ofover 1100 miles of waterways that traverse prime farmland andnatural habitat areas, with levees surrounding numerous islands.
Photo by DWRSome islands are only accessible by boat,
some are only accessible by ferry, Photo by Chris Austin
while others are connected by drawbridges and bridges. Photo by Chris Austin
There are a lot of bridges in the Delta, Photo by Chris Austin
bridges of many different types and colors. Photo by Chris Austin
Photo by DWRThe Delta is an estuary, which is the body of water that is formed when freshwater from rivers and streams meets the ocean and mixes with the salty sea water, creating a vibrant and unique ecosystem.
San Pablo Suisun Bay Delta Bay San Francisco BayThe California Delta, in conjunction with theSan Francisco, San Pablo and Suisun (Source: USGS via WikiMedia)Bays, is the largest estuary on the Pacific
The Delta is home to a wide diversity of wildlife and birds; over 750 different plant and animal species live here. Photo by DWR
Photo by Peter Baer, flickrMillions of migratory birds and ducks on the Pacific Flyway stop over at the Delta, one of the last remaining wetland areas on the California coast.
Photo by USFWS, flickr The Delta supports a vibrant fishery for both recreation and commercial purposes.Eighty percent of the state’s commercial fishery species either live in or migrate through the Delta, including four Chinook salmon runs, sturgeon, stripers, and bass.
Photo by Chris AustinThere are numerous opportunities for recreation in the Delta.The labyrinth of the sloughs and waterways of the Delta make ita prime place for boating and waterskiing.
Photo by DWR There are over 100 marinas and waterside resorts, RV Parks, campgrounds, grocery stores and dock-side restaurants located
The Deltas frequent sea breezes make for ideal sailing and windsurfing conditions. Photo by Chris Austin
Fishing is popular here, too. Photo by Chris Austin
Photo by DWRThe Delta’s islands are, for the most part, sparsely populated.
Photo by Chris AustinYou can seemingly drive for miles on windinglevee roads and not encounter another soul.
It is an amazingly peaceful place. Photo by Chris Austin
Inside the Delta, there are small villages and towns; Photo by DWR
many of them have been here since the beginning. Photo by DWR
Photo by DWR However, increasingly, modern urbanization is occurring inside the Delta.
Photo by DWRBut the main land use by far in the Delta is and always has been agriculture.
Most of the islands in the Delta are used forfarming, many of which have been held inthe family for generations. Photo by Chris Austin
The Delta’s rich, fertile soil supports one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world. Photo by Chris Austin
Over 90 different agricultural products are grown in the Delta, Photo by Chris Austin
which includes crops such as corn, grain, alfalfa, rice, tree fruits, nuts, Photo by Chris Austin
grapes, strawberries, blueberries, olives, tomatoes, asparagus, and more. Photo by Chris Austin
Since the Delta occupies the space between the Bay Area and the rest of the state, a lot of critical infrastructure must cross the Delta. Two major highways, I-5 & SR- 99, cross the Delta on its periphery, and state highways 4 and 12 connect the Central Valley to the Bay Area.Photo by DWR
Three major railway lines run through the Delta, Photo by Chris Austin
Photo by DWRand ships access the inland ports at Sacramento and Stockton through the deep water ship channels, traveling nearly 80 nautical miles inland from the Golden Gate Bridge.
Photo by Chris AustinThe Delta is a vital link in the state’s utility infrastructure as well. Natural gas was discovered in the Delta in 1935, and today, the Delta serves as an important source of natural gas and as an important underground gas storage area.
Photo by Chris AustinElectrical transmission lines cross the Delta, some bringing power to the Bay Area, and others carrying power southward to the cities and farm of Central and Southern California.
Photo by DWRThere are many wind turbines in the Delta, positioned to take advantage of the frequent and reliable winds.
The Harvey Banks Pumping PlantState Water ProjectPhoto by DWRBut perhaps the most critical infrastructure function of the Delta is acting as the hub for the state’s water system, channeling the freshwater from the mountains to reach the pumps of the state and federal water projects.
Bill Jones Pumping Plant Photo by Chris AustinCentral Valley ProjectTracy, CaliforniaThe pumps draw water and send it south to irrigate thefarmlands of the San Joaquin Valley, as well as to feedthe faucets of the Silicon Valley and Southern California.
Barker Slough Pumping Plant State Water Project Photo by DWRSmaller pumps in the western Delta draw water for Contra Costa County and the State Water Project’s North Bay Aqueduct, which supplies water to Solano and Napa Counties..
Photo by Chris Austin The cities and farmers livingwithin the Delta draw their water directly from the Delta.
And the Mokelumne Aqueduct and the Hetch Hetchy system carry water that would otherwise flow into the Delta across it to quench the thirst of the Bay Area communities.Photo by Chris Austin
All in all, about two-thirds of the states population and millions of acres of farmland are dependentupon the Delta, at least in part, fortheir water. Many more affect the Delta by drawing waterupstream, taking water that would have otherwise flowed into the Photo by Chris Austin Delta.
And while the Delta is a beautiful and peaceful place, its delicate ecosystem is in trouble. Photo by Chris Austin
Photo by Chris AustinFreshwater flows are needed to keep the saltwater from intruding into theDelta, and to flush drainage and pollutants out. One of the biggest arguments is over how much water can be drawn the from the Delta and still have a healthy ecosystem. Nobody can really agree on how much can be drawn or who should be forced to take less.
The Delta looks nothing like it used to look like before it was remade to suit the white man’s purposes, and so, not surprisingly, native species have struggled to adapt. Some native species have already gone extinct, and several more are endangered, including the spring-run and winter-run Chinook salmon, and the Delta smelt
Photo by Chris AustinOperations at the water projects have been subjected to limits and shutdowns imposed by the court in order to protect endangered species.
While certainly the existing water-supply operations have had profound impacts on theDelta, changing the natural flow patterns and even reversing the direction of the rivers attimes, there are many other potential factors involved in the Deltas ecosystem collapse.
Photo by DWRThe Delta estuary has been named as one of the most invaded estuaries, withover 250 non-native plants and species now flourishing, much to the detriment of the native ones (photo by DWR).
Water quality within the Delta is a big issue. Anextensive network of drainage ditches keeps theDelta islands from flooding. Many farms areallowed to discharge this drainage directly into theDelta, flushing pesticides and fertilizers into thewaterways. Photo by Chris Austin
Photo by Chris AustinAnd there are municipalities that discharge their stormwater and treated wastewater into the Delta.
No one can agree on just what is causing the collapse of the ecosystem: excessive water diversions? invasive plants or species? ag drainage & pollutants? or something else? These many problems need to be solved if water exports are going to continue. Photo by Chris Austin
The state of California mandated in 2009 legislation that the goals of Delta ecosystem restoration and water supply reliability must be treated equally (co-equal goals), not one favored over the other. The courts have already intervened in the water supply operations; it is increasingly apparent that if the state cannot solve the problems in the Delta, it will only lead to more court intervention in the future.FROM THE WATER CODE: "Coequalgoals means the two goals of providing amore reliable water supply for Californiaand protecting, restoring, and enhancingthe Delta ecosystem. The coequal goalsshall be achieved in a manner thatprotects and enhances the uniquecultural, recreational, naturalresource, and agricultural values of theDelta as an evolving place." (CA WaterCode 85054) Photo by Chris Austin
Photo by Chris AustinAnother major concern are the condition of the levees. In the Delta, the levees have the dual purpose of providing flood control and acting as channels for conveying water to the pumps in the Southern Delta for export to the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.
Many of the levees still in use todaywere built in the Gold Rush days; theyare not built up to modern engineering standards and must be periodically Photo by DWR raised and strengthened.
Levee failures are rather common; since the Delta has been reclaimed, each of the islands and tracts has flooded at least once, several of them more than once. There have been about 100 levee failures since the early 1890s). Photo by DWR
Damage to the flooded islands can be extensive and expensive; these events will surely get costlier as development continues inside the Delta. Photo by DWR
Photo by DWRFixing the levee requires first rebuilding the broken portion of the levee,
Photo by DWRand then pumping the island dry. Its an expensive process for the property owners;several of the flooded islands have been simply been abandoned.
Most of the Delta islands are sinking at a rate of 1 to 3 inches per year, with manyislands already between 10 to 25 feet below sea level. The dominant cause of this subsidence is the decomposition of organic material in the rich peat soil. This subsidence increases the pressure on the aging levees.
Photo by DWRIn this picture of Twitchell Island, you can see how much lower the land is compared to the level of water in the channel.
Source: DWR’s Delta Risk Management StudySeveral earthquake faults run under the Delta, and seismic risk to the levees is a major concern. A massive earthquake could cause multiple levee failures simultaneously, flooding numerous islands and drawing salty water from San Francisco Bay deep into the Delta; this could jeopardize the fresh water flows that much of Californias population and agriculture depends on. It would cost billions and take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years to repair.
Photo by DWRAdd in the effects of climate change - rising sea levels and more extremeevents, and it seems quite likely the Delta of the future wont look like the Delta of
Photo by Chris AustinPeople have been fighting over the Delta for years: farmers (both inside and outside the Delta), fishermen, environmentalists, state and federal agencies, water agencies and Delta residents.
Photo by DWRMany attempts at problem solving have met with dismal failure. Everyone pretty much agrees there are serious problems, but no one can really agree on the extent of those problems or what exactly should be done about them.
Photo by DWRSo there you have it, the Delta in a nutshell, although the story is quite complex and there’s a lot more to it than can be covered in this simple slideshow.
Photo by DWR For further reading on the Delta:• Why the Delta matters to every Californian, from Aquafornia’s information desk• Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta: The sinking heart of the state, by the USGS• Comparing Futures for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, by the PPIC: Jay Lund, Ellen Hanak, William Fleenor, William Bennett, Richard Howitt, Jeffrey Mount, and Peter Moyle; July 2008
Photo by Chris Austin Find out more about the planning processes currently underway: The Delta Stewardship Council’s Delta Plan The Bay-Delta Conservation Plan
Photo by DWR Learn more about the Delta’s ecosystem at The Bay Institute’s Rivers and Delta website.
When in the Delta, stop by the Delta Farmer’sMarket, where you can buy fresh Delta produceand wines and learn more about the Delta and it’s resources. Find out more: Discover the Delta Foundation. Photos on this page by Robin Douglas
Photo by DWR Visit this unique and special part of California! Start planning your Delta vacation at theCalifornia Delta Chambers and Visitor’s Bureau.
Presentation by Chris AustinMaven’s Manor Productions www.mavensmanor.com Learn more about California water and get the latest water news at aquafornia.com
Also available online Follow the path California’s first water How is electricity generated and delivered to our project, learn a bit of it’s history and find out homes? Click here to find out! how the Los Angeles Aqueduct works by clicking here.Follow the path of water as it flows from the Colorado Hottest, driest, lowest. Death Valley is all of River through the fertile fields of the Imperial Valley these. Check out the wonders of Death Valley by and on to the Salton Sea by clicking here. clicking here.