Water

KCET launches web series on California's crucial delta

bay-delta-landing-page-dwr.jpgState Department of Water Resources via KCET.

KCET asked water and science writer Emily Green to kick off a series explaining for Southern Californians the importance of the complex estuary where the Sierra Nevada's rivers and the mighty Sacramento converge before flowing toward San Francisco Bay. As the drought and the California water wars intensify over divvying up a diminishing resource, the delta is a subject you should be familiar with. Most of SoCal's water from NorCal first flows through the estuary, past farming islands, hidden sloughs and pleasure boat marinas. The fresh water and a lot of fish get sucked toward giant pumps, hopefully ahead of the encroaching sea water from the Pacific, in a delicate technological dance that takes a big toll on the local environment up there.

Plus the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is one of my favorite little-known regions of the state.

From Green's piece:

Trapped inland from the Pacific and San Francisco Bay behind a bottleneck strait, the Delta's mouth narrows at its ocean-most point precisely where most deltas fan out to open water. With fresh water tumbling in from the easterly rivers and its westerly border protected by this inverted arrangement from Pacific tides, generations of Delta farmers have managed to drain the region's wetlands to grow alfalfa, corn, asparagus, rice, wine grapes, and canning tomatoes. Call their farm tracts "islands" and an engineer will scold that they are most certainly not that. No, they are sunken "polders" protected from streams, rivers, and irrigation ditches by earthen mounds that the locals call "levees." But these, admonish UC Davis engineers, are not levees. They're dikes.


Call all those things what you will, what makes the Delta the Delta is water. After winter rain and snow, roughly half of California's fresh water arrives in this quirkily engineered, mis-named place. Twenty five million Californians depend to some degree or another on freshwater from the Delta. Roughly a third of Southern California's supplies originate here.

Strangest yet for newcomers, the Delta's easterly wetlands don't seem particularly wet, at least at first glance. It's easy to drive through them on Interstate 5 without realizing that the land either side of the farm-truck heavy traffic could ever have been mistaken by an 18th century Spanish explorer for a lake. If the landscape finally speaks to the observer, it's as if a place pitted by tractors, lacerated by shipping channels, criss-crossed by power lines, mined by gas works, and bisected by highways is saying, "You'd look like this too if Spain, Mexico, the Forty-niners and then the 31st state of the nation had all had their way with you."


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