An ecosystem includes all of the living organisms (plants, animals and microbes) in a given area, interacting with each other, and also with their non-living environments (air, water and soil).
Ecosystems are dynamic and are impacted by disturbances such as a drought, an extraordinarily freezing winter, and pests. Longer-term disturbances include climate change effects.
Ecosystems provide a variety of goods and services upon which people depend. Ecosystem management emphasizes managing natural resources at the level of the ecosystem itself and not just managing individual species.
The California Legislature was the first in the country to protect rare plants and animals through passage of the California Endangered Species Act in 1970. Congress followed suit in 1973 by passing the federal Endangered Species Act.
Water means life for all the Grand Canyon’s inhabitants, including the many varieties of insects that are a foundation of the ecosystem’s food web. But hydropower operations upstream on the Colorado River at Glen Canyon Dam, in Northern Arizona near the Utah border, disrupt the natural pace of insect reproduction as the river rises and falls, sometimes dramatically. Eggs deposited at the river’s edge are often left high and dry and their loss directly affects available food for endangered fish such as the humpback chub.
An hour’s drive north of Sacramento sits a picture-perfect valley hugging the eastern foothills of Northern California’s Coast Range, with golden hills framing grasslands mostly used for cattle grazing.
Back in the late 1800s, pioneer John Sites built his ranch there and a small township, now gone, bore his name. Today, the community of a handful of families and ranchers still maintains a proud heritage.
Farmers in the Central Valley are broiling about California’s plan to increase flows in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river systems to help struggling salmon runs avoid extinction. But in one corner of the fertile breadbasket, River Garden Farms is taking part in some extraordinary efforts to provide the embattled fish with refuge from predators and enough food to eat.
And while there is no direct benefit to one farm’s voluntary actions, the belief is what’s good for the fish is good for the farmers.
In the decades since President George H.W. Bush pledged a goal of “no net loss” of U.S. wetlands, this uniquely American mix of conservation and capitalism has been supported by every president since then, growing the market for wetlands mitigation credits from about 40 banks in the early 1990s to nearly 1,500 today. Investors include Chevron and Wall Street firms, working alongside the Audubon Society and other environmental groups. Now the market is at risk.
For more than 100 years, invasive species have made the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta their home, disrupting the ecosystem and costing millions of dollars annually in remediation.
The latest invader is the nutria, a large rodent native to South America that causes concern because of its propensity to devour every bit of vegetation in sight and destabilize levees by burrowing into them. Wildlife officials are trapping the animal and trying to learn the extent of its infestation.
Deep, throaty cadenced calls — sounding like an off-key bassoon — echo over the grasslands, farmers’ fields and wetlands starting in late September of each year. They mark the annual return of sandhill cranes to the Cosumnes River Preserve, 46,000 acres located 20 miles south of Sacramento on the edge of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Warmer days — and nights. Rising sea levels. Less water available in summer. A report released Wednesday by state officials says climate change is affecting California’s ecosystem already in ways great and small.
It’s the Golden State’s first-ever undercover plant investigation — and a tale of amazing obsession, where vigilant authorities, passionate plant lovers and an irked postal customer discovered that foreign thieves are slipping into California’s wild landscapes, fueling a budding black market in the lucrative exotic plant industry.
As we continue forging ahead in 2018 with our online version of Western Water after 40 years as a print magazine, we turned our attention to a topic that also got its start this year: recreational marijuana as a legal use.
State regulators, in the last few years, already had been beefing up their workforce to tackle the glut in marijuana crops and combat their impacts to water quality and supply for people, fish and farming downstream. Thus, even if these impacts were perhaps unbeknownst to the majority of Californians who approved Proposition 64 in 2016, we thought it important to see if anything new had evolved from a water perspective now that marijuana was legal.
California voters may experience a sense of déjà vu this year when they are asked twice in the same year to consider water bonds — one in June, the other headed to the November ballot.
Both tackle a variety of water issues, from helping disadvantaged communities get clean drinking water to making flood management improvements. But they avoid more controversial proposals, such as new surface storage, and they propose to do some very different things to appeal to different constituencies.
Along the banks of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in Oakley, about 50 miles southwest of Sacramento, is a park that harkens back to the days when the Delta lured Native Americans, Spanish explorers, French fur trappers, and later farmers to its abundant wildlife and rich soil.
That historical Delta was an enormous marsh linked to the two freshwater rivers entering from the north and south, and tidal flows coming from the San Francisco Bay. After the Gold Rush, settlers began building levees and farms, changing the landscape and altering the habitat.
Despite the heat that often accompanies debates over setting aside water for the environment, there are instances where California stakeholders have forged agreements to provide guaranteed water for fish. Here are two examples cited by the Public Policy Institute of California in its report arguing for an environmental water right.
Does California need to revamp the way in which water is dedicated to the environment to better protect fish and the ecosystem at large? In the hypersensitive world of California water, where differences over who gets what can result in epic legislative and legal battles, the idea sparks a combination of fear, uncertainty and promise.
Saying that the way California manages water for the environment “isn’t working for anyone,” the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) shook things up late last year by proposing a redesigned regulatory system featuring what they described as water ecosystem plans and water budgets with allocations set aside for the environment.
Explore the Sacramento River and its tributaries through a scenic landscape as we learn about the issues associated with a key source for the state’s water supply.
All together, the river and its tributaries supply 35 percent of California’s water and feed into two major projects: the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project. Tour participants will get an on-site update of repair efforts on the Oroville Dam spillway.
This 3-day, 2-night excursion travels across the Sacramento Valley and follows the river north from Sacramento through Chico to Redding and Shasta Lake, where participants take a houseboat tour.
The Interior Department said Thursday it is withdrawing protections for 10 million acres of federal lands used by the threatened sage grouse to open it up for energy development. … The proposal would affect less than one-tenth of 1 percent of sage grouse-occupied range across 11 states from California to the Dakotas, officials said.
Estuaries are places where fresh and salt water mix, usually at the point where a river enters the ocean. They are the meeting point between riverine environments and the sea, with a combination of tides, waves, salinity, fresh water flow and sediment. The constant churning means there are elevated levels of nutrients, making estuaries highly productive natural habitats.
Machine Gun Flats Lake sits placidly in a natural depression on what was once an Army training area. It is one of about 45 vernal pools on Bureau of Land Management land on Fort Ord, teeming with life after an exceptionally wet rainy season, and a welcome sight after years of drought.
Evidence of what scientists are calling the planet’s Sixth Mass Extinction is appearing in San Francisco Bay and its estuary, the largest on the Pacific Coast of North and South America, according to a major new study.
Unlike most other microorganisms, zooplankton are technically heterotrophic animals – meaning they cannot produce their own food. Instead, they feed upon phytoplankton like algae, a process responsible for keeping these populations under control.
A tributary is a river or stream that enters a larger body of water, especially a lake or river. The receiving water into which a tributary feeds is called the “mainstem,” and the point where they come together is referred to as the “confluence.”
With a holding capacity of more than 260 billion gallons, Diamond Valley Lake is Southern California’s largest reservoir. It sits about 90 miles southeast of Los Angeles and just west of Hemet in Riverside County where it was built in 2000. The offstream reservoir was created by three large dams that connect the surrounding hills, costing around $1.9 billion and doubling the region’s water storage capacity.
In an effort to help maintain the balance between freshwater habitat and flood protection, the Monterey County Resource Management Agency brought in special crews to work at the Carmel Lagoon area Monday.
A bill that would put in place efforts to restore the North Coast’s disappearing oak woodlands made it through the state Assembly unanimously Wednesday and now faces the gauntlet of the state Senate floor and various committees before reaching Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.
Wildlife advocates scored a major victory Tuesday when Mendocino County agreed to terminate its contract with the federal agency that helps ranchers kill predators such as mountain lions and coyotes that feast on livestock.
President Barack Obama plans to designate three national monuments in California on Friday, setting aside nearly 1.8 million acres for permanent conservation and bringing to fruition Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s years-long effort to protect some of the desert’s most treasured landscapes and ecosystems.
Worsening drought conditions may be doing more damage to forests in California and throughout the West than their ecosystems can handle, causing a spiral of death that could have a devastating impact, a U.S. Forest Service study concluded Monday.
Interest in the Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area, also known as the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, is so brisk that the Yolo Basin Foundation has had to turn away schools that seek to introduce students to the environmental value of the more than 16,000-acre habitat.
[Glen] Lewis, the open space ranger for the Muir Heritage Land Trust, wondered what John Muir would think if he could look out today at the panorama of modernity around Martinez, which, back in the famous naturalist’s day, consisted of fruit orchards almost as far as the eye could see.
The sound of splashing drew me to the stream. A dark finned back cut the surface. Salmon? … The scene I’m [Peter Moyle] recalling from December was not the Sacramento River or some other salmon highway, but a lowly back alley long associated with carp and suckers: Putah Creek, my hometown stream west of Sacramento.
Anticipating such a dry future, in January the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) brought together agency officials, policy makers, and a variety of stakeholders came together to discuss how the state could be made more resilient to drought. … In this panel discussion, Chuck Bonham, Director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife; Sandy Matsumoto, The Nature Conservancy; Dr. Peter Moyle, Professor of fish biology at UC Davis; and Tim Quinn, Executive Director of the Association of California Water Agencies discuss how to best manage ecosystems in a drought.
Environmental groups thunder from the margins that the protection of rivers, trees, and soil is necessary to keep the world economy from a spectacular derailment. Business executives and government officials are taking note – green is good for the land, and it is just as good for the economy.
Drakes Bay Oyster Co. did not remove all the oysters and clams from the water at Point Reyes National Seashore prior to vacating the government-owned property last week, National Park Service officials said this week in a finding confirmed by underwater videos shot for The Press Democrat.
For up to nine months, Abby will raise her little adoptee, and when 671 is ready, she will be released into a protected inland salt marsh called Elkhorn Slough, just off Monterey Bay. That’s where 671 will set to work to preserve the estuary, says Tim Tinker, who tracks otters for the U.S. Geological Survey.
California needs a new environmentalism to set a more effective and sustainable green bar for the nation and even the world. … Rather than insist on blocking human use to protect nature – a largely quixotic quest now – environmental reconciliation works in and with unavoidably human habitats. A vivid example of this integration is the planned rejuvenation of the Los Angeles River.
For decades, California’s management and restoration of salmon and trout populations have focused on principles rooted in coastal redwood streams, mostly fed by rainfall runoff. These concepts portray ideal salmonid habitat as deep pools, shallow riffles and “large woody debris,” such as fallen trees and limbs. Recent studies on spring-fed streams challenges this mindset.
In wet years, dry years and every type of water year in between, the daily intrusion and retreat of salinity in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is a constant pattern.
The cycle of ebb and flood is the defining nature of an estuary and prior to its transformation into an agricultural tract in the mid-19th century, the Delta was a freshwater marsh with plants, birds, fish and wildlife that thrived on the edge of the saltwater/freshwater interface.
This 28-page report describes the watersheds of the Sierra Nevada region and details their importance to California’s overall water picture. It describes the region’s issues and challenges, including healthy forests, catastrophic fire, recreational impacts, climate change, development and land use.
The report also discusses the importance of protecting and restoring watersheds in order to retain water quality and enhance quantity. Examples and case studies are included.
20-minute version of the 2012 documentary The Klamath Basin: A Restoration for the Ages. This DVD is ideal for showing at community forums and speaking engagements to help the public understand the complex issues related to complex water management disputes in the Klamath River Basin. Narrated by actress Frances Fisher.
For over a century, the Klamath River Basin along the Oregon and California border has faced complex water management disputes. As relayed in this 2012, 60-minute public television documentary narrated by actress Frances Fisher, the water interests range from the Tribes near the river, to energy producer PacifiCorp, farmers, municipalities, commercial fishermen, environmentalists – all bearing legitimate arguments for how to manage the water. After years of fighting, a groundbreaking compromise may soon settle the battles with two epic agreements that hold the promise of peace and fish for the watershed. View an excerpt from the documentary here.
This 25-minute documentary-style DVD, developed in partnership with the California Department of Water Resources, provides an excellent overview of climate change and how it is already affecting California. The DVD also explains what scientists anticipate in the future related to sea level rise and precipitation/runoff changes and explores the efforts that are underway to plan and adapt to climate.
30-minute DVD that traces the history of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and its role in the development of the West. Includes extensive historic footage of farming and the construction of dams and other water projects, and discusses historic and modern day issues.
California’s little-known New River has been called one of North America’s most polluted. A closer look reveals the New River is full of ironic twists: its pollution has long defied cleanup, yet even in its degraded condition, the river is important to the border economies of Mexicali and the Imperial Valley and a lifeline that helps sustain the fragile Salton Sea ecosystem. Now, after decades of inertia on its pollution problems, the New River has emerged as an important test of binational cooperation on border water issues. These issues were profiled in the 2004 PBS documentary Two Sides of a River.
This beautiful 24×36 inch poster, suitable for framing, features a map of the San Joaquin River. The map text focuses on the San Joaquin River Restoration Program, which aims to restore flows and populations of Chinook salmon to the river below Friant Dam to its confluence with the Merced River. The text discusses the history of the program, its goals and ongoing challenges with implementation.
This beautiful 24×36 inch poster, suitable for framing, displays the rivers, lakes and reservoirs, irrigated farmland, urban areas and Indian reservations within the Klamath River Watershed. The map text explains the many issues facing this vast, 15,000-square-mile watershed, including fish restoration; agricultural water use; and wetlands. Also included are descriptions of the separate, but linked, Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and the Klamath Hydroelectric Agreement, and the next steps associated with those agreements. Development of the map was funded by a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
A companion to the Truckee River Basin Map poster, this 24×36 inch poster, suitable for framing, explores the Carson River, and its link to the Truckee River. The map includes Lahontan Dam and Reservoir, the Carson Sink, and the farming areas in the basin. Map text discusses the region’s hydrology and geography, the Newlands Project, land and water use within the basin and wetlands. Development of the map was funded by a grant from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Mid-Pacific Region, Lahontan Basin Area Office.
This beautifully illustrated 24×36 inch poster, suitable for framing and display in any office or classroom, focuses on the theme of Delta sustainability.
The text, photos and graphics explain issues related to land subsidence, levees and flooding, urbanization and fish and wildlife protection. An inset map illustrates the tidal action that increases the salinity of the Delta’s waterways. Development of the map was funded by a grant from the California Bay-Delta Authority.
This 24×36 inch poster, suitable for framing, explains how non-native invasive animals can alter the natural ecosystem, leading to the demise of native animals. “Unwelcome Visitors” features photos and information on four such species – including the zerbra mussel – and explains the environmental and economic threats posed by these species.
The 28-page Layperson’s Guide to Water Rights Law, recognized as the most thorough explanation of California water rights law available to non-lawyers, traces the authority for water flowing in a stream or reservoir, from a faucet or into an irrigation ditch through the complex web of California water rights.
The 24-page Layperson’s Guide to the Delta explores the competing uses and demands on California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Included in the guide are sections on the history of the Delta, its role in the state’s water system, and its many complex and competing issues with sections on water quality, levees, salinity and agricultural drainage, and water distribution.
As part of the historic Colorado River Delta, the Salton Sea regularly filled and dried for thousands of years due to its elevation of 232 feet below sea level.
The most recent version of the Salton Sea was formed in 1905 when the Colorado River broke through a series of dikes and flooded the seabed for two years, creating California’s largest inland body of water. The Salton Sea, which is saltier than the Pacific Ocean, includes 130 miles of shoreline and is larger than Lake Tahoe.
This issue of Western Water looks at the BDCP and the Coalition to Support Delta Projects, issues that are aimed at improving the health and safety of the Delta while solidifying California’s long-term water supply reliability.
This printed issue of Western Water examines the issues associated with the State Water Board’s proposed revision of the water quality Bay-Delta Plan, most notably the question of whether additional flows are needed for the system, and how they might be provided.
This printed issue of Western Water examines science – the answers it can provide to help guide management decisions in the Delta and the inherent uncertainty it holds that can make moving forward such a tenuous task.
This printed copy of Western Water examines the native salmon and trout dilemma – the extent of the crisis, its potential impact on water deliveries and the lengths to which combined efforts can help restore threatened and endangered species.
This printed copy of Western Water examines the Colorado River Delta, its ecological significance and the lengths to which international, state and local efforts are targeted and achieving environmental restoration while recognizing the needs of the entire river’s many users.
In the world of water, biology and engineering often clash – especially when it comes to resolving the Delta dilemma. How do we manage such an altered system to ensure water supply reliability while restoring the ecosystem? How do we measure the results of efforts to restore endangered species and habitat? Why is biodiversity important?
Balance between ecosystem restoration and water supply reliability is key to a Bay-Delta solution. Everyone agrees on this concept. But the demands of the competing interests can tilt the scales. So, too, can the member agencies’ conflicting missions. For more than three years, the joint state-federal CALFED Bay-Delta Program has been searching for equilibrium among the Delta’s complex problems and its contentious stakeholders. In December, it released its latest blueprint for resolving the Delta dilemma — the Revised Phase II Report.