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Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Chronology

1772 First recorded sighting of the Bay Delta by Spanish explorers. 1849 Settlers begin farming in the Delta. 1861 [glossary_exclude]Reclamation [/glossary_exclude] District Act authorized, allowing drainage of Delta lands and construction of sturdier flood control levees. 1879 The striped bass is brought by rail from the East Coast to the Delta. 1911 Legislature creates [glossary_exclude]Reclamation[/glossary_exclude] Board to implement comprehensive flood control plan for Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. 1935 Congress authorizes federal Central Valley Project. Construction begins in 1937. 1940 Delta water diversions begin with completion of Contra Costa Canal, the CVP’s first unit. 1951 U.S. Bureau of [glossary_exclude]Reclamation[/glossary_exclude] constructs the Delta Cross Channel…


Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Proposals

There are multiple proposals for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta underway, though a decision on the future of the Delta is still far from a foregone conclusion. Unlike past planning efforts that focused primarily on water resource issues and the ecosystem, some current efforts to revitalize the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta include: land use planning  recreation  flood management and energy rail and transportation infrastructure How— or if—all these competing demands can be accommodated is an open question. There are several proposals in place. [See also Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta timeline.] The Bay Delta Conservation Plan The Bay Delta Conservation Plan is a permitting process for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta that centers on co-equal goals of species conservation and improving wa…


Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Levees

With the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta crucial to California’s overall water supply, roughly 1,115 miles of levees protect farms, cities, schools and people. Since the 19th century, levees—from the French word ‘lever’, or ‘to raise’— have been erected to protect “reclaimed” marshland, popularly referred to as Delta islands. The levees were built to prevent flooding and allow cultivation of the rich soil while protecting public infrastructure such as highways and pipelines. Farmers first thought levees 4 feet high and 12 feet at the base would protect Delta lands from tides and river overflow, but that proved inadequate for Delta peat soils. Progressively higher levees were built to keep the surrounding waters out, the lands were pumped dry and the marsh was transformed into productive isla…


Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Canal/Tunnels Proposals

The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta has been the hub of California’s water system for more than 50 years and  along the way water experts have struggled to balance the many competing demands placed on the estuary—the largest on the West Coast. Those demands include meeting the needs of agricultural communities in the Central Valley, water deliveries through the Delta to the Bay Area and arid Southern California, and providing habitat for plants and wildlife. Water leaders for decades have discussed building a peripheral canal or tunnels to convey export water around the Delta (instead of through the Delta using natural channels). A proposed canal was defeated by California voters in 1982. California Gov. Jerry Brown brought those talks to the forefront again in 2012, recommending through the…


Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta

The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta  is California’s most crucial water and ecological resource. More than a century ago, farmers began building a network of levees to drain and “reclaim” what was then a marsh. Progressively higher levees were built to keep the surrounding waters out, the lands were pumped dry and the marsh was transformed into productive island farms, mostly below sea level. [See Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Timeline]. The Delta is formed by the Sacramento River flowing south to meet the north-flowing San Joaquin River just south of Sacramento, where the rivers mingle with smaller tributaries and tidal flows. The rivers’ combined fresh water flows roll through the Carquinez Strait, a narrow break in the Coast Range, and into San Francisco Bay’s…


California Water Timeline

1769 First permanent Spanish settlements established. Water rights established by Spanish law. 1848 Gold discovered on the American River. Treaty of Guadalupe signed, California ceded from Mexico, California republic established. 1850 California admitted to Union. Construction begins on Delta levees and channels. 1860 Legislature authorizes the formation of levee and reclamation districts. 1862  Major flood in Sacramento Valley inundates new city. 1880 First flood control plan for the SacramentoValley developed by State Engineer William Hammond Hall. 1884 Federal Circuit Court decision in Woodruff v. North Bloomfield requires termination of hydraulic mining debris discharges into California rivers. 1886 California Supreme Court decision in Lux v. Haggin reaffirms legal preeminence of rip…


Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Fish and Wildlife

The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta supports more than 55 fish species and more than 750 plant and wildlife species. Over times, the home of these species-the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta ecosystem-has been impacted for many decades by human activities, such as gold mining, flood protection and land reclamation. Along the way, more than 200 exotic species have been intentionally or accidentally introduced. Today, there are urban and agricultural contaminants throughout the system and water project operations have altered the natural amount, duration, direction and timing of water flows. Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Fish and Wildlife Background Commercial fisheries also were founded throughout the Bay and Delta for smelt, sole, flounder, sardine, herring and anchovy. There were little control…


Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and Salinity

The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta always has been at the mercy of river flows and brackish tides. Before human intervention, salty ocean water from the San Francisco Bay flooded the vast Delta marshes during dry summers when mountain runoff ebbed. Then, during winter, heavy runoff from the mountains repelled sea water intrusion. While the Delta ecosystem evolved around this fresh/salty cycle, the need to keep the Bay’s brackish water away from the rich Delta soils and local farms was seen as essential, and as early as 1880 the state proposed building a barrier between the Bay and Delta. Today, there are several methods used to block salty water from reaching the Delta. These include: hydraulic barriers which use upstream releases of fresh water to repel sea water physical barriers, such…


Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Litigation

For more than 30 years, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta has been embroiled in continuing controversy over the struggle to restore the faltering ecosystem while maintaining its role as the hub of the state’s water supply. Lawsuits and counter lawsuits have been filed, while environmentalists and water users  continue to clash over  the amount of water that can be safely exported from the region. Adding fuel to the fire, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a biological opinion in 2005 on the effects of the coordinated operations of the state and federal projects on Delta smelt. In the opinion, the USFWS  stated that Delta export pumping operations would not jeopardize the continued existence of the fish. Wanger  Decision Environmental groups challenged the finding, and in May 2007 fe…


Bay Delta Conservation Plan

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan is a permitting process for long-term project permits for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta that centers on co-equal goals of species conservation and improving water supplies and delivery. The BDCP aims to separate its water delivery system from Delta freshwater flows and restore thousands of acres of habitat, restore river flows to more natural patterns and address issues affecting the health of fish populations. As part of the water conveyance, in 2013, California Gov. Jerry Brown also proposed constructing two $25 billion tunnels to divert Sacramento River water underneath the Delta and then deliver the water to the Central Valley and Southern California. If approved, the BDCP would be implemented over the next 50 years and construction of the tunnels wo…


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