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A conceptual model for floodplains in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta

Jeffrey J. Opperman | October 3rd, 2012

Floodplains are among the most biologically productive and diverse ecosystems on Earth and they provide significant benefits to society such as attenuation of floodwaters, groundwater recharge, filtration of nutrients and sediments, carbon sequestration, fisheries productivity and recreation.  However, floodplains are also among the most converted and threatened ecosystems.  Floodplain habitats in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and throughout California’s Central Valley, have been greatly reduced from their historic extent and key processes that create and maintain floodplains, such as flood flows and meander migration, have been greatly altered.  These widespread alterations to habitats and processes have lead to declines in many species’ populations in California’s Central Valley and Delta, creating challenges for both environmental and water management. To address these challenges numerous entities and programs are now focused on restoring floodplains and other Delta habitats.  This paper provides a conceptual model for floodplains that characterizes the key features and identifies the critical processes, drivers, and linkages that allow floodplains to produce a variety of functional outputs of management importance.  These outputs include: (1) the floodplain habitat mosaic, including riparian vegetation and its associated wildlife; (2) spawning and rearing habitat for native fish; and (3) food-web productivity that can support native fish on the floodplain as well as be exported to downstream ecosystems.  The model emphasizes that the production of these outputs from floodplains requires vertical and lateral hydrological connectivity across a broad range of flow conditions.  For example, long-duration flooding in the spring promotes native fish spawning and food-web productivity that benefits native species.


Central Valley, ecosystem management, floodplain restoration, groundwater recharge, habitat restoration, modeling, native fish, Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta

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