Keywords:ecosystem management, Great Basin Aquifer, Groundwater Exchange, transboundary aquifers, water budget, water supply
How Reducing Flows Harms the Ecosystems of San Francisco Bay and Coastal Waters The Bay Institute’s major new study, San Francisco Bay: The...
The Bay Institute’s major new study, San Francisco Bay: The Freshwater – Starved Estuary, documents how the ecological health of San Francisco Bay and the nearby ocean is at high risk because large-scale water diversion in the Bay’s watershed severely limits the amount of fresh water that reaches the Bay and alters the timing of that flow. Inflow to the Bay from its Central Valley watershed now averages less than half of what it would be without diversions; in some years just one-third of the runoff makes it to the Bay. The result is a nearly permanent drought for the Bay’s fish, wildlife, and their habitats. This radical alteration creates severe consequences for the Bay and marine ecosystems – and Bay Area residents pay the price.
The study shows how unsustainable diversion of the Bay’s freshwater inflow:
Dramatically cuts production of fish and shrimp that are the food source for marine mammals, like Orca Whales, and birds;
Allows pollutants to accumulate to dangerous levels and encourages blooms of toxic algae;
Reduces sediment supply to Bay Area wetlands and beaches;
Makes it easier for undesirable non-native species to successfully invade the Bay Estuary.
The San Francisco Bay Estuary is created by the mixing of fresh water from the Central Valley’s rivers with salt water from the Pacific Ocean. Dramatically reducing the inflow of fresh water generates cascading effects in the Bay’s watershed, the Bay itself, and coastal ocean waters.
The report’s major findings include:
On average, since 1975 more than half (53%) of runoff from the Central Valley watershed has been diverted, stored, or exported before it can reach the Bay – and in many years two-thirds or more of the Bay’s inflow is captured;
As a result of intensive water diversions, the Bay experiences catastrophically dry years almost half the time (only one “supercritically dry” year occurred naturally between 1975-2014, but the Bay experienced nineteen supercritical years during that period);
Numerous unrelated fish species – from sharks to salmon, from sturgeon to smelt – show strong positive correlations with Bay Inflow; many of these species are now endangered, and even commercially viable fisheries are in decline;
Predators that feed on flow-dependent fish and shrimp are feeling the pinch – for example, dwindling supplies of Central Valley Chinook salmon may restrict the recovery of the local Orca whale population;
Blooms of toxic “algae” (cyanobacteria) are becoming more frequent, and other pollutants are becoming more concentrated, as a result of reductions in freshwater flows from the Bay’s watershed;
Bay Area beaches and tidal wetlands are deprived of sediment that was once transported by high river flows.
The study reports that local businesses are likely to suffer from the Bay’s continued decline, including those related to commercial fishing and tourism. As our Bay, beaches, wetlands, and fish and wildlife populations deteriorate, the quality of life for many Bay Area residents will also be severely – and perhaps permanently – damaged.
The study identifies four important approaches to improving Bay inflows:
Update the State’s 21 year old water quality standards for the Bay Estuary to ensure adequate inflow
Require all those who divert water destined for the Bay, not just a subset, to contribute their fair share of fresh water to support benefits enjoyed by all Californians
Invest in local water supplies around the state including conservation, and recycling, that can generate millions of acre-feet of water and reduce reliance on water diverted from the Estuary and its watershed
Coordinate management of flows with wetland and beach restoration to more effectively protect shorelines
The study was prepared for the San Francisco Estuary Partnership, a coalition of resource agencies, non-profits, citizens, and scientists working to protect, restore, and enhance water quality and fish and wildlife habitat in and around the San Francisco Bay Delta Estuary, which also provided the majority of funding for the project.
The Salton Sea is shrinking. Currently the state’s largest inland body of water, as it dries up, the Sea poses a substantial threat...
The Salton Sea is shrinking. Currently the state’s largest inland body of water, as it dries up, the Sea poses a substantial threat to public health and the environment. Left unaddressed, desert winds will lift dust from thousands of acres of newly-revealed lakebed and blow it into population centers, agricultural areas and world-class resort economies.
This impending crisis is long in the making, a policy paralysis driven by years of government process without implementing a fix. There are clear, understandable and specific mitigation steps that should be taken immediately. The decisions California leaders make in the near future about this remote desert lake will determine whether this dismal scenario will be averted. The Commission urges the Natural Resources Agency to begin implementing shovel-ready projects and the Governor and Legislature to immediately begin planning and funding the next phase of Salton Sea projects while developing a long-term restoration plan. ...
When California signed the QSA, it agreed to mitigate the impacts on the Salton Sea caused by the water transfers. The state clarified its intent to restore the sea through the QSA’s implementing legislation. Experts testified it would be tens of billions of dollars cheaper to mitigate the impacts of a shrinking sea up front than to deal with the adverse impacts
Fulfilling California’s commitment to the Salton Sea is an element of maintaining the terms of the QSA, which provides water security to many Californians. Continued inaction, and the consequent public health and environmental impacts, could undermine political support for the QSA. Further, in the larger picture, California’s fulfillment of its commitments is critical to its ability to negotiate future difficult agreements. ...
San Francisco Bay (California, USA) and its local watersheds present an interesting case study in estuarine mercury (Hg) contamination. This review focuses on...
San Francisco Bay (California, USA) and its local watersheds present an interesting case study in estuarine mercury (Hg) contamination. This review focuses on the most promising avenues for attempting to reduce methylmercury (MeHg) contamination in Bay Area aquatic food webs and identifying the scientific information that is most urgently needed to support these efforts.
The Environmental Data Summit, convened under the auspices of the Delta Stewardship Council’s Delta Science Program in June 2014, witnessed remarkable participation from...
The Environmental Data Summit, convened under the auspices of the Delta Stewardship Council’s Delta Science Program in June 2014, witnessed remarkable participation from experts across California, the nation, and even the world. Summit attendees from the public, private, federal, and non-profit sectors shared their views regarding the urgent needs and proposed solutions for California’s data-sharing and data-integration challenges, especially pertaining to the subject of environmental resource management in the era of “big data.”
After all, this is a time when our data sources are growing in number, size, and complexity. Yet our ability to manage and analyze such data in service of effective decision-making lags far behind our demonstrated needs.
In its review of the sustainability of water and environmental management in the California Bay-Delta, the National Research Council (NRC) found that “only a synthetic, integrated, analytical approach to understanding the effects of suites of environmental factors (stressors) on the ecosystem and its components is likely to provide important insights that can lead to enhancement of the Delta and its species” (National Research Council 2012).
The present “silos of data” have resulted in separate and compartmentalized science, impeding our ability to make informed decisions. While resolving data integration challenges will not, by itself, produce better science or better natural resource outcomes, progress in this area will provide a strong foundation for decision-making. Various mandates ranging from the California Water Action Plan to the President’s executive order demanding federal open data policies demonstrate the consensus on the merits of modern data sharing at the scale and function needed to meet today’s challenges.
This white paper emerges from the Summit as an instrument to help identify such opportunities to enhance California’s cross-jurisdictional data management. As a resource to policymakers, agency leadership, data managers, and others, this paper articulates some key challenges as well as proven solutions that, with careful and thoughtful coordination, can be implemented to overcome those obstacles. Primarily featured are tools that complement the State’s current investments in technology, recognizing that success depends upon broad and motivated participation from all levels of the public agency domain.
This document describes examples, practices, and recommendations that focus on California’s Delta as an opportune example likely to yield meaningful initial results in the face of pressing challenges. Once proven in the Delta, however, this paper’s recommended innovations would conceivably be applied statewide in subsequent phases.