The delta’s sinking islands

San Francisco Chronicle –

A fight over the management of a diked island in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta is shining a light on a growing conundrum for California water managers, farmers and environmentalists over the best way to restore natural habitat on cropland created more than a century ago by draining marshes.

The courtroom battle over 9,000-acre Staten Island is the latest conflict in the delta over farming, wetlands and the aging levees that, besides preventing flooding, preserve a way of life on the man-made islands.

The suit, filed in 2018 by a group called the Wetlands Preservation Foundation, accuses the California Department of Water Resources and the Nature Conservancy of failing to adequately protect wildlife or employ sustainable agricultural practices on the property, one of the largest of 57 reclaimed islands and tracts in the delta.

The case was argued in San Joaquin Superior Court last month and a ruling isn’t expected until next month, but the arguments are familiar to those with stakes in California agriculture, drinking water and fisheries.

“Staten Island has problems that are quite common for the rest of the delta — it has subsidence,” said Jay Lund, the director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis. “I think down at the southern end, it’s 20 to 25 feet below (mean high tide), and there are other places in the delta that are similarly deep.”

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