Wednesday August 17, 2022

Bay Nature

Two landscapes stand divided by the hundred-year-old Yolo Bypass West Levee in Solano County. 

To the south of the levee’s U shape, canals tangle toward the sprawling Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta, which teems with wildlife. North of the levee, former farmland slowly sinks, exhausted by generations of human intervention. 

Historically, the Delta’s freshwater wetlands stretched for nearly 750 square miles of flood basins, islands, and channels weaving through a landscape constantly transformed by seasonal and daily floods. But as humans engineered the Delta for agriculture and urban development, they built hundreds of miles of levees to cut off the wetlands from floodwaters, splitting the fertile expanse into dry, tidy parcels. Between the 1800s and the early 2000s, wetland areas in the Delta shrank by 98 percent.

“We disconnected the land from the water by building big levees,” says Charlotte Biggs, program manager with the California Department of Water Resources. “We’ve eliminated wetland areas for both the small fish that need them as their natural habitat and migrating fish that are coming through the system to spawn.”

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