Bay is an environmental treasure

  Dear HCN,

Susan Zakin's article, "Delta Blues" (HCN, 9/30/02: Delta blues), is perhaps the best and clearest explanation of the complex issues involved in California's attempt to be all things to all people when it comes to demands for water. She mentions that the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta region is "virtually invisible to most people who live here." That's certainly true, and many out-of-state visitors traveling through the Delta area leave with the image of the region being a land of asphalt-covered, Formica-Modern, sprawling "slurbs" jammed with millions of people. Even few Californians are aware that the San Francisco Bay-Sacramento-San Joaquin River delta region is the largest estuary on the West Coast of North and South America.

I would like to supplement Zakin's fine article with a few comments from a scientist's point of view. True, the Delta can be very cold and damp, just as Zakin relates, but it is an environmental treasure of sloughs, creeks and islands, rich in ecological diversity. In addition to it being on the Pacific Flyway, which serves millions of migrating waterfowl, as well as millions of local birds, the Delta supports more than 130 species of fish, including several distinct chinook salmon runs. The San Francisco Bay Delta region's varied topography, weather and soil account for a wide variety of imperiled endemic species, such as the salt marsh harvest mouse and clapper rail. Within as short a distance as 20 miles, air temperatures may vary by 50 degrees, and include a mix of vernal pools, sloughs, riparian zones, coastal dunes, sand hills and oak woodlands.

California leads the U.S. in biological diversity - 6,717 native animal and plant species, of which almost 1,300 are endemic - more than any other state. The Delta is a hot spot of this diversity, so important that The Nature Conservancy and its associated groups and partners are working hard to secure large tracts of this ecologically distinctive region in order to preserve the Delta's biodiverse richness.

D.D. Trent

Claremont, California
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