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New Approaches for Responding to Climate Change in the Bay-Delta

July 2015
Climate change levee

Climate change is one of many threats facing the San Francisco Bay-Delta region, and has the potential to dramatically alter ecosystem health and function on a vast scale. Among the many challenges facing resource managers are understanding what the specific impacts of climate change will be and the mitigation/accommodation options that could be available.


To understand those impacts and options, the Delta Stewardship Council’s Delta Science Program and the U.C. Davis Center for Aquatic Biology & Aquaculture (CABA) and Coastal and Marine Sciences Institute presented a seminar May 6 at U.C. Davis on “New Approaches for Responding to Climate Change in the San Francisco Bay-Delta.”


“The seminar highlighted how much is now known about the expected Bay-Delta system response to climate change beyond the well-publicized direct impacts of sea level rise and changing snowpack,” said the Council’s Lead Scientist Dr. Peter Goodwin. “These more subtle responses include greater frequency of hypoxia, or depressed levels of dissolved oxygen.”


Goodwin added that this new knowledge has helped guide the Baylands Ecosystem Habitat Goals Project and said the seminar “highlighted the importance of extending this successful planning effort into the Delta so there is a common strategy to develop resilience within these critically important habitats.”


The day-long seminar updated current understanding of climate impacts as presenters discussed the most current approaches for climate adaptation and mitigation in response to climate-related changes. Attendees learned:


  • As scientists and managers think about impacts, they need to consider a wide variety of time scales, from daily to a period of a decade or more.
  • Planning, design, and construction need to include large geographic scales because of the environmental connectivity among regions, and the influence of one region on others.
  • Carbon sequestration (CO2 converting into plant biomass) seems to be happening broadly across the range of brackish and salt marshes; however, the amount of carbon sequestered is not going to justify issuing carbon credits at this point.
  • Local strategies for “hardening” the shorelines (building shoreline walls to keep the water out) can have broader regional impacts; scientists and managers need to think about the hydrodynamic and other connections between the Delta and the Bay.
  • Climate change and sea level rise are happening quickly and scientists and resource managers need to act now to develop restoration capital (funding) rather than wait another decade.
  • The region needs to develop multi-objective projects to address several different goals at once. This approach can facilitate needed financing, and ultimately, the outcome.
  • Managers and researchers must think creatively about enhancing funding opportunities.


“One of the most important take-home messages I heard was that depending on what kinds of options for sea-level rise response the Silicon Valley counties and cities will select, they might have a significant impact on sea-level rise,” said Rainer Hoenicke, Deputy Executive Officer of the Council’s Science Program. “The way South Bay communities decide how to respond to sea level rise and the manner in which they protect their shorelines may determine tidal influences and inundation levels in northern segments of the estuary.”


Click here to view the detailed agenda from the seminar.


Click here to watch a video of the seminar.

Coequal goals

The Delta Stewardship Council was created in legislation to achieve the state mandated coequal goals for the Delta. "'Coequal goals' means the two goals of providing a more reliable water supply for California and protecting, restoring, and enhancing the Delta ecosystem. The coequal goals shall be achieved in a manner that protects and enhances the unique cultural, recreational, natural resource, and agricultural values of the Delta as an evolving place." (CA Water Code §85054)