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The Suisun Marsh Demands Special Attention

March and April 2012

Sometimes overlooked, but not undervalued—particularly by the Delta Stewardship Council—the Suisun Marsh (Marsh) is one of the most interesting areas in California. Although the Marsh is not in the legal Delta, its location and features led the Legislature to include the Marsh in the area covered by the Delta Plan.

 

Covering nearly 120,000 acres in the middle of the San Francisco Bay-San Joaquin Delta Estuary, the Marsh is home to a wide variety of bird, animal and plant species. It is also a wintering and nesting area for waterfowl and water birds of the Pacific Flyway. The Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers provide fresh water to the Marsh, and tides mix it with salt water from the ocean, making it the largest brackish water marsh on the West Coast. Once a primary source of food for native Californians, early settlers transformed the Marsh into agriculture land. It is now primarily a waterfowl hunting area.

 

The Marsh is a dynamic and highly modified wetland environment, responding to a variety of impacts, including climate change. Much of the Marsh is at or below sea level, which means large areas could be permanently flooded in the future.

 

The staff draft Delta Plan addresses the complexities of the Marsh by proposing to restore significant portions to provide “the estuary with sea level rise accommodation space, opportunities for extensive land-water interface dynamics and compressed chemical and biological gradients that support productive and complex food webs for native species.”

 

Some restoration projects are already under way, and others have been planned. The California Department of Water Resources’ Blacklock Restoration Project is in progress, which is aimed at restoring tidal wetland ecosystems to the 70-acre Blacklock site in Marsh. The California Department of Fish and Game has started work on the Hill Slough Restoration Project, expected to restore tidal wetlands and moist grassland habitat to 950 acres of diked seasonal and perennial wetlands in the Marsh.

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)