Friday, February 22, 2008

Media: Saving Delta may jeopardize Suisun Marsh

By Barry Eberling DAILY REPUBLIC

FAIRFIELD - A big state push to try to save the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and solve California's long-running water wars is also addressing Suisun Marsh.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Blue Ribbon Task Force is not giving the marsh the same emphasis as the Delta itself. But every now and again, the group's much-publicized Delta Vision released in December 2007 refers to 'the Delta and Suisun Marsh.'

What this means will become clearer this year as the task force turns the broad statements of its vision into an actual plan. But Steve Chappell, executive director of the Suisun Resource Conservation District, is among those working to make certain Suisun Marsh isn't an afterthought, and perhaps even a victim, of the state's great Delta rescue effort.

Officially, 116,000-acre Suisun Marsh isn't part of what the report calls the California Delta. Even though the marsh contains 10 percent of the state's remaining wetlands and is home to an array of migratory birds and rare species, its location doesn't grant it that status.

But it's adjacent to the Delta, shares the same water, faces similar levee problems and has many of the same rare fish species that are facing sudden, big population downturns.

'They're linked,' Chappell said. 'Thinking of them as separate is kind of dangerous.'

Solano County Supervisor Barbara Kondylis is among those who thinks the marsh might end up on the short end of stick. She is afraid the state might build a peripheral canal to take fresh water across the Delta to Southern California, leaving too much salty ocean water encroaching into the Delta and Suisun Marsh.

Another scenario causing local concern is that the state neglects already fragile Delta levees once a peripheral canal is built. Should levees break and large Delta islands flood, salty ocean water would get pulled inland, once again leaving Suisun Marsh saltier than it is now.

'The Suisun Marsh is the biggest ecological disaster waiting to happen,' Kondylis said at the Nov. 27 Board of Supervisors meeting.

The Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force has only seven members, and none are from Solano County. But it is advised by a 45-person stakeholders group. Members from Solano County are Chappell and former Rio Vista mayor Marci Coglianese.

Chappell is uncertain how Suisun Marsh will fare once everything is said and done. He called the Delta Vision report a 'pretty blunt instrument,' with broad goals, such as improving Delta ecological functions.

But now the Blue Ribbon Task Force is working on a plan that will turn sweeping statements into policies. Ending the state's protracted water war -- a clash involving the environment, irrigation water for Central Valley farms and drinking water for 25 million Californians -- is bound to have winners and losers.

'Everyone acknowledges there is a problem and we need to find solutions to the problems,' Chappell said. 'There is some regional acknowledgment that change is needed to find solutions. But no one has identified a victim yet. Who is the sacrificial lamb to make this change?'

Coglianese said many people don't understand the connection between the health of the marsh and the health of the Delta and its water supply.

'I think Steve Chappell is doing a good job trying to raise people's understanding of that,' Coglianese said. 'But it's a tough road.'

Coglianese sees not only the marsh at risk, but also all of eastern Solano County. Among other things, the state is going to attempt to control land use in the Delta, she said.
'This is very serious,' Coglianese said. 'People cannot afford to take a pass on this. This is a very important year.'

Meanwhile, an array of agencies is putting together a Suisun Marsh plan that, among other things, calls for restoring 3,000 to 9,000 acres to tidal marshes. A draft state and federal environmental report could be released in the fall.

If all goes as planned, the new Suisun Marsh Plan and the ideas adopted by the Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force will dovetail.

Both the Delta and Suisun Marsh are landscapes radically transformed by humans.

The marsh in its pristine state was wild, overgrown and mosquito-infested, a place where early explorers feared getting lost amid a labyrinth of sloughs and tules. The occasional grizzly bear was among the wildlife.

That marsh is gone forever. Levees were built 100 years ago to create dry land for farms and later duck clubs that are periodically flooded. State and federal water projects store massive amounts of the fresh water in such faraway places as Lake Shasta and Lake Oroville, water that once ran down the Delta and into the marsh unimpeded each spring.

Humans now share water with the Delta and marsh.

'The reality is we're never going back to unimpaired hydrology because that would mean zero consumption,' Chappell said.

Reach Barry Eberling at 425-4646, Ext. 232, or at

Suisun Marsh facts
  • Suisun Marsh encompasses 116,000 acres. About 52,000 acres are managed wetlands, 6,300 acres are tidal wetlands, 30,000 acres are bays and sloughs, and 27,000 acres are uplands.
  • The marsh is home to 221 species of birds, 45 species of animals, 16 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 40 species of fish.
  • Marsh property owners are both public and private. The marsh has more than 150 duck clubs.
  • Places to visit in the marsh include Rush Ranch open space preserve at 3521 Grizzly Island Road; Beldon's Landing boat launch at Grizzly Island Road and Montezuma Slough; Grizzly Island state wildlife area at 2548 Grizzly Island Road; and Peytonia Slough preserve at the southern end of Kellogg Street in Suisun City.

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