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Open Access Publications from the University of California

What Controls Suspended-Sediment Concentration and Export in Flooded Agricultural Tracts in the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta?


We investigated wind-wave and suspended-sediment dynamics in Little Holland Tract and Liberty Island, two subsided former agricultural tracts in the Cache Slough complex in the northern Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta which were restored to tidal shallows to improve habitat. Turbidity, and thus suspended-sediment concentration (SSC), is important to habitat quality because some species of native fishes, including the Delta Smelt, are found preferentially in more turbid waters. Data from October 2015 to August 2016 show that average SSC was greater within Little Holland Tract than in the primary breach that connects the basin to surrounding channels: approximately twice as great at a shallower station farther from the breach and 15% greater at a deeper station closer to the breach. Suspended-sediment concentration within Little Holland Tract was directly related to wave shear stress and inversely related to water depth, based on linear regression. We used measurements of suspended-sediment flux (SSF) through the largest levee breaches to assess whether the enhanced SSC within Little Holland Tract is exported to surrounding waters, thus potentially increasing turbidity over a wider region. Cumulatively, sediment is exported through the Little Holland Tract breaches in winter and imported in summer, consistent with regional patterns in sediment flux, indicating that wind-wave re-suspension within the basin does not control sediment flux from Little Holland Tract on seasonal time-scales. Some sediment was exported during wind-wave events, and results show that sediment export is greater when primary breaches are located downwind of the basin rather than upwind.

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