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Open Access Publications from the University of California


SFEWS provides credible scientific information on California's complex water issues, linking new science to policy with great effect. SFEWS retains a regional focus on the San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta, also known as the Bay–Delta watershed. At the heart of open access from the California Digital Library, SFEWS's scholarly output ranks #1 for the UC Davis Institute  of the Environment and ranks #3 campus wide.

Volume 3, Issue 1, 2005


Announcing a New Manuscript Category

Abstracts are not presented with Editorials. -SFEWS Editors

Research Article

Musings on a Model: CalSim II in California's Water Community

Computer model results are becoming more prominent in water policy deliberations in California. CalSim II is the most prominent water management model in California, and has become central to a variety of water management and policy issues and controversies. This paper reports on the results of an extensive set of loosely-structured interviews with members of California’s technical and policy-oriented water management community regarding the use and development of CalSim II in California. The interviewers reflect on the thoughts of interviewees and how such interview activities can further policy-effective modeling and technical activities for water management. CalSim II is a complex model of a complex part of California’s changing multi-purpose water system. As such, analytical controversies and misunderstandings are inevitable. Ideally, a model and its associated data would perform an additional service as a forum to resolve technical controversies and continually improve quantitative understanding of the system. While CalSim II is generally seen as a significant improvement over previous models, a wide variety of ideas are suggested for improvements.

A Landscape-level Model for Ecosystem Restoration in the San Francisco Estuary and Its Watershed

The CALFED Bay-Delta Program is an ambitious effort to restore ecosystems and improve reliability of ecosystem services in California’s Central Valley. Key issues for CALFED and its Ecosystem Restoration Program (ERP) include (1) meeting societal demand for multiple, potentially conflicting ecosystem services; (2) the tradeoff among more or less environmentally intrusive approaches to solving problems; (3) whether restoration should focus at the ecosystem level or on individual species; (4) the appropriate response to uncertainty; and (5) the tension between action and investigation. A long-term, landscape-scale perspective is essential for framing the scientific questions underlying these broad issues. We introduce a landscape-scale conceptual model that illustrates linkages, including material flows and animal migration, among the major ecosystem components being described in detail in a series of review papers. This model shows how linkages between ecosystem components result in remote consequences of locally applied restoration actions. The network of linkages is made more complicated by human interventions, which add components not previously a part of the landscape (e.g., salmonid hatcheries) and alter or even reverse causal relations. A landscape perspective also helps identify conceptual gaps in CALFED’s restoration strategy, such as climate change and human population growth, which should be explicitly considered in forecasts of the long-term prospects for restoration. A landscape perspective is no panacea; in particular, the effects of restoration at this scale will be difficult to detect. Nevertheless, we advocate integrating investigations of processes at nested, smaller scales as an approach for evaluating effects of individual restoration actions and of the entire program. We believe CALFED and other large restoration programs will be most successful if they are able to integrate both societal expectations and scientific study at the landscape level.

Phytoplankton Regulation in a Eutrophic Tidal River (San Joaquin River, California)

As in many U.S. estuaries, the tidal San Joaquin River exhibits elevated organic matter production that interferes with beneficial uses of the river, including fish spawning and migration. High phytoplankton biomass in the tidal river is consequently a focus of management strategies. An unusually long and comprehensive monitoring dataset enabled identification of the determinants of phytoplankton biomass. Phytoplankton carrying capacity may be set by nitrogen or phosphorus during extreme drought years but, in most years, growth rate is light-limited. The size of the annual phytoplankton bloom depends primarily on river discharge during late spring and early summer, which determines the cumulative light exposure in transit downstream. The biomass-discharge relationship has shifted over the years, for reasons as yet unknown. Water diversions from the tidal San Joaquin River also affect residence time during passage downstream and may have resulted in more than a doubling of peak concentration in some years. Dam construction and accompanying changes in storage-and-release patterns from upstream reservoirs have caused a long-term decrease in the frequency of large blooms since the early 1980s, but projected climate change favors a future increase. Only large decreases in nonpoint nutrient sources will limit phytoplankton biomass reliably. Growth rate and concentration could increase if nonpoint source management decreases mineral suspensoid load but does not decrease nutrient load sufficiently. Small changes in water storage and release patterns due to dam operation have a major influence on peak phytoplankton biomass, and offer a near-term approach for management of nuisance algal blooms.

From Climate-change Spaghetti to Climate-change Distributions for 21st-Century California

The uncertainties associated with climate-change projections for California are unlikely to disappear any time soon, and yet important long-term decisions will be needed to accommodate those potential changes. Projection uncertainties have typically been addressed by analysis of a few scenarios, chosen based on availability or to capture the extreme cases among available projections. However, by focusing on more common projections rather than the most extreme projections (using a new resampling method), new insights into current projections emerge: (1) uncertainties associated with future greenhouse-gas emissions are comparable with the differences among climate models, so that neither source of uncertainties should be neglected or underrepresented; (2) twenty-first century temperature projections spread more, overall, than do precipitation scenarios; (3) projections of extremely wet futures for California are true outliers among current projections; and (4) current projections that are warmest tend, overall, to yield a moderately drier California, while the cooler projections yield a somewhat wetter future. The resampling approach applied in this paper also provides a natural opportunity to objectively incorporate measures of model skill and the likelihoods of various emission scenarios into future assessments.

Policy and Program Analysis

Subsidence, Sea Level Rise, and Seismicity in the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta

Anthropogenic accommodation space, or that space in the Delta that lies below sea level and is filled neither with sediment nor water, serves as a useful measure of the regional consequences of Delta subsidence and sea level rise. Microbial oxidation and compaction of organic-rich soils due to farming activity is the primary cause of Delta subsidence. During the period 1900-2000, subsidence created approximately 2.5 billion cubic meters of anthropogenic accommodation space in the Delta. From 2000-2050, subsidence rates will slow due to depletion of organic material and better land use practices. However, by 2050 the Delta will contain more than 3 billion cubic meters of anthropogenic accommodation space due to continued subsidence and sea level rise. An Accommodation Space Index, which relates subaqueous accommodation space to anthropogenic accommodation space, provides an indicator of past and projected Delta conditions. While subsidence and sea level rise create increasing anthropogenic accommodation space in the Delta, they also lead to a regional increase in the forces that can cause levee failure. Although these forces take many forms, a Levee Force Index can be calculated that is a proxy for the cumulative forces acting on levees. The Levee Force Index increases significantly over the next 50 years demonstrating regional increases in the potential for island flooding. Based on continuing increases in the Levee Force Index and the Accommodation Space Index, and limited support for Delta levee upgrades, there will be a tendency for increases in and impacts of island flooding, with escalating costs for repairs. Additionally, there is a two-in-three chance that 100-year recurrence interval floods or earthquakes will cause catastrophic flooding and significant change in the Delta by 2050. Currently, the California Bay-Delta Authority has no overarching policy that addresses the consequences of, and potential responses to, gradual or abrupt landscape change in the Delta.