The Department of Water Resources (DWR) and California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) implement the Fish Restoration Program (FRP) in the Delta and Suisun Marsh to restore 8,000 acres of intertidal and subtidal habitat in the region. The program addresses U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service restoration requirements for the State Water Project and Central Valley Project and includes compliance monitoring.
The FRP sites are located in several spots in the Delta including Decker Island and Prospect Island. The monitoring is narrowly focused around fish food, and participation from the public is encouraged for any suggestions or comments. The Interagency Ecological Program (IEP) comes together with the public regularly and will test out viable suggestions and report findings back to the public. Nine conceptual models are being used to show what the restoration process outcomes might look like, and comparison sites are chosen for each location.
The Delta Independent Science Board (DISB) is currently reviewing the entire monitoring operation for the Delta with biological opinions, and taking aim at the science of it. Dr. Stacy Sherman, Environmental Program Manager of the FRP Monitoring Team at the CDFW, gave a brief overview of program objectives to the DISB last month in Sacramento.
Dr. Sherman and her team's work with the DWR is centered on the northern part of the San Francisco Estuary, which includes the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and Suisun Marsh. Dr. Sherman's office in Stockton helps with the design, planning, and implementation process. Delta smelt are currently being looked at with intent to restore their habitat in the regions.
Since Liberty Island in the North Delta flooded back in the 1990s and the breached levees weren't repaired, Delta smelt have been found in the resulting floodplains, suggesting that they may be rearing in that habitat. Restoring these habitats could provide Delta smelt a chance to repopulate. Dr. Sherman's team focuses on effectiveness monitoring, and found a variability of sea and freshwater crustaceans known as copepods in the spring and fall at Liberty Island, presenting complex challenges with long-term planning.
Dr. Sherman's team is considering adopting outwelling, a process in which the excess of organic material produced in such areas as coastal tidal marshes flushes out to the surrounding coastal environment. This, in theory, stimulates the habitat and nourishes nearby plankton. Enhancing food production through controlled processes and boosting food availability for native Delta fish are also priorities of the program.
“And of course we're all about sharing our data, and we want other people to share their data as well”, said Dr. Sherman.
Water quality, hydrology, and wetland evolution are a few of the models being used at the fish restoration sites. The DWR worked with the CDFW and UC Davis during the first phase of the project in 2015 by analyzing trawl surveys, like The Spring Kodiak Trawl Survey, which takes samples each year to determine the relative amount and distribution of spawning Delta Smelt.
An IEP report was published earlier this year by Dr. Sherman's team that serves as a guidance document to assist other agencies that also want to pursue restoration in the Delta and Suisun Marsh. Collaboration continues to be a growing point of emphasis among policymakers and scientists.