CALFED Bay-Delta Program heading
  • Governor Brown
  • John Laird, Resources Secretary
  • Joe Grindstaff, CALFED Director

About the Delta

Padddling on the Delta

The Delta is formed by the confluence of the state’s two largest rivers: the Sacramento flowing south from its headwaters near Mt. Shasta and the San Joaquin flowing north from its origins high in the southern Sierra Nevada. Joining the Sacramento and the San Joaquin are the Mokelumne and the Cosumnes rivers, that comprise the Delta’s watershed, draining nearly 50 percent of the state’s runoff. Through a maze of 57 man-made leveed islands and tracks, these waters of the Delta flow westward. Pumping stations move a portion of this water throughout the state: the State Water Project, the federal Central Valley Project, Contra Costa Canal, North Bay Aqueduct, City of Vallejo diversion and the Western Delta Industry diversion. The remainder of Delta water flows to farms and communities within the Delta, and then out to sea through a series of bays.

The Delta is unlike any other large restoration program in the nation whose primary focus is its ecosystem. The Delta is managed by CALFED with four equal priorities: ecosystem restoration, water supply reliability, water quality and levee system integrity. Thus, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is under much greater pressure to perform against these four objectives than other estuaries, notably the Everglades of Florida and the Chesapeake Bay of Maryland.

Life in the Delta

The Delta is many things to many people. It is rural living at its best in small towns and villages where motorists occasionally have to stop for tractors and drawbridges. It is a paradise for boaters and fishermen; an adventure for tourists, antique collectors and wine connoisseurs. The Delta offers resort living in small towns, levee-hugging villages and islands surrounded by water. But its bucolic, sleepy exterior masks the fact that the Delta is vitally important to the economy of California and that the Delta as we know it is not sustainable in the future.

The West’s Largest Estuary

The Delta plays a major role in the state’s prosperity by providing at least a portion of the drinking water for 24 million Californians, fueling a $31 billion agricultural industry and serving as an important habitat to more than 750 animal and plant species and many non-native species, including waterfowl, birds of prey, sport fish and species listed as threatened or endangered: Delta smelt, Chinook salmon and steelhead. The 1,000 square-mile estuary supports 80 percent of California’s commercial salmon fisheries and its 1,100 miles of levees protect farms, cities, schools and people.

More than half-a-million people call the Delta home, living in 14 towns and villages in five counties. Five highways pass through the Delta, as do three railroads, two deep-water shipping channels, hundreds of natural gas lines and five high-voltage transmission lines. Water flowing through the Delta diverts directly through six canals and/or pipelines and to more than 1,800 agricultural users, the latter of which grows half the nation’s fruits and vegetables and one-quarter of its dairy products.

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