The California Drought is Over!

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The Sacramento River in the California Delta is super full and is going to remain running high through June.

It’s official: the State of California declared the drought is over. Driving to Los Angeles in the rain, I enjoyed the green hills all the way through the San Joaquin Valley. After years of seeing scary empty reservoirs, it is thrilling to see all the signs of a very wet year.

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Pyramid Lake is part of the State Water Project and stores water until it continues its journey to SoCal water users. When deliveries are low, the level drops. This year the reservoir is full again.

On my way to Los Angeles I stopped at the top of the grapevine at the Vista del Lago visitor center to look at Pyramid Lake. It is thrilling to see how full it is and to see someone recreating.

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San Luis Reservoir is also part of the water delivery system in California. Water is  pumped from near Santa Nella into this reservoir to store it to keep a water supply for irrigation and people throughout the summer. Levels have been restored!

This blog post first appeared on Adventures of American Julie (americanjulie.com).

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Hooray for Floodplains, Food Webs and Fish!

http://www.eco-company.tv/video/nigiri-project

This excellent video describes the Nigiri Project at Knaggs Ranch in the Yolo Bypass. Watch as these students explain the importance of floodplains to producing food for salmon fry. These young fish move from the gravel spawning beds on the Sacramento and Feather Rivers toward the ocean. Due to our flood control levees they have lost 95% of their floodplain feeding grounds.

Lulu the Wonder Dog sniffing out the fish at Knaggs Ranch.

Lulu the Wonder Dog sniffing out the fish at Knaggs Ranch.

Farmers in the Yolo Bypass have been working with UC Davis and government scientists to prove that fish will grow at record rates on rice fields when flooded in the winter time. As the fields are drained, the fish continue their journey to the ocean and the food is flushed into the Delta where it provides food for Smelt and other native fish.

Local stakeholders have worked out an integrated plan that meets flood, fish, farm and waterfowl needs. It is now before government agencies to seize the opportunity for breakthrough.

Swabbies on the Sacramento River

While Swabbies is technically not in the “Delta” it is on the Sacramento River just north of the Sacramento International Airport.

Taco Tuesday is a yummy deal!

Taco Tuesday is a yummy deal!

It is the perfect spot to begin a “Pirate Pub Trawl”. Start at noon and have the delicious tacos. Or go on Taco Tuesday for 2 chubby tacos for $5.99. The atmosphere is pirate casual and there is outdoor seating. My companions had the chicken wings and some chips and salsa and some french fries. The portions were generous and everything was tasty.

AMGEN Tour of California Races in the Delta

The announced 2015 route of AMGEN Tour of California includes the Delta, and on the very first day–Stage One, Sunday May 10. The bike racers will depart from Sacramento, ride 124 miles along the Sacramento River to Rio Vista and back for a likely sprint finish in Sacramento.

AMGEN Tour of California

Sir Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky won the time trial in Folsom in 2014

The State Capitol will once again provide a dramatic backdrop to the race. Adding the route through the Delta will add some visual excitement and a good excuse to visit your favorite Delta community with a picnic and a bottle of wine and watch the peloton.

Waiting for the peloton on City of Sacramento curb.

Waiting for the peloton on City of Sacramento curb.

Stage Two on May 11 starts in Nevada City and ends in Lodi, California. Lodi is on the edge of the Delta and offers plenty of wine tasting and a celebratory finish. The song lyrics “stuck in Lodi” will not be running through these cyclists minds as they will be once again sprinting for the finish.

Nigiri Project Wraps Up Another Successful Year

You can read about the conclusion of another successful year of salmon fish fattening on Knaggs Ranch rice fields on this San Francisco Chronicle cover story.  Or…

Salmon ready for their journey to the PacificOnce upon a time the California native salmon population was dwindling. Every year the fish hatcheries would release hundreds of thousands of salmon to have a miniscule return because the river was so channelized that the fish could not find the important floodplain habitat where they need to put on weight and delay their migration to sea to a time when the upwelling off the coast of San Francisco provides food.

Then one day a Department of Water Resources scientist Ted Sommers had an idea. He placed a 100,000 tagged hatchery fish in the main stem of the Sacramento River and 100,000 tagged hatchery fish in the Toe Drain of the Yolo Bypass (a flood control area that can still operate like a floodplain). He caught 16 fish in the Bay trawls at the end of a few weeks and the Bypass fish were noticeably bigger. And then Carson Jeffres, a grad student at UC Davis decided to build off of this with an experiment on one of the few remaining undammed rivers in NorCal. He created an experiment on the Cosumnes River, which resulted in the now “famous” cooler picture of floodplain salmon three times the size of the other salmon. This resulted in the National Marine Fisheries Service requiring 17,000 acres of floodplain habitat in the Sutter and Yolo Bypasses as part of the Biological Opinions for the water agencies to continue pumping water through the Delta.

In some ways this seemed like an “all is lost” moment because the agencies interpreted that as flooding the Bypasses wall-to-wall for long periods of time and this would have made it tough for the farmers and duck clubs in the Bypass to survive and then this would have compromised the Bypasses as a flood control structure.  Until one day John Brennan, a farm manager/appraiser/rice drier owner put together a group to buy Knaggs Ranch and experiment with using rice fields as surrogate salmon floodplain habitat. And now 3 years later the experiment has proven that the rice fields with water held for up to 6 weeks create “Floodplain Fatties”. And a coalition of farmers, scientists, fish advocates, county folks, wildlife area managers, and agencies are proposing a management system that is compatible with all of the existing uses in the Yolo Bypass. This year is a drought year and naturally really tough on fish. Access to the floodplain will give them resiliency to survive this kind of water year and in the future sea-level rise and warmer temps. It is also Conservation Measure 2 in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

Walnut Grove on a Lazy Thursday Afternoon

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On a recent Thursday afternoon I spent some relaxed time in Walnut Grove on the Sacramento River.  It is an easy drive from Sacramento; taking Twin Cities Road is the most direct route.  I parked on River Road next to the welcome sign and map.  After a deep breath and a long look at the river at “lazy” stage, I checked out the map and then crossed the street to Mel’s Mocha & Ice Cream for a cappuccino.

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Check out my review on Urban Spoon.

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The people in front of me in line ordered ice cream and it looked good. I stuck to something lower cal and checked out the restrooms while I waited for my drink (very clean).  I ordered my drink to go, but next time I’ll make time to enjoy at the cafe because the drink did not benefit from the to-go cup and plastic lid.  And there is a lot of atmosphere to enjoy in this authentic local hangout.

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If you drop in at 7:00 a.m. you wil be joined by local farmers with their own personalized mugs.

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I picked up the brochure for the walking tour of Walnut Grove but got back into my car to drive to the local library in search of Wifi.  Fortunately the Sacramento County Library is open on Thursday afternoons and they do have Wifi.

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They also have an small but mighty used bookstore.  I picked up “Knitting for a New Arrival” in hardback circa 1960. Lucky me: the used bookstore is only open on Thursday afternoons.

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I was about to return to my car when I realized that the Walnut Grove Iron Works, located across the street in an old theater, was open!  It is normally only open on the weekends so I had yet to be able to check it out.  The proprietor/iron artist was in the office so he opened the gallery.

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My mini break in charming Walnut Grove drew to a close and I pointed my car toward Davis determined to return to try Tony’s for dinner another time.

The town of Locke, an interesting treasure on the River, is just a stone’s throw down River Road from Walnut Grove and also worth visiting with more food choices for dinner.

Clarksburg Charmer

Community Church

Clarksburg is a lovely small town in Yolo County on the west side of the Sacramento River.  It is easy to reach from Sacramento via the Freeport Bridge.  It is an up and coming wine producing region and working hard to be a destination for wine-tasting at the Old Sugar Mill.

As I drove around I found myself smiling at the town clock, the community library, and the Eagle Scout park.  Pleasantville comes to mind, only smaller.

Clarksburg is a 30 minute drive from East Sacramento and an easy reach from Davis via West Sacramento.  You can also reach it by boat, parking at the Clarksburg Marina.

The only place to eat in town is Husick’s Country Store (see review).  It is a great place to eat before wine tasting or to buy a picnic lunch.