Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Historical Ecology Study

Historical Ecology Study

The San Francisco Estuary Institute-Aquatic Science Center, in collaboration with the California Department of Fish and Game, has completed a historical ecology study of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The project improves understanding of what the Delta looked like and how it functioned prior to the significant modification that has occurred over the last 160 years.


This historical reconstruction documents patterns of variation and extent of habitat types throughout the Delta for improved understanding of species support functions and controlling physical processes within the native landscape. Knowing how different parts of the vast historical Delta looked and functioned provides needed information for future restoration strategies.

Given the extensive changes to the Delta, the goal of the project is not to create a literal template from which to recreate the historical Delta. Rather the objective is to understand how large-scale restoration can support an ecosystem in the future Delta that reflects functions to which native species are adapted. This involves recognizing physical gradients along which ecosystems can adapt as the Delta continues to change.

View Interactive Map

Created in collaboration with KQED Quest and Stanford's Bill Lane Center for the American West

Press for the Delta Historical Ecology Report

Project Status

The project was completed in August 2012.
Research continues in the Delta Landscapes project


Robin Grossinger

Collaborator and Funder

California Department of Fish and Game, Ecosystem Restoration Program

Download the Delta Historical Ecology Report

High resolution pdf (for printing) (253 Mb)
Medium resolution pdf (for screen viewing) (135 Mb)
Low resolution pdf (for screen viewing) (44 Mb)


Order a Printed Copy

Printed copies of the report, with dozens of rarely seen historical accounts, maps and photographs describing the Delta of the recent past, will also be available for $75 + shipping charges
contact: or 510-746-7355.

GIS Data

Download GIS data for ESRI ArcMap 10 (11 Mb)
These GIS data include Historical Habitat and Channel layers

Imagery developed for this project is also available through the California Department of Fish and Game:
Early circa 1900 USGS topographic quadrangles
1937 Aerial Photography
To gain access to the imagery in ArcGIS, use these LYR files
ArcGIS LYR files for connecting with CDFG image services.zip7.81 KB