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The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta has been transformed from the largest wetland system on the Pacific Coast of the United States to highly productive farmland and other uses embodying California’s water struggles. The Delta comprises the upper extent of the San Francisco Estuary and connects two-thirds of California via the watersheds that feed into it. It is central to the larger California landscape and associated ecosystems, which will continue to experience substantial modification in the future due to climate change and continued land and water use changes. Yet this vital ecological and economic link for California and the world has
been altered to the extent that it is no longer able to support needed ecological functions. Approximately 3% of the Delta’s historical tidal wetland extent remains wetland today; the Delta is now crisscrossed with agricultural ditches replacing the over 1,000 miles of branching tidal channels.
Imagining a healthy Delta ecosystem in the future and taking bold, concrete steps toward that future requires an understanding and vision of what a healthy ecosystem looks like. For a place as extensive, unique, and modified as the Delta, valuable knowledge can be acquired through the study of the past, investigating the Delta as it existed just prior to the substantial human modifications of the last 160 years. Though the Delta is irrevocably altered, this does not mean that the past is irrelevant. Underlying geologic and hydrologic processes still influence the landscape, and native species still ply the waters, soar through the air, and move across the land. Significant opportunities are available to strategically reconnect landscape components in ways that support ecosystem resilience to both present and future stressors.