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Behind the Scenes


Produced by J. Greenberg

It has been the stardust behind every California Dream. It made the Gold Rush possible, and turned the Central Valley into one of the most productive regions on earth. Today, the opportunities it offers for growth and recreation make California one of the most appealing places to live in America.

If water is the lifeblood of the Golden State, then the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is figuratively and literally its heart -- the nexus of all the major river systems in California, and our single most important resource.

Some 22 million Californians rely on it, but the Delta provides much more than drinking water; it is the fuel for an agricultural industry worth 30 billion dollars. Although vital to the health of our population and our economy, until recently the Delta itself was in critical condition.

Today, there is a strong consensus that we must resist all pressure to build on the Delta's waterfront. But the Delta still suffers hangovers from the development binges of the past -- and is beset by problems that often start well upstream...

In many ways the Cosumnes is typical of the rivers that feed the Delta. Its headwaters lie midway up the Sierra, and its name -- meaning "people of the salmon" -- comes from the Miwok Indians who once fished in its waters. But today, it is the sole survivor of the Valley's original watershed: the last un-dammed link between the Sierra Nevada and the Pacific Ocean.

Protecting all 80 miles of the river's course is a tall order, but for the last 15 years, the Nature Conservancy and its partners have maintained a 13,000-acre preserve between Walnut Grove and Galt. Serendipity led them to this location, when a farmer fixed a levee breach...but left alone the silt and debris that had been deposited by the river waters. A few years later -- seemingly out of nowhere -- a forest of cottonwoods and willows sprang up next to the breach.

These riparian forests once covered much of the Valley's floor, but today 95% of them are gone. In recent years, the preserve staff has used controlled levee breaches to try to encourage more riparian growth. You might think that local farmers would object to deliberate flooding so close to their land. But the Preserve has made allies of its neighbors -- and even brought in more, like Allen Garcia, to farm directly on preserve land.

Garcia works with the preserve to time his crops precisely, harvesting his organic rice just before thousands of waterfowl -- most notably the sandhill cranes -- migrate south to the Cosumnes. He then floods his fields deliberately to provide a habitat, and the birds repay him by digesting the straw left on his farm, turning it into fertilizer for next year's crop. A mutually beneficial relation that proves, in Garcia's words, "We can have our environment and eat it too."


Chris Cabaldon
W. Sac. City Council Member

Jeff Mount, Ph.D.
Chair, Applied Geoscience, UC Davis

Ramona Swenson
Project Ecologist, Cosumnes River Preserve

Allan Garcia
Farmer, Living Farms


The complete text of New Valley Episode 108 -- Refuge or Ruin...


Presentation also made possible by a grant from
the Great Valley Center


New Valley Official Site