Lignin phenol concentrations and compositions were determined on dissolved organic carbon (DOC) extracts (XAD resins) within the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta (the Delta), the tidal freshwater portion of the San Francisco Bay Estuary, located in central California, USA. Fourteen stations were sampled, including the following habitats and land-use types: wetland, riverine, channelized waterway, open water, and island drains. Stations were sampled approximately seasonally from December, 1999 through May, 2001. DOC concentrations ranged from 1.3 mg L-1 within the Sacramento River to 39.9 mg L-1 at the outfall from an island drain (median 3.0 mg L-1), while lignin concentrations ranged from 3.0 μL-1 within the Sacramento River to 111 μL-1 at the outfall from an island drain (median 11.6 μL-1). Both DOC and lignin concentrations varied significantly among habitat/land-use types and among sampling stations. Carbon-normalized lignin yields ranged from 0.07 mg (100 mg OC)-1 at an island drain to 0.84 mg (100 mg OC)-1 for a wetland (median 0.36 mg (100 mg OC)-1), and also varied significantly among habitat/land-use types. A simple mass balance model indicated that the Delta acted as a source of lignin during late autumn through spring (10-83% increase) and a sink for lignin during summer and autumn (13-39% decrease). Endmember mixing models using S:V and C:V signatures of landscape scale features indicated strong temporal variation in sources of DOC export from the Delta, with riverine source signatures responsible for 50% of DOC in summer and winter, wetland signatures responsible for 40% of DOC in summer, winter, and late autumn, and island drains responsible for 40% of exported DOC in late autumn. A significant negative correlation was observed between carbon-normalized lignin yields and DOC bioavailability in two of the 14 sampling stations. This study is, to our knowledge, the first to describe organic vascular plant DOC sources at the level of localized landscape features, and is also the first to indicate a significant negative correlation between lignin and DOC bioavailability within environmental samples. Based upon observed trends: (1) Delta features exhibit significant spatial variability in organic chemical composition, and (2) localized Delta features appear to exert strong controls on terrigenous DOC as it passes through the Delta and is exported into the Pacific Ocean.