1. The Sacramento San Joaquin River Delta, a complex mosaic of tidal freshwater habitats in California, is the focus of a major ecosystem rehabilitation effort because of significant long-term changes in critical ecosystem functions. One of these functions is the production, transport and transformation of organic matter that constitutes the primary food supply, which may be sub-optimal at trophic levels supporting fish recruitment. A long historical data set is used to define the most important organic matter sources, the factors underlying their variability, and the implications of ecosystem rehabilitation actions for these sources. 2. Tributary-borne loading is the largest organic carbon source on an average annual Delta-wide basis; phytoplankton production and agricultural drainage are secondary; wastewater treatment plant discharge, tidal marsh drainage and possibly aquatic macrophyte production are tertiary; and benthic microalgal production, urban run-off and other sources are negligible. 3. Allochthonous dissolved organic carbon must be converted to particulate form - with losses due to hydraulic flushing and to heterotroph growth inefficiency - before it becomes available to the metazoan food web. When these losses are accounted for, phytoplankton production plays a much larger role than is evident from a simple accounting of bulk organic carbon sources, especially in seasons critical for larval development and recruitment success. Phytoplankton-derived organic matter is also an important component of particulate loading to the Delta. 4. The Delta is a net producer of organic matter in critically dry years but, because of water diversion from the Delta, transport of organic matter from the Delta to important, downstream nursery areas in San Francisco Bay is always less than transport into the Delta from upstream sources. 5. Of proposed rehabilitation measures, increased use of floodplains probably offers the biggest increase in organic matter sources. 6. An isolated diversion facility - channelling water from the Sacramento River around the Delta to the water projects - would result in substantial loading increases during winter and autumn, but little change in spring and summer when food availability probably matters most to developing organisms. 7. Flow and fish barriers in the channel could have significant effects, especially on phytoplankton sources and in dry years, by eliminating 'short-circuits' in the transport of organic matter to diversion points. 8. Finally, productivity of intentionally flooded islands probably would exceed that of adjacent channels because of lower turbidity and shallower mean depth, although vascular plants rather than phytoplankton could dominate if depths were too shallow. Copyright (C) 2000 John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.
Additional publication details
Organic matter sources and rehabilitation of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (California, USA)
Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems