Sean Windell: From Sea to Delta

Author: Sean Windell
Fellow Type: California Sea Grant State Fellow
Year(s) of Fellowship: 2015
Host Agency: Delta Science Program

Working with the Delta Science Program and the Interagency Ecological Program exposed me to an entirely new ecosystem and its associated management and policy issues.  I’m grateful for the match I received because it provided me the opportunity to learn about the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and watershed and how much of a vital role it plays in California, both ecological and politically.  As a marine biologist and California native, I never fully appreciated this part of the state -- and am not sure I ever would have if not for this fellowship.  

image courtesy of the Interagency Ecological Program

I spent most of my year as a CASG State Fellow developing a conceptual life-cycle model and core monitoring recommendations for the endangered winter-run Chinook salmon.  Focusing on this species was a perfect introduction to the Delta, linking my oceanic background to the progressively fresher water side of things, all the way to the upper watershed towards the headwaters of the Sacramento River. 

Studying Chinook salmon highlighted the vast alterations humans have placed on the delta and surrounding riverine ecosystems, and the resulting management that now struggles to balance water supply with ecosystem sustainability.  Compounded with the severe multi-year drought we're facing, the entire system is being pushed to its limits and edges winter-run Chinook closer towards extinction.  It’s not pretty, and is extremely complicated and overwhelming for those trying to correct some of our wrongs and strike some balance between the environment’s needs and ours.  I feel fortunate that I was able to contribute in small part to the untangling of this complicated mess. 

Now that my year-long fellowship is winding down, I feel that I just started developing a small grasp on what is going on in the Delta, and want to stay to see what becomes of the project I’ve been working on and the many other efforts that are underway.  I will absolutely look into coming back, and continue learning and exploring this deceptively pleasurably nugget in California, but first I’m going to walk through some mountains.  I’m planning on taking some time (actually a lot of time) to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, and see a lot more of California.  Hopefully I’ll witness some of El Niño’s handwork in the Sierras quenching the Delta’s thirst.

Written by Sean Windell