Catarina Pien: Exploring the Bay-Delta

Catarina Pien

The Delta Stewardship Council (DSC) is a unique placement since it is the only host agency in the California Sea Grant State Fellowship program that focuses on a freshwater system.  As a marine scientist, I had to learn about freshwater systems, as well as the complex issues that come with trying to balance water supply reliability with ecosystem health and human/cultural values.

Although there is ample literature about the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and the challenges faced by the community, the system and its issues are more easily grasped by physically going into the Delta:

The Bay-Delta Tour

One of the most rewarding experiences I had as a fellow was the Bay-Delta Tour. Three of the DSC’s California Sea Grant State Fellows (Stephen Pang, Amanda Wasserman and I), went on the tour in May 2018 and listened to a variety of people—from farmers to engineers to managers—talk about important issues in the Delta. Some of the issues we learned about included:

  • Water conveyance at the C.W. Jones Pumping Plant, which moves water from the Delta to the Central Valley and other parts of California;
  • Invasive weeds and control measures at Brannan Island State Recreation Area, where representatives from the Department of Boating and Waterways talked about how they are actively trying to control the increasing abundance of invasive vegetation in the Delta;
  • Subsidence at Twitchell Island, where we observed lands that were lower than sea level, and learned about how engineers are using levees and other measures to protect these fragile islands from flooding; and
  • The future of the endangered Delta smelt at UC Davis Fish Conservation and Culture Lab, where we watched professionals tag and culture Delta smelt to create a refuge population.

Photos from Catarina Pien


Besides the Bay-Delta Tour, some of the fellows have also gone out in the field with monitoring and research programs in the Delta. One of my most exciting trips in the field was with the Suisun Marsh Fish Sampling Team (led by Teejay O’Rear at UC Davis), where I got to see an abundance of native fishes and hear about all the fish Teejay had ever caught (a long list).

I had jokingly requested that we catch a sturgeon that day; my dream unexpectedly came true when we caught a small white sturgeon, which to me is the Delta equivalent of the sharks I used to study for my thesis!

Photos from Catarina Pien in the field

More fun with the fellows

Some of the fun Delta/Sacramento activities I enjoyed with other fellows included cooling off in the summer by floating down the American River, exploring charming swimming holes on the Yuba River, and going on an evening bat tour to watch Mexican free-tailed bats migrate out of the Yolo Bypass (which inspired my Yolo bat Halloween costume). Around Halloween, we also (almost) made it through a spooky escape room, and (actually) made it through one of the largest corn mazes in the world!

Photos of fun in the Delta and Sacramento area from Catarina Pien

If you move to Sacramento, I highly suggest getting out into the Delta, even if you’re in a marine position! If you’re especially adventurous and burning man is too cliché for you, live out our DSC fellows’ dream and take part in Ephemerisle.

Written by Catarina Pien