The Sacramento River Delta… The West’s LARGEST Estuary
The California Delta is formed by the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin, the state’s two largest rivers. It plays a major role in the state’s prosperity by providing drinking water for millions of Californians and fueling a $31 billion agricultural industry. The Delta is an important habitat to more than 750 animal and plant species, including waterfowl, birds of prey, sport fish and species listed as threatened or endangered: Delta smelt, Chinook salmon and steelhead. The 1,000 square-mile estuary through which 50% of all California’s runoff travels, supports 80% of California’s commercial salmon fisheries. Over 1,100 miles of levees protect farms, cities, schools, people, and natural habitat. The Delta Farm and Winery Trail encompasses only the northern part of this large delta.
The Delta… California’s FIRST Agricultural Region
By the mid 1800s, the Sacramento River Delta was a bustling region with steamboats transporting pears, asparagus, and other crops from Sacramento to San Francisco. While Forty-Niners passed through on their way to strike gold in the Sierra foothills, other settlers began to farm the rich soils in the Delta to provide food for the California and eastern markets. In 1861, the California Legislature authorized the Reclamation District Act, providing levee construction to make the land more suitable for farming. By 1930 the swampland had been encircled with levies and was being farmed. The flat terrain coupled with year-round availability of fresh water, made irrigating crops in the Delta cheaper and simpler than other fertile regions of California. This created the Delta region as the first developed agricultural region in California.
Since 1944, one important protection for farmland has been the release of water from dams during low-flow periods to protect farmlands from salt intrusion and protect the ecology of the Delta. With California’s increasing thirst for water this delicate sustainability is in jeopardy. Today Delta farmers value and protect the fragile ecosystem by implementing efficient water management to preserve the state’s most productive farming region.
The Delta… Agriculture TODAY
Over 80% of the Delta’s total land area (553,687 acres) is in agriculture, of which 75% is classified as Prime Farmland. By comparison, only 18 percent of the state’s agricultural land is classified as Prime Farmland.
Some vineyards and pear orchards in the Delta date back to the early 1800s. The Clarksburg appellation is a premier location for growing high quality grapes. The confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers with the Delta breezes provides a microclimate that brings out the true potential of each of our varietals. Grapes grown in the Clarksburg Appellation in the Delta find their way to highly touted vintners. Wines made in the Delta region are recognized worldwide for their award winning quality.
The Delta… CULTURE
People worldwide, from many cultures, have made the Delta what it is today. Portuguese, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Native American, Dutch, Mexican and Anglo influences all contributed to the thriving agricultural area. Many of the towns along the river include schools, stores, services and places of worship that honor and perpetuate various ethnic customs and cultures that still flourish within the Delta.
The Delta… BRIDGES and FERRIES
As you meander the rivers and sloughs of the Delta, you’ll be crossing a myriad of spectacular and varied bridges. Some are approaching 100 years old and listed on the Historic Register. The yellow Double Leaf “Bascule” design bridges (with two halves that rise in unison) along Hwy 160, were designed by the Strauss Bascule Bridge Co. of Chicago, Illinois, who engineered virtually all of the “Bascule” bridges in California prior to WWII. The engineer was Joseph B Strauss who was also the Chief Engineer on the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge. The Painterville Bridge just outside the town of Courtland crosses the Sacramento River. The Steamboat Slough Bridge crossing Steamboat Slough. The Isleton Bridge just outside of the town of Isleton crosses the Sacramento River.
Two FREE public ferries still operate in the Delta: The “Real McCoy,” takes vehicles across Cache Slough between Rio Vista and Ryer Island and the J-Mack ferry crosses Steamboat Slough between Grand Island and Ryer Island.
Please enjoy a drive through the Delta as your explore our history, maritime, cultures, and agriculture. Suggested driving routes with narratives are located on the Driving Routes page.