Environmental science

AU/GEOG 301: Bay Area Environments Spring 2020


San Francisco Bay Estuary Lab Due April. 6th by 3:00 PM

San Francisco Bay (Fig. 1) is an extensive and shallow estuary. Approximately 40% of California’s water drains out to the Pacific Ocean through the bay. Think about that for a minute… California is the 3rd largest state in terms of area, and the area that drains through the San Francisco Bay is larger than 30 states in the US! The Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, whose headwaters (where the rivers begin) are in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, carry roughly 90% of the water flowing into the bay.

Figure 1: Historical view (1770-1820) of the San Francisco Bay, which includes San Pablo Bay and Suisun Bay (US Geological Survey, 2006).

AU/GEOG 301: Bay Area Environments Spring 2020

As seen in Figure 1, the land area surrounding the San Francisco Bay was heavily influenced by tidal action. The bay has lost approximately 80% of its historical tidal wetlands in response to human and industrial activities including development pressures within and around the bay. Tidal wetlands are critical areas for ecosystems, flood prevention, and sediment management. These wetlands are sensitive habitats for small mammals, migratory birds and fish species, many of which are threatened or endangered.

Watershed & Estuary Background

A watershed, also called a drainage basin, is the area in which all water,

sediments, and dissolved materials drain from the land into a common body of water, such as a river, lake, estuary, or ocean. A watershed encompasses not only the water but also the surrounding land from which the water drains. Watersheds range in size from huge areas like the Mississippi River drainage basin to small areas like your backyard.

Whether large or small, a watershed’s characteristics can greatly affect how water flows through it. Heavy storms may cause streams to rise rapidly. Human- made features of the watershed like dams or large paved areas can change stream flow and alter the watershed. If the terrain is steep, changes in stream flow due to runoff can be significant.

Water quality is critically impacted by everything that goes on within the watershed. Mining, forestry, agriculture, construction practices, urban runoff from streets, parking lots, chemically-treated lawns and gardens, failing septic systems, and improperly treated municipal sewage discharges all affect water quality. Reducing pollution and protecting water quality requires identifying, regulating, monitoring, and controlling potential sources of pollution. Some examples of control practices include protecting stream banks and shorelines by maintaining vegetated buffer strips, treating all wastes to remove harmful pollutants, or using grass-lined catchment basins in urban areas to trap sediment and pollutants. Also, protecting wetlands is essential since they are important in slowing runoff, absorbing floodwaters, and cleaning storm water.

Estuaries lie at the mouth of watersheds where fresh water meets ocean water. San Francisco Bay is a shallow, extremely large estuary that drains about 40% of California. Nearly 90% of the fresh water flowing into the bay comes from the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers. Before draining into the Suisun Bay, both rivers’ drainage creates the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (Fig. 2). The Delta is a vast network of channels, agricultural lands and fresh water wetlands. Suisun Bay is where fresh water begins mixing with salt water from the Pacific Ocean. Technically, both rivers flow into Suisun Bay, which flows through the Carquinez Strait to meet with the Napa River at the entrance to San Pablo Bay, which then connects at its south end to San Francisco Bay. This entire group of interconnected bays is referred to as the San Francisco Bay.

AU/GEOG 301: Bay Area Environments Spring 2020

Figure 2: Map view of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and Suisun Bay (US Geological Survey, 2003).

Activity Summary

You will investigate how sustainability is being addressed in practices and

policies around an aspect of the San Francisco Bay estuary. You will need to choose one topic from the following list, explore online resources, and write a report about the topic of your choosing from the following list of topics:

• Disposal of hazardous San Francisco Bay dredging materials • Earthquake liquefaction hazards around the Bay Area • Planning for sea level rise around the Bay Area • Bay Area wetlands restoration projects: past, present and future • Impacts of filling historical wetlands around the Bay Area • Stormwater pollution prevention around the Bay Area • Oil spill hazard mitigation in the San Francisco Bay • Wastewater pollution prevention around the Bay Area • Upstream dam construction effects on the estuary health

Your report will be a summary of how urban planners, research scientists, water managers, environmental groups, etc. are addressing the issues facing the San Francisco Bay estuary. Therefore, you should address the hypotheses, data, and conclusions that are driving practices and policies related to the specific topic you’ve chosen to investigate. Your report needs follow the basic report format (title, introduction, body paragraphs, conclusion, references/works cited, figures and tables).

AU/GEOG 301: Bay Area Environments Spring 2020


Write a 1,000 word report about the topic of your choosing from the list of topics detailed above. Your report will be graded on completeness, original work, grammar & punctuation, and proper formatting.

You are required to reference a minimum of five (5) credible sources and include a references section. In addition to a references section, be sure you use in- text citations to these sources as their information comes up in your paper. Proper citation is NOT just providing a website URL. A proper citation is providing the author(s) last name and year of publication, if no specific author is given, cite the name of publishing agency (see citations attached to figures above for an example). If you are unsure of proper citation formatting, ask Google or watch the following SFSU Library tutorial. I don’t care which specific format you use, e.g. APA, MLA, Chicago, etc., as long as it is consistent! A credible source includes journal papers, scientific reports (USGS, EPA, NOAA, etc.), newspaper articles, textbooks, etc. NOTE: Wikipedia is NOT a credible source. If you include tables or figures, there needs to be proper captions (as exampled in the figures used in this lab).

Figures and tables are not required, but please include them if you think they will help with the overall quality of your report. If you include any figures and tables, you need to include captions (as demonstrated in the figures above). If you use figures and/or tables from an outside resource, i.e. not generated yourself, make sure to include a reference in the caption and in the references section.


US Geological Survey. 2006. US Coast Survey, US Geological Survey, US Dept of Agriculture, Spanish disenos, explorers’ journals, and local archives. US Geological Survey. 2003. US Geological Survey, US Dept of Agriculture, Spanish disenos, explorers’ journals, and local archives.


I. Introduction (2 Points)

• Addresses the topic & it’s importance (1 pt) • Motivation (estuary/wetland/Bay Area health) (1 pt)

II. Discussion (5 Points) • Discuss sources results/practices/policies and what results

mean to Bay Area/estuaries/wetlands (3 pts) • Articulate sources results and/or personal thoughts

on estuary sustainability • Referencing and citing all 5 sources within the

body paragraphs (2 pts) III. Conclusion (5 points)

• Readdresses the overall topic & it’s importance (3 pts)

AU/GEOG 301: Bay Area Environments Spring 2020

• Summarizes main points of research (2 pts) IV. References (4 Points)

• Minimum of five references (2 pts) • Proper citation format (2 pts)

V. Mechanics (4 Points) • Original work (2 pts) • Spelling, grammar & punctuation (1 pt) • Proper formatting (1 pt)


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