Four years ago, a recent transplant to the Bay Area, I am standing atop the Marin Headlands, gazing across the expanse of San Francisco Bay. By swiveling a little, I can see–right there–the vast Pacific.

Bay and ocean. The two seem part and parcel.

That’s how I grew up thinking of the Bay: as a snag in the California coastline, a finger of the Pacific reaching up under the Golden Gate. But when I started work at The Bay Institute, I learned that’s just half the story.

Fast forward a year. I am some 400 miles “upstream” from the Bay, visiting Mount Shasta. In a park on the edge of town, a sweet little stream springs out of the rocks. It’s tempting to take off my shoes and go wading, but it seems almost sacrilege. This relatively humble beginning, after all, is considered the headwaters of the mighty Sacramento, the largest river in California.

I settle instead for dipping my fingers. That touch sends a thrill through me, and it’s not just the shock of the cold water. It is the strange realization that, in a way, I am touching the Bay.

San Francisco Bay sits at the foot of a vast watershed that extends through the Delta to the great rivers of the Central Valley and their tributaries in the Southern Cascades and High Sierra. More than 40% of California’s land mass drains into the Bay, and where those freshwaters meet the salty water of the Pacific, they create a rich ecosystem known as an estuary–the largest on the West Coast of the Americas.

When we think of the Bay in these “big picture” terms, it becomes clear that the health of the Bay is intimately interwoven with the health of its watershed. But more on that in the weeks to come.

Headwaters

Starting a “Bay blog” feels a little like trickling out of those rocks near Mt. Shasta. All of a sudden you are out in the daylight, for all to see. You have a vague sense of where you are headed, but little inkling yet of all the twists and turns, dams and diversions you will encounter on the journey.

Along the way, we’ll no doubt talk with Bay Institute scientists, water policy experts, and educators to find out what is happening around the Bay and its watershed. We’ll learn about some of the major threats to the Bay, including development, invasive species, and massive diversions of the freshwater flows that feed the Bay.

We’ll meet some of the unique, endangered species—such as the delta smelt and California freshwater shrimp—that call the region home. And we’ll hear about inspiring environmental restoration efforts large and small, from kids restoring local creeks piece by piece to one of the largest river restoration projects ever attempted.

Ann Dickinson is Communications Manager for The Bay Institute (www.bay.org), a nonprofit research, education, and advocacy organization dedicated to protecting and restoring San Francisco Bay and its watershed, “from the Sierra to the sea.”

Something Salty, Something Sweet 6 July,2011Ann Dickinson

Author

Ann Dickinson

Before moving to California almost five years ago, Ann served as Sally Brown Fellow in Environmental Literature at the University of Virginia, where she taught undergraduate seminars on literature and the environment and coordinated an ongoing reading series featuring nationally prominent nature writers. Prior to that, she spent a year as a research assistant at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute's field station on Barro Colorado Island, Panama, studying how young leaves defend themselves against herbivores.

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