This story was originally published by Bay Nature magazine.
Something is amiss on Sherman Island, a whale-shaped swath of farm and grazing land at the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. If you don’t know what ails the place, it might be hard to pinpoint the problem. The island, in the Sacramento Delta, is roughly 16 square miles. Its asphalt roads, cracked and sagging at the edges, look like cheese melted over a lumpy pizza. The telephone poles, many of them kept erect by taut guy-wires, stand conspicuously at non-right angles. The landscape feels Dr. Seussian — a wacky, slightly absurdist version of farmland, right down to the exaggerated industrial backdrop: a steady stream of cars driving past on State Highway 160, which traverses the island; steaming smokestacks from the power plant across the river; the Antioch Bridge arcing dramatically over the San Joaquin River; enormous wind turbines turning lazily on a hill to the northwest.
“We’re standing 10 feet below sea level,” Bryan Brock, an engineer with California’s Department of Water Resources, told me during a visit in May. Brock, who has a white-blond goatee sprouting fr... Read more