California’s Disappearing Wetlands — The Laguna Seca

Foundry Spatial
Oct 13, 2020 · 3 min read
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In California, wetlands are disappearing. In the 1970s, California, with a total surface area of approximately 101 million acres, had 5 million acres of wetland. Today, less than 500,000 acres of wetland remain. More than 90% of historical wetlands have already been lost, and those that remain are vulnerable to human effects and climate change.

The Coyote Valley in California connects 1.13 million acres of wildlife habitat. It is home to the Laguna Seca, a now-seasonal wetland in which water is above the surface from December to May. The Laguna Seca was once the Bay Area’s largest wetland system, originally spanning over 1,000 acres. Historically, the wetland existed year-round in a low basin at the junction of Fisher Creek and Coyote Creek. Today, the Laguna Seca is around 10% of its original size, and water disappears from the surface over the summer and fall months.

Wetlands in California

A wetland is an ecosystem where water is present either at or near the surface of the soil year-round or at varying parts of the year. The presence of water in the wetland supports aquatic plants and animal species that directly or indirectly depend on the water supply.

Wetlands perform essential ecological functions for the surrounding environment. One of these functions is by acting as sponges to absorb water during flooding. Another function wetlands perform is groundwater recharge, which is the slow release of water to refill aquifers. Wetlands can also store carbon from the atmosphere to help buffer the effects of global warming. In addition to providing essential ecological functions, wetlands are biologically diverse and sustain complex sets of ecosystems.

In California, wetlands support migrating birds and host endangered animal species such as the California tiger salamander. Amphibian and fish species depend on the presence of water on the surface of wetlands to spawn. The Coyote Valley provides essential linkages for wildlife moving between the Santa Cruz and Diablo mountain ranges. Protecting the natural ecosystems of the Coyote Valley, such as the Laguna Seca, is one piece of preserving the ecological biodiversity of California.

Wetlands are Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems

Wetlands are disappearing in California for many reasons. The main culprit is water diversion to support development. However, another large contributor to the loss of these ecosystems is the mismanagement of groundwater resources in California. Though groundwater is a valuable resource for people and industries, it is essential for the environment. Because an equilibrium exists between groundwater and surface water within a hydraulically connected region, when groundwater is overused, the supply of surface water is affected. The underlying water table that is crucial to the survival of the wetland drops when groundwater is overdrawn. A large enough drop caused by groundwater extraction can cause permanent damage to the ecosystem.

The California Water Framework

The state of California has reached a critical junction where leading-edge solutions are vital for the long-term sustainability of the natural environment and dependent ecosystems. The Foundry Spatial California Water Framework addresses this imminent need by providing accessible, actionable information concerning sustainable groundwater management to help preserve and restore critical ecological areas like the Laguna Seca.

In unlocking the mystery of how groundwater is connected to surface water, the California Water Framework is helping resource managers and decision-makers understand the past, present and future surface water depletion that results from groundwater pumping. We aim to help balance the complex and sometimes-competing water needs of people, industry and the environment. We believe that steps towards sustainable resource management are necessary in order to promote ecological connectivity, conservation and resistance to climate change in California.


Open Space Authority
Open Space Trust

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