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Kevin Stewart, left, and John Hagins try their luck in the placid delta waters as they participate in the Western Outdoor News bass tournament that started at Russo's Marina in Bethel Island, Calif. Friday, Oct. 22, 2010. (Kristopher Skinner/Staff Archives)

The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta's rich history could soon make it a National Heritage Area.

Five local U.S. congressional representatives, along with county supervisors in the Delta region, introduced a bill last week that would establish it as a heritage area. Sen. Dianne Feinstein introduced a similar bill in the U.S. Senate recently.

The legislation would establish the estuary as a National Heritage Area, which would be managed by the Delta Protection Commission. The distinction aims at protecting and promoting the history, resources, and economy of the Delta community. It would not effect water rights or water contracts, nor would it create new regulatory authorities.

There are 49 heritage areas recognized in the country.

An canal taking water from the delta to the southern part of the state runs through Firebaugh Wednesday Feb. 25, 2009.  The Central Valley town has been
An canal taking water from the delta to the southern part of the state runs through Firebaugh Wednesday Feb. 25, 2009. The Central Valley town has been pummeled by the tanking economy, the drought and the environmental restrictions on pumping Delta water. Firebaugh, west of Fresno, is located in the Westlands Water District, which gets all its water from the federal water project. Beginning March 1st, that water will be cut off -- most likely for the rest of the year. The town has an official unemployment rate of 35 percent. Patrick Tehan/Mercury News) (Patrick Tehan)

"The Delta is the heart of the California water system. The Delta Heritage Act helps local communities sustain and enhance the vitality of this national treasure," Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, said in a news release.

Feinstein adds in the same release: "The Delta is an important resource for California and the largest inland delta in the world -- and we must treat it with the respect it deserves."

The Delta includes about 60 islands protected by 1,100 miles of levees and is home to about 3.5 million residents, including 2,500 family farmers.

The Delta is also known as a recreational haven for boating, fishing, hunting, and viewing wildlife.


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By 1492, the area supported North America's largest settlement of Native Americans. Centuries later it was the gateway to the gold fields, and after that became home to Chinese workers that built hundreds of miles of levees that allowed for farming.

Sizable groups of Japanese, Italian, German, Portuguese, Dutch, Greek, South Asian, and other immigrants called the Delta home over the years.

Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.