Tag Archives: flooding

Op-Ed: It’s a fact: climate change made Hurricane Harvey more deadly 

Michael Mann, THE GUARDIAN

What can we say about the role of climate change in the unprecedented disaster that is unfolding in Houston with Hurricane Harvey? There are certain climate change-related factors that we can, with great confidence, say worsened the flooding. What we know so far about tropical storm Harvey Read more Sea level rise attributable to climate change – some of which is due to coastal subsidence caused by human disturbance such as oil drilling – is more than half a foot (15cm) over the past few decades (see here for a decent discussion). That means the storm surge was half a foot higher than it would have been just decades ago, meaning far more flooding and destruction.

In addition to that, sea surface temperatures in the region have risen about 0.5C (close to 1F) over the past few decades from roughly 30C (86F) to 30.5C (87F), which contributed to the very warm sea surface temperatures (30.5-31C, or 87-88F).

There is a simple thermodynamic relationship known as the Clausius-Clapeyron equation that tells us there is a roughly 3% increase in average atmospheric moisture content for each 0.5C of warming. Sea surface temperatures in the area where Harvey intensified were 0.5-1C warmer than current-day average temperatures, which translates to 1-1.5C warmer than “average” temperatures a few decades ago. That means 3-5% more moisture in the atmosphere.

That large amount of moisture creates the potential for much greater rainfalls and greater flooding. The combination of coastal flooding and heavy rainfall is responsible for the devastating flooding that Houston is experiencing.

Not only are the surface waters of the Gulf of Mexico unusually warm right now, but there is a deep layer of warm water that Harvey was able to feed upon when it intensified at near record pace as it neared the coast. Human-caused warming is penetrating down into the ocean. It’s creating deeper layers of warm water in the Gulf and elsewhere.

Read more at: It’s a fact: climate change made Hurricane Harvey more deadly | Michael E Mann | Opinion | The Guardian

Filed under Climate Change & Energy

Fallen trees in Sonoma County creeks add to salmon habitat

Nick Rahaim, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

“There’s not a lot of information out there about how to protect habitat in watersheds,” Green said. “Many people don’t realize fast-flowing, unobstructed creeks are not how this area evolved.”

Walking along the shaded banks of Dutch Bill Creek outside Occidental, geomorphologist John Green and environmental scientist Derek Acomb are satisfied with the winter that just passed. A deluge of water swelled thirsty watersheds, and strong winds knocked down an untold number of trees throughout the Sonoma County.

“It’s been a good year for trees coming down,” said Acomb, with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “It’s all about context; it’s all about where you are.”

While falling trees are a threat to both life and property, they create healthy habitats for coho salmon and steelhead trout. As much as dams, logging, agricultural runoff and overfishing throughout the decades have contributed to the collapse of salmon and trout populations, clearing creeks and rivers of downed trees and upended roots has been a major driver, too, Acomb said.

With more than 90 percent of the county’s watershed in private hands, the onus is on landowners to protect riparian habitat on their property. Before an individual can alter downed trees, logs and other forest material in waterways on their property, they must first receive a free permit from Fish and Wildlife — unless there is an immediate threat to life and property. The Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District can also assist in the process, said Green, the lead scientist and program manager there..

There are times when property owners call Fish and Wildlife, afraid debris in a nearby stream might flood their property or their homes. While there are serious emergencies, he said, most trees don’t pose an immediate threat.

“When they call, they’re in a survival state-of-mind,” Acomb said. “Then the following day the water has subsided and they see they’re going to be OK.”

Until the late 1990s, flood protection was the primary focus when managing creeks, streams and rivers, not habitat protection, said Green, overlooking a creek flowing through Westminster Woods where he has devoted a decade of work. The faster the water flows, the more quickly it can drain water when the rivers hit flood levels.

But without the protection from pools created by debris shaping the creek beds and slowing down the flow of water, juvenile salmon and trout are vulnerable to predators like river otters, raccoons and blue herons, Green said. Pools created by fallen timber also provide a place for coho to wait out a long, dry Californian summer before they finally venture out to the ocean in the winter months, he continued.

“With a little less flood capacity you can have a huge increase in habitat,” Acomb said, standing on the mossy bank next to Green. While the two work for different agencies, they have partnered to restore habitat in west Sonoma County.

Read more at: Fallen trees in Sonoma County creeks add to salmon habitat | The Press Democrat

Filed under Habitats, Water, Wildlife

Caltrans announces Highway 37 emergency construction 

Julie Johnson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

State highway officials are rushing to stabilize low-lying Highway 37 in northern Marin County on an emergency basis to prepare for another strong storm forecast to hit the region Thursday.

The highway has been inundated with flooding water from a series of January and February storms, causing road closures and traffic headaches for commuters dependent on the major Sonoma and Marin county thoroughfare.

A three-mile stretch of Highway 37 between Highway 101 and Atherton Avenue has been closed since Feb. 9. CHP officials Monday said they expected it to remain closed until at least Thursday while road crews work around the clock to raise it.

Caltrans has hired Santa Rosa-based Ghilotti Construction Co. to do the work, according to the CHP. A company representative couldn’t be reached Monday. A Caltrans spokesman didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.One of the lowest lying state roads in California, Highway 37 crosses marshlands, rivers and creeks along the San Pablo Bay.

Read more at: Caltrans announces Highway 37 construction | The Press Democrat

Filed under Transportation

In demand but increasingly swamped, Highway 37 has no easy fixes

Peter Fimrite, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

“This is something we foresaw because there are several low spots along these berms and levees,” said [Fraser] Shilling, whose report, Rising Above the Tide, says sea levels have already risen 8 inches along the California coast.

Persistently swamped Highway 37 — historically a sore spot for motorists — is rapidly becoming one of the Bay Area’s most pressing issues as heavy storms keep rolling through this winter, forcing repeated closures of a crucial transportation link.

The peculiar highway, which looks more like a rural farm road in places, connects the North Bay to the East Bay by cutting through wetlands and hay fields along the northern shore of San Pablo Bay. Wine Country day-trippers use it, as do drivers headed to Sonoma Raceway and Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo.

The increasingly popular artery, which was shut down for much of last week, has been closed for about three weeks this winter because of flooding.

The soggy blockages have raised aggravation levels among tens of thousands of commuters who use Highway 37 each day, and are providing a disturbing glimpse into what ecologists say is a wetter future, in which floodwaters powered by climate change could permanently drown the roadway.

“It is definitely the most problematic area in the Bay Area from the point of view of shoreline flooding and threats to communities and infrastructure,” said Fraser Shilling, co-director of the Road Ecology Center at UC Davis and author of a 2016 report analyzing the future of the highway.

Read more at: In demand but increasingly swamped, Highway 37 has no easy fixes – San Francisco Chronicle

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Transportation

Close to Home: Plans to fix Highway 37 need public support

David Rabbitt, Jake Mackenzie & Susan Gorin, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

To stay informed:

Follow Highway 37 on Facebook: facebook.com/route37/

Sonoma County Transportation Authority documents: http://scta.ca.gov/projects/highway37/

UC Davis Road Ecology Center: https://roadecology.ucdavis.edu/

Highway 37 was closed for nearly half of January. This 21-mile east-west corridor carries 44,000 vehicles each day and provides a critical link for commuters, weekend trips and freight hauling.

The recent news stories and editorial (“A glimpse of Highway 37’s flooded future?” Jan. 26) about flooding, correctly point out that local policymakers are working hard to figure out how to make the much-needed improvements happen quickly. It is not a simple nor easy task, but work is underway.

Two key facts have been established:Initial studies conducted by Caltrans and UC Davis provide preliminary analysis about how sea level rise will impact the corridor. It is dramatic information that shows complete inundation by the end of this century.

Traffic counts and analysis have been conducted to identify who is using the corridor at certain locations. The results show an even split among the four counties, but the direction of travel is very dependent on the time of day, with commuters going west in the morning and east in the evening.

There are five areas where action is underway:

1. Caltrans is pulling together plans and resources to raise the roadway where flooding occurred and pumping was needed.

2. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission has a contract already in place to analyze alternatives for all the problems facing the Highway 37 corridor — traffic congestion, flooding during storm events and other approaches such as bikeways, buses and rail. The $1 million evaluation of design alternatives will be completed in December.

3. Decisions on if and how a proposal to privatize a portion of the roadway — from Sears Point to Mare Island — fits into the solution.

4. Community outreach through public meetings, websites and social media have begun and will ramp up in 2017 as we have more detailed concepts related to environmental impacts, design ideas and funding options.

5. Funding is the most significant challenge. State and federal transportation money will be needed for a project of this size. Estimated costs far exceed $1 billion. And, at the same time, it is not the only large highway project we need to work on. In Sonoma County, we need to finish Highway 101; plus there are important projects on Interstate 80 at 680 in Solano County, on Highway 101 at 580 in Marin County and on Highway 29 in Napa County.

The funding challenge has led to an exploration of charging drivers like a toll bridge. In other corridors where this approach has been used — such as the Golden Gate Bridge — the user fees help provide the funds for improving and maintaining the corridor.

As the three Sonoma County representatives on the four-county policy committee, we ask for your help to find the best solutions.

The authors are members of the State Route 37 Policy Committee. Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt is chairman of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority and chairman of the State Route 37 Policy Committee. Rohnert Park Mayor Jake Mackenzie is incoming chairman of the Metropolitain Transportation Commission and a member of the State Route 37 Policy Committee. Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin is a board member for the Transportation Authority and is also a member of the State Route 37 Policy Committee.

Source: Close to Home: Plans to fix Highway 37 need public support | The Press Democrat

Filed under Transportation

Debate stalled over how to upgrade Highway 37 to deal with climate change

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Surveying flooding along Highway 37 in January, ecologist Fraser Shilling began doubting his projections for when climate change will cause severe, perhaps catastrophic impacts on the major North Bay thoroughfare.

In an influential 2016 report used as a guide for the highway’s future, Shilling, co-director of the Road Ecology Center at UC Davis, had established a timetable of several decades for those impacts to be fully realized.

But that was before January storms forced the full or partial closure of the highway for roughly 12 days, causing havoc for thousands of daily commuters.

“We’re starting to overwhelm the system in places that we were thinking we had 20 years of lead time. But we don’t,” Shilling said this week from his office in Davis. Delaying action could be catastrophic, he said, predicting that one day water will push over embankments and levees and the highway will be “gone.”

Highway 37, one of the lowest-lying in California, has long been threatened by climate change and rising sea levels, inadequate levees and political waffling over who bears responsibility for maintaining and upgrading the road. The 21-mile highway meanders across four counties — Solano, Napa, Sonoma and Marin — traversing tidal marshlands, rivers and creeks, and farmland where flooding presents a threat to livelihoods.

“You’ve got farms, freeways and frustrated drivers — and sea level rise,” said Brian Swedberg, who manages 525-acre Petaluma River Farms north of the highway across from Port Sonoma.

Read more at: Rising seas and pounding storms taking toll on Highway 37 | The Press Democrat

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Land Use, Transportation, Water

Highway 37 commute corridor will be underwater in 40 to 100 years due to sea-level rise

Jay Gamel, THE KENWOOD PRESS

Highway 37 is already deteriorating due to water levels that were eight inches higher in 2014-2015 than predicted by the U.C. Davis studies just a few years ago. The central segment is basically an elevated berm, or dirt mound, roughly 10 feet higher than the bay water level. In storm and high tide conditions, water can be at the nine-foot level.

Sonoma County Supervisors listened intently to plans to address State Highway 37 congestion and rising ocean levels that are likely to submerge portions of the North Bay’s major traffic conduit. Highway 37 connects Solano, Sonoma, and Marin counties along San Pablo Bay. Napa is intrinsically affected by what happens to the highway as well.

The issues driving Highway 37 congestion work the same for Highway 12 through the Valley of the Moon – rising housing costs in Sonoma and Marin are driving more of their workforce to Solano and other East Bay counties in search of affordable housing.

The transportation departments of all four counties are working to find the best solutions to replacing or rebuilding the 21-mile corridor, which isn’t easy in the current fiscal landscape.

“There is no money for transportation projects,” Sonoma County Transportation Authority Director Suzanne Smith told the county supervisors on Aug. 9. “There are no Measure M bond funds, no North Bay tax measures, and very little likelihood of state action this year.”

In May of this year, United Bridge Partners, a private group, offered to rebuild the two-lane segment and finance it with tolls. California has very few privately funded roads, toll or otherwise, and special legislation would be necessary to make this work. That proposal will be considered, Smith said, along with every other type of possible funding.

Read more at: The Kenwood Press – Saving Highway 37 from flooding will be an expensive, long-term project

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Transportation

Petaluma OKs two flood control projects 

Eric Gneckow, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

Two significant flood control projects are moving forward in Petaluma, the latest steps in the city’s long-term quest to fortify itself against rising waters.

The Petaluma City Council on Monday authorized a $1.4 million project for a section of the city’s Capri Creek, which will bolster flood protections in the area around Sunrise Parkway and North McDowell Boulevard. The work will also include habitat improvements and the installation of educational materials.

A separate $3.1 million project authorized in July will improve protections in an area of the Petaluma River upstream of Corona Road, while also adding a riverfront stretch of bicycle and pedestrian pathway. It is the third and final phase of recent flood protection work in the area known as Denman Reach.

On the heels of the completion of a major $41.5 million floodwall project spanning north from Lakeville Street, the work is another milestone in a long-term flood control effort in Petaluma, said Dan St. John, the city’s director of public works and utilities.

Read more at: Petaluma OKs two flood control projects | Petaluma Argus Courier | Petaluma360.com

Filed under Climate Change & Energy

Living on Earth: Saving the Bay Area

Emmett Fitzgerald, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO

Air Date: Week of May 27, 2016

stream/download this segment as an MP3 file

Alviso wetlands

Much of San Francisco Bay used to look like the small wetlands in Alviso (Photo: Emmett Fitzgerald)

In June, San Francisco Bay Area residents will vote on Measure AA, a proposed tax that would fund wetland restoration. Bringing back wetlands would provide habitat for many bird species, and could help save the Bay Area from the rising seas expected from global warming. But some argue the funding mechanism is unfair.

Source: Living on Earth: Saving the Bay Area

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Habitats, Water, Wildlife

Flood wall built to protect Santa Rosa treatment plant

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa is putting the finishing touches on a $200,000 wall surrounding vital sections of the Laguna wastewater treatment plant in an effort to prevent El Niño-fueled flood waters from inundating the low-lying facility.

Workers this week maneuvered into place the final few 4,000-pound concrete blocks that will make up most of a 950-foot-long wall designed to keep the waters of the Laguna de Santa Rosa at bay in the event of serious storms.

“It’s a little bit like Legos,” explained Mike Prinz, director of operations at the Llano Road plant, describing the construction process.

The location of the city’s wastewater treatment plant alongside the Laguna leaves it vulnerable to flooding. In the winter of 2005 and 2006, for example, floodwaters entered the plant and swept away an estimated 50,000 gallons of partially treated wastewater. For that and other violations, the city was fined $194,500 by the North Coast Water Quality Control Board.

So plant officials have been thinking for a few years about building a permanent flood protection wall to keep the plant safe from 100-year or even 500-year floods, Prinz said. But that project is still being studied and has yet to be funded.

Read more at: Flood wall built to protect Santa Rosa treatment plant

Filed under Water