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Shoring up the state: Is California's response to rising seas enough?

Julie Cart, VENTURA COUNTY STAR

In Sonoma County, Highway 37, built on a base of mud, flooded on 27 days last winter and has already sunk more than two feet, according to Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt. He said that the state’s transportation agency, Caltrans, told local officials that it could get to the problem in 2088.
Four affected counties, unable to wait 71 years, are considering a number of options, including putting the critical commuter highway atop a 6-foot levee. The price tag for the 20-mile project is as much as $4 billion, and no one knows who will pay for it. 

For Will Travis, it began 12 years ago, with an eye-opening article in the New Yorker magazine about rising seas and the widespread flooding and dislocation that would bring. As the executive director of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, the region’s coastal management agency, he needed to know more.
Travis directed his staff to research the issue. In 2007 they handed him a report that foretold catastrophe. The agency produced maps with colorful, frightening flood projections and shared it with local policymakers. Trillions of dollars in public and private infrastructure were at risk, Travis told them. The time to prepare was now.
Yet the region’s elected officials and Silicon Valley’s cluster of high-tech firms were deaf to the urgency of his message. No one was planning for higher seas. Their problems were more immediate.“
What I heard a lot was, ‘I’m trying to get my kid into a good college, my wife wants me to lose weight, the car transmission is making a funny noise and you want me to worry about sea level rise?’” Travis said. “‘Yeah, I’ll get to that when I prepare my earthquake supplies.’”
He crafted a policy response for his region anyway. In 2011, after four years of scientific analysis, intense bickering, and legal fights, the commission issued what Travis described as the nation’s first enforceable requirement that all shoreline development address the problem of rising seas.
Read more at: Shoring up the state: Is California’s response to rising seas enough?

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SF Bay ecosystem collapsing as rivers diverted, scientists report

Carolyn Lochhead, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
Evidence of what scientists are calling the planet’s Sixth Mass Extinction is appearing in San Francisco Bay and its estuary, the largest on the Pacific Coast of North and South America, according to a major new study.

Inflow to SF Bay from delta. Unimpaired flow is what would occur if no water was diverted from rivers upstream. (Bay Institute 2016.)

So little water is flowing from the rivers that feed the estuary, which includes the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, Suisun Marsh and the bay, that its ecosystem is collapsing, scientists who conducted the study say.
Human extraction of water from the rivers is not only pushing the delta smelt toward extinction, they say, but also threatening dozens more fish species and many birds and marine mammals, including orca whales, that depend on the estuary’s complex food web.
The findings by scientists at the Bay Institute, an environmental group, underline conclusions already reached by state regulators and are intended to buttress the environmental case for potentially drastic water restrictions in San Francisco and other parts of the Bay Area, and among farmers in the northern San Joaquin Valley.
The State Water Resources Control Board moved last month to require that Californians leave far more water — 40 percent of what would naturally flow during spring — in the San Joaquin River and its three main tributaries, the Tuolumne, Merced and Stanislaus rivers, in an effort to save fish species.
That would double the amount of water protected from human use in most years, according to the board. Last year, only 10 percent of the San Joaquin River, the second-largest in the state, reached the delta, as the rest was diverted or stored upstream. The Tuolumne, which is San Francisco’s main water supply, is one of the state’s most over-tapped rivers, with about 80 percent of its normal flow directed to human uses.
Jon Rosenfield, the lead scientist on the Bay Institute report, said people take so much water from the rivers that the estuary’s entire ecosystem is in collapse.
“Our estuary is being choked” by a lack of fresh water, Rosenfield said. Over the past four decades, he said, urban users and farmers have diverted so much water from the rivers that in all but the wettest years, severe drought has become a permanent condition for wildlife.
UC Davis fish biologist Peter Moyle, who is not connected with the study and had not viewed its results, confirmed in a telephone interview that native fish species in the estuary face dire conditions.
Read more at: SF Bay ecosystem collapsing as rivers diverted, scientists report – San Francisco Chronicle

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Environmental groups ask California officials to save endangered fish in San Francisco Bay Estuary from extinction

Water Maven, MAVEN’S NOTEBOOK

With the critically endangered Delta smelt on the brink of extinction, Defenders of Wildlife, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and The Bay Institute today called upon the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to issue emergency regulations and release the fresh water the smelt need to survive. Water is currently being diverted away from key waterways that feed the San Francisco Bay Estuary, depriving the fish of essential freshwater flows and limiting its chances of survival.
Click here to read the 12-page letter to the State Water Board.
Following are statements from Defenders, NRDC, and The Bay Institute:
Kim Delfino, California program director for Defenders of Wildlife: “Decades of state and federal agencies’ mismanagement of the San Francisco Bay Estuary, compounded by several years of drought, is causing catastrophic harm to wildlife in the estuary. The Delta smelt is circling the drain because this iconic estuary has been starved of water. We are calling on the State Water Resources Control Board to comply with its legal obligations and save this fish before it is gone forever.”
Kate Poole, Water and Wildlife Project director for the Natural Resources Defense Council: “The Delta smelt is the canary in the coal mine for the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary, and its condition indicates that the estuary is suffocating. Water agencies failed to heed the urgent call of biologists to keep more fresh water flowing through the Delta this summer to revive the ailing habitat. Now it’s time for the State Water Board to step in and stave off extinction of the first in a long line of imperiled Delta species, including native salmon, steelhead and sturgeon.”
Gary Bobker, Rivers and Delta program director at The Bay Institute: “It’s shocking enough to realize that what was once the most common resident fish of the San Francisco Bay Estuary is now the rarest, because of decades of mismanagement that the drought has only made worse. It’s unthinkable to contemplate that the Delta smelt may go extinct this year because state and federal officials continue to fail to act on the science that shows that providing a small portion of the flow that once sustained this species – and many others now in decline – could help prevent that from happening. This unique species’ fate is in the hands of the State Water Board now.”

Read more at: MAVEN’S NOTEBOOK – Water news

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Measure AA passage assures funding source for North Bay restoration projects 

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
SEARS POINT— On this spread of flooded former hayfield edging San Pablo Bay, clumps of native pickleweed are sprouting, seabirds and raptors soar overhead and fish forage on the incoming tide.
It’s a scene wetland experts hope to replicate along the North Bay shoreline and on nearby creeks as part of an ambitious effort to improve water quality, enhance wildlife habitat and bolster natural defenses against sea-level rise.
Here, on 960 acres of land where a century-old levee was breached last fall and bay waters rushed in, some of that transformation is already under way. It is part of a decades-long, patchwork effort to reverse degradation of San Francisco Bay’s once-vast complex of tidal and freshwater wetlands.
And soon there will be more public money to expand the restoration. It will come from a $12 annual parcel tax passed last week by voters in the nine-county Bay Area, a turning point, conservationists say, in the regionwide quest to recover the fringe of wetlands that historically rimmed the region’s 1,600-square-mile estuary.
Measure AA, the Clean and Healthy Bay Ballot Measure, is expected to generate $25 million a year for wetland restoration and related projects, providing a reliable funding source for environmental projects for the bay and its watersheds, conservationists said.
Read more at: Measure AA passage assures funding source for North Bay restoration projects | The Press Democrat –

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Bay Area wetland restoration tax passes

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A ballot measure expected to raise $500 million over two decades for wetlands restoration and other projects designed to improve the health and resilience of San Francisco Bay passed Tuesday.
As of Wednesday morning, the measure received 69.3 percent of the vote. To pass, it needed support from two-thirds majority, or 66.7 percent of voters within the nine Bay Area counties.The measure fell short with 63.3 percent of the vote in Sonoma County, one of four North and East Bay counties where it trailed. The others were Napa, Solano and Contra Costa counties.
The measure, the San Francisco Bay Clean Water, Pollution Prevention and Habitat Restoration Program, would impose a $12-a-year parcel tax on property owners in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, Sonoma and San Francisco counties, generating about $25 million a year over its 20-year lifespan.
The money would be used to fund a host of shoreline projects around the region intended to restore tidal marshes and freshwater wetlands that play a critical role in filtering bay water, creating wildlife habitat and buffering against flooding and climate-related sea rise.
Wetlands are the bay’s “heart and lungs,” keeping the water clean and providing abundant wildlife habitat, according to Save the Bay, an environmental advocacy group. Yet, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, the region has lost 95 percent of its original wetlands due to human activity since the mid-19th century.
“We’ve done extensive polling on the measure and about people’s attitudes toward the bay for many, many years,” said David Pine, chairman of the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority. “What’s encouraging is people across the bay — even those who don’t live near the bay shore — have a strong affinity toward the bay and see it as a defining asset of our area and one that needs to be passed on to the next generation in better shape than we got it.”
Source: Bay Area wetland restoration tax passes | The Press Democrat

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Op-Ed: Measure AA is vital for future of the bay 

Dave Koehler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The San Francisco Bay defines our region — a shared natural resource that unites residents and visitors with its breathtaking beauty. The truth is, the bay is highly threatened by pollution and sea-level rise. Thousands of acres of wetlands must be restored because miles of bay shoreline face increasing flood threats from extreme weather and rising seas. If we are going to pass on a healthy, beautiful bay to our children and grandchildren, we need to come together and act now to protect and restore it.
For the first time in our history, the entire Bay Area has an opportunity to financially support the San Francisco Bay and make it healthier and safer for future generations. Measure AA on the June 7 ballot in all nine Bay Area counties is a small parcel tax that generates big benefits. For only $12 per year per parcel, amounting to $1 per month, Measure AA will raise $500 million over 20 years to restore wetlands around the bay — including in Sonoma County — that will provide habitat for fish and wildlife and filter out pollutants from the water. These wetlands — such as the Sonoma Land Trust’s own Sears Point Wetland Restoration project along Highway 37 — also provide a natural barrier against flooding and offer recreational open space for all of us.
North Bay counties will receive millions from Measure AA for essential wetland restoration projects. The allegation made by some that these counties — and Sonoma County in particular — will receive less than our fair share of the $500 million in funding is simply inaccurate. Measure AA has many built-in provisions to ensure the funds are used where they are most needed. Sonoma County has thousands of acres of wetlands restoration projects ready to go, and our projects will be highly competitive with other regions.
Of all the anti-AA arguments, the claim that the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority is not answerable to the public completely distorts the truth. The restoration Authority board was set up under state law and is made up entirely of local elected officials. In other words, they are the same county supervisors and city council members who we rely on and interact with every day. Each region of the bay has a designated representative on the board. The current North Bay representative is Supervisor Keith Caldwell from Napa.
Our own Supervisor Susan Gorin has expressed interest in being nominated to the authority for the North Bay seat when it opens up for a term change. Measure AA also includes an additional level of openness and accountability by establishing a citizen oversight committee whose sole job is to make sure the authority is following the law and being transparent with its funding decisions.
Measure AA is endorsed by the most diverse coalition the Bay Area has ever seen, including local and national environmental organizations, leading businesses and organized labor and mayors and other elected officials, from Gov. Jerry Brown to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and Reps. Jared Huffman and Mike Thompson — more than 600 groups and individuals in all. They understand Measure AA will bring us critical bay improvements for people and wildlife, and green infrastructure that will help protect our cities from flooding.
Sonoma Land Trust is campaigning hard for Measure AA because we have confidence in its safeguards and believe it is our best chance to fund the restoration of large sections of the Sonoma and northern bayshore before ocean levels rise even higher. We trust you won’t believe the scare tactics of the anti-tax groups. Please free to reach out to us if you have additional questions.
Dave Koehler is the Executive Director of the Sonoma Land Trust.
Source: Close to Home: Measure AA is vital for future of the bay | The Press Democrat

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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

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Unusual number of whales seen in San Francisco Bay

Associated Press
Migrating humpback whales have been swimming into San Francisco Bay in unprecedented numbers during the past two weeks — an onslaught that experts say could be caused by an unusual concentration of anchovies near shore.
As many as four humpbacks at a time have been spotted flapping their tails and breaching in bay waters, apparently feeding on the anchovies and other schooling fish during incoming tides, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Thursday.
It’s normal for gray whales to wander into the bay, but humpbacks generally feed farther offshore and are not accustomed to navigating shallow water and narrow straits such as those in San Francisco Bay, the newspaper reported.
Read more at: Unusual number of whales seen in San Francisco Bay – SFGate

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PD Editorial: Yes on Measure AA for the bay

Consider that by the 1960s, nearly 90 percent of the wetlands that had once surrounded San Francisco Bay were gone. Thanks in large part to the environmental awakening that occurred shortly after that, the filling-in of the bay came to a halt and thousands of wetlands have since been preserved. But it has been slow-going. The tidal marsh area, which once totaled nearly 200,000 acres, is only at about 44,000 acres today.

Bay Area voters will soon have an opportunity to accelerate these efforts in a significant way. Measure AA on the June 7 ballot calls for approval of a $12-per-parcel annual tax for enhancing wetlands and wildlife habitat, for the expansion of public access and recreational opportunities and for the protection of public infrastructure — from highways to wastewater treatment plants to schools — from the threat of rising sea levels.

The tax would raise $500 million over 20 years. Half would be distributed to each Bay Area county based on population. The other half would be available through competitive grants, But the North Bay stands to benefit significantly as restoration projects have already been identified and public-private partnerships are in place to make them happen.

The kind of work involved was on display in October when crews broke through a 140-year-old levee at Sears Point, allowing saltwater to reclaim more than 1,000 acres at the southern tip of Sonoma County, land that had been used for hayfields. Another 35,000 acres of land has been acquired around the Bay Area, the largest estuary on the West Coast. But money is needed for restoration of those lands.

Officials from the Sonoma County Water Agency say the North Bay stands to receive at least $45 million, which would be used to leverage state and federal dollars for restoration projects along Sonoma Creek, the Petaluma River and in San Pablo Bay.

Tax funds also will be used to help protect infrastructure threatened by rising sea levels. According to the National Academy of Sciences, bay water levels are expected to rise by at least two feet by 2050 and as much as five feet by 2100. Studies by the Bay Area Council have found that such a rise would put an estimated 1,780 miles of roads and highways and 89 schools and health care facilities at risk of flooding. Flooding also would occur at the Oakland and San Francisco airports. Restoring wetlands would help provide protection from these storm surges.

The tax would be administered by the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority, which was created by state law in 2008 to restore wetlands in the Bay and along the shoreline.

As David Lewis, executive director of Save the Bay, said, “The sooner we start, the sooner they can provide benefits.” But it won’t be easy. The tax requires a two-thirds majority vote of residents in the nine Bay Area counties. It’s an ambitious goal. Yet, it’s a modest sum — $1 a month — for the cumulative benefit involved. Other regions — such as the Puget Sound area, Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes areas — receive significantly more federal dollars than the Bay Area for habitat and water protection. Measure AA would, once and for all, provide a stable revenue source that would allow Bay Area residents to ensure we get our share of those dollars while protecting this natural resource that binds us all.

We encourage a yes vote on Measure AA on June 7.

Source: PD Editorial: Yes on Measure AA for the bay

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Bay Area-wide tax aims to protect against rising sea levels 

Denis Cuff, SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS
Bay Area voters will be asked in June to approve a $12 annual parcel tax to protect and restore the San Francisco Bay shoreline and wetlands from rising sea levels due to climate change.
The proposed tax is believed to be the first to go on the ballot in all nine Bay Area counties. It needs two-thirds approval to pass.
In authorizing the measure unanimously on Wednesday, members of the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority said the tax is needed to provide $500 million over 20 years to fortify levees and create flood relief plains to protect homes, businesses, airports, highways and parks around the bay, and restore wetlands important to fish and wildlife.
“This is a historic day for Bay Area counties to get together on wetlands restoration on a scale not seen before,” said Dave Pine, a San Mateo County supervisor who is chairman of the restoration authority board. “San Francisco Bay is a common resource people in our region want to protect. It’s part of our identity.”
The panel is made up of seven elected county, city and special district officials who oversee a partnership that aims to protect bay wildlife and wetlands.
Board members, environmentalist and business leaders say the tax is needed to guard against the growing risk of flooding from rising sea levels because of climate change. Scientists predict the sea level to rise 3 to 5 feet through 2100.
Business groups such as the Bay Area Council and Silicon Valley Leadership Group, and environmental groups such as Save San Francisco Bay, back the measure.
Read more at: Bay Area-wide tax aims to protect against rising sea levels – San Jose Mercury News