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Op-Ed: Expand and restore Bay wetlands to fight climate change

Carin High and Arthur Feinstein, THE MERCURY NEWS

Report must spur us to look at actions we can take to reduce emissions and prepare our communities to adapt

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from the world’s scientific community leaves no doubt that we must take urgent action on climate change while we still have a chance to prevent the most destructive impacts to the globe’s communities and ecosystems. This report must spur every one of us to look at actions we can take in our region to rapidly reduce emissions and prepare our communities to adapt.

More than issuing a wake-up call, this report offers concrete actions that we can take and emphasizes the valuable role of nature-based solutions that reduce climate change risks, while providing numerous benefits to both our communities and the planet.

One of the most effective nature-based solutions is the expansion and restoration of coastal wetlands. Wetlands not only provide valuable habitat for fish and birds, acting as the base of the marine ecosystem, but wetlands have also been shown to be one of nature’s most efficient plant communities for capturing carbon from the atmosphere, trapping organic carbon quicker and better than forests, thus reducing carbon in the atmosphere.

Coastal wetlands also help to buffer our communities from sea level rise, acting as a sponge to capture flood waters before they reach our homes and businesses. In short, wetlands, if protected, expanded and restored, are one of the most valuable ecosystem tools for reducing the impact of climate change.

Read more at https://www.mercurynews.com/2022/04/30/opinion-expand-and-restore-bay-wetlands-to-fight-climate-change/

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, TransportationTags ,

Highway 37, a major Bay Area corridor, could be fully underwater as soon as 2040

Joshua Bote, SFGATE

Route 37 PEL Meeting Jan 25 2022 (Caltrans)

California State Route 37, the major throughway that bridges the divide between Highway 101 and Interstate 80 and serves thousands of drivers daily in the North Bay, is in dire straits.

A recent dispatch from the California Department of Transportation warns that nearly the entire route — spanning Novato to Vallejo — could be “permanently submerged” as soon as 2040 by increasing weather crises and rising sea levels caused by climate change.

Its proximity to the San Pablo Bay makes this route especially vulnerable. The marshlands in the bay, while vital for preventing flooding, are in a precarious state, with a 285-foot-wide levee only being breached in 2015, after the area had been drained and used as farmland for decades. The marshlands in that area still require decades to fully establish.

If left unchanged, the effects will be severe, Caltrans warns. Alternate roads will be clogged up, worsening traffic on other Bay Area highways. Caltrans also warns that “economic loss and reduced opportunity” for Solano County residents could be major impacts.

Already, the impacts of rising sea levels are evident on the highway, with closures popping up more and more in recent years.

Caltrans and affected Bay Area counties have worked over the past decade to shore up Highway 37, with multiple studies conducted and crews working to raise pavement on the highway. Another one, called the Planning and Environmental Linkages (PEL) study, is set to begin this month and is expected to be the most comprehensive look into the corridor.

Read more at https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Highway-37-could-be-underwater-2040-16786102.php?

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Reimagining coastal cities as sponges to help protect them from the ravages of climate change

Elena Shao, INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS

Infrastructure experts in the San Francisco Bay Area have begun replacing impermeable roads and stormwater drains with water gardens and restored marshlands.

As an environmental officer in Samoa, Violet Wulf-Saena worked with the Lano and Saoluafata Indigenous peoples to restore coastline mangrove ecosystems that could slow incoming waves and protect communities from storm and flood damage.

Two decades later, in California’s San Francisco Bay Area, she’s the director of a nonprofit called Climate Resilient Communities that works on the same issue: restoring marshlands and wetlands to better protect vulnerable neighborhoods in low-lying areas from sea level rise.

Some areas of the Pacific Islands, where Wulf-Saena grew up, are projected by conservative estimates to see the sea level rise 10 inches by mid-century. By then, East Palo Alto, about 30 miles south of San Francisco, where Wulf-Saena works now, may also be frequently underwater during high tide events.

“Nature is the best protection to sea level rise, and if we restore these ecosystems we can mimic a lot of that protection,” she said. “It can be like a sponge.”

Most aspects of the built environment in the modern city are designed to drain away water as quickly as possible. Rain slides off of roofs, over concrete and asphalt and down into sewers, where it’s then redirected to the sea, lakes or rivers. The traditional approach to large water events like floods and storm surges has been to engineer the water out of the way, using seawalls, levees and flood barriers.

This means that cities like San Francisco could face billions of dollars in flood and storm damage as climate change worsens and overwhelms that infrastructure, all without capturing and reusing a lot of that water, which could ease some of California’s periods of drought.

Now, infrastructure experts are pushing for urban spaces to be reimagined as sponges—not just by restoring marshlands, but also with more parks and gardens soaking up stormwater, pebbles underneath surfaces acting as natural filtering systems and a more porous type of concrete absorbing water and slowing it down.

Read more at https://insideclimatenews.org/news/08112021/reimagining-coastal-cities-as-sponges-to-help-protect-them-from-the-ravages-of-climate-change/

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Higher tides will threaten Bay Area roads. Highway 37 shows the challenge ahead

John King, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

It is by no means the only one. All along San Francisco Bay, low-lying roadways and rail lines face the potential of being flooded as sea levels rise and the bay expands.

“This is a much bigger thing than most people realize,” said Randy Rentschler, director of legislation for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. “The whole area is a transportation network at risk.”

That risk is the result of generations viewing the shoreline’s shallow tidelands and mudflats as easy places to build the infrastructure required by a growing region, including highways and railroad tracks lines. The assumption was that the bay was locked in place — portions could be filled in, but it would never grow.

That assumption didn’t take into account larger changes in the climate triggered by global temperatures that have climbed steadily since 1980 and show no signs of leveling off.

As a result, a study last year by state and regional agencies said the combination of higher tides and rough storms in coming decades could upend travel in all nine Bay Area counties.

Read more at https://www.sfchronicle.com/projects/2021/san-francisco-bay-area-sea-level-rise-2021/highway-37

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Sonoma CoastTags ,

The coming tide: North Bay cities grapple with sea level rise

Cole Hersey, THE NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

The air was still in early January when my father and I took his kayak onto the waters of San Rafael’s Canal neighborhood. Thin layers of oil floated on the water. Occasionally a plastic bottle or tennis ball bobbed by.

The sky was overcast, a drab blue-gray that nearly matched the color of the three-story apartment complex protruding out into the waters. Though it was cloudy, it was unseasonably warm and humid. It didn’t feel like a normal January day in San Rafael.

As we paddled between ducks, watching people walk around Pickleweed Park along the edge of the water, I imagined what this place might look like in 30 years. It was easy to see how a small rise in the sea could impact this community. All it would take is one big storm.

In the 1870s, tidelands in Marin County were auctioned off to developers. Over the course of more than a century, many of those plots were filled in to create space for new city infrastructure and other developments.

This scenario was not uncommon in the Bay Area. According to Baykeeper, a nonprofit focused on protecting the San Francisco Bay from pollution, 90 percent of all Bay Area wetlands have been “lost or seriously degraded” after being dyked and used for developments. However, due to rising oceans, the dykeing of wetlands now seriously threatens many wild and urban spaces across the region.

San Rafael’s Canal neighborhood is one such place; a small, yet populous, neighborhood located east of downtown where most households are low-income, and 85 percent of residents are Latinx. Built as a navigable waterway in the early 1900s, it is now mostly used for kayakers and other recreational boaters.

It is here where conservationists, community advocates and civil servants are working together to find solutions to the growing issue of sea level rise. And while this is a global issue, there is “little to no federal guidance” for addressing climate issues, the Brookings Institute recently noted. This lack of centralized guidance has left cities and states to lead the way when it comes to adapting to climate change.

Read more at https://bohemian.com/the-coming-tide-north-bay-cities-grapple-with-sea-level-rise/

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A struggling California marsh gets an overhaul to prepare for rising seas

Alastair Bland, AUDUBON MAGAZINE

The restoration of the Sonoma Creek in the San Francisco Bay Area not only corrects problems of the past, but also looks to the future.

The sun shines meekly through a veil of morning fog and wildfire smoke while several figures in orange vests, hard hats, and face masks move slowly through a marsh on the north shore of San Francisco Bay. Wielding brooms, they jab lightly at the vegetation, ruffling the tufts of native pickleweed. As biological monitors, their job is to flush out small animals—especially the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse—and usher them from the path of a rumbling excavator, which is about to dig a deep groove in the slick mud.

It’s early October at the mouth of Sonoma Creek, where an unusual conservation project that broke ground five years ago is nearing the finish line. Audubon California and partner agencies are turning what was once a 400-acre stagnant backwater into a thriving wetland ecosystem that will serve as a refuge from rising seas for decades to come.

This revitalization of Sonoma Creek marsh is more a story of creation than one of restoration. The place is a product of the Gold Rush era, when torrents of unearthed sediment choked the Sacramento River system and later settled downstream. While hawks, grebes, and plovers made use of the area, which is managed today as part of the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge, the marsh wasn’t exactly a haven. The unnatural mud buildup was too rapid, preventing the formation of the channel systems that typically run through wetlands like arteries and allow a healthy water exchange with adjacent bays and estuaries. “If this was a natural marsh, it would look like a lung—it would breathe,” says Andrea Jones, director of bird conservation at Audubon California.
Continue reading “A struggling California marsh gets an overhaul to prepare for rising seas”

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, TransportationTags , ,

Toll road proposed on Highway 37

Matt Brown, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

Officials estimate sea level rise will submerge Highway 37 within 30 years if no action is taken.

Faced with a multibillion-dollar price tag to ease congestion on Highway 37 and protect the critical North Bay artery from rising sea levels, State Sen. Bill Dodd (D-Napa) Friday proposed a novel funding solution — turn the route into a toll road.

Flanked by North Bay transportation, business and environmental leaders on a bluff at Sonoma Raceway overlooking Highway 37, Dodd introduced legislation he authored that would allow the state to immediately collect tolls from motorists between Sears Point and Mare Island.

Dodd said the bill, if passed and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, would kickstart fixes for the vital corridor that sees 40,000 vehicles per day.

“The time is now to improve this essential artery that connects us to jobs and supports our economy,” Dodd said. “If we don’t act, increased traffic and sea level rise will make an already bad situation simply unpassable. Without a dedicated revenue source, the problem won’t be fixed in many of our lifetimes.”

Read more at https://www.petaluma360.com/news/10735242-181/toll-road-proposed-for-hwy?sba=AAS

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A new UN report shows that we are not on track to avoid catastrophic climate change

Priya Shukla, FORBES

Yesterday, the United Nations released its Emissions Gap Report for 2019. It has been released each year since the Paris Accords were signed in 2015 and describes each country’s “emissions gap” by comparing the amount of greenhouses gasses actually being emitted to the volume of emissions necessary to avoid the impacts of climate change. This year, it revealed that global greenhouse gas emissions have continued to increase over the course of the past decade, despite the threat that climate change poses.

Because greenhouse gas emissions have steadily risen for so long, more severe cutbacks and changes will be needed in the future to prevent the planet from warming more than 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius beyond pre-industrial levels. The United States has emitted the most greenhouse gases since 1750 and is failing to meet the reduction targets established in the Paris Accords, which it is currently in the process of withdrawing from. However, several other countries, including Canada, Japan, Brazil, and Australia, are also not on track to meet the commitments their countries made.
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The planet is already seeing more intense wildfires, storms, and heatwaves. And, in order to avoid further impacts of climate change, the report suggests that countries must decrease their emissions by up to five times more than what they already have. Specifically, they would have to decrease by 7.6 percent annually until 2030 to prevent the planet from warming above 1.5 degrees Celsius. This sort of dramatic reduction has only been seen during the fall of the Soviet Union when emissions fell by 6 percent in the United States and Japan.

Next month, the United Nations Climate Change Conference will take place to address how countries can work together to meet these emissions targets and next year they will meet to pledge even more cutbacks, as part of the Paris Accords. But whether they follow through on those commitments remains to be seen.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/priyashukla/2019/11/27/a-new-un-report-shows-that-we-are-not-on-track-to-avoid-catastrophic-climate-change/#3812d2b82b9a

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Habitats, Sonoma CoastTags , , , , ,

The world’s oceans are in danger, major climate change report warns

Brad Plumer, THE NEW YORK TIMES

Climate change is heating the oceans and altering their chemistry so dramatically that it is threatening seafood supplies, fueling cyclones and floods and posing profound risks to the hundreds of millions of people living along the coasts, according to a sweeping United Nations report issued Wednesday.

The report concludes that the world’s oceans and ice sheets are under such severe stress that the fallout could prove difficult for humans to contain without steep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Fish populations are already declining in many regions as warming waters throw marine ecosystems into disarray, according to the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of scientists convened by the United Nations to guide world leaders in policymaking.

“The oceans are sending us so many warning signals that we need to get emissions under control,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, a marine biologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany and a lead author of the report. “Ecosystems are changing, food webs are changing, fish stocks are changing, and this turmoil is affecting humans.”

Hotter ocean temperatures, combined with rising sea levels, further imperil coastal regions, the report says, worsening a phenomenon that is already contributing to storms like Hurricane Harvey, which devastated Houston two years ago.
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For decades, the oceans have served as a crucial buffer against global warming, soaking up roughly a quarter of the carbon dioxide that humans emit from power plants, factories and cars, and absorbing more than 90 percent of the excess heat trapped on Earth by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Without that protection, the land would be heating much more rapidly.

But the oceans themselves are becoming hotter, more acidic and less oxygen-rich as a result, according to the report. If humans keep pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at an increasing rate,marine ecosystems already facing threats from seaborne plastic waste, unsustainable fishing practices and other man-made stresses will be further strained.

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/25/climate/climate-change-oceans-united-nations.html

Posted on Categories WaterTags , , , , ,

Delta tunnel: MWD weighs moving intakes 20-30 miles north for sea level rise

Dierdre Des Jardins, CALIFORNIA WATER RESEARCH

On Wednesday, August 28, 2019, the Sacramento Press Club hosted a panel discussion, “Droughts, tunnels & clean water.” The panel included Wade Crowfoot, Secretary of Natural Resources, Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager and CEO of Metropolitan Water District, and Jennifer Pierre, general manager of the State Water Contractors. Stuart Leavenworth from the LA Times moderated the panel.

The Newsom administration has committed to modernizing Delta Conveyance to protect water supplies from earthquakes and sea level rise. In a July 8 update to the Metropolitan Water District’s Water Planning and Stewardship Committee, Crowfoot stated, “if you are a state agency and you are building infrastructure that you want to exist and be operating in 2100, you need to plan for between 5 and 10 feet of sea level rise.” Crowfoot emphasized that sea level rise was one of the reasons the Newsom administration supported the Delta tunnel, stating, “when we’re talking about really protecting our water supply against sea level rise and saltwater intrusion, the underground conveyance or the tunnel becomes quite important.”

The Newsom administration has relied on assertions by the Department of Water Resources that the North Delta is 15 feet above sea level. But as explained in California Water Research’s August 12 blog post, this assertion is misleading. In the North Delta, only the top of the Sacramento River levee is 15 feet above sea level. Elevations at Courtland and Hood range from -1 to 8 feet above sea level, and the bottom of the Sacramento River is over 20 feet below sea level. California Water Research has recommended that new modeling be done of the performance of the North Delta intakes with high sea level rise.

During the Q&A period at the Sacramento Press Club luncheon,Deirdre Des Jardins advised the attendees of these facts. She asked Kightlinger and Pierre if they would commit to modeling the performance of the North Delta intakes with 10 feet of sea level rise and widespread levee failure. In response, Kightlinger stated that MWD is looking at moving the Delta tunnel intakes 20-30 miles north to accommodate sea level rise. Kightlinger stated that MWD is evaluating the increased costs of a longer tunnel, versus the benefits of extending the lifetime of the project.

It is unclear what intake locations Kightlinger was referring to. But in 2010, the Department of Water Resources evaluated two sets of locations north of Freeport, which would resist salinity intrusion with 10+ feet of sea level rise. The first set includes two locations on the west bank of the Sacramento River in South Sacramento, the second set, two locations upstream of the American River confluence. A third set of alternative locations was downstream of the confluence with Steamboat Slough. (see below.) These would benefit salmon but have less resistance to salinity intrusion.

These alternative locations were considered and rejected in 2010, partly on the basis of modeling by Resource Management Associates (RMA) which was interpreted to show no impacts from salinity intrusion at any of the proposed intake locations. But as explained in California Water Research’s August 6 blog, the 2010 RMA modeling is obsolete and has major limitations. The 2010 RMA modeling assumed 55 inches of sea level rise, and no failure of North Delta levees. The California Ocean Protection Council’s current estimate of maximal sea level rise by 2100 is 10 feet or 120 inches. This is over twice the 2010 estimate.

As part of “assessment of efforts to modernize Delta Conveyance,” California Water Research has recommended that the Newsom administration document that the WaterFix intake locations need to be reassessed for performance with 10 feet of sea level rise and widespread levee failure.

Source: https://cah2oresearch.com/2019/09/02/delta-tunnel-mwd-weighs-moving-intakes-20-30-miles-north-for-sea-level-rise/