Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Land Use, WaterTags , , , ,

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/

Posted on Categories Habitats, Land Use, Local Organizations, Water, WildlifeTags , , , ,

Sonoma Land Trust builds ‘living shoreline’ to thwart erosion at Sears Point

Guy Kovner, PRESS DEMOCRAT

Julian Meisler stood on a human-made levee at low tide along the shore of San Pablo Bay, surveying 1,000 acres of a dark brown, mostly barren mud flat.

“That’s exactly what we want to see,” said Meisler.

He is the project manager of Sonoma Land Trust’s 15-year campaign to restore wetlands intended to protect the Highway 37 corridor — with both a roadway and rail line — from flooding exacerbated by sea level rise.

And now the levee, a victim of erosion from wind waves, is being fortified by an unprecedented restoration project using hundreds of trees — some salvaged from wildfire burn areas — to blunt the waves and promote wildlife habitat.

It’s been six years since the Santa Rosa nonprofit’s Sears Point project breached the levee built 140 years ago to create farmland, and tides have since deposited two to four feet of sediment in the nascent wetlands.

At high tide, the mud flat becomes a lagoon up to two and a half feet deep, harboring shorebirds, waterfowl, river otters, bat rays and leopard sharks. People ply the water with canoes, kayaks and standup paddleboards, while hiking trails lead along the shore in what is now the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

The project’s ultimate goal remains years away, when six feet of sediment gives root to vegetation transforming the wetlands into a verdant marsh, teeming with wildlife and absorbing high tides.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/sonoma-land-trust-builds-living-shoreline-to-thwart-erosion-at-sears-poin/

Posted on Categories Water, WildlifeTags , , ,

How beavers became North America’s best firefighter

Ben Goldfarb, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

The American West is ablaze with fires fueled by climate change and a century of misguided fire suppression. In California, wildfire has blackened more than three million acres; in Oregon, a once-in-a-generation crisis has forced half a million people to flee their homes. All the while, one of our most valuable firefighting allies has remained overlooked: The beaver.

A new study concludes that, by building dams, forming ponds, and digging canals, beavers irrigate vast stream corridors and create fireproof refuges in which plants and animals can shelter. In some cases, the rodents’ engineering can even stop fire in its tracks.

“It doesn’t matter if there’s a wildfire right next door,” says study leader Emily Fairfax, an ecohydrologist at California State University Channel Islands. “Beaver-dammed areas are green and happy and healthy-looking.”

For decades, scientists have recognized that the North American beaver, Castor canadensis, provides a litany of ecological benefits throughout its range from northern Mexico to Alaska. Beaver ponds and wetlands have been shown to filter out water pollution, support salmon, sequester carbon, and attenuate floods. Researchers have long suspected that these paddle-tailed architects offer yet another crucial service: slowing the spread of wildfire.

This beaver-dammed wetland in Baugh Creek, Idaho, is a so-called “emerald refuge” that can serve as a firebreak and refuge for other species during wildfires. Source: Joe Wheaton, Utah State University.

“It’s really not complicated: water doesn’t burn,” says Joe Wheaton, a geomorphologist at Utah State University. After the Sharps Fire charred 65,000 acres in Idaho in 2018, for instance, Wheaton stumbled upon a lush pocket of green glistening within the burn zone—a beaver wetland that had withstood the flames. Yet no scientist had ever rigorously studied the phenomenon.

Read more at https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2020/09/beavers-firefighters-wildfires-california-oregon/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Forests, Land UseTags , , , , ,

Natural and working lands most cost-effective among our climate solutions

Grace Perry, CALIFORNIA CLIMATE & AGRICULTURE NETWORK (CALCAN)

The natural and working lands recommended carbon sink actions were selected by scientists from more than 50 carbon storage pathways because of their low cost and productivity estimates. In total, the study estimates that natural and working lands can sequester an estimated 25.5 million tons of carbon annually. Other studies suggest that natural and working lands climate strategies can sequester even greater amounts of carbon, but not without scaling up and accelerating better management of natural and working lands.

Natural and working lands solutions

Aligning with the variety of natural and working landscapes present throughout California, the LLNL report recommends a suite of natural and working lands interventions to achieve emission reductions—including forest, wetland and grassland restoration, and healthy soils practices. Additionally, the report acknowledges the importance of reducing the likelihood of natural and working lands to act as a carbon emitter through land preservation and wildfire management.

Forest, wetland and grassland practices

Forest, wetland and grassland interventions consist of scaling up restoration practices that enhance carbon sequestration capacity. Reforestation and changes to forest management are among the recommended practices.

Soil practices

The potential for increasing carbon sinks in soils is well documented. As such, the LLNL researchers focused heavily on the potential of soil emission reduction drawing on their own extensive research. They propose California adopt a broad range of healthy soils practices—including cover cropping and composting—to meet the carbon sequestration potential of natural and working lands. They also acknowledge the importance of reducing the rate of carbon emission from soils, which can be achieved by limiting physical disturbance through reduced or no-till farming. In total, the near-term potential for carbon sequestration in California soils is estimated to be around 3.9 million tons of CO2 per year. This yields a total of 25.5 million tons of CO2 per year of sequestration potential by 2045 when combined with other natural and working lands solutions.

Read more at http://calclimateag.org/natural-and-working-lands-most-cost-effective-among-our-climate-solutions-from-lawrence-livermore-national-laboratory/

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, TransportationTags , , , ,

Major fixes for addressing traffic, sea level rise on Highway 37 identified

Matt Brown, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

Imagine driving along a four-lane elevated causeway above the brackish San Pablo Bay, shaving more than an hour off the normal Highway 37 commute.

Transportation planners have for years envisioned remaking the 20-mile route from Novato to Vallejo into the North Bay’s most important east-west corridor. Now, they are ready to act.

Officials in Marin, Sonoma, Napa and Solano counties have been meeting for several years, pondering solutions to Highway 37’s notorious bottlenecks, where 45,000 cars per day stretch the normal 20-minute commute to as much as 100 minutes. They have also acknowledged that traffic improvements will be irrelevant without addressing sea level rise — without action, the highway will be underwater in 30 years.

The first fixes will be completed within the next seven years, officials say, and a new formal partnership defines the roles various agencies will play and sets the process in motion.

Branded as Resilient State Route 37, the program that includes the transportation agencies of the four counties plus Caltrans and the Bay Area Toll Authority, is planning vast changes to the highway. The Sonoma County Transportation Authority signed onto the partnership on Monday.

Read more at https://www.petaluma360.com/news/9236578-181/major-fixes-for-addressing-traffic

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Transportation, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , ,

Op-Ed: Rebuild State Route 37 to address sea level rise and traffic 

Fraser Shilling and Steven Moore, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
State Route 37 — which snakes across Solano, Napa, Sonoma and Marin counties in Northern California — is living on borrowed time.
At times, the highway appears to be impassable because of the 44,000-plus vehicles that travel portions of it every day. However, the effects of climate change will render this critical northern Bay Area crossing absolutely impassable during high tides unless we collaborate regionally on the best way to balance traffic needs and the valuable wetlands the roadway straddles.
The societal challenge we face is adapting to environmental changes in a resilient way while being ecologically sustainable. In the Bay Area, rebuilding State Route 37 to avoid its potential loss in the next 20 years because of flooding will be our first regional foray into adapting to sea level rise — an issue that will threaten most of our shoreline infrastructure, coastal ecosystems and population centers.
State Route 37 provides a critical “northern crossing” of the San Pablo Bay as it stretches from Interstate 80 in the east, to Highway 101 in the west, serving local residents, commuters and visitors, as well as freight haulers traveling between the Central Valley and the Santa Rosa area. Today the highway is built atop a berm, an outdated method of building roads across marshes and waterways that constricts the ability of the bay to improve water quality by filtering out pollutants, produce more fish and wildlife, and absorb floods.
The temptation may be to work on a quick, easy fix that reduces traffic congestion while ignoring long-term consequences. These consequences include traffic congestion returning to current levels in a few years, and the San Pablo Bay tidal marshes being cut off from the life-giving ebb and flow of the tides.
Read more at: Rebuild State Route 37 to address sea level rise and traffic – San Francisco Chronicle

Posted on Categories TransportationTags , , , , ,

Bay Area officials eye future tolls as way to upgrade troubled Highway 37

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
North Bay motorists suffering through congested traffic on Highway 37 or long detours from closures of the roadway caused by flooding may wish for anything to relieve them of their misery.
But does that include paying tolls?
A fee-based future appears to be gaining traction with a key advisory group tasked with long-term solutions for traffic and flooding on the heavily traversed 21-mile highway from Vallejo to Novato.“
I think everyone acknowledges there’s few options other than tolls to generate revenue needed to do a project of that scale in that location,” said Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt, chairman of the Highway 37 Policy Committee.
Rabbitt spoke Thursday following the committee’s meeting at Mare Island in Vallejo. The group includes representatives of transportation agencies in Sonoma, Marin, Napa and Solano counties, as well as the Metropolitan Transportation Agency.
Highway 37, which skirts the edge of San Pablo Bay, is increasingly at risk from sea level rise, and this winter was closed for weeks at a time as a result of storm-related flooding. The segment east of Sonoma Raceway, which narrows to two lanes, is a particularly problematic choke-point.
Read more at: Bay Area officials eye future tolls as way to upgrade troubled Highway 37 | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Land Use, Water, WildlifeTags , , , ,

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 –