The favored plan also proposes the route have a 60 mph speed limit, as well as two lanes in each direction with bicycle and pedestrian paths. The plan is in its early stages and officials haven’t identified a cost or funding source.
Caltrans, in order to keep traffic flowing decades from now, intends to build an elevated road along Highway 37 to combat rising water levels, which are expected to eventually inundate the North Bay arterial.
The proposed project essentially stretches across the existing route along San Pablo Bay and through Marin, Sonoma, Napa and Solano counties.
It preserves travel patterns, allows landward marsh migration and is resilient to sea level rises, officials said in explaining its benefits.
Highway 37 serves as a key artery of Bay Area traffic from Marin County to Vallejo, but its low-lying place in former wetlands makes it susceptible to flooding and sea level rise over coming decades.
Leaders in transportation will need to address two issues at once to ensure the long-term sustainability of the key corridor: the creation of flood-resistant, sea-level impervious infrastructure and the environmental restoration of the wetlands.
“You can’t do the environmental restoration and address sea level rise without doing the transportation project. And you can’t do the transportation improvement projects without addressing sea level rise,” said Suzanne Smith, the executive director of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority.
State regulators are seeking to impose a $3.75 million fine on a Sonoma County wine executive and his business for allegedly causing significant damage to streams and wetlands while constructing a vineyard in 2018 near Cloverdale.
The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board has accused Hugh Reimers, an Australian vintner, and his company Krasilsa Pacific Farms LLC of improperly clearing trees, grading land and disposing of construction and earthen waste materials in a way that was detrimental to wetland waters and wildlife, according to a May 9 complaint by the North Coast Water Board’s enforcement staff.
A 2019 investigation by the water board of the 2,278-acre property, which Krasilsa Pacific purchased in September 2017, found the company violated the California Water Code and the federal Clean Water Act by removing oak woodlands and discharging sediment into Russian River tributaries.
The actions harmed streams that fed into the Little Sulphur, Big Sulphur and Crocker creeks, according to the complaint.
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.
I’ve long felt that one of my great failings as a climate communicator has come in trying to get across the dangers posed by methane, the second most damaging greenhouse gas, after carbon dioxide. Despite long years of many people trying to underscore the risks of methane, our go-to shorthand for climate pollution remains “carbon.” That’s why companies and political leaders boast about how much they’ve reduced their carbon emissions, but, if they managed the trick by substituting gas for coal, their total contribution to global warming has barely budged—because natural gas is another word for methane, and because when it invariably leaks from frack wells and pipelines it traps heat, molecule for molecule, much more effectively than CO2.
Now, finally, methane appears to be having its day in the sun. A key thing to understand about methane (CH4) is that it doesn’t hang around in the atmosphere anywhere near as long as CO2: its life span is measured in decades, not centuries. While methane is in the air, it traps a lot of heat, but a dramatic reduction in the amount of CH4 would be a quick fix that would help slow the rise of global temperatures, giving us more time to work on the carbon quandary. As Stanford University’s Rob Jackson told me, last week, the best estimate is that methane caused about a third of the global warming we’ve seen in the past decade, not far behind the contributions of CO2.
The first way to reduce methane in the atmosphere, of course, is to stop building anything new that’s connected to gas: stop installing gas cooktops and gas furnaces, and substitute electrical appliances. And stop building new gas-fired power plants, instead substituting sun, wind, and battery power. And, as a really important new study by the star energy academics Bob Howarth and Mark Jacobson emphasizes, by all means do not start using natural gas to produce hydrogen, even if you’re capturing the carbon emissions from the process.
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”
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.
“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.
For the second time in two weeks, Petaluma’s City Council on Monday opted to move ahead with a controversial housing development, approving the 180-unit Sid Commons apartment project alongside the Petaluma River.
The development, first proposed more than 10 years ago, was downsized after running into a raft of opposition and questions in a Nov. 19 hearing before the Planning Commission.
Those changes failed to mollify a vocal group of citizens and some planning commissioners who remained concerned about environmental impacts.
But the project, approved by the council on a 5-2 vote, has now undergone all required environmental study and will be subject to state regulations and permits. Questions about the adequacy of that review and those safeguards lingered this week, fueling public scrutiny that colored much of the project’s presentation at City Hall.
Petaluma’s senior planner and its environmental planner went through staff findings and recommendations nearly line by line. Council members split over their confidence in the environmental report and thus their support for the project.
“I have to base my decision on objective evidence, and that’s what is laid out here,” said Councilman Mike Healy, who joined in the majority that approved the project and its environmental impact report. “This project is not within the 100-year floodplain, and the (river) terracing will be a benefit for the city.”
Mayor Teresa Barrett and Vice Mayor D’Lynda Fischer formed the opposition on the council, voicing doubts over the environmental study.
It’s breeding season for some species of amphibians – an ideal time to find them out and about
Holding a newt is one of the most sought-after wildlife encounters among the North Bay’s elementary school set. Each year, thousands of school kids eagerly await their field trip to one of our regional newt hotspots — Stuart Creek at Bouverie Preserve, the Frog Pond at Spring Lake Regional Park, Ledson Marsh at Trione-Annadel State Park and Martin Griffin Preserve on Bolinas Lagoon, to name a few.
It’s no wonder kids warm to these tiny cold-blooded critters. Unlike other wildlife their size, newts are eminently watchable. They don’t run or fly away, bite, scratch or sting. They don’t slime you with mucus like a banana slug, smear you in musk like a garter snake or pee on you like a toad.
You don’t have to be a kid, however, for a newt to steal your heart.
“Newts are so sweet, and soft and innocent-looking,” said Sally Gale of Chileno Valley in Marin County.
Prominent Sonoma County wine executive Hugh Reimers, who last month abruptly left as president of Foley Family Wines, faces allegations that his grape growing company has violated regional, state and federal water quality laws for improperly clearing land near Cloverdale to build a vineyard.
The North Coast Regional Water Quality Board accused his Santa Rosa vineyard management company, Krasilsa Pacific Farms, of violations of the water board’s local water rules, the California Water Code and the federal Clean Water Act for clearing and grading 140 acres. The water quality board concluded the work on a section of Krasilsa Pacific’s more than 2,000-acre property was done without applying or obtaining the necessary permits required by the county to operate a vineyard.
The board filed a notice of its violations on June 6 to Reimers, as manager of Krasilsa, listing 28 different locations on the property three miles east of Cloverdale where infractions were found by investigators with the board and Sonoma County Department of Agriculture. Many of those spots had multiple violations within the cleared land: a steep, grassy ridge featuring oak woodland between the Russian River and Big Sulfur Creek.
The water quality agency’s findings have not been linked to Reimers’ sudden resignation from Foley’s Santa Rosa wine company he joined in 2017 and he led as president since January 2018.
The water agency is in the process of determining what sanctions to levy against Krasilsa, said Josh Curtis, assistant executive for the agency. The penalties could range from a cleanup of the property in an attempt to return it as close as possible to its condition before Krasilsa’s work started in late 2017 or early 2018, to the assessment of fines.
Investigators with the water board and county ag department have forwarded their report and underlying findings regarding the Krasilsa land to the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office. The case is under review by the district attorney’s environmental and consumer law division, office spokeswoman Joan Croft said.