Month

December 2018
13
Dec

Green Cement Blues

For the last three years, an environmental storm has been brewing in the North Bay city of Vallejo. Some elements of the story are familiar: grassroots activists pitted against a multinational corporate developer, environmental justice versus the lure of new jobs. Add historical preservation, iconic wildlife, political shenanigans, and the unexpected involvement of the California Attorney General’s office, and the mix becomes more complex. An Irish cement company and its local partners want to build a processing plant and a marine terminal at the site of a long-closed flour mill on the east bank of the Napa River. Citing concerns over air quality and other impacts, the Vallejo Planning Commission rejected the applicants’ permit in 2017, a decision that the...
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Greening Dickson’s Heights

Looking east from the levee-top trail, a silvery swath of bay is dotted with low islands. This is low tide at the nearly 1,000-acre Sears Point wetland restoration project on the western side of San Pablo Bay. “Without the mounds, you would just have a big area of open water,” says Julian Meisler with Sonoma Land Trust.
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13
Dec

Estuary Partners Choose their Battles Coast to Coast

A boatload of estuary experts from around the country gathered on an early October day to tour the prettiest part of San Francisco Bay. They paid rather less attention to Alcatraz and the Golden Gate than to each other. In town for the National Estuary Program’s annual Tech Transfer Conference, they had come to compare notes and strategies from the 28 varied bays, bights, bayous, and river mouths that benefit from one of the nation’s most durable, and efficient, environmental laws. In 1987 amendments to the Clean Water Act, Congress proclaimed selected tidewater regions to be “estuaries of national significance” and offered money to help local coalitions take on environmental problems there. Through all the political gyrations since, a thin...
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13
Dec

Reflowing the Sierra to the Sea

The semantics of ‘unimpaired’ and ‘impaired’ flow have laced the language of California water management debates since some engineer invented these politically ‘neutral’ terms long ago. The terms refer to our alteration of freshwater flows from snowmelt and runoff by dams and diversions. But whatever the labels, or whichever estuary you’re referring to, keeping these flows from reaching the sea via rivers can starve these aquatic ecosystems of their liquid life force.
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13
Dec

Saltwater Revival

“Swimming sustains me,” says Fran Hegeler of the South End Rowing Club. That’s the kind of enthusiastic language some Bay swimmers express, but sharing the water means sharing it in sickness and in health. Right now, Sausalito’s Marine Mammal Center is dealing with a large outbreak of leptospirosis, a bacterial infection that can cause fatal kidney damage in California sea lions. But it isn’t likely to affect swimmers, as the bacteria is not known to survive long in saltwater.
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13
Dec

Toxic Soup Strains Silos

Headlines about falsified tests are just the latest development in a long history of frustrations for Hunters Point in San Francisco. Recently, the neighborhood has been in the news due to fraud in the cleanup of the former Navy shipyard, contaminated with radioactive waste from nuclear research. In what is now called by some the biggest case of eco-fraud in U.S. history, 97 percent of the cleanup results are in question and two supervisors have been sentenced to prison.
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13
Dec

Sleuthing Sturgeon Snags

Local green sturgeon are struggling. The population that spawns in the Sacramento –San Joaquin River Delta was declared federally threatened in 2006. Researchers at UC Davis, which hosts the world’s only green sturgeon rearing program, are now trying to figure out why the fish is in trouble. “If we knew how large they are when they’re moving through each portion of the system, we’d know a lot more about the threats they face at each life state, and where we need to put our energy,” says postdoctoral fellow Anna Steel.
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13
Dec

State Could Step Up

Despite an official California policy in place since 1992 that calls for “no net loss” of wetlands, the lack of a specific wetlands definition has led to the loss of many thousands of acres of ecologically important lands. That could change soon, thanks to an update from the State Water Resources Control Board expected out soon after more than a decade of work. California environmentalists are optimistic that the updated policy, titled “State Wetland Definition and Procedures for Discharges of Dredged or Fill Material to Waters of the State,” will move quickly toward adoption by the state board in early 2019.
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13
Dec

Calculating the Cost of Adaptation

What makes a bond green? When the debt is issued specifically to bankroll projects with tangible environmental benefits. So when the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission faced a hefty price tag for major infrastructure overhauls, they chose to go green. “The goal is to get to $1 trillion in annual green bond issuances by 2020,” says Mike Brown, the SFPUC environmental manager who oversees the $1.4 billion in green bonds that the commission has issued since 2015. To Brown, the global rise of green bonds presents an opportunity. “I want to get to the point where every dollar of debt issued is green.”
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13
Dec

Hauling Out on Higher Ground

Harbor Seals “have this dual existence,” says Sarah Allen, National Park Service ecologist. “They’re tied to the land physiologically and tied to the bay waters for food and travel.” From rocky islets to tidal marshes, the Bay shoreline offers respite to these native marine mammals. Rocky islets like the Castro Rocks, located near the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, are particularly important refuges -- but more than half the islets that exist throughout the Bay are likely to be erased by sea-level rise this century. Meanwhile, the ability of tidal marsh habitats to naturally respond to rising waters offers hope.
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13
Dec

Shark Hunt Stand Off

In the spring and summer months, anglers armed with heavy line and large hooks drop anchor in the murky, current-torn waters between Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge seeking the elusive, and occasionally gigantic, broadnose sevengill shark. As social-media hype stokes excitement among trophy seekers, some other fisherfolk and conservationists want to see the pursuit ended before it depletes shark numbers. While interest in catching large, breeding-age sevelgills has risen in recent years, it remains unclear whether the population can sustain such fishing. “There hasn’t been any long-term monitoring study of the population, so we have no baseline estimate,” says Sean Van Sommeran, founder of the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation.
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13
Dec

Medicating the Bay

“If you went to the doctor and told them you were taking 69 different pharmaceuticals,” says Emma Rosi of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, “they would be very concerned with your well-being.” When a study she co-authored detected that number of pharmaceutical compounds in caddisfly larvae along an Australian creek downstream of a treatment plant, it was further evidence that excreted drugs are escaping wastewater facilities and entering food webs. The Bay is no exception. A survey conducted by the San Francisco Estuary Institute found that seventeen commonly used drugs, including antibiotics, antidepressants, and over-the-counter painkillers, could exceed protective thresholds for marine life.
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River Flows on the Brink

It was a rare decisive moment in California water. On December 12, the State Water Resources Control Board resolved, at the close of a marathon meeting, to require more water to be left in the Tuolumne, Merced, Stanislaus, and lower San Joaquin Rivers.
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