Month

June 2022
19
Jun

Finding Her Way to Fish: Denise Colombano

The path into a career is not always a straightforward one. “I hated school. I mean, hated school,” says Denise Colombano, a postdoctoral fellow and Delta Science Fellow working on fisheries research at UC Berkeley. Today, Colombano feels that it is important to talk about her story as a way of encouraging inclusiveness and opportunity within her field — and in the sciences in general.  “I actually flunked ninth grade, and was attending a continuation school, when my science teacher asked if anyone was interested in skipping classes for the day.” Colombano jumped at the chance, and found herself at Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline in Oakland, helping the Audubon Society train schoolchildren in birdwatching. “We were supposed to...
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Defining Unimpaired Flows

For the second time in four years, a proposal for a voluntary agreement between agencies and water contractors on flows into and through the Delta from the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers and their tributaries is wending its way through the State Water Resources Control Board. The proposal, which would replace the regime outlined in the Board’s most recent update to the Bay-Delta Plan, calls for substantially less water remaining in the system than the update, but comparing the two requires understanding some terminology, specifically the concept of “unimpaired flows.” In 2018 the State Board adopted Phase 1 of the Bay-Delta Plan update, calling for San Joaquin River inflows to the Delta of 40% of unimpaired flow; a framework for...
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16
Jun

Building Buy-in for Restoration

The success of a restoration project is in the eye of the beholder. Take the recently revitalized salt marsh edging Drift Creek in Alsea Bay, Oregon. To ecologists, the sight of new channels winding through bare, brown mud is a thing of beauty, heralding the abundance of life to come, from sedges and rushes to fish and shorebirds. But, as researchers learned while speaking with people living nearby, not everyone shares this view. Some locals favored the unrestored side for its lush green vegetation and vistas of grazing elk. Resolving such differences in perception is key to local support, which can be required for project funding and permitting.  “Restoration can look unsightly at first,” said UC Davis salt marsh ecologist...
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Top Photo: Sailboats crossing under Delta drawbridge. Photo: Caltrans
16
Jun

The Grande Dames of the Delta

The moveable bridges that cross the rivers and sloughs in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta were built in the first half of the 20th century, and most are operated by control panels as old as the bridges themselves. A day spent touring these strong-boned grande dames on backwater levee roads...
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16
Jun

Listening to Vital Voices

Jessica Rudnick’s first love was earth science. But after discovering that people’s beliefs and behaviors were key to solving environmental problems, she fell for social science. Now, as the California Sea Grant extension specialist for the Delta, Rudnick is working to better integrate local people into plans for the region. Understanding the needs of people who live, work, and recreate in the Delta could make the difference between fixes that are rejected or embraced.  Delta planning has historically focused largely on ecological health. But, like many estuarine areas, the Delta is a lived-in landscape. “There are socially embedded challenges that play out in environmental issues,” she says. “You can’t just throw more data and research at a problem and think...
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Reorienting to Salmon Recovery

The days when salmon and steelhead teemed in California’s coastal watersheds faded away last century. Today, many populations of the fish are gone or dwindling, the river systems where they spawn drained by diversions or too warm for native fish to survive. Warming trends and drought are squeezing water resources tighter. Nearly all efforts to revive the state’s ailing salmonids have failed, often stalemated by political tensions, and it takes hatcheries and truck transport of juveniles to saltwater to maintain the feeble populations that remain. California’s disappointing history of salmonid recovery programs has motivated a group of scientists from public water agencies and environmental conservation groups to step back, dream big, and take a new path forward. This group wants...
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Living with a Novel Landscape: Suisun Evolves

Morning at Suisun Marsh is a living watercolor with a soundtrack. Miles of tule and pickleweed populate the foreground, split by canals glinting silver from the sun. In May, the hills undulate across the northern boundary in classic California gold. A red-tailed hawk’s iconic hoarse screech punctuates the insectine buzz as it takes off from a powerline. At 7:40 AM, it’s already 72 degrees and there’s no trace of a breeze. I’ve come to visit the Marsh from downtown Oakland seeking to learn from biologists, hunters, and land managers what’s at stake in the myriad battles with rising seas, worsening drought, and, especially, encroaching invasive species and what makes it such a singular, attractive landscape.  Indeed, the pastoral foreground is...
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Baldocchi at the end of one of the levees breached to restore tidal action at Dutch Slough. Photo: Janet Byron
16
Jun

Sniffing the Delta for Greenhouse Gases

Dutch Slough in Oakley, on the southern edge of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, is less than a mile from where biometeorologist Dennis D. Baldocchi (above) grew up on his parents’ orchard and fished with pals in nearby Marsh Creek. In October 2021, the California Department of Water Resources breached the levees here, restoring nutrient-rich tidal flows to degraded ranchland. Early in the 20th century, Baldocchi’s father grew dry beans and sugar beets on the peat soils of the Delta’s Liberty Island, and his aunt’s family raised asparagus, sugar beets, and corn on Sherman Island. In 1952, his dad started growing almonds and walnuts at the junction of Sellers Avenue and Cypress Road in Oakley. “My family mined the Delta for...
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Greenbacks
16
Jun

Greenbacks for Blueprint

For the first time in decades, California’s federal estuary management and water quality programs are getting a big bump in bankroll. Priority actions in the newly updated Estuary Blueprint, a 25-action consensus plan for improving the health of San Francisco Bay and the Delta, are poised to take advantage of a new influx of federal money. “We’re fortunate with timing,” says San Francisco Estuary Partnership (SFEP) environmental planner Darcie Luce. Completed this spring, the 2022 Blueprint includes some well-thought-out actions oriented toward greening grey infrastructure, making the region more resilient to climate change, and improving equity in adaptation planning and projects — all of which are federal priorities.  The new money will flow toward Estuary Blueprint actions and related projects...
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14
Jun

Cutting Green Tape

A novel exemption lawmakers passed to California’s landmark Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in late 2021 has helped fast-track at least four habitat restoration projects so far, with more to follow in the next couple years. The Statutory Exemption for Restoration Projects, or SERP, offers a rare reprieve from California’s stringent environmental review and permitting process — and a clear indication of the urgency the state’s leaders feel in advancing ecological restoration work. “When [SERP] passed, it was a little bit controversial,” says Sara Johnson, executive director of the fledgling California Ecological Business Association. Sluggish regulatory approval timelines are the top grievance member organizations of the association share, she said at the Society for Ecological Restoration’s conference in Carmel Valley in...
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13
Jun

Bagman for Bay Mussels

Martin Trinh practically bounces along the dock at the Coyote Point Yacht Club on a breezy, sunny spring morning. He’s carrying a case full of instruments and scopes out an open slip at the end of the pier. Soon he’s lowering a probe into the water, alongside kelp clinging to the underside of the dock. Another trip back to his Prius, still sporting South Carolina license plates, and he’s got a white plastic dish pan and a scrub brush. He fills and rinses a brown plastic bottle several times before finally capping it while full and placing it into a zip-top plastic bag. Then he lies on his belly, reaches into the water, and with blue nitrile gloves feels amidst...
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13
Jun

Flow Deal: Peace Treaty or Trojan Horse?

Promising up to 825,000 acre-feet a year of new water to protect endangered fish and thousands of acres of habitat improvements, the Newsom administration and others hailed the March announcement of a proposed voluntary agreement on Bay-Delta flows as the beginning of the end of California’s water wars, and a boon to the Bay-Delta ecosystem.  “We think this has the promise to give us more benefit for ecosystems because we would be combining both flow and habitat assets,” says California Natural Resources Agency spokesperson Lisa Lien-Mager. And by providing an alternative to government mandates already in the works, proponents say the deal will head off litigation that could delay guaranteed environmental flows for years. Following a decade of stop-and-start negotiations,...
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