By

Cariad Hayes Thronson
About the author

Cariad Hayes Thronson covers legal and political issues for Estuary News. She has served on the staffs of several national publications, including The American Lawyer. She is a long-time contributor to Estuary News, and some years ago served as its assistant editor. She lives in San Mateo with her husband and two children.

Articles by Cariad Hayes Thronson

In the absence of a government program to contend with harmful algae blooms (HABs) in the Delta, a loose coalition of academics and environmental and community groups has been studying their spread and potential health impacts both from ground level and from the air.

San Francisco Baykeeper has been sending up drones to monitor eight sites between Discovery Bay and downtown Stockton, as well as photo-documenting the spread and intensity of HABs from airplanes flown by Lighthawk Conservation Flying. At the same time, volunteers with Restore the Delta have been conducting water quality testing for HABs and the toxins they produce. “The airplane and drones together allow us to get a really broad geographic understanding of where these neon green HABs are occurring, says...
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Over time, the median actual flow to San Francisco Bay in the ecologically critical winter and spring months has declined to less than half of the unimpaired runoff. This bar chart divides actual inflow (the amount that actually made it to the Bay) and unimpaired runoff (the inflow to the Bay that would occur if there were no dams or diversions) into quintiles from wettest to dry, and marks years drier than 2015 (roughly, the driest 2% of years) as “super-critically dry” years. Over the last 54 years, “super-critically dry” runoff conditions in the Bay’s watershed occurred naturally only once, in 1977, but the Estuary received runoff volumes in the super-critical range in 22 years, or 40% of the time. Overall, flow volumes characteristic of the driest 20% of years now occur more than half the time as a result of storage and diversion of runoff for consumptive uses. Source: The Bay Institute, based on data from California Department of Water Resources.

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...
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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...
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Will Salmon Simmer Again?

After two critically dry years that coincided with Trump-era rollbacks to environmental protections, some iconic Delta fish are closer than ever to the point of no return. Last fall, for the second year in a row, the fall midwater trawl found zero wild Delta smelt, while a coalition of environmentalists and fishermen is asking a federal court to help prevent a repeat of 2021’s near-obliteration of endangered winter-run Chinook salmon. Their lawsuit is just one of the balls to watch...
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Trail to a Fire-Safe Watershed

Long insulated from severe risk by mild temperatures and the fog that regularly swaddles the Santa Cruz Mountains, San Mateo County now finds itself — like the rest of the Bay Area — facing the climate-driven prospect of catastrophic wildfire. The threat is leading one of the county’s largest landowners to devote unprecedented resources to fire-prevention efforts in the Peninsula Watershed — efforts that will also restore parts of the landscape to an approximation of their historical condition. “In the...
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Refreshing the Estuary Blueprint

The San Francisco Estuary Partnership’s next update to its 2016 Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan for the Estuary—or Estuary Blueprint—will bring a new focus on equity and environmental justice to ongoing efforts to restore and protect the Bay and Delta. “We really want to do more to engage communities of color and indigenous communities as partners in our work,” says Partnership Director Caitlin Sweeney. “So we are looking at all our actions and initiatives through the lens of environmental justice...
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Flow Rules Stalled As Tunnel Advances

As California stares down the barrel of yet another dry year, alarm bells are already ringing over conditions in the Delta. Environmental groups, fishermen, tribes, and a host of others are calling on the State Water Resources Control Board to complete and implement a long-delayed update to the Water Quality Control Plan for the Bay and Delta (Bay-Delta Plan), to protect the imperiled ecosystem. At the same time, plans for a structure with the potential to divert more water than...
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Fish passage structures can be improved for the benefit of multiple species, if they are designed to account for differences in behavior, physical ability and size, according to a new literature review.

Historically, most fish passages have been designed to help native salmon return to their upstream habitat and spawning grounds, with little consideration for other migrating species such as sturgeon and lampreys. “There is an assumption that if you just build a fish passage structure, fish will go thorough it, but that is not always the case,” says Department of Water Resources fisheries biologist Zoltan Matica, who conducted the review. “The challenge is to understand that this isn’t only a physical...
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More Grants for Real People

Even as “environmental justice” and “community engagement” have long been watchwords of restoration and resilience efforts, economically disadvantaged communities on San Francisco Bay’s shoreline have often felt sidelined by them. But that may be changing: the summer of 2020 saw new initiatives to give communities more power to shape and participate in restoration projects in their own backyards. In July, the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority kicked off its new Community Grants Program, allocating $200,000 of its $25 million 2020-21...
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The Delta’s Blooming Problem

Bright-green blotches of algae have been popping up all over the Delta since early summer, from Discovery Bay to the Stockton waterfront, befouling the air and poisoning the water with toxins that can sicken or even kill humans and animals. Veteran Delta watchers believe that this year’s harmful algal blooms may be the worst ever, and worry that some features of Governor Gavin Newsom’s recently released Water Resilience Portfolio for California will aggravate the problem. “We don’t have enough data...
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wetland landscape photo

Better scientific preparation could help Delta water and environmental managers respond to droughts more effectively.

That’s one key takeaway from a review of environmental management and the use of science during the 2012-2016 drought commissioned by the Delta Science Program and published in the June 2020 issue of San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science. “There are lots of mysteries about how to manage water to benefit species, agriculture, upstream and downstream users. I think science is going to be the best solution,” says lead author John Durand of UC Davis’ Center for Watershed Science. Durand...
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Although the Covid-19 pandemic and attendant economic cataclysm have tripped up some ambitious plans for funding climate resilience in California, other measures to integrate adaptation and planning are still on track.

In July, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments released the draft of Plan Bay Area 2050, a 30-year plan to guide growth in the nine-county region. “The biggest new integration in the plan is a set of investments to protect our Bay and ocean shorelines from rising sea levels,” says MTC’s Dave Vautin. The plan calls for just under $20 billion in investments ranging from seawalls and traditional levees to horizontal levees and wetland restoration...
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Adaptation Complexities Spur Innovation

By Cariad Hayes Thronson Driving over the Bay flats toward the Dumbarton Bridge’s western approach in San Mateo County it’s easy to imagine how a few feet of sea level rise could submerge the roadway. The bridge touches down only 750 feet from the shoreline, and the approach skims just above the fill it’s built on. At least three to six feet of sea level rise are a virtual certainty by the end of the century. Countywide, a vulnerability assessment...
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Planting for Resilience

By Cariad Hayes Thronson Travel brochures for Napa County almost universally feature the same images: a valley floor carpeted with vineyards, nestled between hillsides dotted with spreading valley oaks. As climate change brings hotter days — and more of them — to the county, these twin pillars of the landscape, grapevines and oak trees, are both challenged by it and central to local resilience strategies. A climate action plan has been in the works since 2011 but has yet to...
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Smack in the middle of the unprecedented disruption of normal life brought on by the Covid-19 crisis comes a new report detailing the challenges sea level rise might bring to the Bay region without proactive planning.

 Released on March 26, Adapting to Rising Tides: Bay Area compares the effects of rising waters on communities, natural lands and critical regional systems. “Shoreline flooding from sea level rise and storm events will impact everyone in the Bay Area because the transportation systems we rely on, schools, childcare, and hospitals we depend on, jobs at which we work, and beautiful natural areas we love are at risk, and interconnected across the Bay,” says Dana Brechwald of the Bay Conservation and...
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Regulatory Teams Coordinate

By Cariad Hayes Thronson In March the San Francisco Estuary Partnership released its Wetlands Regional Monitoring Program Plan, which lays out the science framework for a long-term program to monitor tidal wetlands around the Bay. “The focus of the plan is how we’re going to answer five guiding questions about the status and trends of our tidal wetlands,” says the Partnership’s Heidi Nutters. The framework is only the first phase of what will ultimately be a four-year planning process. Nutters...
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Flows and Ecosystem Function Dominate Delta Plan Amendment

With the Delta lagging behind the Bay on four of the State of the Estuary Report’s five indicators, the last long-range plan for restoring its ecological health abandoned, and the threats from climate change becoming ever more alarming, the need for a new regulatory vision for the region may never have been greater. A pending amendment to the Delta Plan, shared by Ron Melcer at the State of the Estuary Conference as part of a policy update session, is meant...
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State Plan Doubles Down on Alignment

By Cariad Hayes Thronson The California Water Plan Update 2018—released by the Department of Water Resources in July—is meant to guide state policy and investment over the next 50 years to maximize the benefits squeezed out of every drop of the water supply. The timing of Update 2018 is fortuitous. In April, Governor Newsom ordered the California Natural Resources Agency, California Environmental Protection Agency, and California Department of Food and Agriculture to develop a portfolio of water resilience strategies. “There’s...
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Bay-Delta Leaders Comment on Climate

Edited by Cariad Hayes Thronson These magazine pages share the opinions of various new leaders in the Estuary management world about climate change. “The biggest challenge is that it is difficult for people, including decision-makers, to plan for uncertain, long-range challenges. We know that in order to make the greatest impact we need to start now,” says BCDC’s Dana Brechwald. Climate change is forcing some regulatory agencies, including the State Water Resources Control Board and BCDC, to fundamentally shift the...
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Permitting Opens a Fast Lane

By Cariad Hayes Thronson “Innovating in government is easiest done when there are incentives,” says Brad McCrea of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission. The Bay Restoration Regulatory Integration Team, which begins accepting applications this fall, has been designed to accelerate the pace at which large-scale projects find their path to funding through the daunting thicket of permit applications and regulatory approvals. The Team consists of one staff member from each of the six state and federal regulatory agencies involved...
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