Rocky Road to a Fresh Enough Delta

12
Oct

Rocky Road to a Fresh Enough Delta

Nothing reveals just how much the upper Estuary’s seesaw of tides and freshwater flows is micro-managed than prolonged drought, and the resulting fiddling with barriers, gates, and water quality standards to prevent the ocean tides and salinity from intruding too far upstream. Come summer, managers begin to talk fearfully of “losing control of the Delta” and the dreaded outcome: salt water too near the export pumps that supply tap water for millions of Californians. The ominous language is also reflected...
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12
Oct

Resurrecting the Carmel River Floodplain

When the storm hit, it was lucky that my parents had a habit of leaving one car on each side of the Carmel River as they commuted from Big Sur into Monterey each day. The 1995 El Niño rainfall had pushed the Carmel River into hundreds of homes, and destroyed the Highway 1 bridge that connected Big Sur with the rest of the world. Most Big Sur residents were trapped during the week it took the Federal Emergency Management Agency...
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30
Aug

The Tunnel Plan: Thoughts a Month Later

It’s now five weeks since Governor Newsom’s Delta tunnel plan was unveiled in a Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Time enough for the main ideas to sink in; time enough for familiar players to strike their familiar positions; and time enough for some of us to burrow deep into its tables, figures, and appendices. To recap briefly: water taken from new intakes near Hood on the Sacramento River would enter a tunnel and flow 45 miles underground before being lifted again...
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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...
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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...
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28
Apr

Science-in-Short ~ Podcast

Drift, Drop or Floc? Tailing Sediment as it Moves Through Marsh Margins This June two USGS scientists will be trying to get as close as they can to the edge of the South Bay’s Whale’s Tail Marsh to lay out their tools: tiles, filter paper, current profilers, and other sediment accretion measuring instruments. Estuary Reporter Ariel Rubissow Okamoto interviews reseachers Jessie Lacy and Karen Thorne about what they’re looking for at the marsh edge, and how it may help us...
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23
Mar

Fire Sparks Sewer Boon in Larkfield

Early on the morning of October 9, 2017, a firestorm roared with unforgiving speed across a swath of northeastern Santa Rosa. The unincorporated community of Larkfield lay directly in its path. One-hundred and sixty homes there burned to the ground. Three and a half years later, Larkfield is still being rebuilt—in some ways better than ever, thanks in part to an ambitious and innovative program by the Sonoma County Water Agency to bring sewer service to the modest, tight-knit community...
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18
Nov

Current estimates of young salmon lost to the south Delta pumps are based on a smattering of studies from the 1970s and should be updated, according to a new analysis.

“They don’t represent current operations,” says Ukiah-based consultant Andrew Jahn, lead author of the analysis reported in the September 2020 issue of San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science. Current operations at the State Water Project (SWP) and the Central Valley Project (CVP) can reverse flows in the Old and Middle rivers, diverting salmon on their way to the ocean towards the projects. Existing salmon loss estimates also fail to account for a likely Old River hotspot for predators, drawn to the...
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22
Sep

Covid Clues from Wastewater

As COVID-19 continues its unrelenting rampage, wastewater plant managers and university researchers are ramping up their efforts to monitor wastewater for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease. Their goal is to give public health departments a powerful tool: an early warning system for new outbreaks in communities. In Yosemite Valley, for instance, wastewater testing revealed the presence of the virus in the community before swab testing of individuals showed a problem. “There’s a time delay before cases appear in...
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05
Aug

A team of scientists is close to chasing down every last thing that happens to nitrogen in wastewater as it passes through the soils and plants of a horizontal levee.

Not only is 97% of the nitrogen removed, but also trace pharmaceuticals. “You just have to focus on where the water is going,” says environmental engineer Aidan Cecchetti, referring to the UC Berkeley-Stanford-ReNUWIt team’s experimentation with three components of flow through the levee system—under the surface, over the surface, or into the air (through evapotranspiration). “In the wastewater pumped to the subsurface, you see full removal of every contaminant except phosphorous.” What’s most astonishing is how much of the work...
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05
Aug

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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18
Jun

Greener Fatter Levees Boon to Richmond Resilience?

By Daniel McGlynn In May, despite the now normal issues of groups gathering for video calls and virtual PowerPoints, the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority voted unanimously to fund the early stages of a massive new infrastructure project along the North Richmond shoreline with a grant of $644,709. The shoreline is now one step closer to becoming home to a horizontal, or living, levee that provides both flood protection and habitat. The proposed project, in the planning stages since 2017,...
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18
Jun

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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18
Jun

Highway 37: The Road to Restoration

San Francisco Bay has seven highway bridges with tolls, eight if you count the span linking Antioch to the Delta. In the future it just might have nine. The latest candidate is not the long-debated Southern Crossing, but rather a series of causeways carrying California’s single most vulnerable road in the era of sea-level rise: State Route 37 between Vallejo and Novato. A bridge on dry land? But the dryness of this region is a fading illusion. Over a century...
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18
Jun

Forty Miles of Creek, Six Adaptation Projects

By Robin Meadows In 2017, a perfect storm hit the City of San Jose in Santa Clara County. Coyote Creek, which winds through the heart of the city, overtopped its banks, flooding businesses and hundreds of homes up to depths of six feet. Thousands of people were evacuated and property damages exceeded $70 million. “If I’ve learned anything in my 25 years here, it’s that you have to give creeks room to move, which also creates more resilience to climate...
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18
Jun

San Francisco Prepares for Water From All Directions

By Isaac Pearlman “Even a city with as many resources as San Francisco has can’t do this [alone],” says the director of the Port of San Francisco’s Waterfront Resilience Program Lindy Lowe, speaking of the climate change threats looming over the City by the Bay. “It’s too big.” The perils San Francisco faces include three-to-ten feet of sea-level rise this century, a sharp increase in extreme heat days, and more severe floods and drought. As city officials grapple with today’s...
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19
Mar

Taking a Break from the Corps

By Robin Meadows Corte Madera creek is an outsized problem for people in Ross and other towns built right up to its banks. “Our peaceful creek turns into a rushing torrent in winter,” says Chris Martin, who grew up in the small Marin County town. Finding a fix has been contentious since 1971, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers put a mile-long concrete flood control channel through Ross. “It disconnected the creek from the floodplains, wrecked the Coho salmon...
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SOE Conference Banner Egret
05
Dec

Good Policy, More Tests for Living Shores

By Ariel Rubissow Okamoto While more sea walls may soon be necessary to adapt to rising seas, softer, greener, nature-based shorelines will also be important buffers for our cities and waterfronts. Wetlands, oyster reefs, eelgrass beds, and other natural features of shores and shallows figure largely in a number of ambitious, multi-partner restoration projects over the last decade. To date, more than 10 such projects have been or are being restored around the Bay, encompassing more than 200 acres of...
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05
Dec

Big Picture Review of Regional Science and Governance

Offshore, kelp forests were dwindling. Outside, hillsides were burning. Inside the Scottish Rite Center in Oakland, scientists and policy people were sharing the latest findings concerning the vital shallows in between: the San Francisco Estuary. The patient pursuit of knowledge, essential to smart action in a changing world, had chalked up a fruitful two years. Of the action itself, there was rather less sign. Felicia Marcus might speak to that better than anyone. As chair of the State Water Resources...
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05
Dec

Speakers talk about emerging water quality issues such as stormwater management, contaminants in effluent, wastewater in Suisun Marsh, and nutrients discharged into the Bay.

Green Diet for Roads City of San Pablo project manager Amanda Booth went deep into the nitty gritty on green stormwater infrastructure at a State of the Estuary Conference session. “Talk to the utility agencies before you even start,” she said. “Read PG&E’s Greenbook guidelines. Know your city’s franchise agreements with gas, electrical, sewer, and water companies, figure out who pays to relocate facilities, for example, if that becomes necessary.” Changing the flow lines of runoff at the street, parcel...
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