Rocky Road to a Fresh Enough Delta

Infrastructure



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...
Read More
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 (FEMA) to repair the freeway bridge. But in the era before Zoom, my mother couldn’t just stay home from nursing school. So my parents trekked past the mud of submerged artichoke fields on the river’s south bank and onto the...
Read More

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 to charge up the California Aqueduct at Bethany Reservoir. The tunnel capacity would be 6,000 cubic feet per second, which, if operated full time, could provide 4.3 million acre-feet a year for export to San Joaquin Valley farms and to...
Read More
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...
Read More
25
Oct

Transformative Green Infrastructure

At the summit, the BAAQMD’s David Ralson described three examples of redoing infrastructure to break down barriers separating human ecology and the natural environment.  Three such initiatives are underway in the area around San Leandro Bay, the locale of RBD’s Estuary Commons project. “The I-880 corridor from High Street to 98th Avenue contains the worst-off disadvantaged communities in the Bay Area in terms of health outcomes,” he said. “They are also subject to sea-level rise and groundwater inundation.” Former wetlands are now filled with gray infrastructure. Hidden urban creeks, like San Leandro/Lisjan Creek, offer a pathway to reconnection: “People will say, ‘We don’t know about this creek; we don’t have access.’ But their grandparents may have fished or played in...
Read More
17
Jun

Ballpark Battlegrounds

McKelvey Park’s curious design reveals its double use: a baseball field that is also a flood detention basin designed to protect Mountain View from Permanente Creek's next major 50- to 100-year flood.
Read More
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 at the foot of the Mayacamas Mountains. New homes of all shapes, sizes, styles, and colors, each designed to suit the owner’s preference, are interspersed with dozens more in varying stages of construction. On a recent weekday afternoon, building and...
Read More
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 influx of salmon and other fish near the two water projects. Evidence of this hotspot lies in the numerous acoustic tags from young salmon to be found in the sediment, which were presumably defecated by striped bass, as well as...
Read More
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 a community and in the medical system,” says Katy Graham, a graduate student at Stanford University who is leading development of laboratory methods that will link trends and concentrations of the virus’ RNA (ribonucleic acid) in wastewater to the virus’...
Read More
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 occurs in that subsurface drainage through the first 10% of levee slope. What happened further along the slope mattered less, the team found; plants only absorbed 8-12% of the nitrogen, with willows being the highest performing species. “Predicting performance is...
Read More
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 to protect communities and infrastructure. “The draft showcases how that system of infrastructure improvements could protect 98% of all homes at risk over the next 30-years, as well as all major highways, railways and the vast majority of offices and...
Read More
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, will be anchored near a wastewater treatment plant managed by the West County Wastewater District. “The proposed project will go beyond just protecting the water treatment plant ratepayers,” says project manager Josh Bradt of the San Francisco Estuary Partnership. “It...
Read More
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 found that in a mid-range sea level rise scenario, property worth $34 billion would be flooded on the bayshore and the coast north of Half Moon Bay. Facing that reality, San Mateo County’s leadership has undertaken some of the Bay...
Read More
18
Jun

Highway 37: The Road to Restoration

From head-on collisions in the 1980s to crippling congestion now, Highway 37 is a familiar headache for highway engineers. Fearing that engineers might not take full account of the vast marsh restorations underway in the area, the Sonoma Land Trust, the Coastal Conservancy, and others joined in a State Route 37-Baylands Group. In 2017, the group laid down markers: Whatever is done with the east-west highway must also improve the passage of tides and stormwaters north and south, not further impede those flows.
Read More

Forty Miles of Creek, Six Adaptation Projects

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 change,” says Valley Water's Afshin Rouhani...
Read More
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 severe housing and inequality crises, they are also confronting the need to preserve aging infrastructure, such as the city’s hundred-year-old stormwater system and a busy international airport that sits below sea level. But perhaps no one confronts a bigger challenge...
Read More
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 fishery, and didn’t accomplish its purpose ― it’s a failure any way you look at it.” The local community has repeatedly rebuffed the Corps’ attempts at redoing the project, so the County and the Corps terminated the 2014 agreement.
Read More
19
Mar

Sustaining Pajaro Valley’s Water

The farms that create the economic engine of Pajaro Valley operate at different scales. Some growers are small, while others have labels you might recognize from the grocery store: Martinellis, Driscolls, California Giant, to name a few. Regardless of the amount of acreage under management, one thing that the farmers share is that most of their water comes from the ground. How to best handle the area’s diminishing supply of groundwater has occupied local water managers for decades.
Read More
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 shoreline and nearshore areas. “We need larger living shoreline projects and we need them fast, so we need to experiment and learn before we scale up, said biologist Katharyn Boyer, of the Estuary and Ocean Science Center, at the 2019...
Read More
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 Control Board, she had coaxed along a nine-year process, mandated by law, to raise minimum flows in the major rivers that sustain the Estuary. The Board took the first of several wrenchingly hard decisions 12 months ago. Result: the process...
Read More
1 2 3