Reorienting to Salmon Recovery

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...
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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...
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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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Hatchery Delta Smelt Released to Wild

On a mild day between rainstorms in mid-December, wildlife biologists outfitted in rubber boots and orange lifejackets load drum after drum of precious cargo onto a small boat docked in Rio Vista, a town on the Sacramento River in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. There is little fanfare but the occasion is nonetheless momentous. The shiny silver drums contain thousands of Delta smelt — finger-size imperiled fish unique to the Delta — that were raised in a conservation hatchery. Today marks...
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moss ball oregon USFWS

Invasions

Almost two months after invasive zebra mussels were discovered in imported “moss balls” (actually algae) in a Seattle PetCo store, federal and state agencies are still trying to track the Trojan moss balls and keep the mussels out of vulnerable water bodies, including California’s. So far, contaminated moss balls have been found in 46 states (Virginia, Delaware, Rhode Island, and Hawaii are the exceptions) and most of Canada’s provinces. The US Fish & Wildlife Service has issued detailed guidance for...
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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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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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Rebooting the Klamath

By Lisa Owens Viani “There are bounds on this system and if you mismanage it, you can kill off what was once the third-largest salmon run on the entire West Coast,” says Amy Cordalis, general counsel for the Yurok Tribe. In 2002, more than 70,000 adult salmon died on the Klamath River when U.S. Bureau of Reclamation diversions caused water temperatures to spike, which led to the spread of diseases that wiped out the fish. In February, the Klamath River...
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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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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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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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New Regional Rainmaker

By Joe Eaton Environmental issues were important to Michael Montgomery as a young man. Montgomery’s career path led to 33 years with the United States Environmental Protection Agency, where he gained a wealth of experience in navigating complex regulatory landscapes to protect water resources, and ultimately to the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, where he is now executive officer. “The Bay Area has a strong tradition of coming up with collaborative solutions,” he says. That’s how he...
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Coyote Valley, an important wildlife corridor connecting the Santa Cruz and Diablo Mountain ranges, would receive new protections under state legislation introduced in April.

AB 948 would create a new Coyote Valley Conservation Program, to be administered by the Santa Clara Open Space Authority. The bill would expand the existing protected area from 7,400 acres to 17,000 acres, and boost new efforts to preserve its resources. Coyote Valley, which drains the ecologically rich upper watershed of Coyote Creek, has long faced development threats as surrounding South Bay communities expand. The area provides critical habitat for critters large and small, which use the valley—especially its...
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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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Oakland green infrastructure vision.

Clock Ticking for Cities to Commit to Greening

Managing stormwater is a physics problem, and not a very glamorous one. In decades past, the main objective of managing stormwater was figuring out how fast it could be directed through the Bay Area’s built landscape via storm drains, culverts, and channels, and into the Bay. In decades future, however, the object will be to slow down the runoff, and sink it into greener, spongier surfaces sprinkled throughout our cities and counties, or to run it through more meandering, more...
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Joaquin Esquivel is impatient with the narrative that has dominated California water policy for decades, especially when it comes to the Delta and the eternal tug-of-war between farms, cities and the environment.

“For so long in the water space you’ve had these false dichotomies where you are being told you have to choose one or the other,” says Esquivel, who Governor Gavin Newsom appointed Chair of the State Water Resources Control Board in February. “These narratives can fuel themselves, they take root in communities, but they don’t really do much to get to the heart of the policy question.” A native of the Coachella Valley, Esquivel served on the State Board for...
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Jessica Fain got a crash course in resilience planning when Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast in 2012.

Fain, Planning Director for the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) since October, was part of a three-person office in the Waterfront and Open Space Division of New York’s Department of City Planning. “We were doing a small study on adaptation options,” she recalls. “In the middle of that, Sandy hit. Suddenly all eyes were on us.” Fain brings that background to a setting unlike New York in many ways. Instead of five boroughs, for example, she’s dealing with a...
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