Articles by

Robin Meadows
About the author

Robin Meadows is an independent science journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. She covers water and climate change adaptation for Estuary News, is the water reporter for the Bay Area Monitor, and contributes to Bay Nature, Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, PLOS Research News and Water Deeply. Robin also enjoys hiking and photography.

Articles by Robin Meadows

Nutria — giant South American rodents—are breeding in the San Joaquin Valley and are on the brink of invading the Delta, where they could wreak havoc, as they have done in Louisiana, Chesapeake Bay and the Pacific Northwest.

According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, nutria have extremely destructive feeding habits that often lead to severe soil erosion, in some cases converting marsh to open water. Nutria also burrow into banks and levees, creating complex dens that extend as much as 6 meters deep and 50 meters into the bank, often causing severe streambank erosion, increased sedimentation, levee failures, and roadbed collapses. The rodents, which can weigh more than 20 pounds and are often mistaken for...
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Napa County voters will weigh in on the fate of the county’s remaining oak woodlands this June, when they cast ballots on Measure C, the Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative.

“Ninety-five percent of oaks on the valley floor are gone and we want to do a better job reducing deforestation on the hills” initiative co-author Jim Wilson, told the Bay Area Monitor. “Our hillsides are beautiful and also filter rain, keeping water clean as it replenishes aquifers.” Most of Napa’s oak woodland loss is due to vineyard development, and the county General Plan projects that another 3,000 acres of woodland will be converted to vineyard by 2030. Current protections require...
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The Art of Environmental Restoration

Cold water, essential for the life cycle of Chinook salmon, is all too often in short supply along the Sacramento River. A primary cause: California’s massive water conveyance system, using reservoirs, dams, and hydroelectric plants to divert water and deliver power to farms and cities. “When we started releasing water in spring, we let cold water out too early. None was left by fall, when salmon really needed it,” says USBR hydraulic engineer Tracy Vermeyen. Two clever innovations have been...
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Radar Envy

“The rule for releasing water is rigid and dates to the 1950s,” says Jay Jasperse of the Sonoma County Water Agency. Near the end of 2012, the US Army Corps of Engineers released 28,000 acre-feet of water from Lake Mendocino. Then followed 14 of the driest months on record. The key to managing the drought and deluge cycle of California lies in a better understanding of atmospheric rivers, intense winter storms that transport water from the tropics to the West...
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The kind of flooding and mudslides that recently devastated the town of Montecito could also happen in the Bay Area, thanks to the more intense atmospheric rivers that—along with more frequent droughts and longer, fiercer wildfire seasons—climate change is expected to bring to California.

These swathes of water vapor from the tropics can be hundreds of miles wide and thousands of miles long, and bring with them enormous quantities of water; the one that arrived in early January dropped more than 30 inches of rain statewide. In Montecito, which had just been ravaged by December’s Thomas Fire, half an inch of rain fell in a matter of minutes and caused deadly flooding and mudslides. In the Bay Area, atmospheric rivers already cause more than...
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Small Natural Features, Big Ecological Benefits

One of the beauties of the Bay Area is that the landscape is rich in remnants of the wilderness that was once there. Journey through the ancient salt marshes and freshwater seeps of the tidal flats, to the grand old oaks casting shade over deep pools along seasonal streams, and even the precipitous cliffs of Alcratraz island. Every one of these has vast ecological benefits and comprise some of the Bay’s small but key natural features.
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Broad buy-in is the hoped for result of a proposed new landscape-level vision for conservation of the Delta.

For decades, government agencies, stakeholders, scientists, and planners have tried to develop a common vision for the future Delta, only to be stymied by environmental and economic politics. A new paradigm developed by diverse interests, however, proposes six regional conservation strategies to be achieved through collaborative, phased projects tailored to the needs of each sub-region, with a priority on improving public lands first. Proponents of the new framework say long-term conservation of the Delta is not a choice but an...
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The Delta from Within

As an outsider, it’s easy to see the Delta as a mess. Once a paradise of wildlife, it’s now an ecological disaster and the nexus of the fierce water wars between the state’s wet north and dry south. But there’s much more to the Delta, which was settled beginning with the Gold Rush. The 33 miles between Rio Vista and Sacramento on highway 160 feel like another world. The sky is big and the land stretches out in all directions,...
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Small-scale conservation can have outsized ecological impacts, says an international group of researchers.

Among the small natural features that can have disproportionate ecological value are the bark of grand old trees, which has nooks and crannies that provide microhabitats for wildlife; patches of native plants alongside agricultural fields, which can provide some species with their only remaining natural habitat; and rocky outcrops, which nurture unique and diverse flora and fauna. Other benefits of conserving these modest yet influential—and often under-appreciated—landscape features include relative ease and affordability as well as compatibility with land uses...
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Urban Jungle Inspires Unique Regulatory Tack

California has nearly one-quarter of the nation’s homeless people—the most of any state by far—and thousands of them live in the Bay Area. Many are in outdoor encampments that lack basic services most people take for granted, including clean water, sewer hookups, and garbage collection. Human waste and the pathogens in it are untreated, and refuse piles up and escapes.
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Keeping the Salt Field at Bay II

After four of California’s driest years on record, the rain we’ve gotten this winter is hardly a drought buster. But it’s still a relief. Just a year ago, our “wet” season was so dry that state water officials panicked. Major reservoirs were drawn way down, and record-low snowpack would limit replenishment to a trickle. Water managers worried about the hot, dry months. Would reservoirs still hold enough for freshwater releases to keep saltwater from pushing deep into the Sacramento-San Joaquin...
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Small Fish Test Helps Target PCB Clean Up

Jay Davis didn’t expect much from a pilot test for PCBs in silversides and topsmelt that live on the edges of the San Francisco Bay. The monitoring program he heads only ran the test on these small fish, which rarely grow more than 3-4 inches long, because it was simple to piggyback on an existing study of mercury in the same fish samples. “I thought it wouldn’t really be a big deal,” says Davis, who is lead scientist for the...
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Bay Primed for Pea Soup?

Nutrients could be the next big problem for San Francisco Bay — or make that in the Bay, because they’re already here at levels high enough to have caused trouble elsewhere. But despite its excess nitrogen and phosphorus, the Bay has been free of harmful algal blooms and oxygen-depleted dead zones for decades. Indeed, we’ve been so sure of this immunity to nutrients that most wastewater treatment plants don’t even have to remove them before discharging into the Bay. Recent...
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