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Pearls

The country’s tiniest falcon—the stunning American kestrel—is declining throughout the United States, and California seems especially hard hit: Kestrel numbers during the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory’s annual autumn migration counts declined from nearly 800 in 1997 to just 300 in 2017.

“Kestrels in California have been on a long downward trend since 1950 at least,” says GGRO Director Allen Fish, citing several potential reasons for the decline, including predation by other raptors. Pesticides destroy important food sources for kestrels and also sometimes poison the birds themselves. Rodenticides and insecticides work their way up the food chain and cause secondary poisoning, as do heavy metals like selenium, mercury, and lead. Loss of nesting sites is another problem: kestrels are cavity nesters and...
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Though a tiny and low-lying treatment plant on the San Leandro shore is facing increasing regulation of nutrients and rising sea levels, it’s got a path to adaptation thanks to the region’s taxpayers.

This April, the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority awarded the first round of Measure AA grants, including $539,000 for San Leandro’s water pollution control plant. The plant, which is surrounded by blue- and white-collar communities, recently completed upgrades that allow the repurposing of a retired treatment pond. The money will pay for plans, designs, and permit applications necessary to convert the pond to a wastewater treatment marsh and buffer zone between the plant and the advancing Bay—a critical improvement, since...
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Updated guidance synthesizing the best available science on sea-level rise projections and rates for California—including advances in modeling and improved understanding of the potential impact of ice loss from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets—is now available from the California Ocean Protection Commission.

The State of California Sea-Level Rise Guidance 2018 Update is the second update to guidance originally released in 2010. It is based on the scientific findings of the OPC Science Advisory Team’s 2017 report, “Rising Seas in California: An Update on Sea-Level Rise,” which noted among other findings that California may be particularly vulnerable to sea level rise stemming from ice loss in Antarctica. The guidance “provides a bold, science-based methodology for state and local governments to analyze and assess...
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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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Eighteen years after local stakeholders adopted the Putah Creek Accord to guarantee minimum flows and other enhancements, birdlife is flourishing in the Creek’s Riparian Reserve, highlighting the restoration of what was once a dried-up ditch.

Former U.C. Davis post-doc Kristen Dybala and her colleagues recently reported in Ecological Restoration on a project that monitored populations of breeding species, mostly songbirds, at the Reserve and 13 other sites along lower Putah Creek from 1999 through 2012. Some sites had seen active restoration efforts to benefit native fish; others had not. Overall, birds seemed to respond to the modified flow regime, with positive trends for 27 species and greater community diversity. Seven riparian-dependent species showed increases in...
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Infrastructure improvements could provide safe drinking water to tens of thousands of Californians currently living without it, but funding such improvements remains a challenge.

Many communities in rural, unincorporated San Joaquin Valley are served by water systems high in nitrates and arsenic, or private wells not subject to inspection. But according to a new UC Davis study, about 99,000 valley residents live near public systems with clean water and could access it if service extensions, piping and other infrastructure improvements were implemented. Pending state legislation would create a fund for such projects through fees imposed on water districts. While the bill faces opposition from...
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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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And Also…

In the Fate of the Delta Smelt, Warnings of Conservation Gone Wrong New Study Improves Measurement of Crop Water Use in the Delta Accidents Waiting to Happen: Coal Ash Ponds Put Our Waterways at Risk
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A wide-ranging Habitat Conservation Plan that could eventually protect up to 4800 acres of endangered species habitat in the Bay Area is the linchpin of a November agreement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Pacific Gas and Electric Company.

Under the agreement, FWS issued the utility a 30-year incidental take permit for operations and maintenance activities in the nine Bay Area counties. The HCP includes strategies to avoid, minimize, and offset potential direct, indirect, and cumulative effects of PG&E’s O&M and minor new construction activities on 32 threatened or endangered species. The parties are hailing the landscape-scale plan as an improvement over the project-by-project process they previously operated under, as it will enable PG&E to complete projects more quickly...
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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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Despite some unnerving trends, Bay Area landowners and open-space authorities may be able to reduce the potential for another calamitous wildfire by modifying their land-management practices.

According to a worrisome article in the January issue of Bay Nature, the region’s future is increasingly fire-prone, thanks to climate change, population trends, and a legacy of strict fire suppression. Yet while the first two are beyond the scope of a single city or agency to manage, reducing fuel loads in forests and shrublands more actively, through prescribed burns and mechanical thinning, may help mitigate future catastrophes. At a gathering organized by the Bay Area Open Space Council last November, attendees seemed...
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An easily overlooked slough is pointing a finger of uncertainty at Oakland’s plans for ballpark redevelopment, transit safety and resilient neighborhoods.

From the pedestrian bridge between the Oakland Coliseum and the BART station, the view of Damon Slough–a 25-foot-wide canal of muddy, litter-choked water–belies its increasing prominence in the flood-futures of east Oakland. A study by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission did the math, adding the impacts of rising sea levels on these Oakland flatlands to predictions of more frequent, more extreme storm events and urban runoff. “That’s when water starts coming out of manholes,” says Kris May, a coastal engineer who...
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In Humboldt County’s coastal dunes, a multi-agency partnership is restoring the native plant community to build resilience to sea level rise.

The project, along with four others in the Bay Area and Southern California, is featured in a new report, Case Studies of Natural Shoreline Infrastructure in Coastal California. Much of the state’s dunescape was built over or hauled away before its value as habitat for unique species and a buffer against climate change was recognized. San Francisco’s dunes are long gone, and with them the endemic Xerces blue butterfly. Humboldt’s 32-mile stretch still shelters endangered plants like the Menzies’ wallflower...
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The battle of Point Buckler Island isn’t over yet.

In January the Bay Conservation and Development Commission and the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board appealed decisions by a Solano County Superior Court Judge voiding $3.6 million in fines and cleanup and restoration requirements that the agencies imposed on the island’s owner for dumping excavation spoil in Suisun Bay and draining tidal wetland without authorization. The agencies held that due to the failure of previous owners to maintain levees, the interior of the island had become tidal...
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And also…

Nearly Half of California’s Vegetation at Risk From Climate Stress https://www.ucdavis.edu/news/nearly-half-california-vegetation-risk-climate-stress USACE Releases Yuba River Floodplain Restoration Plan http://www.spk.usace.army.mil/Missions/Environmental-Projects/Yuba-River-Eco-Study/ http://www.chicoer.com/general-news/20180108/feds-release-yuba-river-floodplain-restoration-plan Report Recommends Adding 37 Miles of the Mokelumne to Wild and Scenic River System https://mavensnotebook.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/AB-142-study-NR_joint.pdf   Contributors: Joe Eaton, Robin Meadows, Ariel Rubissow Okamoto, Nate Seltenrich, Cariad Hayes Thronson Please send suggestions for future Pearls to editorestuarypearls@gmail.com
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A wedge of gravel, mud, and grasses irrigated by treated wastewater outperforms all expectations as a prototype for climate change adaptation.

Experts monitoring 16 months of plant growth on a humpbacked levee experiment on the San Leandro shore, a project led by the Oro Loma Sanitary District, found early weed colonization followed by rapid dominance of target native perennial vegetation. “Native vegetation outcompeted weeds,” says Peter Baye, who designed the planting palette for this multi-benefit infrastructure project. The results were apparent during an October 2017 tour for international design teams looking at homegrown innovations in sea level rise adaptation as part of...
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The number of Chinook salmon returning to Central Valley rivers is near record lows as a result of water management decisions made during the recent drought.

Returns of endangered winter-run Chinook salmon this year will be the second lowest this century—according to the Bay Institute’s Jonathan Rosenfield, the final 2017 estimate is likely to be less than 1,000 fish total, of which more than 80% were hatchery-spawned. Returning fish represent the survivors of the 2014 incubation period, when the US Bureau of Reclamation did not provide adequate cold water, and poor juvenile outmigration conditions during winter-spring 2015 resulting from reduced Delta inflow and outflow standards. Despite all this,...
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“Sometimes doing nothing is the best option” is just one of the sometimes counterintuitive tips for post-fire restoration compiled by the Napa County Resource Conservation District in the wake of October’s North Bay firestorm.

A new web page simply titled “Fire” contains a suite of online resources for land owners and managers. From finding sources of invasive-free native plant seed to recommending that burned soils be left undisturbed wherever possible (so as to maintain their natural hydrophobic properties, which help prevent erosion), the website offers a trove of tips to help maximize the recovery of a healthy landscape in a series of “After the Fire” fact sheets that include titles such as Dos and Don’ts,...
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A former Japanese-American-owned nursery/brownfield in Richmond is being transformed into a green infill development that includes affordable senior housing, a four-acre greenbelt with a daylighted creek, an urban forest, and easy connections to transit via the Richmond Central Greenway.

Tucked into a corner of the city next to the I-80 freeway and BART tracks, the “Miraflores” site was the heart of the Japanese-American nursery industry in the East Bay. From the early 1900s to 2006, three Japanese-American families operated a rose and carnation nursery there, one of about a dozen such nurseries in the Richmond-El Cerrito area, according to Bay Area historian Donna Graves. During World War II, the families were sent out of state to camps but returned...
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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 San Francisco Bay-Delta is named in the federal Clean Water Act as one of 28 “estuaries of national significance." For over 20 years, the San Francisco Estuary Partnership has worked together with local communities and federal and state agencies to improve the health of California’s most urbanized estuary.

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