Sturgeon Surgeons

Sturgeon Surgeons

By Michael Adamson “White sturgeon are a popular species, so we want to keep a close eye on contaminants in their tissues.” Recent RMP studies have unearthed a few new interesting things about sturgeon – first that selenium keeps turning up in specimens from certain areas, and second that testing may not have to be deadly. Growing up to 20 feet long and living up to 100 years, today’s living fish have become valuable for the stories that they tell.
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Toxic Summer for Sea Lions

By Michael Adamson The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito is wrapping up a busy summer. A potent neurotoxin called domoic acid, propagated by toxic algal blooms, poses a threat to California sea lions. Originally called “Amnesiac shellfish poisoning,” domoic acid targets the hippocampus and can have devastating effects on sea lions.
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Beacon not Burden

What some might call a regulatory burden on industry, commerce, and American greatness, others might call the road to success. Jay Davis, a serious guy, doesn’t crack a smile when he describes the Bay Area’s Regional Monitoring Program as “a beacon of environmental protection.” It may sound a little over the top, for a PhD who ran the program for more than a decade, but all you have to do is fact check. Ask some of the oil refineries, power...
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The Second Signal: Guadalupe River Flood Monitoring

It was past midnight when Lester McKee pulled the plug. He’d been watching the weather for days on screen, looking for the perfect storm of conditions he needed to send his team out to sample the Guadalupe River in Santa Clara County. He knew there’d been enough rain already to saturate the soil and surpass annual averages. Zooming in on real-time sensors aimed at Santa Clara Valley Water District reservoirs, he could see they were full enough to spill downstream....
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Sport Fish Still Not Squeaky Clean

Toxic flame retardants quickly declined in Bay-caught fish, once banned, but legacy mercury persists, according to the most recent year of sampling. As the region’s collaborative monitoring program for Bay contaminants — the RMP — arrives at its 25th birthday, its long-term commitment to consistent data collection for the purposes of targeted environmental management is showing its mettle. The RMP has been catching and testing a wide array of species of popular sport fish, ranging from giant sturgeon to tiny...
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The Dirt on Flea Control

It’s hard to go to the big box pet store and not stumble over the flea control displays. Most pet owners have dabbed or squirted Frontline or Advantage between their cat’s shoulder bones or onto the back of their dog’s neck, but who would guess this same chemical would make its way off our pet’s fur, down the drain, through wastewater treatment, and into the Bay? Apparently all the petting and shedding and subsequent washing of hands, doggies, and floors...
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Urban Jungle Inspires Unique Regulatory Tack

DOWNLOAD the December 2016 Issue PDF Urban Jungle Inspires Unique Regulatory Tack By Robin Meadows 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. And, out of all the social...
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An Eggfull of Estuary

Birds’ eggs don’t lie. Just as thinning eggshells once revealed how DDT was affecting peregrines and pelicans, the eggs themselves are now telling scientists how long-lived some contaminants are in the Estuary and where they are the most problematic. A report just published by the Regional Monitoring Program for Water Quality in San Francisco Bay (RMP) summarizes contaminant concentrations in eggs collected between 2002 and 2012 from two fish-eating species high in the Estuary food chain, double-crested cormorants and Foster’s...
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Waiting for the Big One

Birds’ eggs don’t lie. Just as thinning eggshells once revealed how DDT was affecting peregrines and pelicans, the eggs themselves are now telling scientists how long-lived some contaminants are in the Estuary and where they are the most problematic. A report just published by the Regional Monitoring Program for Water Quality in San Francisco Bay (RMP) summarizes contaminant concentrations in eggs collected between 2002 and 2012 from two fish-eating species high in the Estuary food chain, double-crested cormorants and Foster’s...
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Unhealthy Fiber in Bay Diet

Millions of tiny pieces of plastic, each less than five millimeters wide, are flowing into San Francisco Bay each day. This minute debris—known as microplastic—is a growing environmental concern for water bodies worldwide as it evades filtration and mimics food consumed by wildlife. Now, a recent study found that San Francisco Bay has higher concentration of microplastic pollution than the handful of other major U.S. water bodies that have been studied, including the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay. Now, a...
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The Most Under-Regulated Facility

DOWNLOAD December 2015 ISSUE PDF The Most Under-Regulated Facility by Lisa Owens Viani When miners trudged up the northeast slope of Black Mountain in the Cupertino foothills in the late 1800s and began picking away at the rock to get at limestone deposits, they probably weren’t thinking about water or air quality. And when Henry J. Kaiser took over the quarry in 1939, turning it into the largest producer of Portland cement in the U.S., the Clean Air Act and...
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Tracking Tiny Toxins

By Joe Eaton San Francisco Bay and the region’s other water bodies have an unfortunate legacy of human pollution. But we’re not the only culprits: beyond the mercury and PCBs, the Bay contains toxins produced by phytoplankton—photosynthesizing microorganisms classified as blue-green algae (also known as cyanobacteria), dinoflagellates, and diatoms. Under conditions still not well understood, these tiny organisms secrete chemicals that can enter aquatic food webs and impact human health. Funded by the San Francisco Estuary Institute’s Regional Monitoring Program...
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Beyond the Blubber

When John Kucklick talks about interrogation techniques, his subjects aren’t tight-lipped terrorists, they’re bits of blubber. Harbor seal fat is a well-known repository of legacy contaminants from the Bay like PCBs, flame retardants and DDT, but the Regional Monitoring Program for Water Quality in San Francisco Bay (RMP) wanted to know what they might be missing. In 2010, they asked Kucklick, a scientist with access to a national database of 330,000 chemicals and some pretty cutting edge software, to check...
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Copper Effects on Salmon Influenced by Salinity

A decade of research by David Baldwin of NOAA’s North
west Fisheries Science Center 
and other biologists has shown
 that in some situations, very 
low levels of dissolved copper interfere with a salmon’s ability to detect smells. This can 
be a matter of life or death: 
salmon rely on their olfac
tory sense to avoid predators,
 locate prey, and home in on
 their natal streams when they 
return from the ocean to spawn. Earlier studies involved juvenile fish in freshwater settings. Baldwin’s...
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Beyond the Bag Ban

The other day I found myself turning out the closets for one last plastic bag. Dreaming of those white Safeway sacks as I searched for something to sequester what may well be the most toxic contaminant in the homes and cars of many a modern family: freshly used soccer cleats. But a year into San Francisco’s bag ban, there just aren’t that many plastic shopping bags around our house anymore. All told, 60 percent of municipalities in the four most...
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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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Shifts in Selenium Spikes

DOWNLOAD JUNE ISSUE PDF Shifts in Selenium Spikes By Ariel Rubissow Okamoto USGS scientists headed up river this June to see whether two Asian clams had also headed upstream with the drought. When there’s less fresh water flowing out to sea, salty ocean water intrudes inland, and changes the distribution of these pesky invertebrates. Potamocorbula like it saltier than Corbicula, and usually hang out in the Suisun Bay region. But scientists suspect drought conditions may have changed all that, and...
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Freeing Fish While Locking Up Mercury

The restoration of the South Bay salt ponds to tidal wetland has, from the very beginning, been an exercise in adaptive management: take an action; monitor the results; make any indicated fixes; repeat. There’s no better example than Pond A8, where the Guadalupe River enters San Francisco Bay via Alviso Slough. Restoration planners were worried that connecting the former salt evaporation pond with the Bay could introduce long-dormant mercury to the wider ecosystem, and initial studies of levels in water...
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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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Keeping the Salt Field at Bay

DOWNLOAD MARCH ISSUE PDF Keeping the Salt Field at Bay by Ariel Rubissow Okamoto As the dry, warm days went on and on and on this winter, two guys intimate with California’s Sacramento San Joaquin River delta shifted gears. One reassigned staff from flood to drought response, and the other lay awake at night imagining barriers across various slough openings. By early February, some Sierra reservoirs were so low, and so close to “dead pool” level, that the water projects...
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