Getting a Bead on Table Salt

Getting a Bead on Table Salt

By Joe Eaton Microplastics are present in the San Francisco Bay, and at higher concentrations than Chesapeake Bay or the Great Lakes, according to a San Francisco Estuary Institute study led by Rebecca Sutton. There’s “a lot of uncertainty about potential impacts to people and wildlife,” she says.“[Miicroplastics are] a variable contaminant and challenging to interpret.” What we know is sufficient cause for concern: apart from their physical impacts, plastics can absorb other pollutants and some plastic ingredients are known...
Read More

A marriage of robotics and artificial intelligence promises to automate the detection of harmful algal blooms, which can trigger shellfish harvesting bans and fill wildlife rescue centers with sickened animals.

The Imaging FlowCytobot (IFCB) takes water samples around the clock and photographs phytoplankton cells floating within. “It’s got a huge amount of potential for figuring out what plankton is in the water column and monitoring for HABs,” says Alexis Fischer, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Santa Cruz with Raphael Kudela. Fischer and colleagues are building a phytoplankton image classifier already capable of identifying more than 90 percent of cells photographed by IFCB at the Santa Cruz Wharf. The...
Read More

Saltwater Revival

“Swimming sustains me,” says Fran Hegeler of the South End Rowing Club. That’s the kind of enthusiastic language some Bay swimmers express, but sharing the water means sharing it in sickness and in health. Right now, Sausalito’s Marine Mammal Center is dealing with a large outbreak of leptospirosis, a bacterial infection that can cause fatal kidney damage in California sea lions. But it isn’t likely to affect swimmers, as the bacteria is not known to survive long in saltwater.
Read More

Toxic Soup Strains Silos

Headlines about falsified tests are just the latest development in a long history of frustrations for Hunters Point in San Francisco. Recently, the neighborhood has been in the news due to fraud in the cleanup of the former Navy shipyard, contaminated with radioactive waste from nuclear research. In what is now called by some the biggest case of eco-fraud in U.S. history, 97 percent of the cleanup results are in question and two supervisors have been sentenced to prison.
Read More

Medicating the Bay

“If you went to the doctor and told them you were taking 69 different pharmaceuticals,” says Emma Rosi of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, “they would be very concerned with your well-being.” When a study she co-authored detected that number of pharmaceutical compounds in caddisfly larvae along an Australian creek downstream of a treatment plant, it was further evidence that excreted drugs are escaping wastewater facilities and entering food webs. The Bay is no exception. A survey conducted by...
Read More

In response to the critical threat that changing ocean chemistry poses to both ecosystems and economies, the California Ocean Protection Council adopted the state’s first Ocean Acidification Action Plan on October 25.

The plan addresses ocean acidification—like climate change, a consequence of rising atmospheric CO2 levels—in the context of other threats such as polluted runoff, warming temperatures, and rising seas. It promotes local solutions that are likely to provide multiple benefits—from improving water quality to promoting healthy seagrass, marsh, and kelp forest habitats. The plan, one of the first released by a member of the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification, identifies six key strategies, and outlines five-year goals and actions for...
Read More

MEGA-PEARLS, Oct 2018

A Stream of Science Takeaways. ESTUARY News sent reporters to the biennial Bay-Delta Science Conference in September. This special edition of Pearls shares more than 20 takeaways.
Read More

Cigarette Butts Still the Number One Item in Coastal Trash

The number one item still found in California’s beach and coast clean ups is cigarette butts, according to Surfrider’s San Francisco chapter director Shelley Ericksen. Surfrider’s “Hold-on-to-your-Butt” campaign, launched in 1992, and local law enforcement have failed to make a dent in the habit of smokers tossing their butts anywhere they please, and this isn’t good for the environment. A 2011 study in the journal Tobacco Control showed that a single butt in a liter of water can lethally poison...
Read More

San Joaquin Communities Access Cleaner Water Due to New Legislation

The only water easily available to many low-income inhabitants of the San Joaquin Valley’s smaller, non-incorporated settlements is well water tainted with arsenic and nitrates from surrounding activities. But two state bills ensure that these communities – and everyone else in California – not only have the right to safe, clean, and affordable drinking water, but also get access to public water infrastructure and services as needed. Assembly Bill 2501, approved this fall, “makes sure the state’s consolidation authority can...
Read More

Dioxins Are Sticking Around Nearshore and in Fish, RMP Reports

As the “Fish-SMART” signs on local piers warn, the tissues of fish reeled in from San Francisco Bay waters can contain mercury or PCBs, but a new RMP report reminds us of a third contaminant of concern to human health: dioxins. The report, due out in October 2018 and prepared by staff of the San Francisco Estuary Institute and the SF Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, confirms that while levels of this toxic contaminant in sediments nearshore have declined...
Read More

California’s groundwater faces widespread chromium contamination risk resulting from natural, rather than industrial sources.

Chromium’s toxic form, known as hexavalent chromium, is used in steel manufacturing, leather tanning, and wood treatment; its lethal effects were popularized in the 2000 movie Erin Brockovich. But today transformation of the benign form of chromium naturally found in soils poses the larger risk, according to a recent Stanford University study. Dr. Debra Hausladen and her colleagues used a statewide groundwater database to trace the origin of 90,000 chromium samples, and discovered toxic chromium from natural sources is affecting...
Read More

The latest casualty in America’s opioid epidemic is a small invertebrate that filters pollutants and feeds hungry shorebirds.

Biologists testing mussels in the waters around Seattle as part of the Puget Sound Mussel Monitoring Program found oxycodone in mussel tissue for the first time, along with antibiotics, antidepressants, chemotherapy drugs, and heart medications. “We have found evidence that these chemicals are in our nearshore marine waters and are being taken up by marine biota living there,” said Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife biologist Jennifer Lanksbury. She also tested juvenile Chinook salmon in Puget Sound estuaries and found...
Read More

Islais Creek: Hyper-Creek Mediates Hazard Sandwich

Situated between trendy Dogpatch and struggling Bayview-Hunter’s Point, the Islais basin is, according to Bry Sarté of Sherwood Design Engineers, “the biggest watershed in San Francisco and home to the city’s most disadvantaged community.” These days, Islais creek is mostly invisible, culverted and paved over between Glen Canyon upstream and its outfall near Third Street. Tasked with restructuring and reimagining the basin as a part of the Resilient by Design Challenge, Sarté and team BIG + ONE + Sherwood began...
Read More

NYC and Novato Sewage Plants Adapt

The city of Novato completed its $100 million new wastewater treatment plant in 2011. Raising the old plant was expensive, but helped protect it from sea level rise for at least this century. “We took a pretty conservative approach,” says general manager Sandeep Karkal, “but we think we’re in pretty good shape, even for a worst-case scenario.” Novato is far from alone in thinking about the impact of sea level rise on wastewater management. New York City recently discovered how...
Read More

Not the Last Word on Buckler

In January, the Bay Conservation and Development Commission and the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board appealed December decisions by a Solano Superior Court Judge concerning Point Buckler and its owner John Sweeney. The decisions voided $3.6 million in fines and cleanup and restoration requirements that the two agencies had imposed on Sweeney for dumping and excavation in Suisun Bay, and draining tidal wetland, without authorization. “If this decision sets precedent, we’re in real trouble,” says Erica Maharg...
Read More

Scrutinizing the Margins

Bay margins are often mucky, fertile, out-of-the-way places. In the last decade, however, the edges of the San Francisco Bay have caught the attention of San Francisco Estuary Institute scientists as unexpected sources of pollution--and, potentially, of solutions. “The idea that you could make a big difference by just cleaning up the margins is attractive because it scales down the problem quite a bit,” says Phil Trowbridge of the Regional Monitoring Program. Historically, scientists considered the Bay akin to a...
Read More

All In for One Water

As climate change threatens to upend precipitation patterns and disrupt water supplies, agencies are increasingly searching for ways to wring more benefits out of every drop. The Santa Clara Valley Water District is seeking to take integrated water management planning to the next level through its One Water initiative. “The idea of One Water is to manage all water — treated water, groundwater, stormwater, flood water, water for habitat, species and Baylands — as one resource,” says the District’s Brian...
Read More

After the Burn Comes the Rain

When fire strikes upper watersheds like it did last October, responses can vary widely depending on land use and ownership. “We view wildfire as a natural process,” says Cyndy Shafer of California State Parks. Wildlands and backcountry areas have largely been left alone, but it’s a different story when lands are managed not for ecosystems but for drinking-water quality. “You want to minimize the erosion that occurs on site,” says Scott Hill of the East Bay Municipal Utility District, “we...
Read More

Non-Sticks Stick Around

According to data from the Regional Monitoring Program, common coatings and repellants used in textiles for clothing and furniture are sticking around in San Francisco Bay water, sediment, and wildlife. “The reason for the lack of declines is not clear,” says researcher Meg Sedlak of the San Francisco Estuary Institute. Some early environmental offenders in this line of fluorinated chemicals (PFASs) have been banned, including one used in the cookware coated with Teflon. “In 2006 and 2009, the levels of...
Read More

Nudging Natural Magic

“Miraculous” isn’t a term that comes easily to the lips of scientists and engineers. But the word, along with a quickly quelled gulp of incredulity, cropped up more than once in interviews concerning the preliminary results of the horizontal levee experiment on the San Lorenzo shore – including off the charts levels of removal of nitrogen and pharmaceuticals from wastewater passed through the system and growth of willows, cattails, and wet meadows. This pilot sea level rise adaptation project, led...
Read More
1 2