Islais Creek: Hyper-Creek Mediates Hazard Sandwich

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...
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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...
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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...
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Scrutinizing the Margins

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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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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Sturgeon Surgeons

“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

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

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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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

If and when El Niño decides to dump a big storm on the Bay Area — even at 2:00 am on a Saturday night — SFEI’s Lester McKee and Alicia Gilbreath and their team are ready to pull on their parkas and dash out to take water samples. Last September, stakeholders in the Regional Monitoring Program decided they would be remiss if they did not try to measure some high priority pollutants during an El Niño year. “With plenty of...
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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

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 Clean Water Act were still several decades away. The Kaiser Permanente Cement Plant...
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Tracking Tiny Toxins

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 for Water Quality...
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