San Rafael: Elevating a Canal, City, Community

San Rafael: Elevating a Canal, City, Community

For the Latino and Vietnamese residents of the Canal District in San Rafael, sea level rise is a tangible threat—not by the end of the century, but right now. “If the Bay Area doesn’t respond in these places, where it’s abundantly obvious, how are they going to respond to the rest?” asks Marcel Wilson of Bionic Team, tasked with creating a more flood-proof San Rafael as part of the Resilient by Design challenge. “The easiest solution would be to gate...
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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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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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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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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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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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Resprout Photo Essay

Spending time in the burned zones is an almost overwhelming assault on the senses; this is a familiar world inverted. The colors, textures, shapes, and smells are all unfamiliar. That which should be green is black. That which should be inside is out. That which should be standing has fallen. Nothing, it seems, can be taken for granted.
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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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Choice Mountain Parcels Help Protect Bay

John Muir Land Trust announces one of its largest-ever purchases, the 604-acre Carr Ranch located squarely within San Leandro Creek’s 50 square-mile watershed. Similar conservation targets exist across the Bay Area, particularly on the outskirts: Sprawling, undeveloped, privately owned parcels whose protection sends a variety of benefits cascading downhill towards the bay.
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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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Man’s best friend is being enlisted in efforts to detect the soil-born pathogen responsible for sudden oak death and other rapidly spreading plant and tree diseases.

Phytophthora is difficult to detect in nurseries, plant materials, and planting sites until it has done its damage. To develop early-detection options, H.T. Harvey and Associates are training a female cattle dog/border collie mix named Bolt to sniff out Phytophthora. Part of the Harvey Dog ecological-scent detection program, Bolt has accurately identified four species of Phytophthora in the lab. If her training in a natural setting is successful, Bolt could get to work helping minimize the spread of Phytophthora. Potential beneficiaries...
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A new Bay Area screening tool helps me wrap my brain around a TMI project.

The day I began editing a monolithic overview of Santa Clara County’s Coyote Watershed I received a gift from my handler. He’d just thrown me for a loop by suggesting we describe not just Coyote Creek’s vast extent and myriad One Water management issues, but also its six sub-watersheds. I asked him to summarize the differences. Rather than composing a detailed memo, or searching water district literature for the materials, he logged into Bay Area Greenprint. Within hours I had...
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LA Drainage Goes Native

Community Conservation Solutions is piloting a new analytical tool that not only taps an untapped local water supply — the 969 miles of metropolitan storm drains in Los Angeles — but also has the metrics to earn carbon credits for doing so. “It’s very practical, you just stick your straw in the local water source rather than pumping it into the city from hundreds of miles away,” says the NGO’s director Esther Feldman. The tool helps land and water managers prioritize projects...
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Mainstreaming Resilience

Whatever the “perturbation” coming our way – a flood, a drought, a weed or Donald Trump – our recovery, in the aftermath, depends on something ecologists call resilience. It’s a term everyone is pasting onto their management initiatives these days – resilient landscapes, resilient shorelines, resilient water supplies, neighborhoods, infrastructure… But what exactly does it mean, and how is it different from other fashionable buzzwords that have galvanized Californians into thinking about the future?
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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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Offers They Can Refuse

The numbers are daunting: 8,000 acres to be restored to fish-friendly tidal habitat in order to comply with federal wildlife agencies’ Biological Opinions; another 65,000 if and when the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan is implemented; more still if you add in mitigation for levee operations. Where will that acreage come from? State agencies and other public entities already own some parcels suitable for restoration, but not nearly enough: the rest will need to be purchased from its current owners or covered...
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Wild River Lands in Suspense File

Remember that chart showing how a bill becomes a law in your high school civics textbook—all those boxes and arrows? Odds are it didn’t include the Suspense File of the Assembly Appropriations Committee, a legislative limbo where bills can expire without ever coming to
a vote. That was the fate of Senate Bill 1199, a measure introduced by State Senator Loni Hancock (DBerkeley) in April to add portions of the Mokelumne River to the California Wild and Scenic Rivers System. Supported...
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