Two Urban Estuaries Soften Shorelines

Two Urban Estuaries Soften Shorelines

For two cold clear days in February, scientists, engineers, and other specialists from all three North American coasts gathered at the Oakland Airport Hilton, in what a local speaker called “the least interesting part of Oakland,” for the second national Living Shorelines Technology Transfer Workshop. The event, co-sponsored by Restore America’s Estuaries, the California Coastal Conservancy, and Save the Bay, featured talks and interactive sessions on this emerging approach to coastal protection that went well beyond technology. Referred to by...
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Overdue Levee Almost Shovel Ready

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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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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Minding the Margins

“The language changed from should restore to must restore,” says David Thomson of the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory, referring to federal guidance on tidal marsh recovery. Marsh-upland transition zones are crucial for a properly functioning estuary, but nearly all of these historic zones have been impacted by human activity. Thomson, along with a number of partnering agencies have worked to figure out how to bring transition zones back to life. “We have seeded over 30 species of local native...
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Bridges - public shore

Public Sediment Favors Mud

“We’re finally seeing a change in paradigm,” says Brett Milligan regarding how sediment is treated in the Bay Area. What was once considered waste is now considered a resource, and a group called “Public Sediment,” part of the Bay Area Resilient by Design Challenge, are proposing mud rooms, mud berms, mud pathways, and top-to-bottom mud management to better build up Bay Area shorelines and keep them above rising water.
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Wetland Protections in Transition

Environmentalists are heading warily into the fall following two regulatory developments that they fear may cramp efforts to protect California’s wetlands. In June the State Water Resources Control Board released a draft document overhauling wetlands protection procedures but leaving open the question of exactly which wetlands are eligible for protection. In the same month the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that landowners may mount court challenges to U.S. EPA or Corps of Engineers jurisdictional determinations before a permit is issued, potentially...
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Buckler Brouhaha

There’s a big dispute over a small island at the edge of the Suisun Marsh. John Sweeney, the current owner of Point Buckler Island via a limited liability corporation, faces enforcement action by the Bay Conservation and Development Commission and the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board for diking and draining a tidal wetland and dumping excavation spoils in Suisun Bay. The extensive work he did was subject to regulation by state and federal agencies, and no authorization...
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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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No Drought of Dirt

With its massive environmental and economic costs, it’s hard to see a bright side to the California drought. Consider mud, though. According to US Geological Survey scientist David Schoellhamer, the long dry spell may be giving tidal wetland restoration efforts an unexpected boost by promoting the buildup of sediment in the South Bay where former salt ponds await conversion to tidal marsh.
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Cullinan Finally in the Fold

Real estate developers often name their projects for what they’ve displaced: Quail Acres, Live Oak Estates. Egret Bay would have been another such necronym. The 4,500-home development proposed for the former Cullinan Ranch on San Pablo Bay in 1983 would have left little room for egrets, or other birds. A citizen’s group, Vallejoans for Cost Efficient Growth, supported by Save the Bay and other environmental organizations, helped kill Egret Bay, and, in a deal brokered by Congresswoman Barbara Boxer, the...
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Hamilton Done, But More To Do

Breaching the outboard levee near Marin County’s Hamilton community this May is cause for both a whoop of celebration and a sigh of relief. Celebration because it was an ambitious wetland restoration project with a complicated design and multiple partners that wasn’t easy to pull off, yet in just a few months it’s become a beautiful landscape filled with blue water, green shoots, yellow flowers, quacking ducks, and happy neighbors. Relief because at times the costs and challenges of moving...
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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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The Island That Came in from the Cold

For years, Skaggs Island was a tantalizing blank in the map of San Pablo Bay wetlands restoration. Renee Spenst of Ducks Unlimited says it was “one of those places in a strange limbo.” Two-thirds of it was owned by the US Navy, which had operated a top-secret listening post there; the rest was privately-owned farmland, where the Haire family grew oat hay. Converting any of the 4,400 acres back to tidal wetland was out of the question. “The agencies doing...
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