By

Ariel Rubissow-Okamoto
About the author

Ariel Rubissow Okamoto is both today’s editor-in-chief and the founding editor of ESTUARY magazine (1992-2001). She enjoys writing in-depth, silo-crossing stories about water, restoration, and science. She’s a co-author of a Natural History of San Francisco Bay (UC Press 2011), frequent contributor of climate change stories to Bay Nature magazine, and occasional essayist for publications like the San Francisco Chronicle. In other lives, she has been a vintner, soccer mom, and waitress. She lives in San Francisco close to the Bay with her architect husband Paul Okamoto.

Articles by Ariel Rubissow-Okamoto

Super-Shore: A Multi-Habitat Experiment at Giant Marsh

Interview anyone of any stripe about the Giant Marsh living shorelines project and the same two words will be in every other sentence: high tide. Each construction step of this California Coastal Conservancy-led effort to build new native oyster reefs interspersed with eelgrass off the Contra Costa County shore must consider the timing of tides. High enough to float a barge or Boston whaler into the shallows, do a day’s work, and get back out again on the next cycle....
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Sandra Scoggin has the qualities the San Francisco Bay Joint Venture needs in a leader at what she calls a ‘pivot point’ for the partnership.

In the early days, when the wetland protection and restoration landscape was less complex, the JV “could be everywhere and do everything.” Now it needs to be more strategic. “I’m a listener, a synthesizer, and I’m pretty good at herding diverse interests toward shared goals,” says Scoggin, who is taking over the 20-year-old wildlife habitat venture after 16 years in second seat. “The JV is built on deep and lasting relationships,” she says, both awe and pride in her voice....
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Louise Conrad sees the Delta Stewardship Council’s science program, which she now leads, as poised to shift into a new gear – from breaking down the science landscape and building a new foundation for Delta science to actually doing it.

 “With the update of the Delta science plan done, we can now can sink our teeth into some topical issues our scientists can be passionate about, such as aquatic invasive vegetation, microcystis and climate change, for example,” says the former Department of Water Resources (DWR) fish biologist. Conrad grew up in Philadelphia and developed an interest in conservation on summer road trips to western national parks in their family’s Dodge Ram. “My mom sewed us individual seat covers with pockets...
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New Video: USGS Investigates 50-Year Mystery of San Francisco Bay

Between April 1969 and March 2019, USGS conducted 1,167 boat-based sampling cruises to better understand changing conditions in San Francisco Bay — producing data used by scientists around the world. Meet four scientists and the captain of the March 14, 2019 cruise, and watch them plumb the Bay depths, drag nets, filter samples, and explain their work.
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Feds Coastal Research Crew Bucks Headwinds

Jim Cloern looked out of an airplane window one day and saw red streaks in the water; crimson patches darkening the grey-green shallows that are San Francisco’s South Bay. A superscientist with the US Geological Survey, he knew something big was happening. As soon as the plane landed he called his crew. “You will not believe the explosion we’re seeing on the surface,” he heard back from his crew leader Tara Schraga. A quality control freak who sticks to the...
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Haggles over the what, where, and when of Delta conservation got a reset this January with the state’s release of a new collaborative framework focused on opportunities, not species.

The California Department of Fish & Wildlife’s new Delta Conservation Framework tries to fill the vision vacuum left by former Governor Brown’s early pivot away from the 2013 Bay-Delta Conservation Plan, a plan that touched in some shape or way on 160,000 acres of the Delta. “It was too big and too unwieldy for people to manage, and there were too many questions about its effects, and how it would be implemented – particularly as it related to the Delta...
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Reflowing the Sierra to the Sea

A fall flight over the Mexican coast where the Colorado River meets the Sea of Cortez offered me a gut-punching, eye-screwing, visual on the results of impaired flow. The semantics of ‘unimpaired’ and ‘impaired’ flow have laced the language of California water management debates since some engineer invented these politically ‘neutral’ terms long ago. The terms refer to our alteration of freshwater flows from snowmelt and runoff by dams and diversions. But whatever the labels, or whichever estuary you’re referring...
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Alameda Creek: Harnessing a Watershed for Public Sediment

In Resilient by Design team Public Sediment’s effort to unlock Alameda Creek, the key lies in sediment--raw material needed to build levees and raise marshes so shorelines can withstand sea level rise. “We’re designing a suite of special structures, a mix of living and constructed features, to move more sediment and create a dynamic new equilibrium for the creek,” says team leader Gena Wirth. To get a conversation about sediment going, Wirth’s teammate Claire Napawan will often start by talking...
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Supply Side Synthesis

“Small sensors are the foundation of big science,” says Phil Trowbridge, director of the Bay’s Regional Monitoring Program which has just released a new synthesis report on sediment science. The report, combining the results of eight bodies of work, yielded some surprises concerning how much sediment moves from the Sierra and Bay watersheds to the Golden Gate. “The system is calming down after two huge disruptions,” says David Schoellhammer of the U.S. Geological Survey, referring to hydraulic gold mining and...
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Though a tiny and low-lying treatment plant on the San Leandro shore is facing increasing regulation of nutrients and rising sea levels, it’s got a path to adaptation thanks to the region’s taxpayers.

This April, the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority awarded the first round of Measure AA grants, including $539,000 for San Leandro’s water pollution control plant. The plant, which is surrounded by blue- and white-collar communities, recently completed upgrades that allow the repurposing of a retired treatment pond. The money will pay for plans, designs, and permit applications necessary to convert the pond to a wastewater treatment marsh and buffer zone between the plant and the advancing Bay—a critical improvement, since...
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An easily overlooked slough is pointing a finger of uncertainty at Oakland’s plans for ballpark redevelopment, transit safety and resilient neighborhoods.

From the pedestrian bridge between the Oakland Coliseum and the BART station, the view of Damon Slough–a 25-foot-wide canal of muddy, litter-choked water–belies its increasing prominence in the flood-futures of east Oakland. A study by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission did the math, adding the impacts of rising sea levels on these Oakland flatlands to predictions of more frequent, more extreme storm events and urban runoff. “That’s when water starts coming out of manholes,” says Kris May, a coastal engineer who...
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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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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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A wedge of gravel, mud, and grasses irrigated by treated wastewater outperforms all expectations as a prototype for climate change adaptation.

Experts monitoring 16 months of plant growth on a humpbacked levee experiment on the San Leandro shore, a project led by the Oro Loma Sanitary District, found early weed colonization followed by rapid dominance of target native perennial vegetation. “Native vegetation outcompeted weeds,” says Peter Baye, who designed the planting palette for this multi-benefit infrastructure project. The results were apparent during an October 2017 tour for international design teams looking at homegrown innovations in sea level rise adaptation as part of...
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The digital light is finally filtering into the dark recesses of ESTUARY News magazine’s archives.

For readers who may have tried to search our magazine web site for a favorite article or information on a specific topic, we have good news: ESTUARY’s featured online articles are now searchable back to the start of 2014. Take a look — browse by key words and tags, scan enlarged magazine covers in the archives, or just deploy the simple Q function. It’s a trove of good references, histories, voices, and stories of efforts to protect and restore our waterways...
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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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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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