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 (see her Portfolio here). 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

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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Back to the Bones of the Delta

Chris Rose likens a 500-acre farm
 in the northwest Delta to a bakery in downtown Manhattan. Each property has obvious characteristics that would be hard to replace. In the Delta it’s some of the best water rights available and land that isn’t so subsided and salty you can’t grow good grass. In Manhattan, it’s the chance to bake and sell comfort food in the heart of a city with a big appetite. Each property is prime real estate in terms...
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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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Deliquescent Summit on Ocean Climate

Walking in the door of the fourth Ocean Climate Summit this May and finding Amy Hutzel, long-time chair of the committee in charge of implementing a conservation plan for the San Francisco Estuary, I asked her what she was doing out of her watershed? “Dipping my toe in the Pacific, “ she said. “For a while now, we’ve been working to build partnerships inland and offshore. It’s all one estuary.”
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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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Beyond the Blubber

When John Kucklick talks about interrogation techniques, his subjects aren’t tight-lipped terrorists, they’re bits of blubber. Harbor seal fat is a well-known repository of legacy contaminants from the Bay like PCBs, flame retardants and DDT, but the Regional Monitoring Program for Water Quality in San Francisco Bay (RMP) wanted to know what they might be missing. In 2010, they asked Kucklick, a scientist with access to a national database of 330,000 chemicals and some pretty cutting edge software, to check...
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Rethinking our Grandest Plan for the Estuary

Changing estuarine conditions and new pressures from ongoing urbanization and development, as well as from climate change, inspired estuary planners to undertake a revision to the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) in 2014. The CCMP, first published in 1993 and most recently updated in 2007, was the first master plan for improving the health of the estuary encompassing San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento- San Joaquin River Delta. The intent of the current update — a project still led...
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Beyond the Bag Ban

The other day I found myself turning out the closets for one last plastic bag. Dreaming of those white Safeway sacks as I searched for something to sequester what may well be the most toxic contaminant in the homes and cars of many a modern family: freshly used soccer cleats. But a year into San Francisco’s bag ban, there just aren’t that many plastic shopping bags around our house anymore. All told, 60 percent of municipalities in the four most...
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Alameda Work Trickles On

Alameda Work Trickles On by Ariel Rubissow Okamoto Driving down 680 from San Ramon to Pleasanton — with its prettily paved and groomed burbs — you wouldn’t guess that this was once a shallow lake and willow marsh. Indeed little trace
is left of the vast freshwater swamp called Tulare Lake, just over the East Bay ridges, which once collected all the runoff from Livermore and San Ramon.
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Defter Delta Restoration

An issue paper endorsed by the Delta Stewardship Council this August seeks to spark progress throughout the myriad stages of habitat restoration. As public and private interests gear up to help endangered fish and migrating birds by restoring habitats in six priority zones of the Delta and Suisun Marsh, this paper lays out tools and concepts for getting the most out of these investments and learning from our mistakes. The paper details steps for achieving effective restoration, reviews barriers such...
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Shifts in Selenium Spikes

USGS scientists headed up river this June to see whether two Asian clams had also headed upstream with the drought. When there’s less fresh water flowing out to sea, salty ocean water intrudes inland, and changes the distribution of these pesky invertebrates. Potamocorbula like it saltier than Corbicula, and usually hang out in the Suisun Bay region. But scientists suspect drought conditions may have changed all that, and with it, how and when the contaminant selenium gets cycled through 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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Keeping the Salt Field at Bay

As the dry, warm days went on and on and on this winter, two guys intimate with California’s Sacramento San Joaquin River delta shifted gears. One reassigned staff from flood to drought response, and the other lay awake at night imagining barriers across various slough openings. By early February, some Sierra reservoirs were so low, and so close to “dead pool” level, that the water projects stopped pumping and delivering. Farmers had to retrench, communities realized they might only have...
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