Lisa Owens Viani
About the author

Lisa Owens Viani is a freelance writer and editor specializing in environmental, science, land use, and design topics. She writes for several national magazines including Landscape Architecture Magazine, ICON and Architecture, and has written for Estuary for many years. She is the co-founder of the nonprofit Raptors Are The Solution,, which educates people about the role of birds of prey in the ecosystem and how rodenticides in the food web are affecting them.

Articles by Lisa Owens Viani

New shoreline strategies piloted in Puget Sound could help young fish in urbanized estuaries elsewhere.

When Seattle rebuilt its seawall in 2017, they hoped to make the hardened shoreline a little less daunting for the young salmon that hug it closely on their journey to the ocean. Project managers took a three-pronged approach. First, they added texture and complexity into the new concrete seawall to encourage invertebrates, food for the young fish, to settle in nooks and crannies and on horizontal “shelves” built into the wall. Mussels, ecosystem engineers, have settled on the shelves and...
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Needed Now: A Big Blue-Green Push

Edited by Lisa Owens Viani From rain gardens to green streets to permeable parking lots and pebble dunes, landscape architects and resource managers are working to soften up shorelines and sidewalks, all to sponge up and filter stormwater runoff before it reaches the Estuary, and to buffer against sea level rise and heavy storms. Plus they’re giving a younger generation the skills and hands-on experience to carry this work forward in the future. This special centerfold details projects in the...
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SOS for Finicky Native

By Lisa Owens Viani In 2016, restoration managers with The Nature Conservancy discovered that western sycamores planted along the Sacramento River had hybridized with the non-native London plane tree. The native sycamore is “kind of a messy tree,” says project manager Ryan Luster. “The branches break off and create cavities that wildlife love to use.” Concerns about the tree’s status first arose in the 1990s when the California Department of Fish and Wildlife found only 17 sycamore stands larger than...
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Incidental findings of a long-term study of brown bear predation on salmon have revealed a hidden link between the fish and forest health.

For 20 years, Tom Quinn, a professor in Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington, waded in southwestern Alaska’s Hansen Creek with his students, counting and measuring sockeye salmon carcasses in the stream. Quinn asked his students to toss the bodies on the north bank of the creek to avoid double counting; over the years, they tossed close to 295 tons of salmon onto the north bank. In 2016, Quinn and his colleagues and students took core samples...
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Floods and droughts can cause pools and riffles—and the bugs that live in them—to become more homogenous.

For years, scientists monitoring water quality in streams and rivers have collected mixed samples of aquatic invertebrates from riffles, pools, and transition zones. But UC Santa Barbara stream ecologist David Herbst and his colleagues recently finished a 15-year study of the benthic life in small streams of the central Sierra that examined pools and riffles separately. They found that during flood and drought events, these habitats and their inhabitants become more uniform. But while floods come and go, droughts can...
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Nighttime lights on bridges shining into bays and rivers can attract and confuse fish as they migrate at night, leaving them vulnerable to predation.

“Well-lighted bridges and dams can create twilight conditions that predators love, especially other fish,” says Peter Moyle, professor emeritus at UC Davis. He recounts that at one point the Red Bluff Diversion Dam was lit up at night and pikeminnow took the opportunity to prey on juvenile salmon. “Opening up the gates helped because the pikeminnow were headed upstream to spawn so didn’t really want to be there, and the juvenile salmon could move past the dam quickly at night.”...
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The latest casualty in America’s opioid epidemic is a small invertebrate that filters pollutants and feeds hungry shorebirds.

Biologists testing mussels in the waters around Seattle as part of the Puget Sound Mussel Monitoring Program found oxycodone in mussel tissue for the first time, along with antibiotics, antidepressants, chemotherapy drugs, and heart medications. “We have found evidence that these chemicals are in our nearshore marine waters and are being taken up by marine biota living there,” said Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife biologist Jennifer Lanksbury. She also tested juvenile Chinook salmon in Puget Sound estuaries and found...
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The country’s tiniest falcon—the stunning American kestrel—is declining throughout the United States, and California seems especially hard hit: Kestrel numbers during the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory’s annual autumn migration counts declined from nearly 800 in 1997 to just 300 in 2017.

“Kestrels in California have been on a long downward trend since 1950 at least,” says GGRO Director Allen Fish, citing several potential reasons for the decline, including predation by other raptors. Pesticides destroy important food sources for kestrels and also sometimes poison the birds themselves. Rodenticides and insecticides work their way up the food chain and cause secondary poisoning, as do heavy metals like selenium, mercury, and lead. Loss of nesting sites is another problem: kestrels are cavity nesters and...
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A former Japanese-American-owned nursery/brownfield in Richmond is being transformed into a green infill development that includes affordable senior housing, a four-acre greenbelt with a daylighted creek, an urban forest, and easy connections to transit via the Richmond Central Greenway.

Tucked into a corner of the city next to the I-80 freeway and BART tracks, the “Miraflores” site was the heart of the Japanese-American nursery industry in the East Bay. From the early 1900s to 2006, three Japanese-American families operated a rose and carnation nursery there, one of about a dozen such nurseries in the Richmond-El Cerrito area, according to Bay Area historian Donna Graves. During World War II, the families were sent out of state to camps but returned...
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Two Massachusetts restoration projects have recently returned close to 740 acres of commercial cranberry bogs to wetlands.

Like the Bay Area’s salt ponds, cranberry farming originally involved creating an artificial environment from a natural wetland through the installation of dams and weirs. The cranberries—a plant native to North America that naturally grows as a vine—were then trained to grow in mats on the water’s surface. A project on Tidmarsh Farms in Plymouth, Massachusetts included redirecting a natural stream that had been diverted into an agricultural canal back into its original channel and planting 6,000 Atlantic white cedars...
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Nutrient Nuances Modeled

San Francisco Bay is becoming less opaque as the sediments power-washed into the Estuary by miners so long ago gradually disperse. This lets sunlight penetrate deeper into the water, creating more favorable conditions for the kind of problematic algal blooms that can shut down crab fisheries and keep people and their pooches out of the water. Scientists have collaborated on some new computer models, however, that may help them predict where and when nutrients, like nitrogen and phosphate from discharges...
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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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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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Pivot or Pirouette?

Droughts and water shortages, dry creeks, heat waves, snowpack loss, sea level rise, bigger floods, species at risk, scarcer funding for public works and restoration projects, and California’s ever-growing population—as Jeff Mount put it in The New York Times recently, it’s a frightening, uncertain new world. How are Bay-Delta resource managers responding to these changes? Are we pivoting away from old institutional and decision-making structures that need to change or dancing in circles?
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