Nate Seltenrich
About the author

Nate Seltenrich is a freelance science and environmental journalist who covers infrastructure, restoration, and related topics for Estuary. He also contributes to the San Francisco Chronicle, Sonoma and Marin magazines, the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, and other local and national publications, on subjects ranging from public lands and renewable energy to the human health impacts of climate change. He lives in Petaluma with his wife, two boys, and four ducks.

Articles by Nate Seltenrich

An emergency barrier installed to protect the state’s water supply from saltwater intrusion during the recent record-setting drought had little effect on the ecosystem.

In spring 2015 the California Department of Water Resources dropped 150,000 tons of rock into False River in the Central Delta to halt encroaching tides that had little freshwater to hold them back. A few months later, it was clear the barrier worked, as salinity rose on one side and fell on the other. But what were the effects on local plants and animals? Through six overlapping yet distinct projects funded by the state Delta Science Program and NASA, and...
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A small but mighty wetlands project on the San Rafael waterfront is moving forward thanks to a $1 million planning and design grant from the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority.

Restoration of the heavily eroded 20-acre Tiscornia Marsh at the mouth of the San Rafael Canal will use dredged sediment to create new habitat for the endangered Ridgeway’s rail and salt marsh harvest mouse, migratory shorebirds, and other marsh species. Meanwhile, improvement of an adjacent levee will enhance public access along a levee-top section of the Bay Trail and, perhaps most critically, provide flood protection for the nearby Canal District, a dense, low-income community that’s home to many Latino immigrants...
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Melissa Foley’s list of concerns as the new head of San Francisco Bay’s premier water-quality program is long: microplastics, pharmaceuticals, PFASs, and other chemicals and contaminants entering the Bay through runoff and treated sewage.

An interdisciplinary scientist trained in marine ecology, with experience in policy, management, and public outreach, Foley assumed leadership late last year of the Regional Monitoring Program for Water Quality in San Francisco Bay (RMP). Along with overseeing the RMP’s rigorous efforts to study and manage Bay pollutants, Foley who comes to the RMP from New Zealand’s Auckland Council, where she used long-term environmental monitoring data to inform both regional and national management and policy strategies, says she’ll draw on her...
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High Sierra lakes are not immune to climate change, but snowpack provides a moderating effect.

Researchers with the University of California analyzed climate and water-temperature data from 19 lakes scattered throughout the Sierra Nevada, including Emerald Lake in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park, where UC runs a long-term study site. They found that summer air temperatures at Emerald Lake are warming 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit per decade — a rate lead author Steven Sadro says is as high as nearly anywhere on the planet. Yet to the researchers’ surprise, says Sadro, an assistant professor of Environmental Science...
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Medicating the Bay

“If you went to the doctor and told them you were taking 69 different pharmaceuticals,” says Emma Rosi of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, “they would be very concerned with your well-being.” When a study she co-authored detected that number of pharmaceutical compounds in caddisfly larvae along an Australian creek downstream of a treatment plant, it was further evidence that excreted drugs are escaping wastewater facilities and entering food webs. The Bay is no exception. A survey conducted by...
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Dioxins Are Sticking Around Nearshore and in Fish, RMP Reports

As the “Fish-SMART” signs on local piers warn, the tissues of fish reeled in from San Francisco Bay waters can contain mercury or PCBs, but a new RMP report reminds us of a third contaminant of concern to human health: dioxins. The report, due out in October 2018 and prepared by staff of the San Francisco Estuary Institute and the SF Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, confirms that while levels of this toxic contaminant in sediments nearshore have declined...
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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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NYC and Novato Sewage Plants Adapt

The city of Novato completed its $100 million new wastewater treatment plant in 2011. Raising the old plant was expensive, but helped protect it from sea level rise for at least this century. “We took a pretty conservative approach,” says general manager Sandeep Karkal, “but we think we’re in pretty good shape, even for a worst-case scenario.” Novato is far from alone in thinking about the impact of sea level rise on wastewater management. New York City recently discovered how...
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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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Worries Over Puny Pumps

Pump capacity, reliability, and cost are already big concerns for flood-control and sea level rise managers. “Gallon for gallon, it’s easily the most expensive way to deal with water,” says Roger Leventhal, a senior engineer with the Marin County Department of Public Works. “It’s not the ideal solution, but it’s the one we’re falling into.” New pumps, while costly in both dollars and electricity, are currently in the works. “It seems unlikely for us as a region to get away...
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Coyote’s Cache of Intermittent Riches

There’s a common perception in California that more water is always better for fish. Yet many native species possess traits that allow them to persist through harsh, dry summers and cyclical drought. Over the long run, summer releases from reservoirs and urban runoff can harm local fish by laying out a welcome mat for non-native species adapted to perennial flows, Leidy says. “In areas where streams have been altered by humans, where the natural hydrograph has changed, that’s where you...
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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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EBMUD Experiments With Pipe Replacement

On average, underground water distribution pipes can last about 100 years. The East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) owns and maintains roughly 4,200 miles of them. And it replaces about ten miles per year. At that rate it would take four centuries to replace the whole system: an approach one could charitably call unsustainable even if all the pipes were brand-new today. But parts of EBMUD’s system, cast-iron pipes inherited from forgotten, now-defunct water agencies, date to the late 1800s.
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Two-Way Threat to Intakes and Outfalls

San Francisco’s vulnerability to sea level rise is no secret. Entire neighborhoods are built on fill, only feet above current sea level. But just like Treasure Island and the rapidly developing Mission Bay neighborhood, less visible parts of the city — the pipes and plants that collect, treat, and whisk away San Francisco’s stormwater and sewage — are also at risk. And this critical infrastructure could face a double hit from climate change in the coming decades: more severe storms...
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