By

Robin Meadows
About the author

Robin Meadows is an independent science journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. She covers water and climate change adaptation for Estuary News, is the water reporter for the Bay Area Monitor, and contributes to Bay Nature, Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, PLOS Research News and Water Deeply. Robin also enjoys hiking and photography.

Articles by Robin Meadows

Current estimates of young salmon lost to the south Delta pumps are based on a smattering of studies from the 1970s and should be updated, according to a new analysis.

“They don’t represent current operations,” says Ukiah-based consultant Andrew Jahn, lead author of the analysis reported in the September 2020 issue of San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science. Current operations at the State Water Project (SWP) and the Central Valley Project (CVP) can reverse flows in the Old and Middle rivers, diverting salmon on their way to the ocean towards the projects. Existing salmon loss estimates also fail to account for a likely Old River hotspot for predators, drawn to the...
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Nursing Salmon on Flooded Farms

In 2012 a team of salmon researchers tried a wild idea: putting pinky-sized Chinook on a rice field in the Yolo Bypass, a vast engineered floodplain designed to protect the city of Sacramento from inundation. The team found that rearing fish on farms works better than they had ever dreamed. Salmon in this managed floodplain grew so fast — averaging more than one millimeter per day — that they outpaced young Chinook elsewhere in the region. Now, after nearly a...
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Surface water diversions in California’s Central Valley can be estimated based on readily available climate data, say researchers—a boon to efforts to track groundwater use.

Valley groundwater pumping is calculated as the total water demand minus surface water deliveries. However, today’s water model relies on individually reported diversions across the entire valley, and compiling all these data is a slow process; by the time the numbers are crunched, assessments of groundwater use are already outdated. “It can take years,” says Jordan Goodrich of University of Waikato in New Zealand. “It’s one of the biggest problems we face in tracking the Central Valley water budget.” Overdrafting...
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Small Town and Big Marsh Brace for Spreading Bay

By Robin Meadows When heavy rains coincided with an extreme high tide in 2005, water from the Carquinez Strait overtopped flood protections in the City of Benicia. Making matters worse, the high seas also submerged stormwater outfalls. Water backed up stormdrains, inundating historic homes and small businesses. As tides keep rising, scenarios like this will play out more often―and with greater severity―along the Solano County shoreline, which extends 40 miles as the crow flies from San Pablo Bay to the...
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Forty Miles of Creek, Six Adaptation Projects

By Robin Meadows In 2017, a perfect storm hit the City of San Jose in Santa Clara County. Coyote Creek, which winds through the heart of the city, overtopped its banks, flooding businesses and hundreds of homes up to depths of six feet. Thousands of people were evacuated and property damages exceeded $70 million. “If I’ve learned anything in my 25 years here, it’s that you have to give creeks room to move, which also creates more resilience to climate...
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Taking a Break from the Corps

By Robin Meadows Corte Madera creek is an outsized problem for people in Ross and other towns built right up to its banks. “Our peaceful creek turns into a rushing torrent in winter,” says Chris Martin, who grew up in the small Marin County town. Finding a fix has been contentious since 1971, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers put a mile-long concrete flood control channel through Ross. “It disconnected the creek from the floodplains, wrecked the Coho salmon...
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Opening the Mouth of Walnut Creek

Paul Detjens is driving us from his Martinez office to a restoration site near the mouth of Walnut Creek on Suisun Bay, a project he spearheads as an engineer for the Contra Costa County Flood Control District. These lower reaches of the creek — straightened, widened, and leveed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — have been a sluggish, silt-filled problem for more than half a century. Detjens has worked to find a solution for the last 17 years....
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After nearly 30 years in refuge management on public lands, Anne Morkill is leaving government, but not wildlife, behind.

Following her February 2020 retirement from managing the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which she led for nearly a decade, Morkill is taking the helm at the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation, a nonprofit that stewards one of the largest freshwater wetlands complexes on the northern California coast. Morkill believes that San Francisco Bay provides unusual potential for restoring habitat for wildlife in a highly urban environment. “That’s what makes it so special,” she says, citing the Bay...
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“The Bay is a jewel ― can you imagine if it stunk like it did in the ’50s or if it was green with algae?” asks retiring Executive Director of the Bay Area Clean Water Agencies (BACWA) David Williams, reflecting on his work over much of the last decade to address nutrient pollution.

Working with the 37 wastewater treatment plants that discharge into the Bay, as well as with the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, Williams helped establish a science-based regional permit for nutrients from the plants. The forward-thinking permit includes nature-based solutions like using wastewater to nurture horizontal levees or create wetlands, buffering the Bay shore from crashing waves as the sea rises. “We have a very enlightened Water Board,” Williams says, “because of that, instead of fighting, the...
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A new system for treating agricultural drainage water in the Delta could also help rebuild subsided islands.

The approach—known as a Chemically Enhanced Treatment Wetland—combines chemical treatment with natural wetland processes; researchers tested it on Twitchell Island, which features corn and rice crops, as well as wetlands. They dosed agricultural ditch water with dissolved organic material (DOM), then treated it with a coagulant to precipitate the DOM, forming flocculant. The resulting water then passed though treatment wetlands, where the flocculant settled and blended with plant detritus in the sediment. The study, reported in the September 2019 San...
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Levels of pyrethroid insecticides spike sharply in the North Delta’s Cache Slough during winter rainstorms, rendering the water so toxic that it decimates laboratory populations of a half-inch crustacean called Hyalella azteca.

However, according to a study reported in the September 2019 San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science, Hyalella collected in the wild from Cache Slough are resistant to pyrethroids. Genetic analysis revealed that, collectively, Hyalella in the slough have four mutations for pyrethroid resistance. They also have a fifth mutation for resistance to organophosphates and likely carbamates, two additional major classes of pesticides that are applied extensively on agricultural and urban lands. “Hyalella are special,” explains co-author Helen Poynton, a molecular...
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Clout and Cool Science Push Land-River Connection

By Robin Meadows Statewide, 13,000 miles of levees disconnect our rivers from their floodplains, which once served as nurseries for young salmon migrating to the ocean. California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot wants to help restore this connection. “It’s one of the most exciting parts of my job,” he said in an interview, his face lighting up in a wide smile. “It’s a win-win-win―it’s a way we can reconnect water with land, create habitat, and provide flood protection.” Before all...
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Sandhill crane

Wildlife and Way of Life in the North Delta?

Californians ask a lot of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, where the state’s longest rivers meet and deliver snowmelt from the mountains. Water suppliers want to reconfigure the Delta’s plumbing via the ever-contentious Water Fix project, which Governor Gavin Newsom just sent back to the drawing board. State wildlife officials want to boost restoration in the region, and the 2019 Delta Conservation Framework outlines their latest plan. And people in the Delta want to live and farm there as they...
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Putah Creek Pipeline for Salmon

By Robin Meadows “The dream is to reestablish a natural run of salmon in Putah Creek,” says UC Davis professor emeritus Peter Moyle. In 1972 Putah creek was a trickle of water between heavy machinery mining gravel for the campus roads. Moyle and others urged the university to cease mining and by the end of the decade the machinery was gone and the administration designated a riparian reserve along the creek on campus. After droughts and an ensuing long legal...
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Spring-run Salmon Need More Than Simple Answers

Salmon once flourished in California despite huge swings in climate – from mega-droughts to massive floods – that were far more extreme than those today. But then people re-engineered the state’s waterways to meet their own needs. “Complexity is what salmon thrive on, and we’ve been making their habitat simpler and simpler,” says biologist Bruce Herbold.  “We haven’t been playing to their strengths.” Habitat diversity is key to restoring salmon, and the prospects for restoring Central Valley wetlands to benefit...
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Nutria — giant South American rodents—are breeding in the San Joaquin Valley and are on the brink of invading the Delta, where they could wreak havoc, as they have done in Louisiana, Chesapeake Bay and the Pacific Northwest.

According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, nutria have extremely destructive feeding habits that often lead to severe soil erosion, in some cases converting marsh to open water. Nutria also burrow into banks and levees, creating complex dens that extend as much as 6 meters deep and 50 meters into the bank, often causing severe streambank erosion, increased sedimentation, levee failures, and roadbed collapses. The rodents, which can weigh more than 20 pounds and are often mistaken for...
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Napa County voters will weigh in on the fate of the county’s remaining oak woodlands this June, when they cast ballots on Measure C, the Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative.

“Ninety-five percent of oaks on the valley floor are gone and we want to do a better job reducing deforestation on the hills” initiative co-author Jim Wilson, told the Bay Area Monitor. “Our hillsides are beautiful and also filter rain, keeping water clean as it replenishes aquifers.” Most of Napa’s oak woodland loss is due to vineyard development, and the county General Plan projects that another 3,000 acres of woodland will be converted to vineyard by 2030. Current protections require...
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The Art of Environmental Restoration

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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Radar Envy

“The rule for releasing water is rigid and dates to the 1950s,” says Jay Jasperse of the Sonoma County Water Agency. Near the end of 2012, the US Army Corps of Engineers released 28,000 acre-feet of water from Lake Mendocino. Then followed 14 of the driest months on record. The key to managing the drought and deluge cycle of California lies in a better understanding of atmospheric rivers, intense winter storms that transport water from the tropics to the West...
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The kind of flooding and mudslides that recently devastated the town of Montecito could also happen in the Bay Area, thanks to the more intense atmospheric rivers that—along with more frequent droughts and longer, fiercer wildfire seasons—climate change is expected to bring to California.

These swathes of water vapor from the tropics can be hundreds of miles wide and thousands of miles long, and bring with them enormous quantities of water; the one that arrived in early January dropped more than 30 inches of rain statewide. In Montecito, which had just been ravaged by December’s Thomas Fire, half an inch of rain fell in a matter of minutes and caused deadly flooding and mudslides. In the Bay Area, atmospheric rivers already cause more than...
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