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E-News Magazine

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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Tracking Tiny Toxins

San Francisco Bay and the region’s other water bodies have an unfortunate legacy of human pollution. But we’re not the only culprits: beyond the mercury and PCBs, the Bay contains toxins produced by phytoplankton—photosynthesizing microorganisms classified as blue-green algae (also known as cyanobacteria), dinoflagellates, and diatoms. Under conditions still not well understood, these tiny organisms secrete chemicals that can enter aquatic food webs and impact human health. Funded by the San Francisco Estuary Institute’s Regional Monitoring Program for Water Quality...
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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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Scaled-Down Plans to “Fix and Restore”

Surprising many observers, Governor Jerry Brown announced late in April that the Bay Delta Conservation Program, which had embraced the new water conveyance popularly known as the Twin Tunnels and a broad program for restoring the complex and heavily impacted Delta environment, was being split into two new entities: Cal WaterFix and Cal EcoRestore. This was followed
by the release of a Partially Recirculated Draft Environmental Impact Report/Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement spelling out the changes: on the conveyance side, reduction...
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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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No Scapefish in Drought Wars

According to the Biblical book of Leviticus, the ancient Israelites designated a goat to bear the weight of their sins. Nowadays, the scapegoat is not required to be a goat. When it comes to assessing blame for the worsening California drought, a scapefish will suffice. Some media outlets, notably the Wall Street Journal in a recent op-ed piece, point to the hapless Delta smelt as a culprit in the state’s water crisis, as well as a prime example of the...
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Filling Up on Empty

“We are sucking our aquifers dry,” the headline reads. Could this be a good thing? The bad effects of declining groundwater levels are known: land subsidence, the cost of pumping from deeper wells, the drying up of surface springs and streams. But there is a potential gain as well. Using up one resource, the water stored under the ground, we are creating another: storage space far greater than any conceivable new dam could provide. “Historical overdraft,” writes engineer Jay Lund,...
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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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Cullinan Finally in the Fold

Real estate developers often name their projects for what they’ve displaced: Quail Acres, Live Oak Estates. Egret Bay would have been another such necronym. The 4,500-home development proposed for the former Cullinan Ranch on San Pablo Bay in 1983 would have left little room for egrets, or other birds. A citizen’s group, Vallejoans for Cost Efficient Growth, supported by Save the Bay and other environmental organizations, helped kill Egret Bay, and, in a deal brokered by Congresswoman Barbara Boxer, the...
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Copper Effects on Salmon Influenced by Salinity

A decade of research by David Baldwin of NOAA’s North
west Fisheries Science Center 
and other biologists has shown
 that in some situations, very 
low levels of dissolved copper interfere with a salmon’s ability to detect smells. This can 
be a matter of life or death: 
salmon rely on their olfac
tory sense to avoid predators,
 locate prey, and home in on
 their natal streams when they 
return from the ocean to spawn. Earlier studies involved juvenile fish in freshwater settings. Baldwin’s...
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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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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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Offers They Can Refuse

The numbers are daunting: 8,000 acres to be restored to fish-friendly tidal habitat in order to comply with federal wildlife agencies’ Biological Opinions; another 65,000 if and when the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan is implemented; more still if you add in mitigation for levee operations. Where will that acreage come from? State agencies and other public entities already own some parcels suitable for restoration, but not nearly enough: the rest will need to be purchased from its current owners or covered...
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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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Wild River Lands in Suspense File

Remember that chart showing how a bill becomes a law in your high school civics textbook—all those boxes and arrows? Odds are it didn’t include the Suspense File of the Assembly Appropriations Committee, a legislative limbo where bills can expire without ever coming to
a vote. That was the fate of Senate Bill 1199, a measure introduced by State Senator Loni Hancock (DBerkeley) in April to add portions of the Mokelumne River to the California Wild and Scenic Rivers System. Supported...
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Small Fish Test Helps Target PCB Clean Up

Jay Davis didn’t expect much from a pilot test for PCBs in silversides and topsmelt that live on the edges of the San Francisco Bay. The monitoring program he heads only ran the test on these small fish, which rarely grow more than 3-4 inches long, because it was simple to piggyback on an existing study of mercury in the same fish samples. “I thought it wouldn’t really be a big deal,” says Davis, who is lead scientist for the...
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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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Freeing Fish While Locking Up Mercury

The restoration of the South Bay salt ponds to tidal wetland has, from the very beginning, been an exercise in adaptive management: take an action; monitor the results; make any indicated fixes; repeat. There’s no better example than Pond A8, where the Guadalupe River enters San Francisco Bay via Alviso Slough. Restoration planners were worried that connecting the former salt evaporation pond with the Bay could introduce long-dormant mercury to the wider ecosystem, and initial studies of levels in water...
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About Us

The San Francisco Bay-Delta is named in the federal Clean Water Act as one of 28 “estuaries of national significance." For over 20 years, the San Francisco Estuary Partnership has worked together with local communities and federal and state agencies to improve the health of California’s most urbanized estuary.

San Francisco Estuary Partnership 1515 Clay Street, Suite 1400 Oakland, CA 94612 (510) 622-2304

Association of Bay Area Governments