E-News Magazine

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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San Francisco Prepares for Water From All Directions

By Isaac Pearlman “Even a city with as many resources as San Francisco has can’t do this [alone],” says the director of the Port of San Francisco’s Waterfront Resilience Program Lindy Lowe, speaking of the climate change threats looming over the City by the Bay. “It’s too big.” The perils San Francisco faces include three-to-ten feet of sea-level rise this century, a sharp increase in extreme heat days, and more severe floods and drought. As city officials grapple with today’s...
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Beaver dams may offer wildfire protection to western watersheds, in addition to providing better-known benefits such as groundwater recharge, wetland and habitat creation, and riparian restoration.

A new study by California State University Channel Islands professor Emily Fairfax analyzed satellite-derived vegetation indices of riparian areas and beaver dams mapped via Google Earth. At the same time, Fairfax analyzed data for large (over 30,000 acre) wildfires that had occurred between 2000 and 2018 in California, Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, and Oregon, and compared the fate of beaver-dammed areas to areas without dams. Fairfax found that riparian corridors within 100 meters of beaver ponds were buffered from wildfires. “In...
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Smack in the middle of the unprecedented disruption of normal life brought on by the Covid-19 crisis comes a new report detailing the challenges sea level rise might bring to the Bay region without proactive planning.

 Released on March 26, Adapting to Rising Tides: Bay Area compares the effects of rising waters on communities, natural lands and critical regional systems. “Shoreline flooding from sea level rise and storm events will impact everyone in the Bay Area because the transportation systems we rely on, schools, childcare, and hospitals we depend on, jobs at which we work, and beautiful natural areas we love are at risk, and interconnected across the Bay,” says Dana Brechwald of the Bay Conservation and...
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A new project should dramatically improve conditions for endangered steelhead trout in the lower reaches of Alameda Creek.

The project is part of a long-term effort to restore steelhead to Alameda Creek. Last year, for the first time in decades, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission began releasing water from a newly retrofitted dam, effectively reviving an important tributary stream. Also in 2019, the Alameda County Flood Control District began construction of a key fish ladder at the BART line crossing that will allow adult steelhead to access the river’s headwaters. The new fish passage enhancement plan focuses...
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A resurgence of dinoflagellates, which can cause harmful algal blooms, may be in the cards for some bays along the U.S. West Coast.

A resurgence of dinoflagellates, which can cause harmful algal blooms, may be in the cards for some bays along the U.S. West Coast. Scientists at UC Santa Cruz have been monitoring phytoplankton weekly at the town’s Municipal Wharf since 2002. In 2018, Alexis Fischer, then a postdoctoral fellow at UC Santa Cruz, augmented these observations with an Imaging FlowCytobot (IFCB) that photographed wharf phytoplankton hourly. She also developed a machine learning classification algorithm to automate identification of the organisms. In...
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New archaeological evidence from the South Bay strengthens the case that Chinook salmon spawned naturally in the Guadalupe River.

Albion Environmental, a Santa Cruz research consulting firm, and researchers from Santa Clara University analyzed thousands of fish bones excavated from a 19th century indigenous village on Mission Creek, a historical Guadalupe River tributary long since buried under modern urban development. In an abstract of their research, which has not yet been published, the authors describe using DNA sequencing on 55 confirmed salmonid bones. They identified 52 as belonging to steelhead trout and three as Chinook salmon. Whether Chinook occurred...
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A grassroots effort to move migrating newts across a Marin County road has drawn to a close, but organizers hope it leads to a more permanent solution.

For roughly half a mile, the two-lane road in a hilly rural area west of Petaluma travels alongside a large, natural body of water called Laguna Lake. On the other side is an oak woodland: the perfect place for California and rough-skinned newts, which spend the dry season in moist terrestrial habitat under leaf litter and wood debris or inside animal burrows. After seeing a number of native newts flattened along the road on rainy winter evenings, a small group...
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The parallels between the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change—threat, shelter, sacrifice, inequity, resource limits, and inaction despite strong science—are striking, and that may be good news.

“We’re seeing profound changes in habits and behaviors, the mobilizing of massive resources and a level of global coordination that we haven’t seen before,” said Otto Scharmer, a social change advocate and lecturer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in a recent radio interview for PRI’s The World. “This is highly relevant to climate action.” Since nobody is going anywhere, carbon emissions from transportation are down worldwide, giving us a very real glimpse of a greener feature. Some world leaders, meanwhile,...
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Remembering Bruce Wolfe

Bruce H. Wolfe, for 15 years the Executive Officer of the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, suffered a fatal heart attack on February 25 while out on a run at Hilton Head, South Carolina. Doing what he loved, one inevitably notes; but family, friends, and long-time colleagues in the water world would have preferred to have him around much longer. Wolfe was an aficionado of the sport of orienteering, a kind of racing with map and compass...
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Microtrash Tiresome for Watersheds

By Jacoba Charles As many as 30 particles of microplastic smaller than five millimeters in diameter are discharged with every liter of stormwater, according to a report published by the San Francisco Estuary Institute and 5Gyres last October. “A big proportion of what we saw were black rubbery fragments,” says SFEI’s Diana Lin, a lead author of the report. Apart from these likely biproducts of tire wear and tear, hair-like threads of fiber were the other main type of microplastics...
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By Alastair Bland As purple urchins have multiplied, kelp forests, already stressed by unusually warm water, have collapsed. Norwegian company Urchinomics proposes to capture the overpopulated urchins, fatten them up in circulating seawater tanks, and sell them to restaurants—hopefully in volumes sufficient to dent the urchin armies and allow a kelp comeback. Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary press liaison MaryJane Schramm says combatting the urchin takeover “goes directly to our mandate to maintain or restore ecosystem balance.” Citizen science, she...
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Time Travel on the Bay

By Aleta George “In day-to-day life we look at the world in a three-dimensional view,” Liam O’Donoghue, host and producer of the award-winning podcast East Bay Yesterday, says, “but when you know history, you can look at it through four dimensions because you can see into the past using your imagination.” On a recent boat tour of the East Bay shoreline led by O’Donoghue, Captain Andy threaded his vessel Pacific Pearl through the Berkeley pier as if it were a...
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Kinky Fish Spines Linked to Selenium

By Joe Eaton Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are using new tools to track selenium, with the Sacramento splittail, a California-endemic fish, as an indicator species. Robin Stewart, lead author of a new paper on splittail and selenium, is one of the region’s most seasoned current experts on bioaccumulation of metals in estuarine species. In some sampled splittail, selenium levels exceeded the proposed EPA protective criteria for fish ovaries. Liver levels, not...
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Toxins Flock to Beads in a Scientific Tea Bag

By Ashleigh Papp When a New Zealand scientist shared a novel method to test water quality in the early 2000s that didn’t involve harvesting shellfish, UC Santa Cruz’ Raphael Kudela and his team of researchers quickly adopted the idea. After some fine-tuning, they named their new technique Solid Phase Adsorption Toxin Testing (SPATT, for short). The technique takes advantage of custom-built plastic, or resin, beads that are designed to absorb specific things. “It looks a lot like a tea bag,”...
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Tracking Curlews Cross-Country

By Joe Eaton This winter, Jay Carlisle, director of the Intermountain Bird Observatory, teaming with Nils Warnock of Audubon Canyon Ranch and netting expert David Newstead of Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program, caught two long-billed curlews and outfitted them with transmitters. Those birds may reveal where the wintering curlews on the California coast and Bayshore are coming from. While many grassland birds are experiencing catastrophic declines, long-billed curlews had appeared to be an exception. “It’s such a habitat generalist...
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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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Rebooting the Klamath

By Lisa Owens Viani “There are bounds on this system and if you mismanage it, you can kill off what was once the third-largest salmon run on the entire West Coast,” says Amy Cordalis, general counsel for the Yurok Tribe. In 2002, more than 70,000 adult salmon died on the Klamath River when U.S. Bureau of Reclamation diversions caused water temperatures to spike, which led to the spread of diseases that wiped out the fish. In February, the Klamath River...
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Dam Tweaks Yield Results

By Alastair Bland “After one year of flows, we’re seeing lots of rainbow trout,” says Brian Sak of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC). For the first time ever, cold water is flowing steadily through Calaveras Dam in southern Alameda County, and into the creek canyon below. The return of rainbow trout to Calaveras Creek marks a milestone in an ongoing, multi-agency restoration of Alameda Creek, which drains more than 600 square miles of the East Bay. Since the...
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Regulatory Teams Coordinate

By Cariad Hayes Thronson In March the San Francisco Estuary Partnership released its Wetlands Regional Monitoring Program Plan, which lays out the science framework for a long-term program to monitor tidal wetlands around the Bay. “The focus of the plan is how we’re going to answer five guiding questions about the status and trends of our tidal wetlands,” says the Partnership’s Heidi Nutters. The framework is only the first phase of what will ultimately be a four-year planning process. Nutters...
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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.

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