Better scientific preparation could help Delta water and environmental managers respond to droughts more effectively.

Better scientific preparation could help Delta water and environmental managers respond to droughts more effectively.

That’s one key takeaway from a review of environmental management and the use of science during the 2012-2016 drought commissioned by the Delta Science Program and published in the June 2020 issue of San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science. “There are lots of mysteries about how to manage water to benefit species, agriculture, upstream and downstream users. I think science is going to be the best solution,” says lead author John Durand of UC Davis’ Center for Watershed Science. Durand...
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Two recent exercises in modeling the hydrological effects of forest thinning and wildfire are yielding intriguing insights.

Hydrogeologist Fadji Maina and colleague Erica Siirila-Woodburn of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory ran simulations of wildfire effects in the Cosumnes River watershed (see map). “We chose the Cosumnes because it’s one of the largest rivers that has no dam in California,” explains Maina. The most significant findings concerned the way wildfire affects groundwater recharge and storage. “It depends on where the wildfire occurs,” says Maina. The underlying rocks—foothill volcanics or High Sierra granites—make a difference. Consistent with earlier studies, the model also...
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Although the Covid-19 pandemic and attendant economic cataclysm have tripped up some ambitious plans for funding climate resilience in California, other measures to integrate adaptation and planning are still on track.

In July, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments released the draft of Plan Bay Area 2050, a 30-year plan to guide growth in the nine-county region. “The biggest new integration in the plan is a set of investments to protect our Bay and ocean shorelines from rising sea levels,” says MTC’s Dave Vautin. The plan calls for just under $20 billion in investments ranging from seawalls and traditional levees to horizontal levees and wetland restoration...
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Great whales, the largest creatures in the sea, can help mitigate climate change by locking up carbon in their massive bodies and boosting phytoplankton with their waste products.

A preliminary study by researchers with the International Monetary Fund’s Institute for Capacity Development, the University of Notre Dame, and Duke University found that each great whale sequesters an average of 33 tons of CO2 over its lifetime, taking that carbon out of the atmosphere for centuries: when a whale dies and sinks to the sea floor, it takes that carbon with it, says Joe Roman, conservation biologist and author of Whale. (Compare that to a tree, which sequesters about...
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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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Parks and Cities Seek Shore Resilience

By Joe Eaton For Alameda County, climate vulnerability is no abstraction. King tides push the waters of San Leandro Bay into parking lots at Martin Luther King Regional Shoreline. When Diablo winds rattle the eucalyptus, Berkeley and Oakland hill-dwellers recall the conflagrations of 1923 and 1991 and dread the next one. The county feels the bite of both edges of the climate sword: fire and flood. With highways, BART, a major airport and seaport, business parks, and sports complexes, the...
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Greener Fatter Levees Boon to Richmond Resilience?

By Daniel McGlynn In May, despite the now normal issues of groups gathering for video calls and virtual PowerPoints, the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority voted unanimously to fund the early stages of a massive new infrastructure project along the North Richmond shoreline with a grant of $644,709. The shoreline is now one step closer to becoming home to a horizontal, or living, levee that provides both flood protection and habitat. The proposed project, in the planning stages since 2017,...
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Sinking Islands Capture Carbon Credits

By Emily Underwood As sea levels rise and land in the Delta sinks, agencies and landowners are recognizing that levees alone will not protect critical fresh water supplies and infrastructure. Encouraged by a recently vetted new method for calculating carbon offsets from wetlands, a flurry of new climate adaptation projects on publicly owned islands strewn along the central Delta corridor aim to defend against sea-level rise, restore habitat, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Until recently, the prospect of selling carbon...
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Tending the Urban Earth and Its People

While most activities ground to a halt in the COVID-19 crisis, nature didn’t skip a beat at urban farms across the Bay Area. Urban farms meet an array of local needs, whether it’s for organic food, living wage jobs, a community center, or a place to connect with nature. With the COVID crisis, and with many American communities touched by loss and fighting racism, these needs have become even more acute. Farms, gardens, and nurseries across the Bay Area are...
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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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Carbon Goes Deep

By Aleta George Many Yolo County farmers and ranchers are keenly aware of climate shifts and actively involved in GHG reduction strategies. Scott and Karen Stone run Yolo Land & Cattle, a 7,500-acre ranch that lies partly in the Blue Ridge Berryessa Natural Area. The Stones have planted riparian areas and hedgerows for carbon sequestration, use solar water pumps to reduce GHGs, and manage a 400-acre conservation easement for Swainson’s hawk on their irrigated pastureland. In the Capay Valley, Fully...
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Adaptation Complexities Spur Innovation

By Cariad Hayes Thronson Driving over the Bay flats toward the Dumbarton Bridge’s western approach in San Mateo County it’s easy to imagine how a few feet of sea level rise could submerge the roadway. The bridge touches down only 750 feet from the shoreline, and the approach skims just above the fill it’s built on. At least three to six feet of sea level rise are a virtual certainty by the end of the century. Countywide, a vulnerability assessment...
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New Eyes on Floods and Fire

By Jacoba Charles Flames have become the unofficial face of climate change for Sonoma County, in the wake of the catastrophic Tubbs and Kincade fires that tore through the northern parts of the county in 2017 and 2019. Together the two fires burned more than 114,000 acres, roughly a tenth of the county, claimed 22 lives, and destroyed almost 5,000 homes. However, increased frequency and severity of wildfire is only one of the many ways that climate change is poised...
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Planting for Resilience

By Cariad Hayes Thronson Travel brochures for Napa County almost universally feature the same images: a valley floor carpeted with vineyards, nestled between hillsides dotted with spreading valley oaks. As climate change brings hotter days — and more of them — to the county, these twin pillars of the landscape, grapevines and oak trees, are both challenged by it and central to local resilience strategies. A climate action plan has been in the works since 2011 but has yet to...
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Retreat or Fight for Coastal Communities?

In the coastal getaway town of Stinson Beach, king tides and storm surges regularly put roads and parking lots underwater: wintertime events that give locals an unnerving idea of what rising sea level will look like for the small community. “We know sea-level rise is coming, but here, we say we’ve already got it,” says Stinson Beach homeowner Jeff Loomans, also the president of the Greater Farallones Association, which has been active in sea-level rise planning. Rising sea level is...
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Big Projects, Wet Feet: Mega Developments Hedge on Sea-Level Rise

On September 3, 2019, Golden State Warriors CEO Rick Welts stood proudly in front of the newly inaugurated $1.4 billion Chase Center basketball arena. “A brand new journey starts today,” he promised the assembled luminaries and fans. Having built on Mission Bay’s watery footprint, the Warriors defended their new arena against sea-level rise, saying in an official statement it will stay dry in 2100 “even with the anticipated 36 inches of sea-level rise.” Just three weeks later, a massive $1...
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Highway 37: The Road to Restoration

San Francisco Bay has seven highway bridges with tolls, eight if you count the span linking Antioch to the Delta. In the future it just might have nine. The latest candidate is not the long-debated Southern Crossing, but rather a series of causeways carrying California’s single most vulnerable road in the era of sea-level rise: State Route 37 between Vallejo and Novato. A bridge on dry land? But the dryness of this region is a fading illusion. Over a century...
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Squeezed by Geography

By Nate Seltenrich In most respects, Marin County is a privileged place. It ranks first in the Bay Area for income per capita and includes many of the region’s priciest zip codes. But its miles of Bay and ocean shoreline and many low-lying towns, positioned to afford easy coastal access and world-class scenery, represent a major liability in the era of sea-level rise. “Marin is the canary in the coal mine in some ways, because almost everything is in that...
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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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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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