Needed Now: A Big Blue-Green Push

Needed Now: A Big Blue-Green Push

Edited by Lisa Owens Viani From rain gardens to green streets to permeable parking lots and pebble dunes, landscape architects and resource managers are working to soften up shorelines and sidewalks, all to sponge up and filter stormwater runoff before it reaches the Estuary, and to buffer against sea level rise and heavy storms. Plus they’re giving a younger generation the skills and hands-on experience to carry this work forward in the future. This special centerfold details projects in the...
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Kris Tjernell thinks there could hardly be more a more exciting time to be leading conservation and water management programs in the country’s most populous and perhaps most water-stressed state.

“I see opportunities for big change,” says Tjernell, who was appointed California Department of Water Resources’ deputy director last May. At the time the DWR was adopting a new approach toward land and water management—especially the inclusion of floodplain restoration in many of its flood control projects. “We are demanding a lot out of the landscape of the Delta, and we are demanding a lot out of the Central Valley and beyond,” Tjernell says, describing a system of resource allocation...
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High Road or High Water for Wildlife

By Ashleigh Papp While we were cooped up inside waiting out February’s storms, many animals were on the move. Cameras positioned along a creek in the Pacheco Pass wildlife corridor captured footage of animals passing through a culvert under a bridge on SR-152 that crosses Pacheco Creek. “We caught a bobcat on camera walking through the creek,” says Tanya Diamond, researcher with Pathways for Wildlife. “With her ears back and elbow-deep in water, you can tell she’s miserable.” As storms...
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Glimmers of Baywide Intent

“Bay Restoration is a race against time,” says San Francisco Restoration Authority Chair Dave Pine. “That’s why it’s so important to bring the regulatory agencies together to fast-track the permitting process.” The Restoration Authority, overseeing projects funded by Measure AA, took a step forward this June by approving funding for a Regulatory Integration Team. BCDC and six other organizations, including the US Army Corps of Engineer, the US EPA, federal and state wildlife agencies, and the state Water Board, joined...
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North Richmond: Building Equity in the Urban Fabric and Forest

The neighborhoods in North Richmond grew up with Richmond’s famed shipyards during World War II, along with railroads and a burgeoning fossil fuel industry. When you stand there today, you can literally see and hear this legacy of industrialization, which is also evident in the community’s high rates of poverty and asthma. Here the idea of resilient design means something completely different than it might mean in other parts of the Bay Area. It was these environmental justice concerns that...
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North Bay: Common Ground on a Grand Bayway?

Traffic-choked, flood-prone Highway 37, traversing the northern Bay Area, has been locked for years in a debate between restoration groups and transportation agencies seeking what they thought might be opposing goals: resilient landscapes and a roadway meeting the North Bay’s transportation needs. As part of the Resilient by Design Challenge, the Common Ground team was assigned to bridge the divide over the highway’s future. “Getting committed to a long-term process is like driving cross-country in a car with different people,”...
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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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Overdue Levee Almost Shovel Ready

After more than a decade of study and planning, the first part of a critical flood protection and environmental project is creeping towards construction near the town of Alviso. The South Bay Shoreline Project will eventually include over four miles of levee, 2,900 acres of restored tidal wetlands, and upgrades to the iconic Bay Trail. While the US Army Corps of Engineers waits on financing, other partners are focused on getting ducks in a row, such as coordinating access with...
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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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An easily overlooked slough is pointing a finger of uncertainty at Oakland’s plans for ballpark redevelopment, transit safety and resilient neighborhoods.

From the pedestrian bridge between the Oakland Coliseum and the BART station, the view of Damon Slough–a 25-foot-wide canal of muddy, litter-choked water–belies its increasing prominence in the flood-futures of east Oakland. A study by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission did the math, adding the impacts of rising sea levels on these Oakland flatlands to predictions of more frequent, more extreme storm events and urban runoff. “That’s when water starts coming out of manholes,” says Kris May, a coastal engineer who...
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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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Flood Plan Boosts Floodplain

The 2017 update to the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan, to be released later this summer, radically revises the flood control strategies that have prevailed for more than a century. The plan recognizes the connections between the flood system, the water system and the ecosystem, and relies less on levees and more on floodplain restoration to upgrade the state’s aging and inadequate flood control infrastructure.
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Corte Madera’s Flood Fight Goes On and On

If you peek through the chain link fence behind the Ross Post Office in Marin County, you will see a suburban creek that looks much like any other. Some sections of bank are armored with riprap and wire, others with concrete, and others not at all. Scattered alders grow at the edge of water that riffles over stone and around muddy bends.
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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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