Covid Clues from Wastewater

Covid Clues from Wastewater

As COVID-19 continues its unrelenting rampage, wastewater plant managers and university researchers are ramping up their efforts to monitor wastewater for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease. Their goal is to give public health departments a powerful tool: an early warning system for new outbreaks in communities. In Yosemite Valley, for instance, wastewater testing revealed the presence of the virus in the community before swab testing of individuals showed a problem. “There’s a time delay before cases appear in...
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A team of scientists is close to chasing down every last thing that happens to nitrogen in wastewater as it passes through the soils and plants of a horizontal levee.

Not only is 97% of the nitrogen removed, but also trace pharmaceuticals. “You just have to focus on where the water is going,” says environmental engineer Aidan Cecchetti, referring to the UC Berkeley-Stanford-ReNUWIt team’s experimentation with three components of flow through the levee system—under the surface, over the surface, or into the air (through evapotranspiration). “In the wastewater pumped to the subsurface, you see full removal of every contaminant except phosphorous.” What’s most astonishing is how much of the work...
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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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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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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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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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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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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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Good Policy, More Tests for Living Shores

By Ariel Rubissow Okamoto While more sea walls may soon be necessary to adapt to rising seas, softer, greener, nature-based shorelines will also be important buffers for our cities and waterfronts. Wetlands, oyster reefs, eelgrass beds, and other natural features of shores and shallows figure largely in a number of ambitious, multi-partner restoration projects over the last decade. To date, more than 10 such projects have been or are being restored around the Bay, encompassing more than 200 acres of...
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Big Picture Review of Regional Science and Governance

Offshore, kelp forests were dwindling. Outside, hillsides were burning. Inside the Scottish Rite Center in Oakland, scientists and policy people were sharing the latest findings concerning the vital shallows in between: the San Francisco Estuary. The patient pursuit of knowledge, essential to smart action in a changing world, had chalked up a fruitful two years. Of the action itself, there was rather less sign. Felicia Marcus might speak to that better than anyone. As chair of the State Water Resources...
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Speakers talk about emerging water quality issues such as stormwater management, contaminants in effluent, wastewater in Suisun Marsh, and nutrients discharged into the Bay.

Green Diet for Roads City of San Pablo project manager Amanda Booth went deep into the nitty gritty on green stormwater infrastructure at a State of the Estuary Conference session. “Talk to the utility agencies before you even start,” she said. “Read PG&E’s Greenbook guidelines. Know your city’s franchise agreements with gas, electrical, sewer, and water companies, figure out who pays to relocate facilities, for example, if that becomes necessary.” Changing the flow lines of runoff at the street, parcel...
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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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Super-Shore: A Multi-Habitat Experiment at Giant Marsh

Interview anyone of any stripe about the Giant Marsh living shorelines project and the same two words will be in every other sentence: high tide. Each construction step of this California Coastal Conservancy-led effort to build new native oyster reefs interspersed with eelgrass off the Contra Costa County shore must consider the timing of tides. High enough to float a barge or Boston whaler into the shallows, do a day’s work, and get back out again on the next cycle....
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Oakland green infrastructure vision.

Clock Ticking for Cities to Commit to Greening

Managing stormwater is a physics problem, and not a very glamorous one. In decades past, the main objective of managing stormwater was figuring out how fast it could be directed through the Bay Area’s built landscape via storm drains, culverts, and channels, and into the Bay. In decades future, however, the object will be to slow down the runoff, and sink it into greener, spongier surfaces sprinkled throughout our cities and counties, or to run it through more meandering, more...
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Therese McMillan inherits huge challenges as the new Executive Director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

The Bay Area region is beleaguered by traffic, a crippling housing shortage, and growing inequality. MTC plays a role in all these areas. “We have a master coordinator role in being able to knit the region together through land use and transportation planning, and major dollar investments,” says McMillan of the MTC, which distributes billions of public transportation dollars collected annually by local, state and federal governments, although she notes that the agency doesn’t “have land use authority, or our...
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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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Green Cement Blues

For the last three years, an environmental storm has been brewing in the North Bay city of Vallejo. Some elements of the story are familiar: grassroots activists pitted against a multinational corporate developer, environmental justice versus the lure of new jobs. Add historical preservation, iconic wildlife, political shenanigans, and the unexpected involvement of the California Attorney General’s office, and the mix becomes more complex. An Irish cement company and its local partners want to build a processing plant and a...
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Calculating the Cost of Adaptation

What makes a bond green? When the debt is issued specifically to bankroll projects with tangible environmental benefits. So when the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission faced a hefty price tag for major infrastructure overhauls, they chose to go green. “The goal is to get to $1 trillion in annual green bond issuances by 2020,” says Mike Brown, the SFPUC environmental manager who oversees the $1.4 billion in green bonds that the commission has issued since 2015. To Brown, the...
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Medicating the Bay

“If you went to the doctor and told them you were taking 69 different pharmaceuticals,” says Emma Rosi of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, “they would be very concerned with your well-being.” When a study she co-authored detected that number of pharmaceutical compounds in caddisfly larvae along an Australian creek downstream of a treatment plant, it was further evidence that excreted drugs are escaping wastewater facilities and entering food webs. The Bay is no exception. A survey conducted by...
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