Two recent exercises in modeling the hydrological effects of forest thinning and wildfire are yielding intriguing insights.

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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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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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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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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After nearly 30 years in refuge management on public lands, Anne Morkill is leaving government, but not wildlife, behind.

Following her February 2020 retirement from managing the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which she led for nearly a decade, Morkill is taking the helm at the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation, a nonprofit that stewards one of the largest freshwater wetlands complexes on the northern California coast. Morkill believes that San Francisco Bay provides unusual potential for restoring habitat for wildlife in a highly urban environment. “That’s what makes it so special,” she says, citing the Bay...
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Clout and Cool Science Push Land-River Connection

By Robin Meadows Statewide, 13,000 miles of levees disconnect our rivers from their floodplains, which once served as nurseries for young salmon migrating to the ocean. California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot wants to help restore this connection. “It’s one of the most exciting parts of my job,” he said in an interview, his face lighting up in a wide smile. “It’s a win-win-win―it’s a way we can reconnect water with land, create habitat, and provide flood protection.” Before all...
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Coyote Valley, an important wildlife corridor connecting the Santa Cruz and Diablo Mountain ranges, would receive new protections under state legislation introduced in April.

AB 948 would create a new Coyote Valley Conservation Program, to be administered by the Santa Clara Open Space Authority. The bill would expand the existing protected area from 7,400 acres to 17,000 acres, and boost new efforts to preserve its resources. Coyote Valley, which drains the ecologically rich upper watershed of Coyote Creek, has long faced development threats as surrounding South Bay communities expand. The area provides critical habitat for critters large and small, which use the valley—especially its...
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Sandhill crane

Wildlife and Way of Life in the North Delta?

Californians ask a lot of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, where the state’s longest rivers meet and deliver snowmelt from the mountains. Water suppliers want to reconfigure the Delta’s plumbing via the ever-contentious Water Fix project, which Governor Gavin Newsom just sent back to the drawing board. State wildlife officials want to boost restoration in the region, and the 2019 Delta Conservation Framework outlines their latest plan. And people in the Delta want to live and farm there as they...
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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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Estuary’s Question of the Month: What is the weirdest species in the Estuary and why?

A fall flight over the Mexican coast where the Colorado River meets the Sea of Cortez offered me a gut-punching, eye-screwing, visual on the results of impaired flow. The semantics of ‘unimpaired’ and ‘impaired’ flow have laced the language of California water management debates since some engineer invented these politically ‘neutral’ terms long ago. The terms refer to our alteration of freshwater flows from snowmelt and runoff by dams and diversions. But whatever the labels, or whichever estuary you’re referring...
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Reflowing the Sierra to the Sea

A fall flight over the Mexican coast where the Colorado River meets the Sea of Cortez offered me a gut-punching, eye-screwing, visual on the results of impaired flow. The semantics of ‘unimpaired’ and ‘impaired’ flow have laced the language of California water management debates since some engineer invented these politically ‘neutral’ terms long ago. The terms refer to our alteration of freshwater flows from snowmelt and runoff by dams and diversions. But whatever the labels, or whichever estuary you’re referring...
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Incidental findings of a long-term study of brown bear predation on salmon have revealed a hidden link between the fish and forest health.

For 20 years, Tom Quinn, a professor in Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington, waded in southwestern Alaska’s Hansen Creek with his students, counting and measuring sockeye salmon carcasses in the stream. Quinn asked his students to toss the bodies on the north bank of the creek to avoid double counting; over the years, they tossed close to 295 tons of salmon onto the north bank. In 2016, Quinn and his colleagues and students took core samples...
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MEGA-PEARLS, Oct 2018

A Stream of Science Takeaways. ESTUARY News sent reporters to the biennial Bay-Delta Science Conference in September. This special edition of Pearls shares more than 20 takeaways.
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Following the Water: Bobcats in Coyote Valley

By Ashleigh Papp From a bird’s eye view, the area between the Santa Cruz and Diablo mountain ranges looks like any typical valley. But the work being done by Tanya Diamond, a wildlife biologist with Pathways for Wildlife, shows that the Coyote Valley offers much more to native wildlife and conservationists than mere open space. With satellite tracking collars and footage captured by hidden cameras, Diamond’s team has confirmed just how much water – Coyote and Fisher Creeks in particular...
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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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The Art of Environmental Restoration

Cold water, essential for the life cycle of Chinook salmon, is all too often in short supply along the Sacramento River. A primary cause: California’s massive water conveyance system, using reservoirs, dams, and hydroelectric plants to divert water and deliver power to farms and cities. “When we started releasing water in spring, we let cold water out too early. None was left by fall, when salmon really needed it,” says USBR hydraulic engineer Tracy Vermeyen. Two clever innovations have been...
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A wide-ranging Habitat Conservation Plan that could eventually protect up to 4800 acres of endangered species habitat in the Bay Area is the linchpin of a November agreement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Pacific Gas and Electric Company.

Under the agreement, FWS issued the utility a 30-year incidental take permit for operations and maintenance activities in the nine Bay Area counties. The HCP includes strategies to avoid, minimize, and offset potential direct, indirect, and cumulative effects of PG&E’s O&M and minor new construction activities on 32 threatened or endangered species. The parties are hailing the landscape-scale plan as an improvement over the project-by-project process they previously operated under, as it will enable PG&E to complete projects more quickly...
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Despite some unnerving trends, Bay Area landowners and open-space authorities may be able to reduce the potential for another calamitous wildfire by modifying their land-management practices.

According to a worrisome article in the January issue of Bay Nature, the region’s future is increasingly fire-prone, thanks to climate change, population trends, and a legacy of strict fire suppression. Yet while the first two are beyond the scope of a single city or agency to manage, reducing fuel loads in forests and shrublands more actively, through prescribed burns and mechanical thinning, may help mitigate future catastrophes. At a gathering organized by the Bay Area Open Space Council last November, attendees seemed...
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After the Burn Comes the Rain

When fire strikes upper watersheds like it did last October, responses can vary widely depending on land use and ownership. “We view wildfire as a natural process,” says Cyndy Shafer of California State Parks. Wildlands and backcountry areas have largely been left alone, but it’s a different story when lands are managed not for ecosystems but for drinking-water quality. “You want to minimize the erosion that occurs on site,” says Scott Hill of the East Bay Municipal Utility District, “we...
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