Time Travel on the Bay

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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Dennis McEwan finished work on the 430-acre Yolo Flyway Farms Tidal Habitat Restoration Project in September 2018. A month later, he retired.

The timing was no accident; he’d delayed his departure from the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) to see the project through after helping to launch it ten years earlier. But even from the very beginning of his career, McEwan had been committed to doing all he could for declining species in and around the Delta. That “calling,” as he put it, began with 25 years at the California Department of Fish and Game (now Fish and Wildlife) supporting Pacific...
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A career spent monitoring imperiled fish has given Randy Baxter a strong sense of the vulnerability of aquatic ecosystems.

“We’ve overtaxed the system,” he says. Baxter officially retired from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife last August, but still works two or three days a week as a “reemployed annuitant”—a big change from supervising a staff of 14 studying the threatened longfin smelt and other native fish. The reduced schedule gives him more time to fish, in California and on British Columbia’s Skeena River, and tend his orchids and carnivorous plants. Chicago-born Baxter grew up in Pacifica with...
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Jan Thompson has always been most interested in what happens down at the bottom of the Bay.

The zone of interaction between the critters in the oozes and the water column above—where specks of sediment, nutrients, and fish food cycle through clam siphons into the Estuary—is the particular specialty of this US Geological Survey scientist. “I’m most proud of the research I’ve done establishing a solid connection between bivalve grazing and phytoplankton growth,” she says. When USGS first hired Thompson, who retired in October 2019, most women in the Menlo Park office were secretaries. She’s since trained...
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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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Bob Fujimura spent his entire career with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Bob Fujimura spent his entire career with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. From 1987 until his retirement in late 2018, Fujimura served in a variety of roles at the department—but he is likely best known for heading up its long-term monitoring of native fishes in the Bay and Delta. Beginning in the mid-2000s, he oversaw annual smelt surveys with far-reaching implications for management and conservation, including the Spring Kodiak Trawl, which determines the relative abundance and distribution of...
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“The Bay is a jewel ― can you imagine if it stunk like it did in the ’50s or if it was green with algae?” asks retiring Executive Director of the Bay Area Clean Water Agencies (BACWA) David Williams, reflecting on his work over much of the last decade to address nutrient pollution.

Working with the 37 wastewater treatment plants that discharge into the Bay, as well as with the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, Williams helped establish a science-based regional permit for nutrients from the plants. The forward-thinking permit includes nature-based solutions like using wastewater to nurture horizontal levees or create wetlands, buffering the Bay shore from crashing waves as the sea rises. “We have a very enlightened Water Board,” Williams says, “because of that, instead of fighting, the...
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Rainer Hoenicke is optimistic about the changes he saw in his five years as the Delta Stewardship Council’s Science Director.

“People are coming to the table and realizing we need to be anticipating and forecasting how to adapt,” he says. Prior to joining the Science Program, Hoenicke served for nearly a decade as deputy and executive director of the San Francisco Estuary Institute, where he managed two Boards of Directors and reorganized the Institute’s program areas. “I felt challenged to do something different,” he says of the move, “since the Delta is much more controversial territory.” In Hoenicke’s eyes, the...
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New Regional Rainmaker

By Joe Eaton Environmental issues were important to Michael Montgomery as a young man. Montgomery’s career path led to 33 years with the United States Environmental Protection Agency, where he gained a wealth of experience in navigating complex regulatory landscapes to protect water resources, and ultimately to the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, where he is now executive officer. “The Bay Area has a strong tradition of coming up with collaborative solutions,” he says. That’s how he...
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Bay-Delta Leaders Comment on Climate

Edited by Cariad Hayes Thronson These magazine pages share the opinions of various new leaders in the Estuary management world about climate change. “The biggest challenge is that it is difficult for people, including decision-makers, to plan for uncertain, long-range challenges. We know that in order to make the greatest impact we need to start now,” says BCDC’s Dana Brechwald. Climate change is forcing some regulatory agencies, including the State Water Resources Control Board and BCDC, to fundamentally shift the...
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A Tricky Ballet

By Michael Hunter Adamson Malea G., a fourth grader in Mr. Moore’s class at Bayview’s Malcolm X Academy Elementary School, shows me her Tower of Power. It’s a wooden, trapezoidal structure roughly two feet high and decorated with stickers naming personal qualities she’s proud of. I ask her which of these she might turn to when dealing with climate change. “Leadership,” Malea answers after a brief pause. “If there was a flood, someone would need to take charge.” Working in...
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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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Joaquin Esquivel is impatient with the narrative that has dominated California water policy for decades, especially when it comes to the Delta and the eternal tug-of-war between farms, cities and the environment.

“For so long in the water space you’ve had these false dichotomies where you are being told you have to choose one or the other,” says Esquivel, who Governor Gavin Newsom appointed Chair of the State Water Resources Control Board in February. “These narratives can fuel themselves, they take root in communities, but they don’t really do much to get to the heart of the policy question.” A native of the Coachella Valley, Esquivel served on the State Board for...
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Jessica Fain got a crash course in resilience planning when Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast in 2012.

Fain, Planning Director for the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) since October, was part of a three-person office in the Waterfront and Open Space Division of New York’s Department of City Planning. “We were doing a small study on adaptation options,” she recalls. “In the middle of that, Sandy hit. Suddenly all eyes were on us.” Fain brings that background to a setting unlike New York in many ways. Instead of five boroughs, for example, she’s dealing with a...
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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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Susan Tatayon wants to bridge the emerging communication gap between Delta science and policy.

While Tatayon, who was installed as Chair of the Delta Stewardship Council in January, sees good communication efforts on the part of council scientists and staff, not everyone on the receiving end gets their drift. “What I’m learning from some council members and others is that they don’t understand the connection between the science being done and the policies they want to make.” Tatayon assumes her new position after a career that includes stints at The Nature Conservancy, the U.S....
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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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Sandra Scoggin has the qualities the San Francisco Bay Joint Venture needs in a leader at what she calls a ‘pivot point’ for the partnership.

In the early days, when the wetland protection and restoration landscape was less complex, the JV “could be everywhere and do everything.” Now it needs to be more strategic. “I’m a listener, a synthesizer, and I’m pretty good at herding diverse interests toward shared goals,” says Scoggin, who is taking over the 20-year-old wildlife habitat venture after 16 years in second seat. “The JV is built on deep and lasting relationships,” she says, both awe and pride in her voice....
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Louise Conrad sees the Delta Stewardship Council’s science program, which she now leads, as poised to shift into a new gear – from breaking down the science landscape and building a new foundation for Delta science to actually doing it.

 “With the update of the Delta science plan done, we can now can sink our teeth into some topical issues our scientists can be passionate about, such as aquatic invasive vegetation, microcystis and climate change, for example,” says the former Department of Water Resources (DWR) fish biologist. Conrad grew up in Philadelphia and developed an interest in conservation on summer road trips to western national parks in their family’s Dodge Ram. “My mom sewed us individual seat covers with pockets...
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Dana Brechwald is trying to bring rising sea levels to the forefront of the conversation for Bay Area communities and their affiliated agencies.

Joining the Bay Conservation and Development Commission as Program Manager for the Adapting to Rising Tides ( ART) program last November, Brechwald oversees multiple projects assessing coastal areas that are vulnerable to sea level rise. “We’re working at every scale, from the federal level down to community members who will be affected by climate adaptation,” she explains. Brechwald and her team cover the gamut of a community’s assets — from transportation systems to areas set aside for more development or...
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