Green Cement Blues

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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State Could Step Up

Despite an official California policy in place since 1992 that calls for “no net loss” of wetlands, the lack of a specific wetlands definition has led to the loss of many thousands of acres of ecologically important lands. That could change soon, thanks to an update from the State Water Resources Control Board expected out soon after more than a decade of work. California environmentalists are optimistic that the updated policy, titled “State Wetland Definition and Procedures for Discharges of...
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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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The Nature Conservancy’s venture in growing food crops for wintering cranes on Staten Island is under fire from an unexpected source—the Wetlands Preservation Foundation.

The nonprofit, headed by Stockton tomato packer Dino Cortopassi, is suing TNC and the California Department of Water Resources, which holds a conservation easement on Staten Island, alleging farming practices that cause soil subsidence and threaten levee integrity, and misuse of revenue from farm operations. The 9200-acre farm, acquired by TNC in 2001, is a major destination for migratory greater and lesser sandhill cranes (the latter a California endangered species) as well as Aleutian cackling geese and other birds. As...
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San Joaquin Communities Access Cleaner Water Due to New Legislation

The only water easily available to many low-income inhabitants of the San Joaquin Valley’s smaller, non-incorporated settlements is well water tainted with arsenic and nitrates from surrounding activities. But two state bills ensure that these communities – and everyone else in California – not only have the right to safe, clean, and affordable drinking water, but also get access to public water infrastructure and services as needed. Assembly Bill 2501, approved this fall, “makes sure the state’s consolidation authority can...
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Constellation of Climate Events Lifts State Spirits

“We are seeing events we have never seen before,” said California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird to the over 750 attendees of the California Adaptation Forum on August 28th. Inside the cavernous ballroom of the Sheraton Grand in downtown Sacramento, Laird ticked off to the audience the evidence that climate change is present in California: wildfires burning faster and hotter, rainfall five hundred percent above normal, and longer lasting Central Valley heatwaves. “[Climate change] is happening, we’re experiencing it, and...
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The State’s Biggest Landlord Reconsiders Its Neighbors

When Mari Rose Taruc approached California environmental justice (EJ) leaders about advising the California State Lands Commission on its EJ policy, they didn’t know what she was talking about. “They were like, what does the State Lands Commission do?” recalls Taruc with a chuckle. Over the past six months, a two-way discovery has since taken place between the agency and the resulting EJ working group. Overlapping interests emerged, revealing a surprising abundance of opportunities for collaboration. The discovery is significant...
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California’s Wild and Scenic Rivers System expanded for the first time in 13 years in June when Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. signed legislation protecting 37 miles of the upper Mokelumne River.

It was the culmination of a long struggle for the Jackson-based Foothill Conservancy and other river advocates. Four years ago, a Mokelumne bill was approved by the state Senate but killed by a parliamentary maneuver  that blocked a vote in the Assembly. Despite significant support in Calaveras and Amador counties, the bill was opposed by local water agencies concerned about the potential impact on their water rights. In 2015 Assemblyman Frank Bigelow (R-O’Neals) successfully proposed a state study of the...
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Vital and Vulnerable? Delta Contemplates Climate Change

With its pivotal role in California’s ecology and economy, the Delta’s ability to adapt successfully to climate change and sea level rise will have an enormous influence on how well the state as a whole adapts. “Most of the climate vulnerability work in the Delta so far has focused on water resource management, not the array of other potential impacts,” says Delta Stewardship Council’s Kate Anderson. In May, the Council issued an RFQ for an assessment of the Delta’s potential...
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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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Permitting Made Easier?

“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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Two-Way Bay: Estuary Leaders Reflect on Resilience

This 8-minute film interviews eight directors of water quality, restoration, and environmental programs around the San Francisco Estuary about their experience of the 2017-2018 Resilient by Design Bay Area Challenge.
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Not the Last Word on Buckler

In January, the Bay Conservation and Development Commission and the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board appealed December decisions by a Solano Superior Court Judge concerning Point Buckler and its owner John Sweeney. The decisions voided $3.6 million in fines and cleanup and restoration requirements that the two agencies had imposed on Sweeney for dumping and excavation in Suisun Bay, and draining tidal wetland, without authorization. “If this decision sets precedent, we’re in real trouble,” says Erica Maharg...
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Scrutinizing the Margins

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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The battle of Point Buckler Island isn’t over yet.

In January the Bay Conservation and Development Commission and the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board appealed decisions by a Solano County Superior Court Judge voiding $3.6 million in fines and cleanup and restoration requirements that the agencies imposed on the island’s owner for dumping excavation spoil in Suisun Bay and draining tidal wetland without authorization. The agencies held that due to the failure of previous owners to maintain levees, the interior of the island had become tidal...
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All In for One Water

As climate change threatens to upend precipitation patterns and disrupt water supplies, agencies are increasingly searching for ways to wring more benefits out of every drop. The Santa Clara Valley Water District is seeking to take integrated water management planning to the next level through its One Water initiative. “The idea of One Water is to manage all water — treated water, groundwater, stormwater, flood water, water for habitat, species and Baylands — as one resource,” says the District’s Brian...
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Broad buy-in is the hoped for result of a proposed new landscape-level vision for conservation of the Delta.

For decades, government agencies, stakeholders, scientists, and planners have tried to develop a common vision for the future Delta, only to be stymied by environmental and economic politics. A new paradigm developed by diverse interests, however, proposes six regional conservation strategies to be achieved through collaborative, phased projects tailored to the needs of each sub-region, with a priority on improving public lands first. Proponents of the new framework say long-term conservation of the Delta is not a choice but an...
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The California Legislature has made state history by passing SB-5, which acknowledges the importance of parks and climate-change resiliency for some of California’s most disadvantaged communities.

“Park access should not be considered a luxury. It is a right,” says Mary Creasman, California Director of Public Affairs for The Trust for Public Land. The bill—known as the California Drought, Water, Parks, Climate, Coastal Protection, and Outdoor Access for All Act of 2018—recognizes the importance parks play in a community’s quality of life as well as the lack of access to them in urban and disadvantaged communities. The bill provides definitions of “disadvantaged” and “severely disadvantaged” communities and provides...
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Indecision Point

The Delta Stewardship Council endorses the “Delta Plan Amendments for Conveyance, Storage Systems, and the Operation of Both.” The council was created in 2009 but given no say over the pending dual tunnels plan. The state was pushing a grand program called the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan. However, the BDCP was abandoned in 2015 in favor of two new, independent programs: EcoRestore and California WaterFix (popularly known as the twin tunnels). Rather than adopt a new policy on conveyance, the council...
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