State Plan Doubles Down on Alignment

State Plan Doubles Down on Alignment

By Cariad Hayes Thronson The California Water Plan Update 2018—released by the Department of Water Resources in July—is meant to guide state policy and investment over the next 50 years to maximize the benefits squeezed out of every drop of the water supply. The timing of Update 2018 is fortuitous. In April, Governor Newsom ordered the California Natural Resources Agency, California Environmental Protection Agency, and California Department of Food and Agriculture to develop a portfolio of water resilience strategies. “There’s...
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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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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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Permitting Opens a Fast Lane

By Cariad Hayes Thronson “Innovating in government is easiest done when there are incentives,” says Brad McCrea of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission. The Bay Restoration Regulatory Integration Team, which begins accepting applications this fall, has been designed to accelerate the pace at which large-scale projects find their path to funding through the daunting thicket of permit applications and regulatory approvals. The Team consists of one staff member from each of the six state and federal regulatory agencies involved...
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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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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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Widening Gyre of Ocean Challenges

By Alastair Bland Last year, researches working with SF State’s Estuary and Ocean Science Center installed an array of instruments to track underwater parameters. John Largier, a UC Davis professor of oceanography, says he expects clear trends and patterns indicative of warming and acidifying waters to become apparent in the data in about a decade. With nations making painfully slow progress in reducing their emissions of greenhouse gases, Largier thinks local efforts to boost the resiliency of the Bay ecosystem...
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Choppy Waters for Flow Rules

By Cariad Hayes Thronson The winter kicked off with the State Water Resources Control Board’s December vote to adopt increased flow objectives for the southern Delta. The vote provoked an immediate volley of lawsuits, both from water users and from environmental organizations. The water users claim that the required flows would be an unconstitutional waste, while the environmental groups argue the plan doesn’t go far enough to restore endangered fish populations. Overshadowing the discussions are the vigorous efforts by the...
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Haggles over the what, where, and when of Delta conservation got a reset this January with the state’s release of a new collaborative framework focused on opportunities, not species.

The California Department of Fish & Wildlife’s new Delta Conservation Framework tries to fill the vision vacuum left by former Governor Brown’s early pivot away from the 2013 Bay-Delta Conservation Plan, a plan that touched in some shape or way on 160,000 acres of the Delta. “It was too big and too unwieldy for people to manage, and there were too many questions about its effects, and how it would be implemented – particularly as it related to the Delta...
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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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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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