On a stronger path to Zero Trash

Stormwater pollution

On November 19, the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board approved a stronger set of regulations for protecting water quality in our creeks and the Bay. The Municipal Regional Stormwater Permit regulates the untreated water that flows through the storm drains of Bay Area cities. This permit is one of our best tools for preventing the flow of trash from city streets into the Bay.

Trash in stormwater has been regulated since 2009 

In the Bay Area, trash has only been regulated as a pollutant in stormwater since 2009, when the Water Board adopted the first stormwater permit. The landmark 2009 permit established a timeline for cities to reduce trash in their stormwater system by 40% from 2009 levels by 2014, 70% by 2017, and a full 100% by 2022. As a part of this process, cities were required to evaluate their jurisdictions and made maps indicating how much trash is generated in each part of the city, and were required to identify and remedy trash hot spots, or creek and Bay shoreline locations where trash accumulates.

The 2009 regulations came about as a direct result of intense advocacy on the part of Save The Bay, our supporters, and other regional organizations. Bay Area cities have now had more than five years to develop and implement plans to keep trash out of their stormwater. Now that the Water Board has adopted a stronger policy, we have an opportunity to reflect on the challenges and successes of the last five years in order to chart a more productive path towards Zero Trash.

How have we done so far? 

Progress towards the stormwater permit’s zero trash requirement has been inconsistent, and it is unlikely that our region achieved the first milestone in the permit—a 40% reduction in trash by July 2014. While cities have implemented a variety of solutions, many trash problems remain. The City of Oakland, for example, beefed up their capacity to respond to illegal dumping —a major source of trash in the city. Their program removed over 34,000 cubic yards of illegally dumped trash in the last year, preventing a huge amount of trash from flowing in to storm drains and out to the Bay. However, a solution to the persistent trash problem in downtown Oakland remains elusive, which means trash from this area continues to flow into local waterways on a regular basis.

Cities are still struggling with monitoring programs to track their progress towards zero trash. Without adequate data it is impossible to say if the region is on track to achieve zero trash or if our cities need to implement more effective solutions. The City of Vallejo claims to have cut trash in half, but provides little data demonstrating that their trash reduction efforts are working. Meanwhile, the city still has hundreds of acres of trashy area to address over the next few years. An ongoing challenge will be to balance cities’ efforts to remove trash from their creeks with the need to prevent trash from reaching creeks in the first place. Actions to prevent trash from entering storm drains should be prioritized, but we also want to encourage cleanup efforts to prevent creek trash from flowing into the Bay and threatening wildlife.

Despite the challenges we face on the way to achieving the zero trash goal, the original timeline of zero trash by 2022 still stands. It’s important that the cities and citizens of the Bay Area take this goal seriously, as delays in reducing trash levels will only have damaging impacts on the health of the San Francisco Bay.

The New Permit and Next Steps 

Save The Bay advocated for many improvements to the stormwater permit based on the last five years of successes and challenges. The version adopted this week is a stronger step towards zero trash.

The new permit includes an additional benchmark for trash reduction, which requires cities to demonstrate an 80% reduction in trash by 2019. It also includes a provision for cities to establish monitoring programs in their creeks—in addition to their urban areas—so they can see how much of an effect their efforts at on-land cleanup have had on the creeks themselves.

The revised permit will still require zero trash by 2022. Eliminating trash flows to the Bay over the next 7 years is a big goal, but one that is frankly long overdue. We want the Bay Area to be a leader in eliminating stormwater pollution, and the new stormwater permit will help to ensure we achieve this goal.

With stronger regulations in place, Save The Bay will be working closely with local cities to ensure that we meet these ambitious goals. It’s going to take all of us. If you haven’t already, sign the Zero Trash Pledge and we’ll keep you updated about how to make sure that our region gets to zero trash.

Planting begins at Oro Loma

Oro Loma
Volunteers planted 3,200 native seedlings at the Oro Loma Horizontal Levee Project. Save The Bay will plant 70,000 seedlings at this site over the coming months.

Last weekend, over fifty volunteers gathered at the Oro Loma Sanitary District treatment plant in San Lorenzo to kick off an ambitious burst of planting activity in a soon-to-be restored wetland.  Participants included a contingent of local college students, parents and their teenage children, and a few veteran helpers.  Equipped with trowels and picks, attendees placed 3,200 plants into a plot of soil next to the sewage treatment plant.

Though the plants were all put in the ground in about an hour, an enormous amount of planning went into how they were selected and configured.  Save The Bay’s habitat restoration team has been working for over a year to cultivate several palettes of wetland plants that will be planted next to each other.  They will become part of a scientific experiment exploring what combination of plants and soils can best filter excess nutrients from the treated wastewater that will be pumped in from the adjacent sewage plant.

A new kind of levee

This is exciting, because if this pilot project is successful, it could be replicated elsewhere as a means of naturally improving water quality, providing needed habitat for sensitive species, and forming a more durable barrier to flooding from storms and sea level rise.  This horizontal levee is an alternative to steep earthen or rock walls that traditionally separate the Bay from vulnerable land — this marsh will gently slope upwards, enabling it to better adapt to rising tides.

After the planting was completed, participants joined the public open house being hosted by the Oro Loma Sanitary District.  Horizontal levee project scientists and treatment plant workers were on hand to give tours, and Save The Bay staff answered questions about their work.  Also present were local elected officials, representatives of the Castro Valley Sanitary District, which co-owns the treatment plant, as well as UC Berkeley researchers who will analyze the filtering capacity of the wetland once it is operational.

Over the next two months, our goal is to put in 70,000 plants at this site.  If this project sounds interesting and you’d like to pitch in, you’re in luck!  Save The Bay will be hosting 3 more volunteer planting workdays at Oro Loma, on November 21, December 5, and December 12.  Click here to volunteer!

Giving thanks for healing at the edge of the Bay

Donna sailing
Donna has discovered the healing power of San Francisco Bay. The shoreline supported her recovery and now she loves sailing out on the Bay.

We live busy and often chaotic lives.  Over seven million people live in the Bay area. Our freeways are crowded and busy—and so are our grocery stores, our restaurants and the details of our daily lives.  We are inundated with technology and media vying for our attention.  Many of us escape to nature to find solitude and to recapture a sense of place and belonging that is free from busyness.

The ocean, salt marshes, and the Bay have always been places that bring me a sense of calm and peace, and their beauty and solitary nature appeal to my inner introvert.  As the director of our Habitat Restoration Program at Save The Bay, I’ve been privileged to share the experience of the beauty of the Bay with our volunteers, many of whom are discovering our shorelines for the first time.  I always hope that this experience enriches their lives and opens a door of escape from a busy world.

In a few weeks, it will be one year since I was diagnosed with cancer.  Those of you who have been diagnosed with a serious illness know that it is a chaotic time and that everything seems out of control.   Having worked as a salt marsh ecologist for the last 10 years I’ve come to rely on areas near the water when I need a sense of peace and calm.  I live in Richmond near the Bay Trail so it was only natural for me to look to the Bay as a place of refuge.  Exercise under a doctor’s supervision can be an integral part of a cancer treatment plan, and I found it extremely helpful during my treatment—both physically and mentally to take daily walks along the Bay’s edge.  I live within a short walking distance of the Bay Trail and walks along this path became a part of my strategy to maintain the routine of my life.  I set small goals each day for mileage along the trail and was able to celebrate those small victories each day.

Healing through nature

As I charted my path forward, I relied on family, friends and coworkers to help me through the experience, but I also relied heavily on the experience of being outside and away from all that I associated with being sick.   I was so grateful for the steady rhythm of the waves and the sounds of the wind and of the birds along the shore which daily released me from the chaos in my mind associated with treatment, distracted me from the discomforts of my body, and gave me a chance to focus on things of external beauty.

There is documented research on the power of nature to heal, both physically and emotionally, and many online resources focus on nature’s therapeutic benefits. The days I spent walking or even sitting at the edge of the Bay were instrumental in my healing process I often reeled from the mental chaos and the physical destruction of my body due to the effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, but the time I spent listening to the wind and the waves and watching birds and small animals was relaxing and healing.  Sitting in the sun at the edge of the bay gave me an enormous sense of peace and calm, and on many days it soothed my soul and allowed me to focus on the gratitude for all of those who walked with me on that journey.  I often sat quietly on a bench at the edge of the bay for an hour or two at a time, allowing both my body and mind precious time to relax and heal and to experience peace.

I am happy to say that I have successfully finished treatment and am recovering well.  I am still walking along the edge of the bay, but I’m now able to sail and to ride my bike along the trail again too.  I continue to look to the water as a place of refuge and healing and I have a renewed zeal for bringing our volunteers to the edge of the bay in hopes that they can experience it as a place that can provide them an option for a place of refuge.  I wish health and happiness for each of you and I hope that you too can think of a place in nature for which you are grateful and that inspires and nurtures you.

Take time this holiday season to reconnect with that place and allow yourself to experience the beauty of nature and the power it has to restore your body and heal your soul. 

A Day in the Life of a Communications Volunteer

The immediacy of social media can make it seem like an arbitrary and random content generator, when in reality many of the articles, photos, and tweets you see were planned in advance. Not only do these platforms allow us to share news and actions related to our cause, but they also provide an open channel to engage with people who support our work and care about the Bay. What is it like to have that responsibility?

When I get to the Save the Bay office on Monday morning, the first thing I do before opening any email is check my Facebook and Twitter pages. In fact, I check them constantly throughout the day, right after getting notifications for new likes, comments, or mentions. I even check them in front of staff–but it’s not what you think. What do we say? When? And how? These aren’t the easiest questions at 9am, and timing is the extra ingredient when figuring them out. In the morning I scan through recent news, filtering which stories could be shared throughout the week. I research facts about San Francisco Bay. I search for photos or other media to accompany them. I go through past blog posts–our archive is extensive–and try to determine what’s been said in our recent past that would be relevant to mention today. The list goes on–the pool of things to say is vast. But the next best part is: how to condense each of those pieces into a few sentences that will capture the timeliness of that moment and connect it to Save The Bay’s mission. It can be a huge challenge to figure out what that context is, but once I’m able to unite those connections (along with the help of an extra editorial eye), the return is more than rewarding. At the same time, we are always curious and eager to shine the social media spotlight on our colleagues. The Communications team keeps an ear to the ground for the Restoration, Policy and Development teams for blog ideas and keeping up with their important milestones and events. We mix their work with perspectives from our volunteers, some of whom are our most vocal supporters whose fresh experiences at our restoration sites and clean-up events remind us why we are involved with Save The Bay in the first place.

Some of the most engaging work I’ve been involved has been on Instagram, encouraging users to contribute photos to our #MyBayPhoto stream. They come from various backgrounds and relationships with the Bay, and they offer another element of appreciation and involvement beyond Save The Bay’s vision. While most of our followers are familiar with the organization in the past, Instagram allows us to be in tune with their visual point of view that we don’t often see when we are all in the midst of our work. I highly encourage you to have our account on your radar and show us how you’re involved with the Bay!

Find out how you can help Save The Bay through the Office Fellowship Program and apply by December 8!

Former staff – where are they now?

For over 50 years, Save The Bay’s work has been driven by talented and visionary leaders who are committed to improving our environment. Our storied history and esteemed accomplishments have attracted talented staff members who do great work for San Francisco Bay. Many of our former staff go on to contribute their skills to the broader environmental movement with other organizations. We recently caught up with a few former Bay Savers to ask them about what they’ve been up to since leaving Save The Bay.

reid and gore
Darcie pictured with Sen. Harry Reid and former Vice President Al Gore.

Darcie Goodman Collins, PhD
Former Habitat Restoration Director at Save The Bay 
Current Executive Director of The League to Save Lake Tahoe 

For almost four years, after leaving Save The Bay, I have been leading an effort to protect an important waterbody inland from the Bay. As the Executive Director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe (aka Keep Tahoe Blue) I lead a team of 16- working to advocate, educate and collaborate to protect Lake Tahoe.

Established in 1957 by a group of concerned citizens from the Bay Area, Tahoe and elsewhere, the League to Save Lake Tahoe shares many similarities and founding members with Save The Bay. The group’s biggest initial victory was stopping an extensive development plan that would have allowed a bridge across Emerald Bay and large urban areas surrounding the Lake.

Our current campaigns are combating pollution, tackling invasive species, protecting our shorelines and promoting restoration. We approach these campaigns through our community engagement, citizen science and advocacy programs. Many of these programs are newly created and were a direct result of the influence and impact of working with the successful programs at Save The Bay. I am grateful to translate the lessons I learned at Save The Bay to the work we are doing in Tahoe to protect the Lake!

Njambi now leads a team of grassroots organizers with Greenpeace USA.

Njambi Good
Former Chief Strategy Officer at Save The Bay
Current Senior Director for Grassroots Engagement at Greenpeace USA

I now work at Greenpeace USA and am their senior director for Grassroots Engagement.  I work with a team of about 25 organizers around the country that are tasked with engaging, developing and mobilizing volunteer leaders around Greenpeace’s priority campaigns. As a global organization running myriad campaign projects ranging from preventing climate change, to stopping drilling in the Arctic, to working to achieve a more equitable democracy in the US, each day is very full, dynamic, and challenging. The teams I manage include organizers working with students around the country, staff leading critical campaign fights on climate change in communities all over the US, and movement building specialists whose focus is to help other smaller grassroots organizations campaign on climate justice.

I really both enjoyed and learned a lot from my time at Save the Bay. Save the Bay is able to successfully work on a variety of campaign projects, beyond what you would expect for an organization of its size. And it was wonderful to be working at an organization with such an empowering grassroots organizing history and legacy.  It was so motivating to be able to get out to our restoration sites and to be able to both participate in the restoration and get to see how meaningful that experience was for hundreds of volunteers. I still feel very committed to the mission of Save the Bay, and want to stay connected as a volunteer and donor.