Louisiana Big Oil Lawsuit Underscores Importance of Wetlands

Flooding in the Bay area
A Bay area resident drives through a flooded parking
lot near the Bothin Marsh in Marin. December 14, 2012.
Photo Credit: Sarah Craig

Wetlands are in the national spotlight after a New Orleans levee authority filed a lawsuit against nearly 100 oil and gas companies.  The lawsuit asserts that these companies are partially responsible for the loss of thousands of acres of wetlands that serve as a natural buffer against flooding from hurricanes.

The Louisiana coast was severely impacted by the Gulf Oil Spill in 2010, but even before the spill the marsh was a shadow of its old self.  Oil and gas exploration and development have carved an expansive network of canals and channels into the wetlands, preventing natural sedimentation and allowing for saltwater intrusion.  As a result, the wetland vegetation that has held the coast together for centuries has been dying, allowing the remaining bare soil to literally wash away into the Gulf of Mexico.  Louisiana has lost approximately 1,900 miles of coastal land over the last 100 years and could lose another 700 square miles over the next 50 years if no new restoration takes place.

The levee authority is responsible for the multibillion dollar system of gates, walls, and armored levees that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  The authority’s lawsuit asserts that “the increased storm surge risk resulting from the extensive and continuing land loss in southeast Louisiana … has required, and will continue to require, increased flood protection at increasingly high cost.”

Here in the Bay Area, around 187,000 acres of wetlands have been filled in or diked off over the last 150 years.  Even without hurricanes, many Bay area communities are at or below sea level and are already at risk of flooding, a risk that will continue to rise with the sea level (the highest tides each year already flood many Bay Area communities).  Many of the existing levees protecting these communities were built more than 100 years ago and were not engineered to meet federal flood standards.  Wetland restoration is a cost-effective way to help reduce the impacts of sea level rise and protect our communities from flooding.

Two things you can do for our local wetlands today:

1)  Take action to secure federal funding for San Francisco Bay wetland restoration and flood protection.

2)  Volunteer to restore natural wetland habitats by hand at one of our programs around the Bay.

Weekly Roundup | July 19, 2013

Check out this week’s Weekly Roundup for breaking news affecting San Francisco Bay.

InsideBayArea: Oakland Tribune 7/16/13
Sixteen new park sites considered by East Bay Regional Parks
The East Bay Regional Park District is considering 16 potential park sites in a blueprint for expansion into new areas along the hills, valleys and shorelines of Alameda and Contra Costa counties. The park board will vote Tuesday afternoon on its master plan, a set of long-term goals and policies. The plan positions EBRPD to continue an aggressive land buying program fueled by voter-approved bond measures of $225 million in 1988 and $500 million in 2008.
Read more>>

National Geographic 7/14/13
New Map Shows Where Nature Protects U.S. Coast                newspaper
Americans looking to buy seaside property would do well to study the first ever nationwide map showing how and where natural habitats like reefs and vegetation best protect coastal residents from rising seas and catastrophic storms like last year’s Hurricane Sandy. (See “Hurricane Sandy Pictures: Floods, Fire, Snow in the Aftermath.”)
Shoreline engineering like seawalls can be effective but also expensive, environmentally undesirable, and a detriment to tourism and seaside recreation. But conserving and restoring nature’s own coastal habitats can also help save lives.
Read more>>

Phys.org 7/14/13
Habitat loss doubles coastal flood impact, study says
Removing mangroves, marshes, reefs, forests, dunes and other natural defences doubles the risk for life and property from coastal floods, a US climate study said on Sunday. In the most detailed analysis of the risks facing Americans from rising seas, researchers led by Katie Arkema at Stanford University in California built a computer model of coasts in the continental United States.
“Today, 16 percent of the US coastline comprises ‘high hazard’ areas harbouring 1.3 million people, (including) 250,000 elderly (and) 30,000 families below the poverty line, and $300 billion (230 billion euros) in residential property value,” the study said.
Read more>>

Contra Costa Times 7/10/13
El Cerrito plan to ban plastic bag advances
The city’s citizen Environmental Quality Committee gave its blessing July 9 to a proposal that would ban single-use plastic bags and styrene containers for takeout food, as well as a plan for the city to buy 7.5 acres in the hills to connect two city-owned areas of open space. El Cerrito is in the midst of a public comment period on the bag and container ordinance that ends Monday, after which the City Council will consider a first draft when it meets Aug. 20.
Read more>>

CNN 7/17/13
Panetta: Don’t take oceans for granted
Oceans are a tremendous economic engine, providing jobs for millions of Americans, directly and indirectly, and a source of food and recreation for countless more. Yet, for much of U.S. history, the health of America’s oceans has been taken for granted, assuming its bounty was limitless and capacity to absorb waste without end. This is far from the truth.
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Smithsonian 7/15/13
High CO2 Spurs Wetlands to Absorb More Carbon
Under elevated carbon dioxide levels, wetland plants can absorb up to 32 percent more carbon than they do at current levels, according to a 19-year study published in Global Change Biology from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Md. With atmospheric CO2 passing the 400 parts-per-million milestone this year, the findings offer hope that wetlands could help soften the blow of climate change.
 Read more>>

Weekly Roundup January 25, 2013

weekly roundupThough scientists are saying that storms like Sandy are the “new normal” the public has not lost its appetite for shoreline living. As rebuilding continues apace, some are asking how long we can afford to subsidize and protect developments along our nation’s shoreline. The San Francisco Waterfront is not as immune to this threat as development plans in the city might indicate. Sutro Sam, the river otter living in the ruins of Sutro Baths is indeed cute, but the public should know that otters are wild animals that may bite. So don’t get too close! The abundant herring run in San Francisco this year is not only great for hungry birds, but it’s also a sign of improved water quality in the Bay after the fishery collapsed following the Cosco Busan spill. However, fisheries managers are concerned about the lack of older fish in this year’s run. Save The Bay hosted an epic group of volunteers at MLK Shoreline on Martin Luther King Day. Nearly 800 plants were put in the ground—a great effort toward our goal of 30,000 plants for the season.

San Francisco Chronicle 1/18/2013
Is Rebuilding in Hurricane Zones Wise?
Denise Tortorello, a real estate agent at Riviera Realty in Point Pleasant, N.J., said she can’t tell yet where property values are headed since Hurricane Sandy demolished a string of beach towns built on a slender strip of barrier islands in the Atlantic. “I’m sitting in my office, and I’m looking at the National Guard right outside out my window,” she said. On a December day, the temperature outside was 65 degrees.
Read more>>

San Francisco Bay Guardian 1/22/2013
Sea Level Rise and Development in SF
Naval bases, power plants, ports, highways – trillions of dollars of investment – sit on U.S. coasts because it once made sense to put them there. As people flocked to the shores, tiny beach towns became cities. Congress is hardly maintaining roads and bridges; its appetite for giant new sea walls around New York Harbor has yet to be tested.
Read more>>

One Earth Blog 1/21/2013
California’s Newest Star is Otterly Adorable—And a Biter
Does it sound like bragging when I say that I knew San Francisco’s celebrity otter before he was famous? A video posted on Bay Nature last fall led me to the Sutro Baths — a 19th-century swimming complex built on the coast and abandoned in the 1960s — in search of a male river otter who had been spotted hanging around the ruins. I headed out one day in early November, when the place was nearly deserted.

San Francisco Chronicle 1/24/2013
Lots of Herring Hit Bay Area
Great swirling schools of herring converged in San Francisco Bay this month, drawing fishermen, sea lions, harbor seals and thousands upon thousands of birds looking to fatten up for the winter.
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Bay Nature 1/23/2013
Planting in Memory of MLK
Save the Bay rounded up 100 or so volunteers on Monday to help out with planting high transition zone plants, the drought tolerant varieties that are considered “ecosystem engineers.” Not only do they can outcompete the nasty invasives and flourish in disturbed soil close to trails, they provide habitat during high tide events and filter pollutants and trash before they reach the San Francisco Bay.
Read more>>

Weekly roundup 1/4/13

A county-wide plastic bag ban went into effect in all 14 cities and unincorporated areas in Alameda County on January 1. Businesses and consumers alike took it all in stride. Meanwhile, Marin County looks back on its first year under a plastic bag ban and finds that the ban is working, with fewer plastic bags entering landfills and both consumers and businesses adjusting to the change easily. The Palo Alto Daly News posts a year in review and includes the withdrawal of Cargill/DMB’s Saltworks proposal calling it “polarizing.” And right next door, public access to the Bair Island restoration site is a bit closer, with construction of a pedestrian bridge kicking off and scheduled to be completed in March. Meanwhile, worries grow in East Palo Alto as the rainy season continues and the city declares a state of emergency, asking for $2.7 million in state funds to repair storm-damaged levees along San Francisquito Creek. Finally, this week’s cuteness award goes to Sam the River Otter who mysteriously appeared in ruins of the Sutro Baths in San Francisco. We dare you to look at the photos and not say, “Awww.”

weekly roundup

Contra Costa Times 1/2/13
Few Objections in Albany to Plastic Bag Ban
Alameda County’s ban on single-use plastic bags was a long time coming and was enacted, said Albany Councilwoman Joanne Wile, because of the negative effects the bags have on the environment, especially in the water.
“It started by looking at the effect on the environment, on streams, on sea life, the number of deaths that have occurred because sea animals that have ingested plastic bags,” she said. “It seemed like something we could manageably do, and other counties have done it.”

Marin Independent Journal 1/1/13
Marin Plastic Bag Ban Making a Difference after one Year
Kate Robertson hates plastic bags, and she wants you to know it. The Novato resident carries 10 recyclable bags in her car and says plastic is a leading cause of sea turtle mortality. Not surprisingly, she’s happy with the year-old ban on plastic grocery bags in unincorporated Marin — and she’s not alone.

Palo Alto Daily News 12/31/12
2012: A Year in Review with Daily News Photos
After three years of planning, Saltworks developer DMB Pacific Ventures in May withdrew its polarizing proposal to develop 1,400 acres of Cargill’s salt ponds in Redwood City. While opponents hoped the massive residential project had been killed, the company called the move nothing more than a timeout while seeking clarification on whether the project would need federal approvals from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency. A new application would be forthcoming, DMB said, but by the end of 2012, the project was still on hold.

Redwood City Patch 1/2/13
Crews Start Work on Bridge to Inner Bair Island
Construction has started on a new pedestrian bridge that will allow public access to the Inner Bair Island and trail.
In the latest development of the multi-year public access project for Bair Island, the bridge will be installed just before the entrance to Pete’s Harbor and will soon connect Bair Island Road to a newly restored Inner Island trail.

Palo Alto Daily News 1/3/13
East Palo Alto to Seek $2.7 Million from State to Shore up Flood-Damaged Levee
East Palo Alto officials announced Wednesday that the city will seek $2.7 million to repair and shore up a dirt levee that was breached and flooded over during last month’s torrential storms. “I want to reassure all of the residents along San Francisquito Creek that the work that we did … has been paying off and it’s holding up and there’s no immediate danger along the creek,” Mayor Ruben Abrica said at a City Hall news conference. “However … after further and more thorough assessment we have encountered additional damages, serious damages. So we’re concerned about the entire rainy season and we have two or three months left.”

San Francisco Chronicle 1/4/13
SF’s Only River Otter at Sutro Baths
Naturalists and wildlife aficionados are atwitter about the unexplained presence of a river otter at the ruins of Sutro Baths, the first of the furry mammals seen in San Francisco in at least a half century.
Read more>>

Increased Flooding: Coming to a City Near You

Earlier this month in Redwood City the high water levels during the King Tides event caused major flooding in several parts of town – soaking cars parked at a marina with several feet of water and restricting access and cancelling programs at the nearby San Mateo County Women’s Correctional Facility. CBS 5’s news team captured the story in their news segment above.

Increased flooding is not just something that will happen in the future as Bay water levels continue to rise. It is already happening now – with or without the King Tides. Just over a week after the extreme high tides left the Bay Area, headlines in the San Mateo County community of East Palo Alto announced that heavy rain mixed with the usual high tides caused flood water in San Francisquito Creek to overtop the levee in two places, forcing the evacuation of seven homes, and damaging one to the point of being uninhabitable.

Thankfully, workers from several agencies were able to get to the area quickly and perform emergency repairs, but city officials and residents know this is not the last they have heard from this tidal creek, which is notorious for flooding thousands of properties over the years. East Palo Alto is now checking with county and state officials to find funding for the repairs. Meanwhile, a multi-city, $17 million effort is underway for a more long-term fix.

This is just a snapshot of two of the over 100 cities that make up the Bay Area. As the CBS 5 story notes, San Mateo County has more property at risk from sea level rise than any other county in California, but that does not mean that the costs to other Bay Area counties will not also be enormous. The costs and impacts are widespread and quickly adding up.