Wetlands or Sea Walls – Preparing for Sea Level Rise

Bay Area homes stand below water level behind levee
Even without the significant impacts of sea level rise, communities like Redwood Shores are already
at risk of flooding during high tides.
(December 14, 2012 – Photo Credit: Matt Leddy)

Climate change has been in the news a lot lately with the President’s climate change speech, Rolling Stone’s Rising Seas: A City-by-City Forecast article, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s $20 billion plan to defend New York City from the effects of global warming.  However, while the scientific community, the media, and political leaders are calling for action, a recent poll shows that Americans are relatively unconcerned about global climate change.

Though sea level rise and flooding pose significant threats here in the Bay Area, we don’t seem to think of global climate change as a threat to our safety.  For years we’ve heard about climate change as something that will affect us in the future.  The fact is, the real effects of climate change are already well-underway.

According to National Geographic, sea level has already risen by 4-8 inches in the past century and is predicted to rise another 12-18 inches by 2050 and 21-55 inches by 2100.  Sea level rise will impact our shoreline and at-or-below sea level communities throughout the San Francisco Bay Delta Region (check out this map showing which areas could be inundated by even a 1 meter sea level rise).

We can’t prevent sea level riseEven if we were able to stop producing greenhouse gases tomorrow, the high concentration of carbon dioxide built up in the atmosphere will keep us on a trajectory that will take at least the next hundred years to slow or reverse.  As the President said in his speech, “it’s like tapping the brakes of a car before you come to a complete stop and then can shift into reverse.”  To combat global warming, we must both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and plan for the inevitable effects of climate change, including sea level rise.

While the President spoke of building stronger, more resilient infrastructure like seawalls and hardened power grids, water systems, and fuel supplies, he also recognized that we must “protect the dunes and wetlands that pull double duty as green space and as natural storm barriers.”  A study published on Monday found that natural defenses like reefs, dunes, and marshes are key to protecting lives and property against storm surges and sea-level rise.

Wetlands act as sponges, slowing down and soaking up huge volumes of water during storms and tidal surges.  They also prevent erosion by slowing down runoff and holding sediment in place.  Here in the Bay, wetland restoration is a cost-effective way to help reduce the impacts of sea level rise on developed shoreline areas.  We’ve been working towards a goal of 100,000 acres of healthy wetlands for years, but the lack of steady, reliable funding to implement wetland restoration opportunities is the greatest obstacle to success.

San Francisco Bay has consistently received disproportionately low federal investment compared to other significant bodies of water like Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound.  In response, Congresswoman Jackie Speier and Senator Dianne Feinstein have introduced the San Francisco Bay Restoration Act to create a five year program to fund crucial Bay restoration work.  Help prepare our region for sea level rise: take action to secure federal funding for San Francisco Bay wetland restoration and flood protection.

Pamper Mother Nature this Mother’s Day

Mother and daughter planting native seedlings
Show your love for Mother Nature this Mother’s Day.
Photo Credit: Dan Sullivan

For most of you, this week’s to do list includes buying chocolate, flowers, and cards for the mothers in your life.  After all, mothers deserve a special day of recognition for everything they do for us.  But what about Mother Nature?

Mother Nature provides a myriad of incredible benefits that we all enjoy and usually take for granted (sound familiar moms?).  Scientists remind us that Mother Nature regulates climate, purifies water, grows food, and provides energy without asking for much in return.  And just like our own moms, Mother Nature’s beauty is truly unparalleled.

If you are a mom, or if you know a mom, you know what it takes to provide for just one family.  Mother Nature supports an estimated 8.7 million species!  The San Francisco Bay alone supports more than 400 species of wildlife.

So while you are showing your Mom some love this week, show Mother Nature some love too:  live green and volunteer to protect and restore our own amazing bit of Mother Nature, the San Francisco Bay.

TAKE ACTION:  Sign up to volunteer to restore our wetlands or volunteer to help us spread the word!

Volunteering to Restore Critical Wetlands

Save The Bay is committed to re-establishing the 100,000 acres of wetlands essential for a healthy Bay.

As the heart and lungs of San Francisco Bay, wetlands fulfill a central role in community and environmental health.  They provide vital habitat, supporting over 500 species of fish and wildlife, from the smallest microorganisms to the largest of seals.  Scientists agree that the Bay needs 100,000 acres of tidal wetlands to thrive, but as of today less than half that number exists.  It is to that end that Save The Bay is working tirelessly, hosting weekly volunteer based community restoration events, to re-establish the 100,000 acres of wetlands essential for a healthy Bay.

I recently attended one of Save The Bay’s volunteer events, which offer local residents the opportunity to have a direct impact on the health of their Bay and community.  This particular event occurred at Save The Bay’s native plant nursery on the Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Regional Shoreline, a part of the East Bay Regional Park District, located in Oakland.  The Shoreline includes the mouths of five major creek systems and protects some of the last remaining wetland habitat in the East Bay, including Damon Slough and beautiful Arrowhead Marsh. This 50-acre marsh provides habitat to a host of species, including the burrowing owl and the endangered California clapper rail, and is a stopover on the Pacific Flyway.  The only sounds to be heard during the volunteer event that day came from an assemblage of gulls and terns nearby.  There were intermittent bird calls as well as the occasional splash of a tern diving into the water looking to catch its next meal.  It was an otherwise very quiet and peaceful day, with a soft breeze coming off the Bay.  It was like a scene straight out of Henry Beston’s The Outermost House.

Over the course of the afternoon the team of 15 volunteers planted 75 native seedlings along the shoreline, including Blue Eyed Grass, California Poppy, Naked Buckwheat, and Mugwort, and we transplanted approximately 200 stems of the Alkali Bulrush plant.  We removed invasive weeds to give native plants like the California Sagebrush, Western Goldenrod, and Marsh Baccharis more space to grow and thrive.  We also made sure that all of the flowers and plants received plenty of water, which was especially important considering the lack of rain over the winter.  Not too bad for an afternoon’s work. Each of the activities we completed that day was an invaluable part of achieving Save The Bay’s goals for restoring the Bay.

As the day came to a close I thought to myself how great it was to see a group of volunteers, consisting of strangers of various ages and ethnicities, coming together to work on such a critical project.  It was also very satisfying, personally, getting outside on a beautiful sunny day by the water, gaining some extra knowledge about wetland habitats, and helping in a tangible way to restore and protect the Bay.

Join us for one of our weekly volunteer events!


San Francisco Bay – A Wetland of International Importance

Beautiful Bay Wetland
The Bay needs 100,000 acres of wetlands like this
in order to thrive. Photo Credit: Douglas Atmore

Earlier this year, the San Francisco Bay/Estuary was named a “Wetland of International Importance” under the 1971 “Ramsar Convention.” The United States is one of 165 parties to the intergovernmental treaty which have committed to work towards the wise use of all their wetlands through national land-use planning, appropriate policies and legislation, and public education.

The San Francisco Bay/Estuary was designated a Wetland of International Importance for the range of ecological services it provides, including flood protection, water quality maintenance, nutrient filtration and cycling, and carbon sequestration, as well as its role as key habitat for a broad suite of flora and fauna, its hemispheric importance for hosting wintering shorebirds, and for being a renowned international tourism destination.

Historically, San Francisco Bay was a thriving estuary supporting thousands of plant and animal species.  However, since the mid 1800’s nearly 200,000 acres of Bay wetlands have been filled in, built over, or diked off from the tides.  By 1961, 90% of the Bay’s wetlands had disappeared.  Scientists agree that the Bay needs at least 100,000 acres of healthy wetland habitat to function effectively.  But as of 2012, only 45,000 acres exist.

Scientists from the United Nations and the White House also recommend wetland restoration as a strategy to fight global warming.  Tidal salt marshes capture carbon from greenhouse gases in the air and act as sponges, slowing down and soaking up large quantities of water.  This natural flood control will reduce the impact of future sea level rise, estimated at 20-55 inches by the end of the century, on our developed shoreline areas.   California’s Climate Adaptation Strategy predicts that around $100 billion in structures, their contents, and infrastructure may be at risk of inundation by 2100 and that the cost of constructing the necessary fortifications are likely to be substantial.

A local retired FEMA official warns that “in all flooding events, no levee system can provide full protection to the people and structures behind it, as shown to be the case when levees failed from Hurricane Katrina.”  Nearly 300,000 acres of Bay-Delta lands are already below sea level on land that continues to subside, and rely on an aging levee system.

Today we have an opportunity to make San Francisco Bay healthier for wildlife and safer for people by restoring our Bay wetlands.  Over 36,000 acres of shoreline property have already been acquired and await restoration, but it takes a village.  More than 5,000 volunteers work with Save the Bay annually to restore our Bay shorelines.

TAKE ACTION:  Sign up to volunteer to restore our wetlands or volunteer to help us spread the word!

Reconnecting With Nature

Crissy Field: my new happy place.

After living in New York City for 8 years I had accepted the notion that you need to give up an everyday connection with nature in order to live in a major city (and no, Central Park is not nature.)  Needless to say, I was excited for my cross-country move to San Francisco, a city that I had heard was much greener than New York, but I had no idea what was actually waiting for me when I arrived last September.  Crissy Field, a short distance from my new apartment, quickly became a favorite place in my new city, and I immediately realized that I had made the right decision leaving New York.

I grew up on the beaches of Cape Cod and had always longed to reconnect with the ocean during my years in New York.  I can happily say that I’ve rediscovered that connection at Crissy Field.  I love the views of the Bay, and of course the Golden Gate Bridge, but most of all I love the connection to nature that is so present there.  As I became a frequent visitor I learned more about the surprising history of my new favorite park.  It was once a military airfield and dump, causing it to be declared a “derelict concrete wasteland” by the National Park Service, but after an extensive restoration effort it is now a thriving coastal habitat and public open space.  The restored wetlands provide habitat for many fish, and over 100 species of birds have been seen in the area.  Thousands of volunteers worked together to restore this jewel that is a favorite destination for visitors and locals just like me.

When I dug a little deeper into restoration programs I discovered that Crissy Field is but one example of a much larger effort to restore San Francisco Bay.  Save The Bay is one organization leading that effort across the Bay Area, hosting weekly restoration projects that offer thousands of Bay Area residents the opportunity to interact with the Bay firsthand as volunteers.  There are currently 45,000 acres of healthy tidal wetlands throughout the Bay, and Save The Bay is committed to meeting the goal of 100,000 acres of restored habitat that are essential for a healthy Bay.  I was so inspired by their work that I decided to volunteer with them myself.  I’m excited to help make this area, my new home, healthier for people and wildlife for generations to come.