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.
Read more>>

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>>

Wonky Wednesday | Wetlands, Barrier Islands, and Oyster Reefs: Buffering the Next Superstorm

Long Island Barrier Island
This image was taken crossing over Fire Island from the Atlantic Ocean and approaching MacArthur Airport, Long Island, NY. Photo: Ken Konrad bluesguy682000@yahoo.com

Less than a day after Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, Gov. Chris Christie tweeted to his fellow New Jersey residents, “We will rebuild the Shore. It may not be the same, but we will rebuild.” Reality TV icon Snooki and her fellow cast members from “Jersey Shore” followed suit, joining a large fundraising effort to rebuild the boardwalks and amusement parks that define New Jersey’s coastal communities. Christie’s firm pledge and Snooki’s fundraising efforts are evidence of the human capacity to be resilient in the wake of Sandy.

Yet we must look to the causes of the disaster and adapt to the changing conditions of our climate and our rising oceans. Are there places that just don’t make sense for development?

Rewind human history a couple hundred years and we find that the New Jersey shoreline, now filled to the ocean’s edge with beach bungalows, theme parks, and mansions with oceanfront views, was once void of development and rimmed with vast acres of wetlands, strings of small barrier islands, and offshore oyster reefs. These ecological gems are nature’s solution to storm events, protecting the mainland from erosion and flooding.

Wetlands are the lungs of the ocean, absorbing large volumes of water runoff during rainstorms and tidal inflow. Barrier islands act as flexible walls that separate the mainland from the sea, changing shape in response to storms, tides, and winds as they minimize the force of these natural events. Oyster reefs attenuate storm energy, slowing down waves before they hit land. While these ecological barriers have slowly disappeared over the past two centuries due to fill, water pollutants, and large-scale developments, their value has only increased.

In New Jersey, along with so many heavily-urbanized coastal regions – such as the San Francisco Bay Area – the lack of sufficient natural barriers to storm surges is in need of serious attention.  New Jersey is the country’s most densely populated state, with 60% of its 8.6 million residents living along its coastline – including more than 236,000 people within 5 feet of the high-tide line. With sea levels expected to rise by 15 inches by 2050, the number of people that are impacted by heavy storms – not to mention large scale disasters like Sandy – will increase exponentially.

Hurricane Sandy is our second loud wake-up call, coming only 7 years after Hurricane Katrina. If we are to survive the future of rising seas and intense storms, our relationship to Mother Nature must change from coercion and command to adaption and flexibility. Preserving and restoring our natural buffers – wetlands, barrier islands, coral reefs and more – is one of the best tools we have available.


Wonky Wednesday | Picturing Sandy, the Storm

Sandy flooding
Photo of flooded taxis in Hoboken, New Jersey. Credit: flickr.com/ThatHartfordGuy

From afar, Hurricane Sandy gave rise to many amazing images of devastation. Two that stuck me were a photograph of a shoreline roller coaster that is now submerged, and a fanciful vision of what lower Manhattan might look like if it were protected by wetlands.

My colleagues have written on this blog over the past week about the threat to the Bay Area from a similar storm, as well as the benefits all around San Francisco Bay from wetland restoration that is currently in progress.

The communities hammered by this latest huge storm face hard questions. The Governor of New York is beginning to talk about building a sea wall to hold back the Atlantic Ocean, which would cost tens of billions of dollars. (Of course, damage to just a single NY hospital is estimated at $1 billion.) New Jersey’s coastal communities are considering their options after spending tons of money replenishing tons of sand on mile after mile of artificially maintained coastline.

When viewed in light of this information, these two images frame a profound story about the risks from unregulated shoreline development and the potential benefits from wetlands to buffer our valuable shoreline infrastructure.

Here in the Bay Area, as spelled out in this blog post, we have the space to restore wetlands, and Save The Bay has pointed the way towards a plan to get this work done soon. Stay tuned.

Weekly Roundup November 9, 2012

weekly roundupSanta Clara voters passed Save The Bay-endorsed Measure B on Tuesday, which will speed restoration of the San Francisco Bay shoreline and provide money for flood control and water improvements for another 15 years. In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, the East Coast is looking into ways to protect itself from future events. From giant sea walls to marshes around Manhattan Island, nothing is off the table. Here in the Bay Area, we are beginning the process of long-range planning for similarly severe storms and sea level rise. Meanwhile, out in the marshes, migratory birds have begun to arrive in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys, where they will spend their winters. And permanent Bay resident, the endangered California Clapper Rail is increasing in numbers along the Martin Luther King Regional Shoreline, as a result of habitat restoration by Save The Bay and the East Bay Regional Parks District.

Silicon Valley Mercury News 11/6/2012
Santa Clara County $548 million parcel tax for flood protection, water cleanup and projects approved
Santa Clara County voters passed a $548 million parcel tax to fund flood control, environmental cleanup and other water projects at the Santa Clara Valley Water District.

KQED 11/6/2012
How a Sandy-Type Storm Could Short-Circuit Silicon Valley
First the good news: The Bay Area has plans in place for a storm as big and bad as Sandy.
Now the bad news: Planning is about as far as it goes. We haven’t built new levees or seawalls, moved electrical equipment higher up, or relocated much of anything out of the flood plain.
Read more>>

Bay Nature 11/8/2012
In age of superstorms, Bay Area prepares for every inch of water
With the Northeast still reeling from the affects of superstorm Sandy, there’s been quite a bit of chatter out here on the Pacific about our own vulnerabilities to large tropical storms in the age of climate change.
Read more>>

The New York Times 11/3/2012
Protecting the City, Before Next Time
If, as climate experts say, sea levels in the region have not only gradually increased, but are also likely to get higher as time goes by, then the question is: What is the way forward ?

San Francisco Chronicle 11/7/2012
Birds arriving at north-state wetlands
On a flooded rice field in remote Yuba County, a small flock of tundra swan ended their long journey this week and settled in the water in front of us. Off to our right, about 100 snow geese bobbed about.
Read more>>

KALEV 11/5/2012
Saving the California Clapper Rail
In the Gold Rush era, California Clapper Rails were hunted by the thousands.
Today, habitat loss is equally fatal to this secretive bird, one of the largest rails, measuring 13-to-19 inches from the tip of its bill to the tip of its tail.