What #Stormageddon Means for the Bay

Stormwater pollution storm drains rain water drought
As much as recent rainstorms have been a boon for parched landscapes across California, there is a dark side to all the wet stuff – trash and other pollution that collects in gutters, and in many cases, ends up flowing directly to creeks, rivers, and the Bay. Photo by Patrick Band

Although last week’s storm wasn’t quite all it was hyped up to be, it was still an impressive showing from Mother Nature. Some of the worst flooding occurred in the North Bay town of Healdsburg, where the Russian River jumped from a bucolic 700 cubic feet per second to a raging 40,000 cubic feet per second. Nevertheless, the flooding – which inundated downtown businesses – wasn’t caused by the river jumping its banks (it didn’t), but rather by smaller creeks and detention ponds becoming inundated so quickly. With over 6 inches of rain falling within 12-14 hours, there simply wasn’t anywhere for the water to go.

With forecasts calling for a series of smaller storms in coming days, it’s worth recapping what all the wet stuff means for California and the Bay in particular.

Trash

You’ve probably heard of First Flush – just as early season storms make roads treacherous because of all the accumulated oil and grime, big rains wash all of the plastic wrappers, cigarette butts, and random trash that accumulate in our urban environment and carry them in to the storm water system. With an estimated 3 billion cigarette butts littered around the Bay each year, that’s a whole lot of toxic trash!

We’ll be keeping an eye out during this weekend’s King Tides to see what washes up on the shores, and share out any interesting finds.

Water Supply

Despite the estimated 10 trillion gallons of water that fell across the state last week, most major reservoirs are barely above the half-way mark for the year. The state’s three largest reservoirs – Shasta, Oroville, and Trinity – are all below 55% of average storage for the year, and at roughly 30% of total capacity.

Jeffrey Mount, a senior fellow with the Public Policy Institute of California and well-regarded expert on climate and water issues put it well when speaking with KQED earlier in the week:

“Thursday it’ll rain, and people will say, ‘Oh, I’m very excited,’ and Saturday it’ll rain, and ‘Oh, drought’s over.’ Not even close. It’s going to take a lot of rain to break this drought.”

Sediment

It goes by all sorts of names – mud, silt, sand, gunk, soil, dirt. It’s both a bane to water quality that can ultimately lead to massive die-offs of species, and a necessary element to systems like the Bay where sediment accumulates along the shoreline and helps wetlands keep up with rising tides.

While the short-term increase in sediment may not make news in the Bay Area, statewide, there are some surprising results. Just an hour or so away in the Bay Delta, sediment loads are forcing pumping reductions of water to Central Valley farmers and Southern California. Turns out, the endangered Delta Smelt really enjoy muddy water, because it provides them a level of protection against predators. So paradoxically, Delta pump operators are cutting back at the exact time when flows are higher than they’ve been for years.

That spells good news for the Delta Smelt, and for the Bay.

Guest Blog | Rediscovering the Beauty and Fragility of the SF Bay from Above

Bay Area San Francisco Bay Flight Lighthawk
An aerial view of Arrowhead Marsh during the Lighthawk flight, by Janine Kraus

The diversity of the San Francisco Bay is most visible from an aerial view – from the South Bay salt ponds to the East Bay’s Arrowhead Marsh to the Sonoma Baylands. The Bay is so many things – wildlife preserve, transportation route, tranquil setting for millions of residents. Yet it is also a place threatened by pollution, rising sea levels, and development. Many do not know that one third of the San Francisco Bay had been filled in by the time Save The Bay was founded in 1961. Currently, only five percent of the Bay’s original wetlands remain.

Recently, I took flight in a small four-seater plane with Save The Bay’s CEO David Lewis and Janine Kraus to see first-hand the progress they have made in protecting our region’s most valuable asset. This flight was made possible by LightHawk, an organization that donates plane flights to nonprofits. Circling the bay from above gave me a new perspective on the beauty of our bay and the issues that continue to threaten it.

In the past 15 years, Philanthropic Ventures Foundation’s donors have provided more than $1 million in funding to Save The Bay to create a healthier bay. Their relentless conservation efforts have ensured that more than 44,000 acres of wetlands have been restored or are planning to be restored through a three-pronged approach that includes preventing development, improving water quality, and re-establishing tidal marsh.

It is our right as Bay Area residents to have a clean and healthy bay that can be enjoyed by all, and we are indebted to Save The Bay for its work over the years to fight for that right.

This was originally posted by Ashley Murphy on Philanthropic Ventures Foundation‘s blog. Read it here.  Aerial support provided by Lighthawk.

A Little Bit of the Bay at Mountain Lake

Save The Bay Presidio Trust Mountain Lake Restoration Volunteer
Our Save The Bay team at one of Presidio Trust’s restoration events at Mountain Lake. Photo by Nissa Kriedler.

This fall, Save The Bay’s Restoration Team had the opportunity to participate in one of the Presidio Trust’s restoration events at Mountain Lake in San Francisco as part of a workday trade. There our team had a chance to learn about freshwater wetlands both through hands-on invasive species removal around Mountain Lake and through a special lecture on wetland soils from UC Berkeley professor Stephen Andrews. In the coming months it will be our Restoration Team’s turn to host the Presidio Trust restoration crew for a day on the Bay, teaching them about salt marshes, and getting them dirty at one of our restoration sites. Rumor has it there may even be a Save The Bay vs. Presidio Trust softball game (I think we all know who would win)! In the end we will all be winners as we learn from one another and strengthen friendships with others working to improve the environment around the San Francisco Bay.

To try and catch the Presidio Trust team out with Save The Bay sign up for one of our restoration events today.

Three Questions for New Political Director Paul Kumar

San Francisco Bay Healthy Bay Political Director Paul Kumar
Our new Political Director Paul Kumar is working to engage local residents in establishing a healthy Bay. Photo by Rick Lewis

Last month, we welcomed Paul Kumar as Save The Bay’s new Political Director. We asked Paul a few questions about his vision for advocating for a thriving San Francisco Bay.

Why do you love San Francisco Bay?

I guess you could say I’ve had a lifelong love affair with bay regions and their ecology. I grew up in Harrisburg, PA on the Susquehanna River, which is the largest tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. In my teens I spent some very memorable summer weeks on the Eastern Shore of the bay itself, where I learned to appreciate the extraordinary richness and diversity of its marshes and wetlands,  and the complex web of aquatic and avian life they support. As an adult, before moving to the West Coast, I spent a decade living in New Haven, CT, on the shores of Long Island Sound, which I got to know and appreciate with greater scientific understanding that I gained from my friends working in water quality, wetlands restoration, and wilderness education programs. Fifteen years ago, when I had the opportunity to relocate to the San Francisco Bay area, it felt like the culmination of all my past history. The Bay is epically beautiful and fecund – people from all corners of globe come here to marvel at it, and its rich ecology is the wellspring of the world-changing social and economic development that have grown up around it, including the wisdom that led Save the Bay’s founders to launch the advocacy efforts and build the structure of governance capable of protecting and enhancing the Bay’s health for posterity.

What’s your vision for a healthy Bay?

San Francisco Bay is not a wilderness, but a critically important estuary located in the midst of a densely populated area that is projected to experience nearly 30% population growth by 2040. That makes it critical for us to have a vision for a healthy Bay that is not just driven by the science of preservation and restoration of wetlands and wildlife habitat, but that encompasses a vision of human interaction with the Bay, focused on ensuring that future economic development efforts and land-use plans are genuinely sustainable, avoiding encroachment on and discharge into waterways and transitional zones, and abating those problems where they already exist. In short, we need to establish a mutually beneficial relationship between the natural environment and the built environment, based on ecological consciousness.

Why is political advocacy important to protecting our Bay?

In an economy where growth and profit are the driving maxims, there will always be incentives to disregard the exploitation of the natural environment and externalize costs at its expense. While educating individuals and institutions on ecological values and practices is critically important to address these threats, that alone is insufficient. Protecting and enhancing our environment requires energized popular engagement and a deepening of democracy that expands people’s power over decisions that have significant impacts on our communities and the ecological systems that sustain them, which in our region means San Francisco Bay first and foremost. Political advocacy is our means to these ends, and after an election with record-low turnout that has placed Congress in the control of climate change deniers, it is impossible to overstate the importance of strong advocacy if we are to protect the environmental progress we have made and win additional advances rather than watch our achievements be rolled back.

3 Thanksgiving Dinner Icebreakers for a Less Awkward Holiday

Thanksgiving San Francisco Bay Conversation Icebreakers Pollution Bag Ban Plastic Industry Cigarette Butts
Don’t hide from your relatives this Thanksgiving! Our 3 icebreakers will impress everyone at your Thanksgiving table. Photo via Rick Lewis

No one should have to suffer through awkward conversation over a plate of roast turkey and green bean casserole. Because, let’s face it, many of us would give almost anything to escape your siblings’ arguments, or grandmother’s well-meant but still annoying nit-picking over what you’re doing with your life.

Instead, take control of your destiny this Thanksgiving with our list of conversation icebreakers. Break your family out of its Thanksgiving rut and get a healthy debate going by reaching for one of these conversation topics instead of your 5th helping of stuffing.

1. “Hey Grandma, have you heard about California’s horrific drought?”

For the well-connected lot of us, talk of Cali’s drought on social media and various news outlets around the country is hard to escape – and many of us have changed our ways to deal with it. But there are a surprising amount of people who don’t realize our state’s drought impacts everything from ski season in Tahoe to the food and wine on our Thanksgiving tables to the wildlife with which we share our resources. Now is not the time to be bashful when it comes to raising awareness about the drought. Despite recent rains, we need a lot more water. Check out these stark photos of the High Sierras that show the lack of snow.

2. “Did you guys know that 3 billion cigarette butts are littered in the Bay Area every year and many of them flow into San Francisco Bay?”

Your Aunt Margaret still smokes? That’s okay –she probably knows she should quit anyway. Just make sure she knows that cigarette butts are one of the worst pollutants threatening the health of San Francisco Bay, as an affectionate reminder that her butts should end up in trashcans, not the pavement or storm drains. Here at Save The Bay, we’re taking it a step further by offering passionate folks a way to tell our Bay Area leaders to adopt and enforce various outdoor smoking bans. If your family and friends feel the same way you do (doesn’t it seem like everyone has an opinion on smoking?), encourage them to sign our petition here.

3. “So how about that bag ban?”

You take your trusty reusable bags wherever you go. You know that pesky, feather-light plastic bags often end up in our waterways, and stay in landfills forever – which is why California’s new statewide bag ban is the best law ever. Unlike many, you also know that Big Plastic is pouring millions of dollars into armies of paid signature collectors who spread lies in order to get a bag ban referendum on the ballot in November 2016. Their deadline is the end of 2014, so there’s still time for action. Rally your own troops (your family!) and tell them there’s a way to stop Big Plastic in its delusional, money-grubbing tracks by refusing to sign any petitions about the bag ban and telling their friends. They’ll be thankful you gave them an excuse to shake off their tryptophan-induced coma.

Now you’re armed and ready for another (slightly less awkward) family gathering! Only this time, you might just end up the star of the show, instead of your mom’s beloved pumpkin pie.