From your backyard to the Bay, it’s time to cleanup!

In almost every city, trashy runoff flows directly into the Bay, untreated.

Distressing images of birds trapped in plastic debris and trash fouling beaches have sadly become common news stories. Events like International Coastal Clean Up Day (Saturday, September 16) and National Estuaries Week (September 16-23), bring much-needed attention to the cleanliness of our Bay, coastline, and waterways. But, often overlooked and not often discussed, is where the vast majority of this trash begins its journey to the Bay. When we look for answers we need to look further inland to one of the greatest sources of Bay trash… our city streets.

Trash is a daily and persistent threat to the health of our communities and neighborhoods. Illegal dumping creates chronic blight in many of our region’s neighborhoods, and city departments are struggling to respond in a timely manner. Homeless encampments lack access to trash bins, resulting in unsanitary and often dangerous living conditions. Trash is deliberately thrown on the ground and accidentally blows out of cars, garbage trucks, and trash bins.

The sources of trash are numerous, but the Bay is often the ultimate destination. Our streets are connected to the Bay through our storm drain system. In most places in the Bay Area, the grates you see next to the curb allow water and pollution to flow freely through a system of pipes that empty into creeks, rivers, and the Bay. Since stormwater does not flow to a treatment plant, all of the trash flowing through this system ultimately ends up in the environment.

Save The Bay has been working for almost a decade to keep trash out of the Bay, including advocating for regulations that require zero trash in city storm drains by 2022. Since most trash starts in our cities, our city leaders and local agencies must play a role in the solution.

The road to zero trash in the Bay is a tough one, but we are already seeing the positive impacts of our advocacy. In July, Save The Bay partnered with Oakland Community Organizations to advocate for additional funding in the city budget to prevent and respond to illegal dumping, a chronic problem that primarily impacts some of Oakland’s most underserved areas. Following pressure from Save The Bay, local and regional organizations, and the community, the city council adopted a budget that not only includes an additional $150,000 to address illegal dumping but also $1.6 million to place port-a-potties and clean trash from homeless encampments. The city also committed to installing trash screens in storm drains as a part of transportation projects.

This victory is only the beginning for our Zero Trash campaign. Like Oakland, cities and counties throughout the Bay Area need to secure additional funding to keep trash out of our neighborhoods and the Bay. Save The Bay is committed to advocating throughout the region to make the 2022 zero trash requirement a reality, and we hope you’ll join us by making a personal promise to reduce your trash footprint:

Four Simple Ways Your Can Reduce Your Trash Footprint!

 Thanks for all you do to help keep our Bay, coastline, and waterways, clean and healthy for all life. Stay tuned for opportunities to advocate for zero trash in your city.

Restoration projects bring birds back to SF Bay

The South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project has restored about 3,000 acres of habitat in the past 12 years, and the bird population has doubled. Photo courtesy of Nasa.
The South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project has restored about 3,000 acres of habitat in the past 12 years, and the local bird population has doubled. With adequate funding, this project would restore 15,000 acres. Measure AA would fund critical restoration projects like this one. Photo courtesy of NASA.

The ambitious South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project, the largest tidal wetland restoration project on the West Coast, is already seeing some impressive results, according to biologists who have surveyed the area.

The populations of ducks and shorebirds in the area have doubled over 12 years, from 100,000 in 2002 to 200,000 in 2014, according to a report issued in October by researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey and other agencies.

“It shows that what’s been done so far appears to be working. It’s really great,” said Susan De La Cruz, a wildlife biologist with the USGS who did much of the research told the Mercury News.

The success of the California Coastal Conservancy’s South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project is an example of how wetland restoration can improve habitat for wildlife such as birds, fish, seals, and sharks, in addition to reducing the risk of flooding due to sea level rise associated with climate change,” says Donna Ball, Habitat Restoration Director for Save The Bay.

Historically, diking off wetlands along the bay’s shore for production of salt was a major factor in losing much of the bay’s tidal marshland.  Starting in the 1850s, salt production became a major industry, covering some 16,500 acres, most of which was owned by Cargill Inc. In 2003, Cargill sold 15,000 acres to state and federal agencies and private foundations, which drew up plans to restore the salt ponds to a more natural condition.

Already the South Bay restoration project has reconnected about 3,000 acres of salt ponds to the bay with the goal of revitalizing them as tidal marshes.  When complete, the project will have restored 15,000 acres of former salt ponds to wetlands and other vital habitats.

The South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project is scheduled to be completed over the next 50 years if funding is available. Measure AA on the June 7 ballot is designed to generate $500 million over the next 20 years to provide funds for this project and many others throughout the Bay Area.

All around San Francisco Bay, there are more than 30,000 acres awaiting restoration. Your YES vote for Measure AA will help provide the funding needed for many of these much-needed projects.

Report: The Baylands and Climate Change

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The Baylands and Climate Change: What We Can Do, The Baylands Ecosystem Habitat Goals Science Update was released earlier this week.   More than 200 scientists and climate change experts have worked over the last three years to update the 1999 Baylands Goals Report to address the threat of climate change.   This Science Update addresses threats facing the Bay including rising seas, extreme weather events, the effects of climate change on urban functions, and decreased sediment supply.

Not just another report  

This report highlights the urgency and the boldness with which we must act to save over 80% of our existing wetlands over the next 100 years during this period of rapid change.  Sea levels are rising; weather patterns are shifting, and the sediment supply that has helped nourish our wetlands since the Gold Rush appears to have been exhausted.  We have modified our key natural processes such as freshwater flows, tidal exchange, flood-plain productivity, and the balance between native and nonnative species.

Much of our critical infrastructure such as levees, flood-control channels, roads, railways, storm drains, landfills, and sewage treatment systems are all built at the edge of the bay.  Our human built infrastructure as well as our remaining natural habitats needs immediate investment in adaptation strategies to be resilient in the face of the coming changes.  We need to adjust our policies and our methods to encourage rapid restoration and enhancement of natural infrastructure to protect people and property while also supporting natural processes, and protecting habitat for native plants and animals.

Sea levels are predicted to continue to rise at what is currently thought to be a fairly predictable rate through mid-century.  After 2050, sea levels are predicted to rise at a much higher rate.  We need to accelerate restoration to get ahead of the sea level rise acceleration that is projected for the middle of this century.    This Science Update incorporates the latest science – and advances the understanding of climate change and sediment supply in the baylands. This proposed science-based path forward to address threats facing the Bay emphasizes working with nature to protect existing wetlands and help them grow to keep pace with sea level rise.

This report and the online science chapters place emphasis on:

  • Restoring complete baylands systems. Many of our watersheds and habitat are disconnected from adjacent habitat types and are disconnected from the physical processes that keep them healthy.  Diverse, connected habitats can help sustain wildlife and humans during extreme conditions.
  • Accelerate restoration of complete baylands systems by 2030. This can be done by ensuring that we restore as many tidal marshes before this time so that they are intact to provide benefits when sea levels begin to rise more quickly.  This requires acceleration of restoration projects on available land.
  • Plan for a dynamic future. Instead of reacting to events, we need to create policies that anticipate change over time.  This means that we need to prepare for the landward migration of the baylands by conserving transition zones between the baylands and adjacent uplands.  We also need to develop and implement a regional plan for sediment reuse that takes advantage of sediment from dredged, excavated, or naturally occurring sites so that it can be used to restore and sustain the baylands.
  • Increase regional coordination. Working together is going to be key to implement the recommendations in this report in a timely way.  The recommendations included in this report will require even more collaboration to build consensus, identify barriers, solve problems, and promote shared learning.

The original Baylands Ecosystem Habitat Goals Report was released in 1999 and much progress has been made on restoring San Francisco Bay’s tidal wetlands as a result of the recommendations included in that report.   A number of large tidal marsh restoration projects have been planned and restored.  However, much work remains to be done to reach the goal of 100,000 acres of healthy wetlands and there are numerous pending projects that need funding in order to be implemented.

Shorelines will need to be protected by a combination of gray and green infrastructure but we need to resist the temptation to erect hard infrastructure in every location.  We can use wetlands to provide effective protection from storm-induced waves, absorb excess water from both uplands and from the Bay, filter pollutants, sustain fisheries, and provide wildlife habitat and places to enjoy nature.  While hard levee protection will be needed in some areas of the way we also need to work with nature to use bay shore wetlands to buffer and protect the Bay area’s seven million people from rising seas and extreme storms.

What does this report mean for Save The Bay’s work? 

Our Habitat Restoration Team has been working on restoring transition zone habitat for the past 15 years.  In the past several years we have stepped up that work to work with our partners on much larger projects that can provide protection and migration space.

We are currently working on the Oro Loma Horizontal Levee Project that will serve as a demonstration project for implementing innovative restoration methods to use natural systems to respond to climate change.  Our Policy and Communications Teams are responding to the call from scientists to accelerate marsh restoration by working with other Bay area leaders to place a $12 annual parcel tax measure on the June 2016 ballot that would raise $500 million over the next 20 years for wetland restoration and flood control.  These are only a couple of the ways that we are addressing the threats facing the Bay.  We look forward to working with other Bay area leaders and scientists to implement the recommendations included in this report.

Saving the Bay: From Rescue to Restoration

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What’s that stinky creek out there,
Down behind the slum’s back stair,
Sludgy puddle, sad and gray?
Why man, that’s San Francisco Bay!
– “Seventy Miles” by Malvina Reynolds and Pete Seeger, 1965

Take Action Now
Looking out on the majestic beauty of San Francisco Bay in 2015, it’s hard for many younger and newer residents of the Bay Area to believe that just fifty years ago, Malvina Reynolds and Pete Seeger were shocked enough by its condition that they memorialized it in song as a “Sludgy puddle, sad and gray.”

Yet, it’s true – half a century ago, the Bay was choked with raw sewage and industrial pollution, and plans were to fill in 60 percent of its remaining area, leaving only a narrow shipping channel in its place.

Fortunately, in 1961, Save The Bay’s founders set out to rescue the Bay from destruction, and helped give birth to our nation’s grassroots environmental movement. Mobilizing thousands of Bay Area residents into action over the course of the decade, these three remarkable women led landmark victories including a moratorium on Bay fill, the closure of more than 30 shoreline garbage dumps, an end to the release of raw sewage, and establishment of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission to regulate shoreline development and increase public access to the Bay.

For 55 years, Save The Bay has been occupied primarily with successive versions of our founders’ initial mission to protect the Bay from damaging shoreline development. Along with dedicated local groups, we’ve defeated numerous, hugely destructive plans including: the Santa Fe Railroad Company’s Bay fill scheme to build Berkeley three miles out into the water; David Rockefeller’s surreal fantasy of building a new Manhattan in the Bay with fill from chopping off the top of San Bruno mountain; Mobil Oil’s blueprint for massive development on Bair Island; and SFO’s ill-conceived effort to pave the Bay for runway expansions.

Now, with Cargill’s Redwood City Saltworks proposal on the ropes, and plans to develop Newark Area 4 likely to be rejected by BCDC and the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, these last threats to the largest remaining tracts of unprotected, restorable Bay wetlands may soon be overcome.

The next phase of saving the Bay

The first phase of our organization’s history, focused on rescuing the Bay, is now drawing to a close; the next phase of our history, focused on restoring the Bay to full health, is beginning in earnest; and the scale of our challenges and the importance of our work are as enormous as they have ever been.

While Bay restoration has always been integral to Save The Bay’s mission, only now, after many years’ effort, do we have a real opportunity to achieve it on scale and realize our founders’ ultimate vision.

In 1999, a consortium of estuary scientists published the Baylands Ecosystem Habitat Goals, which established that San Francisco Bay needed 100,000 acres of wetlands to restore and sustain its health. At the time, less than 40,000 acres of Bay wetlands remained, but thanks to the efforts of Save The Bay’s many partners, a similar number of restorable acres had been protected from any further development. Local efforts have managed to restore 5,000 acres of wetlands since then, but the vast majority of protected Bay wetlands are still awaiting restoration.

The biggest challenge has been the lack of sufficient, reliable funding to pursue large scale restoration. With scant annual federal funding – on the order of $5 million per year – and state support limited to one-time injections of bond funds, the price tag of $1.43 billion to restore the acres under protection has been too steep, and efforts to secure additional funding from existing sources have yielded little.

Faced with the quandary of having thousands of acres of restorable wetlands under public ownership without an appropriate source of funds to restore them, Save The Bay moved to change the equation.

Funding Bay restoration on scale

In 2007, we published Greening the Bay, a strategy for financing Bay restoration by establishing a regional special district that would allow the Bay Area to raise the local share of wetlands restoration costs, which could be used to leverage increased state and federal funding to cover the remainder.

That publication and the organizing around it led directly to creation of the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority, a regional public agency charged with raising the local funds and managing the grants necessary to implement the many restoration projects in the pipeline and begin the long overdue work of restoring the Bay’s wetlands.

Unfortunately, at its very start, the Authority was stalled out by the stark reality of the Great Recession. In the grips of that extraordinary economic downturn, the same Bay Area voters who had consistently and overwhelmingly supported the goal of improving the Bay for both people and wildlife proved unwilling to pay even a small amount in additional taxes to fund the local share of restoration efforts.

Today, the Authority is preparing to propose a small parcel tax to voters in all nine Bay Area counties, to enhance our environment and strengthen our economy at the same time.

  • The June 2016 ballot measure would generate $500 million in new funding for projects to restore thousands of acres of tidal marsh, making the Bay healthier for fish, birds, seals and other threatened marine life. Parcels would be assessed $12 each year for 20 years.
  • The funding would accelerate projects that prevent flooding of residential communities and economic infrastructure, reduce pollution in the Bay, and improve trails for public
  • An April 2015 survey found that a supermajority of Bay Area voters will make an investment to ensure the Bay is clean and healthy. After hearing arguments for and against, 70% would vote in favor of a $12 parcel tax to improve the Bay – more than the 2/3 necessary for passage.

A recent op-ed in the San Jose Mercury News by Save The Bay’s Executive Director, David Lewis, and prominent business leader Andy Ball made the case and the call: Act now to protect San Francisco Bay!

We can make this breakthrough, and restore San Francisco Bay for all the generations to come, but only if Save The Bay’s supporters lead the way, as we have throughout our organization’s history.

We know our supporters are up to the challenge, and in the weeks ahead we’ll be letting you know exactly what you can do to help. Thank you, as always, for all you do to Save The Bay!

The Story of Cullinan Ranch

Update 1/6/15:

In a dramatic moment, on Jan. 6 work crews breached the levee that has kept Cullinan Ranch, 1,200 acres of diked wetlands in the Napa River Delta, unnaturally dry for more than a century. Save The Bay Executive Director David Lewis, Habitat Restoration Director Donna Ball, and I joined representatives from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Ducks Unlimited, and other partners to celebrate the culmination of a decades-long effort to restore the site. What’s next? Project designers expect near-immediate resurgence of waterfowl and shorebirds, and with tidal waters already beginning to carry natural sediment to the site, native plants will eventually take root and re-establish habitat for our Bay’s wild creatures. Read the full story of Cullinan Ranch below. -Cyril Manning


The former Cullinan Ranch, soon to be back part of San Francisco Bay (via restorecullinan.info)
The former Cullinan Ranch, soon to be back part of San Francisco Bay (via restorecullinan.info)

Cullinan Ranch is a 1500-acre parcel of former tidal marsh at the top of San Pablo Bay, part of the Napa River Delta. As you can see from the map at right, it is an important puzzle piece in the sprawling restoration of the whole northern part of San Francisco Bay, work that has been described as an “aquatic renaissance… turning back the clock 150 years and transforming the area between Vallejo and Sonoma Raceway.”

Like nearly all the tidal marsh around San Francisco Bay, Cullinan was diked off in the 1880s to be farmland (see this nice timeline covering the history of the site). A proposed residential marina community nearly destroyed the area 25 years ago, but the proposal was defeated in 1987.

After the site was proposed for development, Save The Bay joined with local residents in Vallejo and hired Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger to sue over the “Egret Bay” development, which proposed thousands of homes on this restorable site, below sea level. Getting involved in the battle was a first for Save The Bay – actually advocating for restoration of a diked former wetland, not just against new fill and inappropriate shoreline development.

That successful lawsuit, along with the denial of construction permits by BCDC and the US Army Corps of Engineers, put a stop to Egret Bay, making possible Cullinan’s purchase by the US Fish & Wildlife Service in 1989, and protection as a wildlife refuge.  Now, this site — one and a half times the size of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park — is being returned to marsh as part of the West Coast’s largest wetland restoration effort.

After the site was first diked off for grazing and oat hay, the marshland dried out and compacted like a sponge, and now lies six to nine feet below sea level.  When the levees are opened later this year, the site will initially be open water and mud flats, then sediment from the Napa River and Bay will eventually build up, so that tidal marsh vegetation can begin to grow back.

Another key challenge is restoring the property while protecting the critical infrastructure that runs through and around it. A levee to protect Highway 37 from the new tidal action is the single most expensive element in the $16 million wetland restoration project. The SF Bay Don Edwards and San Pablo Bay Wildlife Refuges are crisscrossed by much of the region’s critical transportation, electrical and water supply infrastructure, which add expensive urban complexities that are not usually a part of refuge restoration projects.

As local scientists, communities, and conservationists work together to bring us closer to the 100,000 acres of tidal marsh needed for a healthy Bay, sites like Cullinan Ranch serve as a valuable model and inspiration.  They show we can succeed in preventing projects like Cargill’s proposal to build homes in a Redwood City salt pond, and instead ensure that site is restored along with other ponds, together restoring the Bay for people and wildlife.