Every day, I’m grateful for the privilege of living and working in the Bay Area: its stunning views, natural wonders, vibrant cities and diverse communities. San Francisco Bay connects us all in one way or the other.
While it would be easy to take our surroundings for granted, Bay Day reminds us of the beauty and uniqueness of the San Francisco Bay and the ecological imperative to take action to protect it. That’s why PG&E is excited to celebrate the second annual Bay Day on October 7, and proud to be a lead sponsor – it’s a wonderful event with an important purpose.
Climate change and rising sea levels threaten San Francisco Bay and the communities that call the Bay Area home. As the ecological and economic heart of our region, the Bay’s resiliency in the face of climate change, extreme weather and population pressures must be a priority for us all.
Here at PG&E, we’re committed to leading by example when it comes to climate change. That means adapting our operations and infrastructure to changing climate conditions, as well as supporting efforts at the local level to make the communities we serve more resilient. We’re also leading the way in providing clean energy to our customers, with nearly 70% of our energy derived from sources that don’t emit greenhouse gases.
Just a few weeks ago I was pleased to lead my team on a volunteer restoration event with Save The Bay at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Shoreline in Oakland. We were welcomed by passionate and knowledgeable Save The Bay staff, and make no mistake, staffers Kenneth and Silas put us right to work! Not only did PG&E employee volunteers remove nearly 1,300 pounds of invasive plant species in just a few hours, we also learned about the vital role tidal wetlands play in protecting the shoreline from flooding and rising tides. Our team was energized by our work, and we left the day feeling proud we played a part in protecting and beautifying San Francisco Bay. A win-win for all involved!
To help everyone enjoy our amazing Bay Area, PG&E has sponsored My Bay Day Adventure Guide: an interactive, online guide that will help you take advantage of all the Bay has to offer.
The more we celebrate our beautiful Bay, the more committed we will collectively be to its healthy future. As a member of the Save The Bay Board of Directors, a Bay Area resident and a fellow advocate for the environment, I invite you to take time on October 7 to celebrate this important day and give back to the region that offers us so much. Together, we can leave a beautiful and resilient San Francisco Bay for generations to come.
OAKLAND — Part of what people love about the San Francisco Bay is its beauty. For many, it’s what drew them to the area and keeps them from leaving.
But it’s more than the Golden Gate Bridge, city skylines and other manmade creations. It’s also a region literally alive with plants, animals and natural resources, as well as the largest and most ecologically important estuary on the West Coast.
On Saturday (Oct. 1), PG&E joins the environmental nonprofit Save the Bay organization for the first Bay Day. The day is an opportunity for everyone to celebrate the San Francisco Bay with the reminder that it be preserved and protected for future generations.
“A lot of people drive to work every day and we see the Bay as the backdrop of our lives,” said Save the Bay’s Kristina Watson. “It gives the region our identity. Why wouldn’t we celebrate something we already love?”
Organizers say the day is intended to be like Earth Day but for the San Francisco Bay. Beginning this year, Bay Day will occur every year on the first Saturday of October.
Some 23 cities are taking part and 40 events are planned, most free of charge or discounted, in San Francisco, the East Bay, the North Bay and the Peninsula and South Bay.
There will be a coastal cleanup in San Francisco; an opportunity to meet wild animals from the Bay at the Lindsay Wildlife Experience in Walnut Creek; free tours of the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito; and a docent-led family hike at an open preserve near East Palo Alto that will show the possible impacts of climate change to the Bay.
To kick off Bay Day, about 25 PG&E employees volunteered their time today (Sept. 28) at a nursery helping to restore wetland habitat to its natural state at the Martin Luther King Jr. Shoreline in Oakland. They spent several hours trimming native salt grass that will eventually be planted in Hayward.
“It shows that we’re honoring our commitment to environmental stewardship,” said Nance Donati, a 10-year PG&E employee who helps ensure the company complies with environmental regulations. “The Bay is everything.”
PG&E’s partnership with Save the Bay is mutually important, with both organizations working to make Bay Area communities clean, sustainable and resilient to climate change.
For PG&E, the project was just one of the many ways the company works every day to improve the communities where its employees work and live.
PG&E also has provided financial support to Save the Bay — begun in 1961 — whose missions include preventing pollution, restoring wetlands and stopping reckless shoreline development.
Jessie Olson, the nursery manager for Save the Bay, said she and her team greatly appreciate PG&E’s commitment to volunteer.
“It’s everything for our staff that local organizations care about the environment and are willing to show their support,” she said.
PG&E’s Kathrine Long, who works in Oakland and helps colleges save energy, said she decided to volunteer in part because of the location. The shoreline is proof that you can find nature anywhere — even amid a bustling city.
“It’s a chance to see the beauty of Oakland,” Long said. “You don’t always hear about it but it’s here.”
This blog was written by David Kligman and originally published by PG&E Currents on September 28, 2016.
Nate Kauffman is a landscape architect from the East Bay. He is he founder of LEAP (The Live Edge Adaptation Project). He is also an award-winning teacher, consultant and trouble-maker extraordinaire. He is an instructor in graduate landscape architecture studios at UC Berkeley and teaches a design-build summer studio, URBANFRAME, at MIT’s School of Architecture. He is the Project Director for Owlized, a tech startup committed to helping the public discover deeper understandings of their environments. He was contracted to produce visualizations of the Horizontal Levee and helped describe them at the Treatment Plant, in a public outreach event last November.
Horst Rittel, former architecture Professor at University of California, Berkeley is perhaps best known for his description of a particular brand of planning and social policy challenge. He termed these ‘Wicked Problems’ for their vexing interplay of conditions and contingencies; their interdependencies obfuscating clear solutions; and their tendency to require stakeholders with different world views and values to cooperate in order to solve them.
In the context of global climate change and the common call for local approaches for addressing and adapting to it, Wicked Problems entail another, critical dimension: their tendency to induce an effect often referred to as analysis paralysis. The already-branded ‘climate paralysis’ is essentially described by the condition of spending so much time trying to figure out what to do (and to raise and rally support for it) that actually doing so happens too late to be effective.
Professionals the world over are earnestly contemplating this apparent fact of the human condition, writ very large on the face of a changing planet. As the globe is pushed toward unknown planetary boundaries — the physical balances in the chemistry of the water, atmosphere and soils that literally give us life — the need for scalable, replicable and sustainable applications for climate adaptation is dire.
Innovative solutions for shoreline resilience
I was brought into the Oro Loma Sanitary District’s Horizontal Levee project last year to help envision the reality of this green infrastructure approach on a local and regional level. As a landscape architect, consultant and visualization specialist, I am generally tasked with articulating an argument in visual terms: making the case for a given proposal or project. Jason Warner, Oro Loma’s General Manager, was earnestly interested in how to convey and capture a sense of what the Horizontal Levee would represent for the communities adjacent to it. Aside from his efforts quarterbacking the Horizontal Levee endeavor in general, Jason’s commitment to understanding its benefits for the societies that might invest in these kinds of green infrastructures was inspiring. SFEI’s Jeremy Lowe helped me understand the extensive benefits and actual mechanics of the approach. And what was so compelling about the Horizontal Levee itself was how much a common-sense solution to an emergent problem could actually deliver to the societies that need it most.
Projects, policies and partnerships that successfully reimagine our built environment for multiple socio-ecologic benefits are exceedingly rare in the world of executed work. The design field’s positively brim with fanciful notions of pseudo-sci-fi futurisms: imagining Utopian societies founded on as-yet-undiscovered ways of building and development that are inexplicably and seemingly effortlessly also conducive to environmental health and ecologic stability. One of the primary reasons so many of these speculative projects fail to actually gain traction is that their underpinnings are grounded in unrealistic or unsustainable resource use models and approaches.
Restoration for climate change adaptation
Oro Loma’s Horizontal Levee project is a major pivot in this respect: it essentially represents a return to a Bayshore more physically similar to that which predated the development, Bay fill and sprawl of the 19th and 20th century (that has so badly positioned us to adapt to a rising Bay). It also closes loops on wasteful resource cycles. And it is hardly rocket science: it takes an abundant byproduct of our society (polished wastewater) and uses it to bind what is free (air, sunshine and opportunistic wildlife) with what is cheap (sediment and plants). The result is an engine driven by the discreet application of this wastewater to trigger a cascade of growth and production. And all of this happens so that a relatively simple landform intervention-based approach to flood protection can be made sustainable and affordable.
The Horizontal Levee (a pilot project whose six-month construction took over four years to permit), must prove that it’s environmental impacts are not detrimental to the broader health of the SF Bay’s various and interwoven ecosystems, nor the humans who interface with them. Before broader deployment of the technology can proceed, the proof-of-concept must be deemed “safe”. In some sense that is the bad news, but the good is that the precedent it may become could have far-reaching application potential, and even global implications for shoreline societies.
I will tell you a secret: The Horizontal Levee works. The project will validate the hypothesis driving this experiment. The reason we are collectively holding our breath to see what the effect of this critical lynchpin might represent for regional resilience has more to do with its reception, not its efficacy. The commensurate questions abound: How will we find the funding to scale up this approach? How will the rat’s nest of overlapping and competing agencies untangle itself to streamline permitting to put projects into practice? And who shall emerge as champions for a low-tech, multiple-benefit network intended to buffer our built environment from the impacts of a rapidly changing natural one?
From a planning and policy perspective, there are innumerable decisions to be made regarding what we build and choose not to (and where); what to repair or abandon, (and when); what to protect and what to attempt to prevent from happening (and how). These questions entail considerations of the fundamental economics of our built and natural environments and the consequences of their inevitable collisions and potential coexistences.
New modes of infrastructure
Infrastructure projects are notoriously expensive, for all kinds of reasons. Adapting 20 miles of the soon-to-be sub-sea level Highway 37 linking Vallejo and Novato will allegedly cost five billion dollars. That’s the equivalent of every human on earth throwing in seventy-five cents. At some point, a distinction between the cost and value of problems and projects like Highway 37 will need to be assessed.
Oro Loma’s Horizontal Levee experiment could represent a chance to make the case for a new mode of infrastructure: in its design, resource paradigms, multi-functionality, sustainability and requisite funding models. More than anything, because what it seeks to do is actually reconnect, reestablish and rebuild systems that sustain and even repair themselves, the Horizontal Levee project is a re-imagining of what investment truly means in the modern era’s climate adaptation discourses.
What we cannot lose sight of in this process is that, for all of the economic realities wound up and built into sweeping, regional green infrastructure deployments, this challenge transcends even the broadest definition of economics. Because climate change is inextricably and inexorably tied to the passage of time, the challenge is fundamentally an ethical one. Accepting that future societies, inheriting the legacy of our inactions, will find themselves armed simultaneously with fewer options in their menu, and worse ones at that, is a stark reality with which to grapple.
Oro Loma offers a glimmer of hope in this sea of societal uncertainty, historic intransigence and cultural inertia. Aside from the impressiveness of the trans-disciplinary team that actually got this project done, it is also notable in that it attracts interest and attention from taxpayers and politicians alike. There is no panacea for climate adaptation, nor a silver bullet for coastal planning in the era of rising seas and worsening storms. We cannot wait for those solutions to suddenly coalesce.
Something to be done
In the opening scene of Samuel Beckett’s 1953 play, Waiting for Godot, Estragon removes his boots to wait with his counterpart for the title character, who ultimately fails to show. “Nothing to be done,” Estragon laments, kicking off an absurdist masterpiece of human existentialism. The play is a meditation on the arrival of a grand apparition, though nothing ultimately “happens”.
The plight and peril of the Bay Area, and its collective response thus-far to the complete remaking of its 1,000 miles of shoreline threatened by a rising Bay, has something of an absurd air to it: the global epicenter of innovation fumbling around for the political will, funding and proactive spirit to tackle its very own existential crisis. The upcoming measure AA, a $12 parcel tax arriving on June’s ballot, arguably represents the most profound gesture our region has made toward ecologically-based sustainability in a generation. It will be a crucial litmus test of the common awareness of and will to play a part in the direction of our very society. And as far as something “happening” to spur action in The Bay, we won’t get hit by a catastrophic Nor’Easter or Hurricane (à la Sandy), nor a hundreds-of-millions-of-gallons oil spill (à la Deepwater Horizon) to galvanize responses to our estuary’s shoreline vulnerabilities. The slow burn of a rising Bay is apparently thus far an easy disaster for us to ignore and avoid.
The Horizontal Levee is our proverbial ‘something’ to be done. Insofar as the broader Bay Area planning and policy circles are casting around for an application that possesses profound potential for regional replicability, there are few projects as promising on the horizon. And, more importantly, the Horizontal Levee approach is not mutually exclusive to many other green infrastructure concepts. It actually strengthens and is strengthened by complementary living systems that are more sustainable, economically feasible and ecologically viable than the catalog of coastal and shoreline engineering approaches we turned to in the era before acknowledgment of a changing planet.
This work is only a piece in a larger chain of an interconnected puzzle with each impacting the other. The benefit to our Bay’s health by setting aside a long term financial commitment via Measure AA is an important next step.
River otters are making a come back to the Bay Area! Learn more about these amazing creatures from Megan Isadore of The River Otter Ecology Project.
Like many kids, I fell in love with river otters through “Ring of Bright Waters,” the movie about Mij, a playful, lovable and beloved otter brought to Scotland from Iraq by Gavin Maxwell. All I wanted was a baby otter or a few, a house on the Scottish coast and lots of books. Skip forward more years than I could wish, to 2016, and I’m researching the return of river otters in the SF Bay Area, and living on another spectacular coast. While I don’t have my own river otter, I have something better for otters and all of us – an organization that supports wetland restoration and watershed conservation, with the river otter as our enchanting ambassador.
River otters were historically present in California as far south as San Luis Obispo, but their numbers diminished by the 20th century, probably due to poor water quality, habitat loss and fur trapping. Their recent return to our local Bay Area watersheds is a sign of environmental success and a reason for faith in the efficacy of restoration efforts. Launched in 2012, The River Otter Ecology Project is the only organization in Central California to research and link river otter population recovery to watershed health and conservation.
Our programs include a citizen science “Otter Spotter” program, through which we collect information about otter sightings from all over the Bay Area. To date, we have received over 1600 sightings, ranging from the coastal Sonoma to the South Bay. It appears that river otters are expanding their range from the North and the Delta, through the East Bay and southward.
How can you contribute to our Otter Spotter map? Look for river otters in any local waterway, including rivers, bays, wetlands, ponds and even the ocean! If you see otter/s, you can input your sightings on the interactive form (in English and Spanish) on our website. We welcome photos and video. Our website has lots of photos and information on otter signs and tracks, as well as field etiquette.
Another main focus is noninvasive field research, investigating population, range, behavior and seasonal prey preferences of river otters in Marin County. We use camera traps and scat collection for DNA and health analysis to begin to understand river otters’ ecological niche. We have a loyal crew of 15 volunteers who collect smelly otter scat, service trail cameras and document all our findings. We published our first two years of research in teh Spring 2015 issue of Northwestern Naturalist, the Journal of the Society for Northwestern Vertebrate Biology. The Return of North American River Otters, Lontra canadensis, to Coastal Habitats of the San Francisco Bay Area, California is available on our website.
We’re very excited about our newest program, the pilot “Hands-on High School Monitoring”, which offers high school students the opportunity to learn science and field-science concepts, teamwork and communications while expanding ROEP’s monitoring sites. Students and teachers monitor a camera site and collect and document data and samples. Our first class, led by teacher Christian Naventi and Star Academy, has been getting their feet wet with two camera traps at Las Gallinas Sanitary Ponds in San Rafael. On their first trip, they saw four otters and watched as one caught and ate a coot!
The pure joy happens in the field…the thrill of watching otter families raise their young, hunt, play, socialize, interact with other wildlife in my home watershed over months and years has been like none other. Getting up before dawn to catch sight of otters and follow them along bluffs as the sun rises, watch the pups learn to fish and even catch shorebirds, see them roll for minutes at a time along a sandy shore makes me abidingly happy. For me, it’s the privilege of a lifetime to observe my home watershed over the course of years, get to know all the life within it as my neighbors, and share that joy with others, that we all may become better stewards of our planet.
– Megan Isadore
Megan Isadore is one of the founders and Executive Director of The River Otter Ecology Project. She is still in love with otters, books, art and everything in the natural world except mosquitoes (though she admits that perhaps they have their place too).