Mice and Marshes: Protecting the Bay I Love

Arrowhead Marsh, taken by Jim Moyers
Arrowhead Marsh, taken by Jim Moyers

I have loved salt marshes ever since I first stepped into one during a college wetlands class in Washington. I breathed in earthy scents. I felt mud squish beneath my boots. I watched birds fly low over the water. Now, the Bay wetlands nourish my spirit, and I am truly grateful they are the place I call home.

As the Habitat Restoration Director at Save The Bay, I am proud that my work leading volunteer and education programs can directly benefit nearby wildlife. Our efforts provide critical habitat for endangered species like the salt marsh harvest mouse. But we never lose sight of the big picture.

Restoration staff and volunteers working on the Oro Loma Project
Restoration staff and volunteers working on the Oro Loma Project

Recently, we collaborated with other scientists on the Oro Loma Horizontal Levee Project – an innovative levee that mimics wetland habitats. Our expert restoration team joined more than 5,000 Save The Bay volunteers to construct the site’s giant outdoor nursery and plant more than 70,000 native seedlings.

The potential benefits are profound, since wetland marshes act like sponges, soaking up water as it rises. If replicated, this horizontal levee model could provide extensive flood protection and create thousands of acres of habitat around San Francisco Bay.

Right now, our Bay faces a triple threat of pollution, sea-level rise and habitat loss. Scientists estimate it needs 100,000 acres of wetlands to be healthy and sustainable. Today, only 40,000 acres exist.

With help from our generous supporters, we can continue working with partners to make significant progress toward that 100,000 acre mark.

The Bay is the heart of my home. Together, we can protect this beautiful resource and all that it offers diverse communities, vibrant plants, and countless animals.

With sincere thanks,

Donna Ball
Habitat Restoration Director

Climate Progress is Up to Us, not Trump

Fog-streaks-and-bay Mike-Oria_4.03.15
President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord is wrong for the planet, public health, and the U.S. economy. But three months into the most backward Administration in generations, his reckless move is not a surprise. Ignorance, provincialism and allegiance to fossil fuel barons are dominant in this White House, with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt leading the anti-science, anti-environment, pro-polluting industry interests. The Administration had already taken many actions to reverse climate gains from the Obama Administration.

Trump had already announced he would repeal air pollution regulations on the dirtiest power plants, end restrictions on oil drilling in ocean waters, encourage new coal leases on federal land, allow construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, and loosen environmental standards for fracking of oil and gas. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

We’ve known for months this President’s true colors. His criminal rejection of climate solutions means all of us must continue the Bay Area’s and California’s leadership to cut greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, and accelerate adaptation for resilient cities and natural habitat. 

Trump’s actions are frightening, but Save The Bay’s record makes us hopeful. We’ve labored for over a decade to create new local funding for Bay wetland restoration, building a broad coalition that ultimately won 70% voter support for the Measure AA parcel tax throughout the region last June.

With thousands of members and supporters, and a public and leaders who understand the climate challenge, we can continue to make progress. So we’ll continue our leadership to protect and improve our environment, right here in the Bay Area.

Our effective local organizing and action to accelerate wetland restoration, protect shorelines against flooding, and make cities “Bay Smart,” is more important than ever. We’ll keep organizing with mayors and officials from all nine counties to promote green infrastructure that adapts our communities to climate change, reduces Bay pollution and improves natural resources. We’ll keep proving by the ongoing economic success of the Bay Area that leadership on climate change is a spur to innovation that supports sustainable growth, and that we can translate that growth into good green jobs that will help transition our region, our nation, and the world to clean energy and low-impact development.

And we’ll support elected officials here in California to pursue strong state protections for the Bay and environment, to counter the Trump Administration’s anti-environment policies. Save The Bay has endorsed bills moving through the state legislature to do exactly that.

With your help, we won’t let Trump drag down our country and the planet. Our fight for a healthy Bay and resilient Bay Area will keep our region strong and beautiful.


Further suggested reading:

Op-Ed: Trump budget would make America dirty and sick again

Jorge Gonzalez, searches for debris near collected old tires at Warm Water Cove, in San Francisco, Calif., as he joins hundreds of volunteers participating in the Community Team's Coastal Cleanup Day, at different locations along the San Francisco Bay shoreline, on Sat. September 19, 2015. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle
Jorge Gonzalez, searches for debris near collected old tires at Warm Water Cove, in San Francisco, Calif., as he joins hundreds of volunteers participating in the Community Team’s Coastal Cleanup Day, at different locations along the San Francisco Bay shoreline, on Sat. September 19, 2015. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle

President Trump’s budget proposal is a direct assault on our health and safety. The enormous cuts he is proposing to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other departments will hurt people and the planet by gutting enforcement of laws that protect the water we drink, the air we breathe and the environment that sustains us.

How many voters last year asked for more smoggy skies and fouled water, for less enforcement of criminal pollution and faster climate change? It’s doubtful most Trump voters want that, but his budget sides with polluter interests and climate deniers — not with us.

The EPA has a huge responsibility but a tiny budget. Out of every $10 in federal taxes, just two cents goes to the EPA. Cutting the EPA’s budget by 31 percent would not save much money, but it would cost a lot in lives, in lost productivity from illness and in pollution damage to crucial resources such as San Francisco Bay.

The Bay is our region’s greatest natural treasure, the heart of our economy and quality of life. It took enormous effort to return the Bay to health from near-death 40 years ago, when it was choked with garbage, sewage and industrial waste.

The Clean Water Act and the EPA helped build treatment plants in the 1970s that made the Bay’s beaches safe and its waters swimmable again. Harbor porpoises have even returned to the Bay.

As the Bay Area keeps growing, we need more federal investment, not less, to combat the impacts of climate change, freshwater diversion and polluted storm water pouring unfiltered off streets into the Bay.

Bay Area voters agreed to tax themselves in last year’s Measure AA to accelerate shoreline wetlands restoration that’s mostly within a federal wildlife refuge. The federal government should match our investment, yet Trump’s budget would zero out EPA’s $5 million program that protects marsh habitat and reduces pollution in the Bay.

And the cuts go much deeper.

The Bay Area environment is not a bubble. We’re connected to the rest of California and the nation, where the EPA’s programs have made people and wildlife healthier and safer. Agency warnings about threats to fish species and water quality in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta are forcing a rewrite of Gov. Jerry Brown’s California Water Fix. The EPA’s Clean Air Act enforcement reduced smog from Los Angeles to Pittsburgh and forced safer drinking water in cities nationwide. To avoid more health crises like the tragedy in Flint, Mich., we need a stronger EPA, not budget cuts that slash enforcement.

The EPA identifies and cleans up toxic waste at Superfund sites, including more than 50 in the Bay Area. Its Toxics Release Inventory publishes data online so we know the pollution risks in our backyards. It is on the front lines of addressing the climate change that is already hurting our health, natural resources and economy.

The EPA has helped cut global warming gases from U.S. power plants, factories and cars, and its energy efficiency standards have reduced our consumption of fossil fuels. While Trump and his Cabinet deny facts and ignore science, the EPA is required by law to limit the carbon emissions that are cooking the planet. But that takes resources and staff that Trump would cut.

We must tell Congress to reject reckless budget cuts to environmental protection. Every mayor and city council member must echo that call. Our governor and state Legislature must keep their pledge to enforce laws if the federal government does relax its efforts, and fund enforcement of those laws.

Trump’s budget would make America dirty and sick again, and nobody who breathes or drinks should stand for it.

 

David Lewis is the executive director of Save the Bay. Learn more at www.savesfbay.org.
This Op-ed was originally published in the SF Chronicle on 3/18,2017. 

From Drought to Downpour

 

An artist’s rendition of California’s flooded State Capitol circa 1862
An artist’s rendition of California’s flooded State Capitol circa 1862

“Extreme river and creek flooding has broken many records, and swept away hundreds of homes”  -CNN, May 2014

“The frequent sight of houses floating, air-like, along the swift current was novel indeed, some of them being upright, some bottom up” -Union Democrat, December 1861

Two similar quotes that strangely tie events from today into our roots from the past. The first quote is from present day Texas, where millions of dollars in infrastructure damage has lead the President to declare the event a major disaster. The second is a piece from our own state’s history, an event not often mentioned in the textbooks or the classroom.

If you grew up in Northern California you’ll undoubtedly remember being given a small pan filled with rocks and soil to sift through in search of that infamous, luminous element known as gold. But how many of you remember being told the stories of our state capitol underwater just a decade after we discovered gold, our own governor having to be rowed from his house to the capitol building for his inauguration, or of the thousands that lost their possessions, property, or even their lives because of a torrential downpour that lasted 43 days straight?

History of a hundred year storm

The flood of 1861-1862 started off as a welcomed rain after a major drought throughout the state. While Native Americans of the Delta and Bay Area warned the post-gold rush era settlers of the floods that were about to ensue, many newly established citizens and towns were ill-prepared for such an event. What started as a quenching relief for many farmers soon turned into their worst nightmare, as the Central Valley turned into an inland lake and swelling rivers took down entire towns, a quarter of the state’s livestock, and thousands of lives.

The floods were so bad that, after attempting to run the state from underwater, legislatures decided to move the capitol from Sacramento to San Francisco until it could recover. While San Francisco was in better shape that the inundated Central Valley, most of the low lying areas around the Bay were covered in water. During the peak of the storm, so much water poured in from the Delta that our Bay shorelines didn’t experience low tide for a week.

Haven’t heard of the 1861-1862 flood before? It’s OK, neither had I until I caught one of Joel Pomerantz’s natural history lectures, but surely this is something we Bay Area residents should be aware of considering this was not some freak event but rather a natural occurrence.

Due for another downpour

Every 100-200 years we get a visit from the deceptively named “Pineapple Express”, or stream of warm air and moisture that starts at the equator and makes its way up the West Coast. What most meteorologists refer to as Atmospheric Rivers, these streams of warm air and moisture are important in the global water cycle and can bring up to four times the annual rainfall amount to areas of California.

A deluge of rain may sound like relief given our current dry state, but the reality would be overwhelmingly damaging. Today one of these great storms is estimated to wrack up $10.4 billion dollars in damages, almost the cost of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake.  What’s worse is that many of these damages would likely be to our shoreline infrastructure and low lying cities on the Bay.

A recent study calls for large scale restoration of San Francisco Bay’s wetlands to help prepare our communities for the next big storm. You see, wetlands act as natural buffers for our communities. One acre of wetlands can hold a million gallons of water – water that would otherwise be in our streets and at our doorsteps if these wetlands didn’t exist. Save The Bay has been working on restoration projects that further help protect our cities from the negative impacts of flooding and support clean Bay water.

While we can’t stop these large storms from occurring, we can educate and better prepare ourselves for when they do arrive. To learn more about the flood of 1861-1862 and what you can do to help support the Bay join us for a restoration event.