Protect California’s Bag Ban

Bill the Pelican taking a photo with his Save The Bay bag for the #MyBag Campaign
Bill the Pelican taking a photo with his Save The Bay bag for the #MyBag Campaign

In August of 2014, California became the first state in the country to approve a plastic bag ban and on September 30, 2014, Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law. This was an exciting victory for keeping toxic trash out of our state’s waterways and the Pacific Ocean.

The bag ban was set to go into effect on July 1, 2015 but the plastics industry funded a referendum to stop it. Paid signature gatherers collected signatures across the state in order to hinder the bag ban. Several reports indicate that the plastics industry used deceptive means to obtain signatures.

In late February 2015, Secretary of State Alex Padilla reported that the bag ban referendum had qualified, delaying implementation of the bill until voters approve it in November 2016. According to Padilla, the plastics industry has already spent over $3 million in this effort, with 98% of funds coming from out-of-state interests.

80% of Bay Area residents are currently living in a jurisdiction that has banned plastic bags and the majority of Californians support the ban. We cannot let out of state interests and the plastics industry weaken our progress when it comes to preventing plastic pollution for the entire state.

In response, we’re asking you to join a growing coalition of organizations that are advocating for and upholding a statewide bag ban. To kick off these efforts, Sacramento-based organization Californians Against Waste developed a social media campaign called #MyBag, launching  July 1st to commemorate the day that the statewide bag ban should have gone into effect. For many of us in the Bay Area, bag bans are already common place, so let’s show the rest of the state how easy it can be to bring your own bag.

The #MyBag social media campaign invites you to go online and post pictures of yourself, friends and family, with reusable bags you use at the store.

Post your #MyBag ‘selfie’ to Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, and make sure the world knows you’ve had enough of single-use plastic bags polluting the environment.  Include the #MyBag hashtag and tag @saveSFbay to help spread your support for California’s plastic bag ban.

Don’t Want Mutant Fish in the Bay? Advocate for Tougher Drug Take-Back Programs in SF

Medication Pills Drug Take-back Programs Legislation Environment
Will San Francisco be the next county to pass sweeping drug take-back program legislation? Photo via Michael Chen on Flickr

As usual, Bay Area counties are ahead of the curve when it comes to making change. Back in 2012, Alameda County became the first in the nation to require pharmaceutical companies to pay for a drug take-back program, upping the ante for giant pharmaceutical companies to take responsibility for their products and raising awareness about the dangers of flushing unused medication into the Bay Area’s waterways.

It was a bold move, and now it looks like San Francisco County is eyeing similar legislation. Instead of taxpayers footing the bill, local Supervisor David Chiu recently began advocating for the funding of drug take-back programs to fall under the responsibility of pharmaceutical corporations. He told the San Francisco Chronicle this month that with this legislation, he seeks to prevent overdoses as well as to reduce contaminants in water – water that all eventually flows into our beloved Bay.

It turns out our wastewater treatment plants don’t have the technology to filter pharmaceutical chemicals ­ – they’re only designed to remove conventional pollutants such as solids and biodegradable materials. Yet for decades, drug companies and doctors told the public to flush unused and unwanted medications down the toilet. That sounds pretty gross in retrospect, but we all know hindsight is 20/20; recent studies have found traces of medications in surface water bodies across the country. The thought of seven-gill sharks and stingrays swimming around the Bay loaded with hormones, codeine and aspirin is pretty depressing, don’t you think?

You might be asking what all that medication does to aquatic life on a biological and physiological level. Scientists know for a fact that increased medications in surface water bodies have led to increased resistance to antibiotics, interference with growth and reproduction in sensitive organisms like fish and frogs – even at low levels of exposure. Effects of exposure can include off-kilter gender ratios (more females than males); the presence of both male and female reproductive organs on individual animals; plummeting birth rates; decreased fertility and growth; and lethargy and disorientation.

Let’s take a break from the icky details. Back in 2010, San Francisco County attempted to pass a law like Alameda County’s, but the plan buckled under industry pressure. The result was a slimmed-down, taxpayer-financed pilot program that consists of drop-off sites at nearly two dozen independent pharmacies and police stations. SFGate.com reports that the program has collected more than 37,000 pounds of medications over the last two years, and costs roughly $162,000 a year to operate – most of which is unreimbursed city staff time.

Fast forward to 2014, and San Francisco County is finally ready to take it a step further, inspired by Alameda County’s victory. If passed, Chiu’s law would establish drug drop-off sites at ALL retail and health care facilities that sell drugs. And, the cherry on top: the law would require drugmakers that make drugs sold in San Francisco to pay all administrative and operational costs of the program.

There are 7 million people living in the Bay Area. While not everyone is flushing medication down the toilet on the regular, our large population (which is booming, by the way), without any public awareness on the issue, still makes for a potentially huge amount of medication contaminants making their way into our waterways. That’s why successful legislation like this in San Francisco (which can lead to a domino effect around California, followed by statewide legislation – fingers crossed!) could be a boon to not only our drinking water supplies, but our streams, waterways, and the Bay – our crowned jewel.

In the meantime, check out our resource guide to Pharmaceutical Disposal Sites to responsibly discard your unwanted and unused medication.

Climate Report Supports Wetland Restoration As Sea Level Rise Adaptation Strategy

Wetlands
Healthy wetlands protect our communities from flooding by slowing down and soaking up runoff and tidal inflow.
Photo credit: Dan Sullivan

A scientific report released just weeks ago confirms that people, societies, and ecosystems around the world are vulnerable to climate change.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was set up in 1988 by the U.N. and the World Meteorological Organization to provide policymakers with regular scientific assessment of climate change and options for adaptation and mitigation. The IPCC recently met in Yokohama, Japan to approve the report, titled Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability.

The report details the impacts of climate change, the future risks, and the opportunities to reduce risk. It concludes that both our atmosphere and our oceans have warmed, which has diminished ice and snow, causing the sea level to rise.

Sea level rise is a serious threat to the Bay area. According to the Pacific Institute, over $50 billion in property and infrastructure is at risk in the Bay area alone, with estimates of $100 trillion worldwide. In the Bay area, nearly 100 schools and healthcare facilities, 1,780 miles of roads and highways, 270,000 homes, and major infrastructure like our airports, bridges, power plants, and sewage treatment plants are at risk.

This report further reinforces the potential for wetland restoration to help prepare the Bay area for sea level rise. According to the report, “ecosystem-based adaptation is increasingly attracting attention.” The report states that “in coastal areas, the conservation or restoration of habitats (e.g. wetlands) can provide effective measures against storm surge, saline intrusion and coastal erosion by using their physical characteristics, biodiversity, and the ecosystem services they provide as a means for adaptation.”

Save The Bay has worked for years to restore Bay wetlands because we recognize the crucial role they play in the overall health of the Bay. Healthy wetlands filter toxins from polluted runoff, provide habitat for hundreds of species, and protect our communities from flooding and erosion by slowing down and soaking up runoff and tidal inflow. Wetland restoration is an important, multi-benefit, and cost-effective strategy for preparing the Bay area for sea level rise. The IPCC report identifies “the protection and restoration of relevant coastal natural systems…such as salt marshes” and “replacing armored with living shorelines” as two strategies for sea level rise mitigation and adaptation.

This study further confirms what we already knew about the importance of Bay wetlands. Join the thousands of volunteers who come out to the Bay every year to restore our wetlands, one native plant at a time.

Drought Puts Planting Season in Jeopardy

Habitat Restoration Volunteers Planting Native Seedlings
Volunteers plant native seedlings along the Bay shoreline.
Photo Credit: Dan Sullivan.

2013 was the driest year on record in California, leaving 87% of California in a severe drought. The drought we’re experiencing is caused by a massive high pressure ridge that has camped out over the eastern Pacific Ocean for 13 months. This ridge is pushing the jet stream that normally delivers our rainfall and snowpack up to Canada.

The State Department of Water Resources is likely to recommend that Governor Brown declare a drought emergency by February 1st. In a meeting with Central Valley farmers and water managers on Monday, Governor Brown responded to drought declaration questions with “not today, but we’re certainly getting ready.”  This declaration could loosen water quality regulations that are meant to protect endangered fish, allowing more water to be delivered throughout the state.

Major Bay Area water agencies are expected to make decisions in the next few months about whether to impose mandatory summer water restrictions. Meanwhile, local water utilities in Sonoma and Marin counties have launched a campaign to educate the public about conserving water. Lake Mendocino, which supplies water to Sonoma County is at 38% of capacity. Reservoirs in the Mokelumne River watershed, which supply most of the East Bay’s water, are still two-thirds full. The ten local reservoirs in Santa Clara County are at 33 percent capacity.

The lack of rainfall is also having a significant impact on Save The Bay’s planting season. Our on-the-ground wetland restoration projects re-establish native plants in the unique transition zone habitat located between Bay water and land. Our Habitat Restoration team and thousands of volunteers restore the wetlands by growing seedlings in our nurseries, sowing the plants along the shoreline, and maintaining the sites by removing invasive weed species and cleaning up trash.

Donna Ball, our Habitat Restoration Director, wrote last year about the difficulty of planting and maintaining 30,000 seedlings without adequate rainfall. We plant during the rainy season because newly installed plants require water to ensure their survival immediately after planting. With an even drier winter so far and an ambitious 40,000 plants to put in the ground by the end of March, this planting season has proven even more challenging. Donna says that “due to the lack of rain this winter, our staff and volunteers have spent more time on watering instead of planting, jeopardizing our ability to plant all 40,000 seedlings.” We need more volunteers to help us get these plants in the ground and keep them watered.

Help us get through this drought with 40,000 healthy plants in the ground and intact by volunteering at one of our habitat restoration events! Visit www.savesfbay.org/volunteer to sign-up!

 

 

UPDATE – January 17, 2014:

Governor Brown has declared a Drought State of Emergency.  In his press release, the Governor said “We can’t make it rain, but we can be much better prepared for the terrible consequences that California’s drought now threatens, including dramatically less water for our farms and communities and increased fires in both urban and rural areas.”  The Governor called on all Californians “to conserve water in every possible way.”  Please visit the Office of the Governor’s website to view the press release and the language of the Governor’s proclamation.  

 

 

UPDATE – January 21, 2014:

“State regulators can now relax water quality standards, allowing rivers and estuaries to be saltier and warmer, as they try to manage the state’s limited supplies.”  A KQED article explains how the drought declaration will loosen environmental regulations.

Louisiana Big Oil Lawsuit Underscores Importance of Wetlands

Flooding in the Bay area
A Bay area resident drives through a flooded parking
lot near the Bothin Marsh in Marin. December 14, 2012.
Photo Credit: Sarah Craig

Wetlands are in the national spotlight after a New Orleans levee authority filed a lawsuit against nearly 100 oil and gas companies.  The lawsuit asserts that these companies are partially responsible for the loss of thousands of acres of wetlands that serve as a natural buffer against flooding from hurricanes.

The Louisiana coast was severely impacted by the Gulf Oil Spill in 2010, but even before the spill the marsh was a shadow of its old self.  Oil and gas exploration and development have carved an expansive network of canals and channels into the wetlands, preventing natural sedimentation and allowing for saltwater intrusion.  As a result, the wetland vegetation that has held the coast together for centuries has been dying, allowing the remaining bare soil to literally wash away into the Gulf of Mexico.  Louisiana has lost approximately 1,900 miles of coastal land over the last 100 years and could lose another 700 square miles over the next 50 years if no new restoration takes place.

The levee authority is responsible for the multibillion dollar system of gates, walls, and armored levees that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  The authority’s lawsuit asserts that “the increased storm surge risk resulting from the extensive and continuing land loss in southeast Louisiana … has required, and will continue to require, increased flood protection at increasingly high cost.”

Here in the Bay Area, around 187,000 acres of wetlands have been filled in or diked off over the last 150 years.  Even without hurricanes, many Bay area communities are at or below sea level and are already at risk of flooding, a risk that will continue to rise with the sea level (the highest tides each year already flood many Bay Area communities).  Many of the existing levees protecting these communities were built more than 100 years ago and were not engineered to meet federal flood standards.  Wetland restoration is a cost-effective way to help reduce the impacts of sea level rise and protect our communities from flooding.

Two things you can do for our local wetlands today:

1)  Take action to secure federal funding for San Francisco Bay wetland restoration and flood protection.

2)  Volunteer to restore natural wetland habitats by hand at one of our programs around the Bay.