Weekly Round-up: December 13, 2013

Check out this week’s Weekly Roundup for breaking news affecting San Francisco Bay

San Mateo Daily Journal 12/7/13
Sea level rise focus of conference: Federal, state, local officials to highlight potential impact on San Mateo County
San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine, U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, and Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, are hosting a conference to address how San Mateo County can begin to prepare for the effects of sea level rise.
About 300 people have registered for Meeting the Challenge of Sea Level Rise in San Mateo County on Monday morning at the College of San Mateo. National, state and local officials and environmental experts will speak about the magnitude of the reported effects the county faces.
“San Mateo County is uniquely positioned to be impacted on two fronts by sea level rise; both along the coastal zone and along the Bayfront. So we need to be planning now for what will happen when our seas rise,” Gordon said.
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San Jose Mercury News 12/9/13
Is Jerry Brown’s Delta tunnels plan repeating the errors of high-speed rail?
Ever since he took office three years ago, Gov. Jerry Brown has been trying to build two landmark public works projects to reshape California: a $68 billion high-speed rail system and a $25 billion overhaul of the state’s water system, including two massive tunnels under the Delta.
Both have been debated separately so far, with most public attention going to the bullet train plan.
But on Monday, as state officials released a 25,000-page environmental study of the water tunnels plan, critics began to make comparisons between the two, noting that the administration is steaming ahead with both projects, even though neither has anywhere near the funding in place to complete the job.
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KCET 12/9/13
Salmon come back to Marin County as lawsuit proceeds
Bay Area wildlife fans have long known that Marin County’s Lagunitas Creek is a great place to watch wild coho salmon. The creek, which runs from Tomales Bay to the slopes of Mount Tamalpais through undeveloped West Marin, has been home to one of California’s healthiest coho runs despite a century and a half of regional development in the Bay Area. The little Lagunitas Creek watershed held between 10 and 20 percent of all remaining coastal California coho.
That was until a few years back, when the Lagunitas Creek watershed’s coho numbers cratered. The fish have been steadily regaining ground since, but their protectors fear that sprawling residential development may undo the rebound. Three weeks ago, two environmental groups filed suit against Marin County to block a development plan they say threatens the county’s salmon habitat.
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SF Gate 12/11/13
Tidal extremes help put on a wildlife show
The lunar forces will take hold this weekend. The moon cycle will phase into a full moon Tuesday, and in the process, launch a series of high tides and minus low tides.
The time has arrived, Friday through Tuesday, to beachcomb, tide-pool hop on the coast, bird-watch at bay wetlands and go fishing in the bay and off the coast.
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Yubanet.com 12/10/13
In latest victory court of appeal upholds San Francisco plastic bag ban
A unanimous California Court of Appeal upheld San Francisco’s expanded plastic bag ban, marking the latest in a string of victories for local laws phasing out single-use plastic bags. The lawsuit, brought by the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, had disputed the procedures San Francisco used to expand its plastic bag ban in 2012 and the legality of banning plastic bags in restaurants. This is the first appellate court to consider the restaurant issue. Today’s ruling sets the stage for more cities to adopt and strengthen local laws phasing out plastic bags.
“This is a great victory for our oceans,” said Nathan Weaver with Environment California. “The court’s decision makes clear once again that our communities have the right to keep plastic out of the Pacific by banning plastic bags and encouraging reusable bag use. Phasing out plastic bags is the right policy to protect our beaches, our rivers, and the amazing animals that live in the Pacific Ocean.”
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WUTC 12/13/13
How plastic in the ocean is contaminating your seafood
We’ve long known that the fish we eat are exposed to toxic chemicals in the rivers, bays and oceans they inhabit. The substance that’s gotten the most attention — because it has shown up at disturbingly high levels in some fish — is mercury.
But mercury is just one of a slew of synthetic and organic pollutants that fish can ingest and absorb into their tissue. Sometimes it’s because we’re dumping chemicals right into the ocean. But as a study published recently in Nature, Scientific Reports helps illuminate, sometimes fish get chemicals from the plastic debris they ingest.
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Protecting Harbor Seals in San Francisco Bay

Pacific Harbor Seal Haul Out Sites in San Francisco Bay
A map showing Pacific harbor seal haul out sites in San Francisco Bay. Pupping may occur at any of these sites, though some locations may support only a few pups. Primary pupping sites are highlighted in red.

There is nothing cuter than a Pacific harbor seal pup.

And as it turns out, these adorable marine mammals can be heard crying “maaaa” right in our own backyard. From March to June, Pacific harbor seals pup at multiple sites along the shores of San Francisco Bay. But our lovable flippered neighbors are also highly sensitive to our presence in the Bay, and human activities both in the water and on land can have negative consequences for pupping seals.

According to National Park Service scientist Dr. Sarah Allen, Castro Rocks, Mowry Slough, and Newark Slough serve as the primary pupping sites in the Bay. Pupping in smaller numbers is also observed at other haul out locations, which include Redwood City’s Bair Island, home to an ambitious wetland restoration effort. (Click on the image above to see a map of harbor seal haul out and pupping sites in the Bay.) Mudflats, rocky intertidal zones, pocket sandy beaches, islands, and wetlands are some of the habitats used for pupping. Dr. Allen tells Save The Bay that if sufficiently deep water is located nearby and human disturbance is absent, future restored wetlands may become new pupping sites as well.

Just as we have the power to improve the condition of Bay wetlands for seals, human activity can also reduce the quality of pupping habitat. As Dr. Allen explained to Bay Nature in 2011, development can cause pupping site abandonment and contributes to the lower number of pups in the Bay compared to other coastal sites. The Marine Mammal Center, which cares for abandoned Pacific harbor seal pups, also notes that “harbor seal colonies in the Bay Area are vulnerable to human disturbance, climate change and human-produced pollutants.” The Center warns that seal moms may be frightened by humans, prompting them to desert pups or pupping sites.

According to the Marine Mammal Protection Act guidelines, a buffer equal to the length of one football field should be maintained to avoid disrupting these shy creatures. The National Park Service also advises that paddlers and people on land avoid alerting seals of their presence, move away if any behavioral disruption is observed, and refrain from trying to rescue seals. If a distressed seal is detected, contact the Marine Mammal Center at 415-289-SEAL.

In addition, we need to ensure that harbor seals and other Bay wildlife are not harmed by shoreline development. Of particular concern today is a proposed development in the South Bay city of Newark that would pave over wetlands and hundreds of acres of historic baylands in order to build an 18-hole golf course and nearly 500 houses. The shoreline area targeted for development, referred to as “Area 4,” is located directly adjacent to Mowry Slough. Pollutants originating from this development, such as pesticides from the proposed golf course, could negatively impact downstream water quality, threatening wildlife.

Harbor seals’ sensitivity to disturbance, coupled with ongoing attempts to develop the Bay shoreline, underscores the importance of supporting Bay restoration and continuing the fight to preserve wildlife habitat. Learn more about Save The Bay’s wetland restoration programs, pollution prevention efforts, and opposition to the fill of Newark’s baylands.

Weekly Roundup | September 27, 2013

San Francisco Chronicle Op-Ed 9/23/13
Redwood City wrong to let developers flout rules
We have trouble, right here in Redwood City. This is not “Music Man” wayward-youth trouble. It is City Council, City Planning Commission and City Planning Department trouble. Our trouble could potentially affect the whole Bay Area.
The trouble comes in various sizes, but it all involves a refusal of Redwood City to play by its own rules and implement its own codes and General Plan. What the city is doing – and citizens, courts and state commissions are attempting to stop – is ripping up the environmental and social fabric of an important part of the Bay Area piece by piece.
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San Francisco Chronicle 9/25/13
Alameda Point studies threat of rising sea level
Plan on moving to Alameda Point someday? You might want to pack a swimsuit and snorkel.
Much of the former Naval Air Station – site of a projected 1,425-home development – will be underwater by the end of the century due to sea level rise brought on by climate change, according to the city’s draft environmental impact report on the project released this month.
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 San Francisco Chronicle 9/27/13
Bechtel Gift to Help Transform Presidio
The largest cash gift in national parks history is intended to be the catalyst to create 10 acres of parkland connecting the heart of the Presidio to Crissy Field and the bay. The $25 million from the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation will fund more than half the estimated budget for what is being called Tunnel Top Parkland. A new bluff will cover the rebuilt Doyle Drive, allowing for an unbroken landscape from Crissy Field’s marsh inland to the Main Post of the former military base, which now is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
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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.

Smithsonian Study Documents Ability of Wetlands to Fight CO2 Emissions

Kirkpatrick Marsh
The Smithsonian’s 19-year study focused on Kirkpatrick Marsh, located along a subestuary of the Chesapeake Bay. The study highlights the ability of wetlands to fight global warming by absorbing CO2 (Photo Credit: KristenM/Smithsonian Environmental Resource Center).

When thinking about the Bay’s wetlands, you may picture beautiful vistas of pickleweed, saltgrass, and rushes teeming with wildlife.  You may also ponder the way that wetland vegetation filters trash and pollutants from the water entering the Bay, enhancing water quality for fish, sharks, and porpoises, or the invaluable flood control that wetlands provide to Bay Area cities.  But what might not come to mind is the fact that wetlands are also busily engaged in an activity that offers another kind of protection for our communities – capturing carbon dioxide (CO2).  Scientists have documented the ability of tidal wetlands to act as a sink for this greenhouse gas, and a recently published study by the Smithsonian Institution provides evidence that wetlands could be important allies in the fight against climate change.

Over two-and-a-half decades ago, researchers at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Maryland began investigating how wetland vegetation would react if the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doubled.  Now the results of a 19-year study are in, and it is clear that wetland plants have risen to the challenge.

Scientists discovered that as CO2 levels increase, so does the amount of carbon taken in by wetland plants.  Plants absorb carbon to generate energy and obtain the building blocks needed for growth and maintenance.  In addition to being used within the living plants, carbon can also be stored in the soil.

One of the wetland plants included in the Smithsonian study, a California native known as American bulrush, extracted an average of 32% more carbon from the atmosphere under higher levels of CO2.  The bulrush absorbed more carbon during the day and also released less carbon back into the atmosphere at night.

This cutting-edge science suggests that protecting, enhancing, and restoring the Bay’s wetlands presents a natural and effective way to combat climate change on multiple fronts.  Healthy, functioning wetlands provide protection against rising seas and a means for reducing the amount of climate-altering CO2 in the atmosphere, allowing us to both adapt to climate change and reduce its impact.

American bulrush is present in San Francisco Bay, and can even be found at one of Save The Bay’s restoration sites!  To get up close and personal with wetland vegetation and play a part in helping the Bay Area combat climate change, volunteer with Save The Bay’s Restoration Program!