Reflecting on Sandy… Can it Happen Here? Healthy Tidal Marsh Can Protect Bay Area Communities from Extreme Weather

Sandy flooding
Healthy tidal marsh can protect Bay Area communities from flooding during extreme storms like Sandy. Photo of taxis in Hoboken, New Jersey via flickr.com/ThatHartfordGuy

One year after Sandy, New York continues to rebuild while planning for the future. City planners are weighing strategies to protect their shores from future storms and sea level rise; natural solutions such as wetland restoration may figure prominently into their plans. While wetland restoration holds promise, the New York shoreline is so developed that there are currently few large expanses of wetlands to buffer storms.

The Bay Area too is at risk of flooding from sea level rise, yet we are lucky to live in a place with tens of thousands of acres of restorable wetlands around the Bay shoreline. We’re working hard to restore 100,000 acres of wetlands to protect our communities from sea level rise. As we reflect on the anniversary of Sandy, let’s also recognize how lucky we are as a region to have solutions within our grasp. Please share this post with a friend or leave a comment with your reflections on Sandy.

Here in the Bay Area, we have experienced the devastation of earthquakes.  And severe flooding during the rainy season impacts some communities around the Bay.  But as the climate change warming trends continue, many scientists are saying that extreme weather events are here to stay. Unfortunately, it is probably not a matter of if, but when the Bay Area will be faced with widespread and severe flooding from an event like Sandy or Hurricane Katrina.

The good news is that by investing today in restoring more natural wetlands and repairing damaged levees, the Bay Area can reduce the risk of severe flooding, save money, and help keep our communities safe.

Over generations, unchecked bay fill destroyed 90 percent of San Francisco Bay’s original wetlands, or tidal marsh.   Studies have shown that healthy tidal marshes can keep pace with modest sea level rise – they build up sediment and establish vegetation, creating buffers against rising seas. They act as natural barriers to storm surge and extreme high tides, protecting wildlife and shoreline communities.  Bay wetlands also filter toxic runoff pollution to improve water quality, prevent shoreline erosion, and provide food and shelter to 500 species of wildlife including seals, sea lions and pelicans.

Today, our Bay shoreline is low-lying and heavily developed.  More than $100 billion in California homes, businesses, and crucial infrastructure is at risk from flooding: ports, airports, bridges, freeways, even entire communities are at or below sea level. And two-thirds of that risk is here in the Bay Area.

Sea level rise will worsen the impact from storms. Scientists and the State of California estimate that the sea level could rise 16 inches in the next 40 years and 55 inches by 2100.

Significant sea rise would overwhelm levees that surround San Francisco Bay. Facebook, Google, Yahoo and other major Silicon Valley corporations could be flooded, along with thousands of homes around the Bay Area. Portions of major freeways could be underwater.

Scientists recommend that at least 100,000 acres tidal marsh be re-established to support a healthy, sustainable Bay into the future.  However, only about half of that habitat exists. The Bay’s restorable wetlands will not return to tidal marsh in our lifetime without money, manpower, and political support.  Climate change makes this goal even more relevant and urgent.

Celebrating National Estuaries Day

Bay wetlandsThis week we celebrate the 25th annual National Estuaries Day.

Estuaries are partially enclosed bodies of water, where rivers meet the ocean and create some of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. They are rich in nutrients, and havens for fish and wildlife.

Naturally, at Save The Bay we focus on protecting and restoring the incredible estuary in our own back yard. But national advocacy matters, too. The Bay Area is a leader in coastal protection and restoration, and the work we do at the federal level has benefits here at home.

All across America, we’ve seen dramatic evidence of how valuable healthy estuaries are to the economy. Tidal marshes and sea grasses provide natural barriers that buffer against storms and floods, absorb and store carbon, and serve as nurseries for commercial and recreational fisheries. Hurricane Katrina, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and Superstorm Sandy have all shown the pressing need to protect and restore estuaries.

Save The Bay pioneered this kind of protection 50 years ago, with a revolutionary citizens’ movement that stopped the massive filling that was shrinking San Francisco Bay. Our success inspired similar movements from Boston Harbor to Puget Sound, and Chesapeake to Galveston. Nearly 20 years ago we formed a national alliance of 11 “save the bay” organizations. The Restore America’s Estuaries alliance builds on the work of regional organizations like ours to create an effective nation-wide movement.

In the years I’ve been privileged to work with the alliance, it has secured federal coastal legislation and millions of dollars for marsh restoration in San Francisco Bay and around the nation. National advocacy has boosted Congressional funding for the Community Restoration Program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which in turn has paid to restore salt ponds back to tidal marshes from Alviso in the south to Napa in the north.

Wetland restoration has made a huge beneficial impact on San Francisco Bay, providing more habitat and improving water quality to make the Bay healthy enough to support more sharks, porpoises, pelicans, and shorebirds. The challenge of climate change still looms before us, but San Francisco Bay also offers an enormous opportunity: With more resources to pay for restoration, we could double the Bay’s current tidal marsh in the next few decades. That habitat improvement would protect Bay shoreline communities and crucial infrastructure from flooding. It’s a proven job creator, too.

That’s why we’re working hard to make restoration a reality in the Bay Area. We’re blessed with a spectacular natural treasure, residents who love the Bay, and a great legacy of fighting for our environment. With those assets, restoring a healthy estuary is within our grasp.

Weekly Roundup November 16, 2012

weekly roundupTwo and a half years after the BP Gulf oil spill, and five years after our own Cosco Busan spill, BP was given the largest criminal fine ever for its role in the environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The failure of Proposition 37, which would have required packaged foods containing genetically modified ingredients to be labeled as such, has been called into question by proponents who claim unfair influence by corporate interests. In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, many are questioning whether some of the most vulnerable areas should be rebuilt or whether retreat from sensitive shorelines might be a better option. On the West Coast volunteers working to capture sea level rise on camera had the opportunity to document an unusually high tide. Even as our oceans are losing diversity, new research has prompted scientists to admit that about one-third of marine species are yet to be identified. And finally, Alameda County has jumped on the Bag Ban bandwagon.

Chicago Tribune 11/15/2012
BP oil spill: BP agrees to pay $4.5B; 3 employees charged
A day of reckoning arrived for BP on Thursday as the oil giant agreed to plead guilty to a raft of criminal charges and pay a record $4.5 billion in a settlement with the government over the deadly 2010 disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Three BP employees were also charged, two of them with manslaughter.
Read more>>

Examiner.com 11/10/2012
California Prop 37,to label GMOs, fails in brutal campaign
The California Right to Know Campaign to label GMOs in our foods, also known as Proposition 37, failed on election day after a brutal fight, with allegations of fraudulent use of FDA labels, misleading mailers on the part of the opponents to Proposition 37, and fake sample Democratic ballots saying that the Democratic party opposed the measure, which it did not.
Read more>>
Read more coverage on Civil Eats>>

CNN Opinion 11/13/2012
Rebuilding after Sandy is too big a risk
Superstorm Sandy has caused more damage, death and homelessness in New York and New Jersey than any climate-related event in living memory. Yet with two damaging hurricanes two years in a row, and with what science is telling us, this does not feel like a once-in-a-lifetime event. It feels like a trend.
Read more>>

Huffington Post 11/12/2012
Hurricane Sandy Damage Amplified By Breakneck Development Of Coast
Over the past few decades, scientists have developed a greater understanding of the particular risks hurricanes pose to New York City. Though big storms are rare, they tend to be larger than southern hurricanes, and attack on a straight line coming in from the east. As happened with Sandy, storm water gets pushed into New York harbor and is then boxed in, with nowhere else to go but onshore, into the flood zones.
Read more>>

Times Standard 11/16/2012
King tides spark wave of interest; volunteers across California gain insight into sea level rise by documenting the year’s highest tides
When a “king tide” hit the local coastline Thursday — an unusually high tide caused by solar and lunar gravitational pull — the result was submerged streets in King Salmon, flooded cow pastures and inundated shorelines on Indian Island.
Read more>>

San Francisco Chronicle 11/15/2012
Scientists think a third of sea species unknown
The world’s oceans are teeming with as many as a million different species – from microscopic plankton to monster whales – and possibly a third of them are still unknown to science, according to the first full-scale register of the seas’ diversity.
Read more>>

Rockridge Patch 11/13/2012
Getting Ready for the Plastic Bag Ban
On Jan. 1, 2013, Alameda County will join San Francisco, San Mateo County, San Jose and 49 other California cities and counties in no longer providing single-use plastic bags at checkout — making reusable bags a must-have for any Bay Area resident.
Read more>>

Sandy… Can it Happen Here? Healthy Tidal Marsh Can Protect Bay Area Communities from Extreme Weather

Sandy flooding
Healthy tidal marsh can protect Bay Area communities from flooding during extreme storms like Sandy. Photo of taxis in Hoboken, New Jersey via flickr.com/ThatHartfordGuy

One year after Sandy, New York continues to rebuild while planning for the future. City planners are weighing strategies to protect their shores from future storms and sea level rise; natural solutions such as wetland restoration may figure prominently into their plans. While wetland restoration holds promise, the New York shoreline is so developed that there are currently few large expanses of wetlands to buffer storms.

The Bay Area too is at risk of flooding from sea level rise, yet we are lucky to live in a place with tens of thousands of acres of restorable wetlands around the Bay shoreline. We’re working hard to restore 100,000 acres of wetlands to protect our communities from sea level rise. As we reflect on the anniversary of Sandy, let’s also recognize how lucky we are as a region to have solutions within our grasp. Please share this post with a friend or leave a comment with your reflections on Sandy.

All of us at Save The Bay are sending our thoughts to the millions of people on the East Coast who are impacted by the devastating and unprecedented superstorm Sandy.

Here in the Bay Area, we have experienced the devastation of earthquakes.  And severe flooding during the rainy season impacts some communities around the Bay.  But as the climate change warming trends continue, many scientists are saying that extreme weather events are here to stay. Unfortunately, it is probably not a matter of if, but when the Bay Area will be faced with widespread and severe flooding from an event like Sandy or Hurricane Katrina.

The good news is that by investing today in restoring more natural wetlands and repairing damaged levees, the Bay Area can reduce the risk of severe flooding, save money, and help keep our communities safe.

Over generations, unchecked bay fill destroyed 90 percent of San Francisco Bay’s original wetlands, or tidal marsh.   Studies have shown that healthy tidal marshes can keep pace with modest sea level rise – they build up sediment and establish vegetation, creating buffers against rising seas. They act as natural barriers to storm surge and extreme high tides, protecting wildlife and shoreline communities.  Bay wetlands also filter toxic runoff pollution to improve water quality, prevent shoreline erosion, and provide food and shelter to 500 species of wildlife including seals, sea lions and pelicans.

Today, our Bay shoreline is low-lying and heavily developed.  More than $100 billion in California homes, businesses, and crucial infrastructure is at risk from flooding: ports, airports, bridges, freeways, even entire communities are at or below sea level. And two-thirds of that risk is here in the Bay Area.

Sea level rise will worsen the impact from storms. Scientists and the State of California estimate that the sea level could rise 16 inches in the next 40 years and 55 inches by 2100.

Significant sea rise would overwhelm levees that surround San Francisco Bay. Facebook, Google, Yahoo and other major Silicon Valley corporations could be flooded, along with thousands of homes around the Bay Area. Portions of major freeways could be underwater.

Scientists recommend that at least 100,000 acres tidal marsh be re-established to support a healthy, sustainable Bay into the future.  However, only about half of that habitat exists. The Bay’s restorable wetlands will not return to tidal marsh in our lifetime without money, manpower, and political support.  Climate change makes this goal even more relevant and urgent.