First Measure AA Funds to Start Flowing

This week, Measure AA goes to work accelerating Bay marsh restoration – realizing a vision Save The Bay first had more than a decade ago.

On April 11, the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority will vote on how to spend the first tax receipts from the nine-county ballot measure Bay Area voters overwhelmingly approved in June 2016. The first nine recommended project grants would invest $23.5 million to restore tidal marsh habitat for wildlife around the Bay. Many of these projects also will provide trails and other public recreation, and help protect shoreline communities against flooding.

Scientists have told us for decades that the Bay needs at least 100,000 acres of restored tidal marsh to be healthy, after development reduced tidal marsh to only 40,000 acres. Many diked salt ponds and hay fields were acquired and protected for restoration over the last 20 years, bringing that goal within reach, and we identified the missing ingredient is sufficient public funding.

Recognizing how much local residents love the Bay, Save The Bay and other key stakeholders worked for years to create a way all of us who live here can help invest in a healthier Bay. We convinced the state legislature to create the Restoration Authority, a regional special district that could propose new funding mechanisms for the Bay. Eight years later, the Restoration Authority finally put Measure AA on the ballot, and voters agreed to pay a modest $12 annually for 20 years.

To maximize the impact of these funds, this first round of AA grants supports large and smaller restoration projects all around the Bay, including several in economically disadvantaged communities. (see the full list at www.SFBayRestore.org )

One of the most visible recommended projects is Phase 2 of the Ravenswood Pond restoration from East Palo Alto to Menlo Park. Part of the huge South Bay Salt Ponds complex, this project will convert more of the former commercial salt production ponds back into tidal wetlands. Drivers on the Dumbarton Bridge and California highway 84 have seen these huge brown areas for years, and soon that brown will begin turning green. Save The Bay worked to restore other Ravenswood sites in the past, and we will be creating transition zone habitat there with volunteers at the edge of Bedwell Bayfront Park.

These grants are a major milestone in the effort to accelerate Bay restoration, but it is only the beginning. The Bay needs more funding to address the serious strain that growth and climate change are having on the Bay and Bay Area communities. There was more demand for the first AA funds than supply; matching funds will be needed from the state and federal governments to create all the wetlands needed. Proposition 68 on the June statewide ballot is the next opportunity to boost resources for the Bay, as it includes another $20 million in matching Measure AA funds.

Through Measure AA, Bay Area residents are funding the largest urban climate adaptation effort in the country, using green infrastructure to make our region more sustainable and resilient to the expected impacts from more extreme storms and rising seas. We look forward to watching the progress of this important work in the coming years.

Update: Water Board Agrees To Explore Trash Enforcement

At the Regional Water Board’s March 14th meeting, our Executive Director, David Lewis, addressed the Board and told them that over 3,000 Save The Bay supporters (and growing!) are calling upon them to take enforcement action against Caltrans for allowing trash to flow unabated into local creeks and the Bay. Good news: the Board did not hesitate: Chair Terry Young asked staff to compile information about enforcement options and present them to the Board this summer. While this is a promising step forward, we need to keep the pressure on. Sign our petition today and share with a friend!

The Board also expressed concern about the cities and counties that failed to meet the 70 percent stormwater trash reduction requirement last year, some of whom are years behind schedule and continue to allow toxic levels of trash to flow into storm drains and out to the Bay. The Board asked staff to explore enforcement options for these entities as well, including immediate installation of trash capture devices in storm drains and proof that funding for trash abatement has been secured.

We will keep you updated on progress toward Zero Trash in the Bay. Thank you for your support!

Quiet Confidence: Why Beckie Zisser Thrives Talking Politics

Beckie takes her boys to Big Basin Redwoods State Park

“Being a quiet, shy person, I hated swim meets as a kid – found them really nerve-racking. But once I was in the water, I knew exactly what I was doing. I loved it.”

Beckie Zisser knows well: she isn’t like most lobbyists.

And that’s precisely why Beckie strikes a chord with politicians. “I’m not naturally extroverted, but I always have that drive underneath to compete.” When it comes to water issues, Beckie’s never afraid to enter the ring. In fact, she’s taken on this fight for most of her career.

Beckie’s childhood in Seattle shaped much of the story. “I lived at the top of a hill, and you could see water on both sides. There were lakes around me, mountains. Being outside was an extremely important part of my upbringing.”

Beckie enjoys a family hike at Mount Rainier

As a kid, Beckie went camping with friends and family; she played soccer and swam for her club team. And, when Seattle’s downpours overwhelmed? She honed her skills at crossword puzzles. Beckie still loves “word games of all kinds,” though she’s recently pivoted toward Settlers of Catan. “I like building cities and getting all my resources, and my husband and I get pretty competitive about it.”

Then, Beckie takes what she’s learned back to work. “I do find pitching to legislators is like playing a game. You have to put the pieces together, find which ones will appeal to a person.” True to her roots, Beckie does her homework for these meetings outside.

“The best lobbying preparation is participating in a staff planting day [with Save The Bay]. I love having a real sense of the work that needs to be done — getting on the ground and seeing the kinds of projects we’re trying to promote. Then, when I’m talking to legislators, I can really picture the wetlands in my head.”

During those conversations, Beckie finds elected officials are typically disarmed by her calm demeanor. “I have a different temperament from a lot of lobbyists – non-confrontational, quietly confident. So, when I ask for something, it’s harder for politicians to say: ‘no.’”

Beckie’s glad for that. After all, our Climate Change and Restoration Policy Program Manager sometimes struggles to sleep worrying about… climate change. “When people ask: ‘What keeps you up at night?’ It’s climate change. I have two little kids, and I’m so worried about what legacy I’m leaving them.’”

Family trip to the Marin Headlands

As someone who uses exercise to “wind down,” Beckie finds that “the slow pace of legislative work can be extremely frustrating.” Still, she works tirelessly to secure funding for projects that will restore and protect San Francisco Bay. Beckie stresses: “It’s such an important task because the clock is ticking. The longer we wait to restore the Bay and adapt to sea level rise, the greater cost we’ll all pay down the road.”

In pushing for new policy initiatives on behalf of Save The Bay, Beckie always keeps her two young children in mind.  “My older son now has some idea of what I do. I tell him I ‘help nature.’ He understands our Prius is ‘better for nature’ than other cars, for example. And when we drive over the Bay, he knows that ‘Mama’ is working to keep it clean and healthy.”

And when Beckie thinks of her favorite views around San Francisco Bay — from Tilden Park to the Marin Headlands to Crissy Field — she reminds herself to keep teaching her boys about our region’s natural beauty. “I want them to spend as much time as possible seeing nature. I want them to have nature built into their character from a young age, just like I did growing up.”

For more on Beckie’s fight for Bay funding on a state level, you can read her 2018 Legislative Agenda here.

 

Drought: Rain fell, but where did the water go?

Rain fell, but where did it go?  Photo Credit: Brandon Doran
Rain fell, but where did it go?
Photo Credit: Brandon Doran

The past week or so brought much needed rain to Northern California. But where did all that water go? Unfortunately, here in the Bay area most of it ran out to the Bay through the storm drain system, carrying trash and pollution with it.

There is a disconnect between how we manage water for flood control, quality, and supply. The goal of flood control systems is to remove water from our roads and urban areas as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, this water is carrying a significant amount of pollution with it, degrading water quality in local waterways and the Bay. We are also experiencing a drought, and yet we are allowing runoff from our city streets to flow through our storm drains and out to the Bay rather than putting that water to beneficial use.

Flooding

Before we urbanized the landscape of Northern California, rain water soaked into the ground where it fell, recharging groundwater. Now that the land is covered in impervious surfaces like asphalt and buildings, our cities have created a network of storm drains to carry water from our urban streets to nearby creeks that flow out to the Bay. However, flooding still occurs when trash, leaves and other debris clog storm drains, or when the local waterways become overwhelmed by the sudden and drastic increase in water flowing in from storm drains.

Pollution

Because of the risk of flooding, storm water policies have focused on removing water from city streets and urban areas as quickly as possible, which means water flows directly into the waterways without treatment. As a result, pollutants like heavy metals, oils, pet waste, and trash are carried by the storm water into our waterways. This is why Save The Bay has prioritized stopping trash pollution at the source, working with cities and counties throughout the Bay Area to ban plastic bags and Styrofoam. We have also turned our attention to cigarette butts which are commonly littered on streets and sidewalks near storm drains.

Beneficial Use

There are better ways to prevent our urban areas from flooding than sending all the water, and the pollutants picked up along the way, out to the Bay and ocean. We depend on the streams and rivers of the Sierra Nevada Mountains to deliver water to the entire state even though rain falls throughout the state. The state of California is facing both a drought and groundwater depletion; we should be thinking more comprehensively about water supply solutions.

As water simply soaks into soil, pollutants are filtered out. This clean water then soaks into our groundwater system, replenishing water that we remove through wells and pumps. Homes have gutter systems that remove rooftop water and direct it out of a single pipe. If this pipe drains onto an impervious surface like a sidewalk or driveway, the water will run into the storm drain. If the pipe drains onto dirt or grass, the water is soaked into the ground, replenishing groundwater. Better yet, this water can be captured in barrels to use for watering plants during dry days. On a larger scale, the same concepts can be used for larger buildings and structures, or larger pieces of land like city parks. Another option is to create more permeable space, including paving streets with porous asphalt, green roofs, and more open space like parks.

Luckily, California legislators and policy makers are currently working to address the many water related issues facing the state, and are taking a more comprehensive approach. For example, Senator Wolk’s water bond bill, SB 848, includes $500 million for storm water capture and reuse projects. These projects are essential to improving water quality and can increase water supply. We’ll have to wait and see what decision makers will agree upon to address the significant water issues facing the state, but one thing is for sure; doing nothing is no longer an option.