However, the letter also urges the State Water Board to strengthen the proposed standards, expressing concern that the best available science strongly indicates that the Board’s current proposal will not adequately protect fish and wildlife, water quality, and recreational benefits in the estuary, lower San Joaquin River, and San Joaquin tributaries.
Friends of the San Francisco Estuary has worked hard to bring this issue to the attention of elected officials in Marin County and throughout the Bay Area. Our leaders need to know that a healthy Bay requires fresh water, and that means keeping enough water flowing in the rivers that reach the Delta and then the Bay. We are heartened to see this statement from the Marin County Board of Supervisors. To support more of this work, click here.
For the full letter, download the PDF below.
Tuesday, November 29, kicked off the first day of the State Water Resources Control Board’s public hearings on a proposal to require higher instream flows on the lower San Joaquin River and its three major tributaries: the Merced, Stanislaus, and Tuolumne Rivers.
The San Joaquin River, the 2nd largest river in California, has been declared an “endangered river” by American Rivers for the severity of its problems. At times, 60-80% of the river’s water is diverted for other uses. What reaches the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is barely a trickle.
The State Water Resources Control Board has proposed updated regulations for the critical period of February-June that ensure a range of 30-50% of the fresh water is left in the San Joaquin River and its tributaries. This range is mostly an improvement over the status quo, but is below the amount (60%) that the Board itself has estimated would rebuild salmon populations in these rivers. It also falls short of the amount that the National Marine Fisheries Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife have said would protect essential ecological functions in these rivers.
Last Tuesday, both farmers and fishermen turned out to Sacramento to urge the State Water Board to make changes to the plan. San Joaquin Valley farmers, stressed after years of historic drought, predicted ruin for their farms and communities if the State Water Board’s plan moves forward.
In fact, Mr. Johnson may have said it best, in explaining why the fight to save the San Joaquin River is so important: “It’s not only about jobs and money—there’s something about salmon that is part of our heritage, part of our culture…If the salmon go, what’s to stop the rest of the estuary from going?”
This is what Friends of the San Francisco Estuary is doing: We are working to help people understand the connection between a restored San Joaquin River (and other major tributaries) a sustainable salmon industry, a resilient Delta, and a thriving Bay ecosystem and economy.
Last Tuesday was also Giving Tuesday, and we’re excited to announce that we are more than one-fourth of the way toward our fundraising goal of $10,000 to help improve freshwater flows in the Bay-Delta Estuary! Please help us reach our goal by the end of the year, and donate today!
Want to help save the San Joaquin? Take action!
Yesterday was #GivingTuesday, and thanks to 18 donors like you, we passed the $2000 mark in just the first 2 days of our campaign! Today is #ThankYouWednesday, and we would like to say thank YOU for your support of our work for a healthy San Francisco Estuary.
Our fundraising campaign will continue to be active through the end of the year, and so will we. The $2,000 raised through #GivingTuesday will immediately go toward helping turn out attendance at State Water Resources Control Board meetings in the next few weeks and assisting other organizations with writing comment letters on proposed regulations for the San Joaquin River and its tributaries. We will report back on these and other activities. Stay tuned!
Also published on our campaign website at https://freshwaterflowing.causevox.com/blog/wow-you-made-us-feel-great-
Author: Marina Binsack
Protecting our shorelines from flooding, sea level rise and storm surges are of utmost importance to Bay Area decision makers. Most Bay Area residents probably don’t know the urgency of this matter, what actions we can take and how we can make them happen. Come June, all nine county residents will get to measure the significance of these issues by voting on Measure AA. But will they have all the information to make this decision? At the Bay Planning Coalition’s (BPC) Spring Summit on May 6th, speakers shared a great deal of knowledge aimed at better informing participants.
Our bay is an environmental gem that gives us great pride. It is also an economic hub of global innovation along the southern shoreline in Santa Clara County. On the eastern side are the Port of Oakland and Oakland International Airport in Alameda County while the west side of the bay is home to the Port of San Francisco and San Francisco International Airport. Alameda, Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties also have some of the most vulnerable communities, meaning there is both a high exposure to flooding and other risks and a historic trend of socio-economic inequality.
At the summit, I got the chance to hear about a measure that may be the silver bullet. If passed, Measure AA would fund water quality improvement and restoration projects aimed at safeguarding all shoreline communities regardless of clout. David Lewis of Save the Bay took the opportunity to explain this measure and to urge participants not only to vote yes but to support it by donating to the action fund and talking to friends and family unfamiliar with the benefits of wetlands. Measure AA needs a 2/3 vote and consists of a $12 parcel tax earmarked for these projects. For some, this may seem like an extra expense when at the polls, but the reality is the cost will be greater in the long run if, in the words of Ben Franklin, we put off till tomorrow what can be done today.
Crucial investments in our future aren’t reserved simply for flood protection projects but also for innovative urban planning designs necessary to implement if we’re going to avoid retreating even further inland. At the forefront of this discussion is Kristina Hill, a professor at UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design and another panelist at the event. She expressed both enthusiasm and seriousness when she gave examples of works taking place in Hamburg, Germany, the Netherlands and Osaka, Japan.
Hamburg has the chance to start from the ground up, creating a new neighborhood in a former warehouse district along the Elbe River. Here, flooding is expected and incorporated into the design. In the Netherlands, an area familiar to flooding, large volumes of sand were transported along the water’s edge to form a broader barrier between land and sea in a process called rainbowing. In Osaka, high-rises were built behind what is termed a ‘super-levee’ and similar to the horizontal levee pilot project taking place at Oro Loma here in the Bay Area. These cities are headed in a direction where in future years they will still be habitable because discussions stopped and plans were put in motion. In the San Francisco Bay, the discussion continues and so do the questions of how to get to where we need to be.
Measure AA is a first step toward the more ambitious plans explored by Professor Hill, and furthermore, it will benefit both our big economic powerhouses and neighboring vulnerable communities to an equal degree. It will also benefit our vulnerable fish and wildlife and the supporting ecosystems that create this environmental gem that is the bay and our home.
This blog entry was written by Marina Binsack, Communication Intern for Friends of the San Francisco Estuary. Marina is graduating from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies with an M.A. in International Environmental Policy. We wish her the best as she starts her career!
Friends of the San Francisco Estuary supports Measure AA.
Author: Nicola Overstreet
The San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary is the largest estuary on the west coast of the Americas. It’s also one of the largest points of contention in California’s ongoing struggle to allocate its supply of water. Often, the debate over how much water should be siphoned off from the Bay-Delta and where that water should go is framed as a battle of “fish vs. farmers.”
Farmers in the San Joaquin Valley – whose livelihoods depend on water from the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers of the Bay-Delta– lament that the amount of water they can use is restricted, seemingly because of environmental regulations protecting Delta fish. When House speaker John Boehner visited Bakersfield in January this year, he remarked, “How you can favor a fish over people is something the people in my part of the world would not understand.” Farmers like Jose Ruiz have been quoted echoing the sentiment, saying that people who have qualms about taking water from the Delta are “worrying about the fish but not about the humans' life.” Those who tout the fish vs. farmers conflict as the root of California water issues appear to believe that the only thing preventing farmland from flourishing through the entirety of the Central Valley is a collection of heartless environmentalists.
Some people have taken issue with the supposed clash between fish vs. farmers, because it ignores the many Californians who make a living off of fish both in the Delta and along California’s thousand mile coastline. George Skelton, a political columnist, writes that “it's not about farmers vs. fish. It's about farmers vs. fishermen. Or almonds vs. salmon.” However, reality is still not quite so simple.
As it turns out, the group most overlooked by the fish vs. farmers dichotomy actually consists of more farmers. Farmers based along the Sacramento and within the Delta oppose the diversion of fresh water from the Delta because they too need it to maintain their way of life. In a healthy estuary, salt water flowing in from the ocean mixes with fresh water flowing in the opposite direction, stopping the salt water from advancing. However, as that fresh water is diverted away from the Delta, salt water can move further upstream from the Bay and into the Delta uninhibited.
Residents of cities like Antioch worry about salt water creeping in from the Bay; their drinking water comes primarily from the Delta. Saltwater intrusion into the Delta affects the estuary ecosystem, drinking water quality, water recreation, and more. And it also scares people like Lynn Miller, whose family has farmed alongside the San Joaquin River for 113 years. As salt water enters the Delta, it will destroy their riverside farm.
So maybe the dichotomy isn’t fish vs. farmers, but farmers vs. farmers. Or perhaps it’s closer to Delta farmers and residents and fisherman and boaters and environmentalists and some Bay Area residents vs. Central Valley farmers and residents and other Bay Area and Southern Californian residents. There are thousands of interest groups clamoring to get a hold of the Delta’s fresh water and “fish vs. farmers” oversimplifies and misrepresents the already confusing political discourse surrounding California water.
During times of crisis, people have a tendency to react with knee-jerk policy recommendations. One argument frequently made is that loosening environmental regulations will help to immediately alleviate the drought’s effects, which seems like sound reasoning when viewed through the lens of fish vs. farmers. If you sacrifice the fish, you may help the farmers. But in reality, environmental regulations don’t only protect the environment. They protect the communities that rely on the integrity of that environment. When environmental regulations on the San Francisco Estuary are relaxed or ignored, the fish do suffer, but so do recreational and commercial fisherman all along the coast and all of the communities of the Bay and Delta. By focusing on the interests of Delta fish and ignoring how connected those interests are to the needs of Bay-Delta residents, “fish vs. farmers” trivializes the importance of the well-being of the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary. The false dichotomy of fish vs. farmers should have no place in serious California water policy conversations.
Author: Nicola Overstreet
Governor Brown surveyed California’s North Coast and declared his sorrow over what he named “a major American disaster.” Intense rains all across Northern California had caused massive flooding, threatening homes, businesses, livestock, and lives. Del Norte, Mendocino, Siskiyou, Trinity, and Sonoma counties were hit especially hard, and in Humboldt County alone the flooding caused $100 million in damage. Governor Brown remarked that a flood of that magnitude could only happen “once in 1,000 years,” and it became known as the Thousand Year Flood. It was also known as the Christmas Flood of 1964.
That was the landscape of California fifty years ago – Governor Pat Brown was declaring disaster areas in 34 counties, as rescue helicopters scoured floodwaters for survivors. Now, another Governor Brown has declared a very different kind of emergency in California. On January 17, 2014, it was not an excess of water, but an overwhelming lack, that pushed Governor Jerry Brown to declare a Drought State of Emergency.
As of July 2014, the entire state is experiencing drought levels that are considered severe or worse, with 36.46% of California experiencing exceptional drought conditions. Junior water right holders have been ordered to stop diverting water from rivers. Discussions of groundwater regulation, mandatory conservation, water insecurity, and emergency drought relief dominate the discourse on water policy in California.
It’s certainly no stretch to say that Northern California is facing a landscape in 2014 that is drastically different to that of 1964. But weather conditions are not the only thing that has changed in the Bay Area. In the 1960s, industrial facilities pumped their waste directly into the San Francisco Bay, and sewage entered the Bay in 83 places. Bay Area residents did not view the Bay as a state treasure, but as a dumping ground.
That began to change in the 1960s with the efforts of organizations such as Save the Bay, and the passage of the Clean Water Act of 1972. Now, fifty years later, 92% of bay area residents agree that a “clean, healthy and vibrant San Francisco Bay” is important for the region’s economy. And they’re right: tourism in the San Francisco Bay area generates over $8.93 billion/year, and fishing and farming communities along the Bay-Delta depend entirely on the health of the waterway. But more importantly, Bay Area residents now view the Bay as a crucial part of their own identities.
Given the extent to which weather conditions and social attitudes towards the Bay-Delta have changed over the past 50 years, it would be ridiculous for any piece of legislature related to the water of the Bay-Delta to hold public policies static for 50 years. Wouldn’t it?
The Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), a 50-year plan that aims to increase water reliability while restoring Delta habitat, is proposing exactly that. The project would consist of two tunnels, buried 150 feet beneath the heart of the Delta, which would help divert water from the Sacramento River to southern California. In order to proceed, the project planners must apply for permits from federal and state fish and wildlife agencies. The BDCP includes an adaptive management and monitoring program that accounts for reasonably anticipated ‘changed circumstances’ such as flooding, levee failure, drought, vandalism, or wildfire.
‘Unforeseen circumstances’ are those that the BDCP does not expect. These circumstances could affect one or more species, or the habitat, natural community, or geographic area covered in a permit. If the unforeseen circumstance involves ecological degradation resulting directly from the BDCP, the project operators will have to mitigate the situation. However, given how many factors influence the ecosystem, it’s unlikely that it can be proven that any one cause – BDCP included – is primarily at fault for environmental decline.
For unforeseen circumstances, the permit holders will have regulatory assurance in the form of the ‘No Surprises’ rule. The rule maintains that once a permit has been issued, the federal government cannot require additional conservation or mitigation measures, or restrictions on resource use, to address unforeseen circumstances. As currently proposed, the BDCP is ultimately not flexible enough to meet the demands of the ever-changing environment in California, where “unforeseen circumstances” are the rule, not the exception.
Cape Horn Dam in 1964 (left) and Scott Dam in 2014 (right) - Eel River, California
In 1964, "Water over both Cape Horn and Scott Dams was so high that you could barely tell a dam was under the flow." (x)
If Governor Pat Brown had been told that extraordinary water shortages would direct water policy conversations only twelve years after he stood looking out over the flooded North Coast, it would have been difficult to fathom. And yet from 1976 to 1977, rainfall in California was the lowest on record, and the resulting drought decimated California industry. The climate, ecosystems, and social perceptions of the Bay-Delta have changed dramatically over the past 50 years, and “no surprises” is not a promise that the BDCP make to Californians.
The Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), a $16--okay, maybe $24--no, wait it could be closer to $57--BILLION dollar plan to produce a more reliable water supply and recover endangered species, is the focus of much speculation, worry, and confusion. And for good reason: not only does the plan involve the construction of some of the largest water infrastructure California has ever seen at an estimated cost that already exceeds the Chunnel, but no one, not even the planners, is really sure that it will do what it promises. In fact, some folks are pretty sure it won't deliver on either of the two co-equal goals of reliability and recovery.
So, understandably there are a fair number of questions surrounding BDCP, and the folks at BDCP have begun a blog to dispel certain "stubborn 'urban myths' that are being perpetuated." We found one of the myth corrections to be woefully inaccurate, and since the BDCP blog does not provide for public comments, we will debunk the debunking here.
From the BDCP blog:
Myth: The BDCP fails to analyze possible effects on San Francisco Bay.
Fact: The BDCP does indeed analyze the effects of the project on San Francisco Bay and other water bodies downstream of the Delta.
Analyses found that because there are no project diversions downstream of the Delta, the only effects of the project on the San Francisco Bay Area would be indirect and related to flow. According to the Department of Water Resources’ Delta Atlas, average tidal flow through the Golden Gate Bridge is 2,300,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) and average tidal flow at Chipps Island is 170,000 cfs. The maximum amount that BDCP would change flows downstream of the north Delta diversions is 9,000 cfs (and most of the time it would be much less). Therefore, at most, BDCP diversions represent only 5 percent of the flows at Chipps Island or less than 0.4 percent of tidal flows at the Golden Gate Bridge. Effects within San Francisco Bay would be within this range, diminishing greatly away from the Delta. Because these changes in flow are so small compared to the tidal range within the Bay, the plan concludes that there would be no effect of BDCP on the San Francisco Bay ecosystem or its native species.
Okay, what does this really mean? Let's break this down:
"Analyses found that because there are no project diversions downstream of the Delta, the only effects of the project on the San Francisco Bay Area would be indirect and related to flow."
The effects of the project on San Francisco Bay are indirect because there will be no construction or habitat restoration activities taking place in the Bay. The indirect effects on San Francisco Bay have to do with BDCP making changes to the rate, timing, and amount of freshwater flow that will reach the Bay. The Bay is part of the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary, a mixing zone of fresh and salt water. The Bay-Delta Estuary depends on two types of flow: tidal salt water flows from the Pacific Ocean and freshwater flows from Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers and smaller tributaries. The ratio of fresh water to salt water in the Bay fluctuates depending on location, time of day, and climate patterns, but both are essential to a healthy, functioning system.
"According to the Department of Water Resources’ Delta Atlas, average tidal flow through the Golden Gate Bridge is 2,300,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) and average tidal flow at Chipps Island is 170,000 cfs. The maximum amount that BDCP would change flows downstream of the north Delta diversions is 9,000 cfs (and most of the time it would be much less)."
The statement above implies that 9,000 cfs of freshwater flow is insignificant compared to tidal flows of 2,300,000 cfs or 170,000 cfs. But this logic conflates freshwater flow with tidal flow. Tidal flows play a different role in shaping the Bay ecosystems than freshwater flows. Comparing freshwater flow to tidal flow is comparing apples to oranges.
To understand the logic used by BDCP better, let's use a baking analogy provided by biologist Jon Rosenfield:
We did study the effect of the baking powder in your muffin recipe, but since the mass of the powder was only a small fraction of the mass of the muffins produced and its effects were indirect, we concluded that the amount of baking powder in your recipe has no effect on the final muffin.
If we want to compare apples to apples (or muffins to muffins), then we need to compare 9,000 cfs of freshwater flow to be taken by BDCP to total freshwater flow, not tidal flow. The Sacramento River, where the new facilities will be located and a significant source of the Bay's freshwater flow, had an average flow rate of 23,490 cfs during the period 1949-2009. So, to use the same kind of math that the BDCP blog uses, we should say that BDCP would actually be changing freshwater flows on the Sacramento River by 38%.
38% of the Sacramento River paints a very different picture of the impact of BDCP on San Francisco Bay when compared to the example offered by the BDCP blog.
Of course, that's not the entire story. The Sacramento River can run at much higher and lower rates than the average, and the twin tunnels will have to operate under regulations that often will prevent the full diversion rate. Also, while the Sacramento River is the largest source of fresh water (median=85%) to the San Francisco Bay, there are other significant sources such as the San Joaquin River, in-Delta tributaries, and smaller Bay tributaries. Plus, there are many ways in which BDCP's changes to freshwater flows may affect the Bay not captured by this simple equation.
Freshwater flows from the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers play an essential role in providing the Bay with nutrients, diluting and dispersing pollutants, reducing water clarity (and thus possibly threats of toxic algae blooms), and lowering salinity for the wide range of fish, birds, and animals that use the Bay. The Bay Delta Conservation Plan owes the people and wildlife of San Francisco Bay more substantial evidence for the conclusion that this large project upstream will have no effect on our region than erroneous "myth" busting.