Magazine Features

Greening Dickson’s Heights

Looking east from the levee-top trail, a silvery swath of bay is dotted with low islands -- some tufted with plants, others mere muddy humps that barely break the surface. This is low tide at the nearly 1,000-acre Sears Point wetland restoration project on the western side of San Pablo Bay. The islands, 500 in all, are actually man-made mounds, scattered across the mudflat as an integral part of the restoration design. Each is roughly 60 feet across and was carefully sculpted so its wide, flat top would submerge at high tide, creating habitat for a specific group of marsh plants. This in turn provides an important suite of ecological functions central to the project’s success. “Without the mounds, you would just have a big area of open water,” says Julian Meisler, a program manager with Sonoma Land Trust. The...

Green Cement Blues

For the last three years, an environmental storm has been brewing in the North Bay city of Vallejo. Some elements of the story are familiar: grassroots activists pitted against a multinational corporate developer, environmental justice versus the lure of new jobs. Add historical preservation, iconic wildlife, political shenanigans, and the unexpected involvement of the California Attorney General’s office, and the mix becomes more complex. An Irish cement company and its local partners want to build a processing plant and a marine terminal at the site of a long-closed flour mill on the east bank of the Napa River. Citing concerns over air quality and other impacts, the Vallejo Planning Commission rejected the applicants’ permit in 2017, a decision that the cement company appealed. City Council members whose campaigns had been funded by the developers postponed action on the appeal pending...

Reflowing the Sierra to the Sea

A fall flight over the Mexican coast where the Colorado River meets the Sea of Cortez offered me a gut-punching, eye-screwing, visual on the results of impaired flow. The semantics of ‘unimpaired’ and ‘impaired’ flow have laced the language of California water management debates since some engineer invented these politically ‘neutral’ terms long ago. The terms refer to our alteration of freshwater flows from snowmelt and runoff by dams and diversions. But whatever the labels, or whichever estuary you’re referring to, keeping these flows from reaching the sea via rivers can starve these aquatic ecosystems of their liquid life force. Whether it’s the vast yellowing salt flats that are all that remain of the mighty marshes of the pre-dam Colorado River delta, or our own estuary at the mouth of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, when we “impair” the...
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Pearls in the ocean of information that our reporters didn’t want you to miss

Pied-billed grebes are providing valuable biocontrol services in the Estuary by consuming red swamp crayfish, an invasive crustacean known to disrupt ecosystems.

Although grebes are primarily fish-eaters (they swallow their own feathers to cushion the sharp bones), this species also consumes significant numbers of crayfish, sometimes detaching the pincers before swallowing the good part. Native to southern swamps and bayous, the red swamp crayfish has been introduced in the Sacramento Valley and San Francisco Delta. According to the...

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ESTUARY News is the 25-year-old regional magazine of the San Francisco Estuary Partnership and its myriad partners around the Bay and Delta. Written by professional, independent journalists, it provides in-depth, silo-crossing coverage of the environmental, restoration, and climate adaptation issues of our time, and tells the stories behind the 2016 Estuary Blueprint.

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