Bay Watch

photo credit: Wing

The following are a few stories of interest tracking the latest developments in water quality for the San Francisco Bay region.

The S.F. Chronicle reports that a loophole in the laws protecting California’s coastal waters is finally being closed: sewage discharge from ships is now prohibited less than 3 miles from shore. The Chron reports that while many sea-going vessels have been voluntarily following this protocol for years, some even waiting until further off-shore, the new legislation will formalize the practice and help to address water quality issues along state beaches. Read the full story here.

Oakland’s splendid Lake Merritt is in for an overhaul. The 140 acre “lake” is actually a brackish tidal slough that is connected to the San Francisco Bay via a narrow channel. However for many years its waters have stagnated with inadequate connectivity to the Bay due to the deterioration of the channel. All that is about to change as the $115 million that was allocated to improve Lake Merritt  in 2002 as part of  Bond Measure DD to improve the lake finally hits the ground. The improvements to the lake will be chiefly through improving the connections between the bay and the lake, and the removal of a portion of 12th Street at the southern end of the lake. Read a thorough account of the project at Quest, here.

BCDC (the Bay Conservation and Development Commission) released it’s draft Subtidal Habitat Goals Project report this summer. The project represents a ” comprehensive and long-term management vision for research, restoration and management of the subtidal habitats of the San Francisco Bay”. Read the draft report here.

California – 20th in Beach Water Quality


photo credit: Alan Cleaver 2000

According to the National Resource Defense Council’s annual water quality report for the nation’s beaches, this year had the sixth highest levels of contamination in the 20 year history of the study. The NRDC reports that a range of causes are contributing to dirtier coastlines, including stormwater runoff and aging sanitation and combined sewer systems that may overflow into coastal waters during storm events.

Although contaminated waters can pass pathogens along to swimmers, the water tests currently employed take up to 24 hours to reveal problems, and so warranted beach closures are often delayed.

How does California fare in all of this? Of the 30 states with coastal waters, the cleanliness of California beaches rank at a sad #20. The top 3 polluted beaches include North Avalon beach in Los Angeles County where 82% of sampled water exceeded national pollution standards; Mendocino County’s Pudding Creek beach where 65% of samples exceeded national standards; and Poche County beach in Orange County that had an excessive pollution rate of 62%.  The county that received the dubious honor of  having the highest percentage of  beach water samples that  exceeded national pollution standards was San Francisco County at 17%. However, on a more positive note, the level of pollution in California beach water has trended downward in the last five years.

Read the report on California’s coastal waters, hereand the full Testing the Waters NRDC report, here.

Noelle’s Links – Bay Area Edition


Interesting tidbits from my web travels…

The SF Chronicle’s Chip Johnson weighs in on a promising Oakland streetcar proposal from Stanford student Daniel Jacobsen. The proposed line would link Piedmont to the Jack London waterfront, creating a focused amenity for downtown Oakland. Jacobsen’s careful and well-researched proposal which he gave to the city as a gift, is based on a similar street car system in Portland. Jacobsen includes feasibility analyses, job creation projections and a funding strategy.

East Bay Local Alert: The Beehive Market, a brand new sustainable-focus community market kicked off on Saturday, June 12 in West Berkeley. The Beehive features local food and produce vendors, eco-fashion, home, and personal care, and even features local bands, and speaker/educational events. What better way to start the weekend?

Berkeley’s recent intimations that it will begin collecting a fee for curbside recycling has been receiving a fair amount of press lately. While it may seem like an ecological dis-incentive, it is important to celebrate the success that Berkeley’s recycling program has had and its influence on the creation of recycling programs around the country. It is actually good news that recycling in Berkeley can no longer be funded solely on fees for landfill garbage collection. As municipalities start to make progress toward their waste diversion targets, it is time to start making headway on new models for funding mechanisms; be prepared- it may take a few tries to get it right.

The Red Vic Movie House in SF will be screening the new documentary “Oceans” on Sunday June 20, and Monday June 21st. With all of the harrowing events still unfolding in the BP Gulf oil spill, now seems to be an especially important time to raise our awareness of the ocean and its inhabitants. The documentary provides extensive underwater imagery captured with state-of-the-art techniques, and also discusses the human impacts on the ocean’s vital ecosystems.

Finding Data – Watershed Mapping


Pictured above is the U.S. EPA 'Surf your Watershed' site’s display of the six watersheds of Alameda County.

‘Surf your Watershed’ is an excellent tool from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that helps you find basic data on all the watersheds in your county. The site includes U.S. Geologic Survey data, water quality information, and links to local citizen’s groups working on water stewarship, clean up and other  issues (39 in Alameda County!)

Check it out