8/18/10

Seven years ago, a $100 million deal by the federal and state government to purchase 16,500 acres of industrial salt-evaporation ponds along the southern shoreline of San Francisco Bay made national news.

It was to be the biggest wetlands restoration ever attempted in the West, an opportunity to bring back fish, birds, harbor seals and other wildlife to levels not seen in perhaps a century. But then came years of scientific studies and public meetings.

On Tuesday, the follow-through took shape atop the earthen levees south of the San Mateo Bridge near Hayward, as 20 massive dump trucks moved piles of dark soil, and excavators reshaped the landscape while white pelicans and egrets drifted through breezy blue skies above it all.

"This is the culmination of all the work we have been doing. This is what we've been waiting for -- dirt being moved, bay waters coming back," said John Bourgeois, manager of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project.

The work on the shoreline at Eden Landing is a microcosm of the overall bay restoration effort. It began in July and is scheduled for completion in two years. The project aims to restore to tidal marsh 630 acres of former industrial salt evaporation ponds that were once used to concentrate salt for roads, food and medical uses.

Over an area roughly the size of 600 football fields, workers in hard hats and orange vests are reshaping and taking down levees that now are 8 to 10 feet tall.  Next summer, bay waters will pour into the landscape, which in the 1800s was a rich mix of marshes and sloughs. Today, that area looks like an arid, whitish moonscape.

In some areas, crews will break thick crusts of gypsum up to one foot deep left from Cargill's old salt operations, to allow plants like pickleweed, native spartina and alkali heath to grow back more quickly.

 

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8/18/10

A federal appeals court decided Tuesday that mud washing off logging roads is pollution and ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to write regulations to reduce the amount that reaches salmon streams.

A conservation group that filed the lawsuit said if the ruling by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stands, logging roads on federal, state and private lands across the West will eventually have to be upgraded to meet Clean Water Act standards.

"Those roads historically have gotten a free pass," said Mark Riskedahl of the Northwest Environmental Defense Center in Portland. "This is not rocket science. There are some very low-cost, low-maintenance steps folks can take to remedy this problem."

The center had sued the Oregon Department of Forestry over sediment washing off two logging roads on the Tillamook State Forest in northwestern Oregon.

A three-judge panel of the court found that the sediment exceeded Clean Water Act limits, and should be regulated by EPA as a point source of industrial pollution. The judges rejected arguments from the state that the sediment falls under exemptions granted by Congress and less stringent regulations for things like agricultural runoff.

Chris Winter, an attorney for the CRAG Law Center in Portland, which represented the center, said the EPA has long recognized sediment as one of the leading sources of water pollution in the country, and that it is harmful to fish, but has chosen not to address the issue of logging roads.


 

In 2001, the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) filed a similar lawsuit: EPIC v. Pacific Lumber and U.S. EPA.

8/17/10

A local entrepreneur's efforts to establish a marine shipping service along the West Coast and a four-port initiative to build infrastructure to support it have earned recognition -- and the prospect of funding -- from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The department's finding makes the projects eligible for federal funding. Also, a designation of an “M-5 Marine Highway Corridor” by the Transportation Department recognizes how Interstate Highway 5 and a marine distribution network along the California, Oregon and Washington coasts may work together to increase efficiency, and reduce pollution and traffic congestion.

The Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District is the public partner of Eureka-based Humboldt Maritime Logistics. Its concept of shipping goods from smaller ports to larger harbors by barge and vice versa is determined to be a fit for the federal marine highway initiative.

Humboldt Maritime Logistics President Stephen Pepper said his company is currently seeking $1.5 million for a West Coast market analysis and a study of what kind of equipment will best suit the service's needs. The Transportation Department's determination means the company and the Harbor District are now in a much better position to receive federal funding. 

 

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8/17/10

Federal scientists have confirmed a California agency's findings that the sediment trapped behind four Klamath River dams is largely uncontaminated, a critical determination if the removal of those dams is to go forward.

The U.S. Interior Department's preliminary review of the muck behind the dams found that there would be no human health risk due to contact with the sediment if it were to be released downstream when the dams are razed. PCBs, trace metals and dioxins were found only at low levels, according to data in the report.

The findings confirm a 2006 California Coastal Conservancy study that found the 11.5 to 15.3 million cubic yards of sediment behind the dams is mostly very fine, organic material that had low levels of contamination.

”As far as I'm concerned it's good news for people, the environment and everybody,” said U.S. Geological Survey Program Manager Dennis Lynch, who is heading up the effort to collect information that will inform the U.S. interior secretary on whether removing the dams is in the public interest.

Had the sediment been found to be heavily contaminated, it almost certainly would have doomed efforts to remove the dams. A project that would have drained reservoirs and dredged out toxic mud for shipping to a certified landfill is believed to be far too costly. 

 

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August 2010

As the world's oceans are degraded, will they be dominated by jellyfish?

On the night of December 10, 1999, the Philippine island of Luzon, home to the capital, Manila, and some 40 million people, abruptly lost power, sparking fears that a long-rumored military coup d’état was underway. Malls full of Christmas shoppers plunged into darkness. Holiday parties ground to a halt. President Joseph Estrada, meeting with senators at the time, endured a tense ten minutes before a generator restored the lights, while the public remained in the dark until the cause of the crisis was announced, and dealt with, the next day. Disgruntled generals had not engineered the blackout. It was wrought by jellyfish. Some 50 dump trucks’ worth had been sucked into the cooling pipes of a coal-fired power plant, causing a cascading power failure. “Here we are at the dawn of a new millennium, in the age of cyberspace,” fumed an editorial in the Philippine Star, “and we are at the mercy of jellyfish.”

A decade later, the predicament seems only to have worsened. All around the world, jellyfish are behaving badly—reproducing in astonishing numbers and congregating where they’ve supposedly never been seen before. Jellyfish have halted seafloor diamond mining off the coast of Namibia by gumming up sediment-removal systems. Jellies scarf so much food in the Caspian Sea they’re contributing to the commercial extinction of beluga sturgeon—the source of fine caviar. In 2007, mauve stinger jellyfish stung and asphyxiated more than 100,000 farmed salmon off the coast of Ireland as aquaculturists on a boat watched in horror. The jelly swarm reportedly was 35 feet deep and covered ten square miles.