February 1, 2015

Marin Streamside Ordinance dead after 20 days

Spawning salmon. Photo by Todd Steiner.

Spawning salmon. Photo by Todd Steiner.

Marin County’s “Stream Conservation Area Ordinance”, approved by the Board of Supervisors on Oct. 29 (see Dec. Yodeler, page 5), is no longer in effect.

The ordinance included a “poison pill”: “this ordinance shall not be further enforced or applied should litigation against the County of Marin challenging the validity of any part of this ordinance or its environmental review be filed in a court of law.” Anyone, including a disgruntled property owner, could have killed it. In fact, it was the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN), joined by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), who filed such a lawsuit on Nov. 18, challenging the gross inadequacies of the ordinance.

In 2011 SPAWN had sued the county for not implementing a Stream Conservation Area ordinance within the timeframe specified in the 2007 Countywide Plan. In September 2012 Marin County Superior Court Judge M. Lynn Duryee imposed a building moratorium on the San Geronimo Valley until the county passed such an ordinance. In light of the new lawsuit, this Jan. 14 Duryee will hold a court hearing to determine if the moratorium should resume, and whether it should be expanded to all of Marin.

To meet the requirements of the Countywide Plan and the Endangered Species and Clean Water Acts, the ordinance should include basic protections for our endangered coho salmon and threatened steelhead trout, including “no net loss” of habitat. Instead the ordinance is riddled with exemptions and exceptions that allow increased development next to streams.

The low water levels of this season’s drought have brought low salmon returns for spawning, and we fear they will lead to a worrisomely small cohort of offspring.

This could put our already endangered coho further into the extinction vortex described by fish experts such as Peter Moyle and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

So, seven years after passage of a Countywide Plan that was supposed to protect our streams and their wildlife, after numerous scientific recommendations and studies, Marin County still lacks a Stream Conservation Area Ordinance. In 2009 the county hired a law firm to draft an ordinance, but it was discarded and ignored. The county has spent millions of dollars, but given no relief to the salmon.

Some have suggested scrapping the whole effort: instead of passing an ordinance with the protections mandated by the Countywide Plan, they would have the county modify the Plan to match the flimsy protections of the ordinance. Such a reversal would cost another several hundred thousand dollars and take two years, and our streams would pay the price.

Other counties around the country have effective stream and riparian ordinances. Santa Cruz has had its ordinance for more than 33 years. Why not Marin?

Laura Chariton, Marin Group Executive Committee

Desalination plan expensive and ineffective

Desalination facility at Tampa Bay FL.

Desalination facility at Tampa Bay FL.

Correction (Jan. 6, 2014): an earlier version of this article stated that running the plant just during drought years would triple the cost per acre foot of the desalinated water. In fact, it would triple the capital cost of the desalinated water, and it would more than double the full cost including both capital and operational expenses.


A desalination plant being planned by Bay Area water agencies, allegedly for drought-year relief, would actually increase the need for water in drought years, and would also contribute to global climate disruption.

The Bay Area’s four largest water agencies–the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD), Contra Costa Water District (CCWD), San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC,) and Santa Clara Valley Water District (SCVWD)–have been planning together since 2003 for the Bay Area Regional Desalination Project (BARDP), a large reverse-osmosis desalination plant at Mallard Slough, on Suisun Bay near Antioch. They were joined in 2010 by the Zone 7 Water Agency (Zone 7), which serves the Livermore area. Current project planning calls for a 20 million gallons per day (mgd) desalination plant, but allows for up to a 50 mgd plant, as large as the troubled Carlsbad desalination project in San Diego, the largest in the U.S.

Purportedly the project is designed primarily to provide additional water in drought years, as the Bay Area is not projected to face significant water supply problems in normal or wet years through 2040, but plans call for the plant to run every year. In a normal rainfall year, a 20 mgd plant would deliver 9 mgd to SFPUC and 5 mgd to Zone 7 for immediate consumption. The 9 mgd received by SFPUC would be used to guarantee a 9 mgd delivery to SCVWD, which is now an optional water sale. Theoretically, the remaining 6 mgd would be stored in CCWD’s Los Vaqueros Reservoir for use in dry years. (The water going into storage would be allocated among SCVWD [2.4 mgd], EBMUD [2.2 mgd], and CCWD [1.4 mgd].)

Los Vaqueros, however, has limited storage capacity. In normal and wet years, Los Vaqueros can be filled to capacity without any additional water from desalination. And so it seems that desalination would not increase the usable water in the reservoir.

In a drought year, the 20 mgd plant would continue its 9 mgd delivery to SFPUC (destined for SCVWD) and its 5 mgd delivery to Zone 7. EBMUD deliveries would increase to 3.5 mgd on average over three drought years, with SCVWD average deliveries falling to 1.6 mgd and CCWD average deliveries falling to .9 mgd. The only agency getting increased direct deliveries from the plant in a drought would be EBMUD, and the increase of 1.3 mgd represents less than 1% of EBMUD’s 2010 water demand. Without additional storage capacity, the other agencies could see a reduction in their supplies in drought years.

What about running the plant only in drought years (estimated as one in three)? This would more than double the cost per acre foot of the desalinated water. All current cost estimates for the BARDP, however, are based on continuous operation of the plant.

With sea levels rising, ocean waters are moving inland, and Bay/Delta salinity is rising. The U.S. Geological Survey reports that salinity levels in the Delta could double by 2050–exceeding the engineering specifications for the plant during much of the year, and increasing the dollar and energy costs of desalination the rest of the time. Since salinity rises in any case in drought years, the plant could be non-functional when needed most. The BARDP planning hasn’t taken these salinity increases into account.

Another problem is emission of greenhouse gases. In a normal rainfall year, the plant would produce just over 8,000 tonnes of CO2, the equivalent of consuming about 900,000 gallons of gasoline. In a drought year, increased salinity would increase CO2 emissions by 25%, to just over 10,000 tonnes.

In California the energy cost of recycled water averages 325 – 1,000 kilowatt-hours per acre-foot (kwh/af). Energy use at BARDP is estimated at 3,000 – 3,500 kwh/af, up to 10 times higher. In drought years, with higher salinity, BARDP’s energy costs would rise by another 20%. In a feedback loop, more drought would increase salinity, raising CO2 emissions from the plant, making a greater contribution to global warming, and thus bringing more frequent and intense droughts.

The best and cheapest protection against drought is to reduce the amount of water that must be delivered. Water supplies designed for drought shortfalls should never be used to increase the normal-water-year baseline water deliveries, as the current BARDP plan would do. By guaranteeing water in normal years to areas facing development pressure, BARDP would increase the amount of water that must be delivered in drought years, so that the pressure on other water sources will be increased, rather than relieved.

Each water-supply source must be evaluated for energy and dollar costs, and for its effects on global warming. The current BARDP plan supplies water that comes at very high energy and dollar costs, and needs to be reconsidered or abandoned in favor of less energy-intensive water recycling, or the cheapest and least energy-consumptive alternative of all–water conservation.

Charlotte Allen, co-chair, Sierra Club Bay Chapter Water Committee

Club releases white paper on alternatives to giant Bay/Delta tunnels–conservation, efficiency measures improve local control of water resources

General aerial photo of Delta patterns, July 15, 2004. Photo by Paul J. Hames.

General aerial photo of Delta patterns, July 15, 2004. Photo by Paul J. Hames.

On Dec. 19, Sierra Club California released a white paper showing that technology and commonsense can create water savings to help meet California’s water demand without building giant tunnels to divert water away from the San Francisco Bay/Delta.

“Sierra Club California opposes the proposed tunnels,” the white paper states. “Instead, we believe Californians should pursue a range of strategies that together will sustainably meet water needs while protecting the environment.”

The white paper was prepared by Sierra Club California’s Water Committee, composed of active volunteers, many of whom have spent decades involved in water issues.

“California can meet its water demand sustainably and reliably by focusing investment in recycling, conservation, water efficiency and better groundwater management for both urban and agricultural users,” the paper states. “The list of alternatives in this document is not exhaustive, but it demonstrates that there are reasonable ways to meet California’s water demand without building the tunnels.”

Earlier this month, the state released the Bay Delta Conservation Plan’s Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement which proposes to build a 30-mile-long pair of giant tunnels to divert water from the Sacramento River above the Bay Delta. Federal agencies have noted that the plan leaves in doubt the fate of at least nine threatened or endangered species in the Bay Delta, including salmon and sandhill cranes.

“Our volunteers have become increasingly frustrated about the Brown administration’s devotion to an outdated approach to California’s water supply challenges,” said Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California. “They decided they needed to lay out specific ways to meet water supply for everyone without relying on the tunnels. They didn’t have to dig deeply for many of the ideas listed in the paper. Some have already been suggested in other state government documents—which just goes to show that when it comes to water policy, good ideas that won’t compromise the environment haven’t been pursued by the state as vigorously as warranted.”

Read the full white paper, entitled “Clean, Sustainable and Reliable Water Supply: Alternatives to the Giant Bay Delta Tunnels”, at the Sierra Club California web site: www.sierraclubcalifornia.org.

Secure water at its source: protect forests from clearcutting

A clearcut in the Sierra. Photo by Bruce Castle, Ebbetts Pass Forest Watch.

A clearcut in the Sierra. Photo by Bruce Castle, Ebbetts Pass Forest Watch.

During this extremely dry fall, how many of us realize that the forests of California provide 75% of the state’s water supply? As debate rages as to whether to pull more water from the Sierra than we already do, our forested watershed in the Cascades and Sierra Nevada are now under threat like never before. California’s privately owned and state-managed forest lands, surrounding the borders of Yosemite, Lassen, and Mount Shasta, are being devastated by widespread chemical-intensive industrial clearcutting.

Timber giant Sierra Pacific Industries and other logging companies seem to be in a race to clearcut as fast as they can. Currently about a million acres of forests essential for wildlife habitat, flood control, carbon sequestration, and water security are being cut down and converted to commercial tree farms. State law allows forests to be clearcut in 20 – 30-acre plots, but has no limit on the amount of clearcutting permitted in a given watershed. The rampant deforestation that has occurred over the last 12 years alone is now vividly portrayed on satellite images such as the powerful new Google Earth map of global forest change (search around the towns of Murphys, Manton, and Shingletown to see the surrounding clearcuts), released in Science on Nov. 14, at http://earthenginepartners.appspot.com/science-2013-global-forest, as well as the Google Earth virtual tour created by the Stop Clearcutting Campaign at www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=Gc51z9ah7Vk.

“We are experimenting with nature. A massive re-engineering of California’s forests is occurring, replacing natural forests with tree farms. The liquidation of our forests must be stopped,” said Karen Maki, volunteer lead for the Sierra Club’s Stop Clearcutting campaign.

Researchers such as UC Santa Barbara Professor Robert Wilkinson have found that clearcutting is exacerbating the harm caused by climate change, drying out our forests and increasing the risk of fire, flooding, and water shortages.

“We’ve got to build resilience into our ecosystems, especially our forests, if we’re going to deal with what climate change will throw at us. Today, our forests are getting drier as more clearcutting happens, which is one reason we’ve seen so many wildfires on this trip. When rain hits an area that’s been clearcut, it runs off, whereas if you have healthy forests, the branches slow the rain down so it drips onto the soil and sinks in,” said Wilkinson.

Please join the Sierra Club and our allies in forest communities in calling for an immediate moratorium on industrial clearcutting. We need to call on our state officials to overhaul outmoded 20th-century forestry laws and replace them with modern forest watershed management. Already, too much has been lost. To guarantee a future where our water supplies are protected, our forests teem with wildlife, and our children play among giant, old-growth trees, we have to act now.


For more information contact Karen.Maki@lomaprieta.sierraclub.org.

Sign our petition at http://www.sierraclub.org/clearcutting/.

Forests are vast reservoirs and our first line of defense against climate change. The clearcutting of California’s forests amounts to an unprecedented re-engineering experiment. Is it wise to alter nature’s design during a time of climate uncertainty?

Juliette Beck, staff, Sierra Club Stop Clearcutting CA campaign

“Muir’s Legacy: Restoring Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Valley” — Green Fridays

Depiction of a restored Hetch Hetchy Valley.

Depiction of a restored Hetch Hetchy Valley.

Friday, January 10, 7 - 9 pm, Chapter Office, 2530 San Pablo Avenue (one block south of Dwight Way) in Berkeley. Note new time and format: no potlucks; doors open at 7 pm for beverages and snacks; presentation begins at 7:30. Suggested donation is $3.

“Muir’s Legacy: Restoring Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Valley”

The damming of Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park looms large, not only in the history of the Sierra Club but in the history of America’s conservation movement. In 1913, for the only time in American history, Congress allowed a single municipality to occupy and develop one of America’s national parks. Undoing this “Great American Mistake” (from the title of Ken Brower’s recent book on the Hetch Hetchy) has long been an objective of the Sierra Club. Restore Hetch Hetchy, a Sierra Club offshoot, works to make this restoration a reality. Executive director Spreck Rosekrans will provide the background of Hetch Hetchy’s legacy, and tell us how Restore Hetch Hetchy plans to successfully accomplish restoration.

Before working for Restore Hetch Hetchy, Spreck Rosekrans spent more than 20 years at the Environmental Defense Fund, working with water agencies, electric utilities, Indian tribes, and conservationists to improve native fisheries and wetland habitat in the Grand Canyon, on the Trinity River, and in California’s Central Valley. In addition, Spreck has provided expert testimony in federal court, at the state legislature, and before the State Water Resources Control Board. Rosekrans was a founding boardmember of Restore Hetch Hetchy and the lead author of the Environmental Defense Fund’s groundbreaking report: “Paradise Regained: Solutions for Restoring Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Valley”, which shows that San Francisco would still be able to access reliable high-quality Tuolumne River supplies when Hetch Hetchy Valley has been restored.

Green Fridays are held on the second Friday of each month, 7 – 9 pm, at the Chapter Office, 2530 San Pablo Avenue (one block south of Dwight Way) in Berkeley. Note new time and format: no potlucks; doors open at 7 pm for beverages and snacks; presentation begins at 7:30. Suggested donation is $3.

Green Fridays, sponsored by the Sierra Club Northern Alameda County Group, is a series of free public presentations by expert speakers on the most important environmental issues of our times. For more information, contact Ken Peter­son at kenpeterson45@att.net or Joanne Drabek at (510)530-5216.

No Green Friday event in December. Attend the Chapter Holiday Party on Fri., Dec. 13.

Bay-Delta peripheral-tunnel plan could dry up north-state reservoirs

Dawn breaking at duck blind in the Delta. Photos by Roger Mammon.

Dawn breaking at duck blind in the Delta. Photos by Roger Mammon.

Population growth and climate change create huge challenges to California water supplies. The state Department of Water Resources (DWR) has been pushing solutions from the last century, which include huge tunnels in the Delta (see October-November Yodeler, page 3) and new or raised dams for Sacramento River water.

The DWR has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on computer modeling in an attempt to get around a fundamental fact—that we are currently diverting more water from the state’s rivers and the Sacramento Delta than the ecosystems can sustain.

To promise more water to water-export agencies funding the proposed projects, DWR has had to relax current operating limits on north-state reservoirs. The computer models for the proposed operations of the Delta tunnels assume that Shasta, Trinity, and Folsom Reservoirs will be drained to minimum pool in the third year of a multi-year drought, and that Trinity River will be dried up completely. DWR is also assuming that water-quality standards in the Delta will be relaxed, allowing salty Bay water to be drawn even deeper into the estuary (this is a plan that purports to give equal weight to protection of the Delta environment!) These proposed operations would be disastrous for fish and for Sacramento Valley and Delta water users. Nonetheless the water agencies that would supposedly benefit have not yet agreed to pay for the project.

To get around the conflict, DWR is joining with the federal Bureau of Reclamation to propose raising Shasta Dam to store more water—but the raised dam would simply be a dry wall of concrete in nine out of 10 years, and the projected yield for the remaining very wet year double-counts the water that would be stored behind the dam and diverted downstream by the Delta tunnels.


DWR will be releasing the Draft Environmental Impact Report for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan on Dec. 13. The public will have until April 14 to comment on the plan; see the next Yodeler for more about the EIR and the Club’s comments on it.

The Chapter Water Committee is working with the League of Women Voters-Eden Area Group to present a forum on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan in early 2014. We will post further information at theYodeler.org  and on the Chapter Calendar when available.

To work with the Chapter Water Committee on in the campaign to oppose the Bay Delta Plan, contact committee co-chair Sonia Diermayer at (510)336-1102 or sodier@mindspring.com.

The Sierra Club’s California/Nevada Water Committee is also working to develop sound alternative solutions. For more information, contact Deirdre Des Jardins at campaign@mbaysav.org.

Deirdre Des Jardins

Marin Supervisors pass toothless streamside ordinance–will our salmon survive politics?

Spawning salmon. Photo by Todd Steiner.

Spawning salmon. Photo by Todd Steiner.

On Oct. 29 the Marin County Board of Supervisors passed an interim 29-month “Stream Conservation Area Ordinance” that does little to protect the three iconic species of salmonids that struggle to survive in our streams.

Their hope is that after this period, the supervisors will have enough information and community input to inform and codify a permanent countywide ordinance.

Because of potential conflicts of interest, only three of the five supervisors were allowed to vote. Supervisors Susan Adams, Kathrin Sears, and Judy Arnold all voted in favor of the ordinance. Supervisor Kinsey,  who had taken the lead promoting it, and Supervisor Katie Rice were disqualified from voting by the state Fair Political Practices Commission, which cited economic conflicts of interest because they own homes near creeks.

Because of a 2011 lawsuit brought by the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN) against Marin County, the court issued an injunction placing the unincorporated areas of the County in San Geronimo Valley under a development moratorium until the County adopted a streamside ordinance as required by the 2007 Marin Countywide Plan. However, the ordinance’s protections for salmon are weaker than those in the Countywide Plan, despite Endangered Species Act listings. Further, the ordinance contains a “poison pill” provision that stipulates it will be nullified by any legal challenge, and one environmentalist testified on Oct. 29 that if the ordinance was passed with the poison pill, he would file a lawsuit before the ordinance goes into effect.

The Sierra Club will consider possible legal actions in support of other groups. If a lawsuit is filed, there is some uncertainty whether the moratorium will remain in effect, but ultimately it will be up to the courts.

Other communities, such as Santa Cruz County, have had strong stream and sensitive-habitat protection ordinances for over 30 years.

A letter signed by 140 scientific experts recommended a setback of 100 feet for all streamside development. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Central Coast Coho Recovery Plan 2012 states that “urban development” is the number-one threat to coho in Marin’s Lagunitas watershed. The Sierra Club and 29 other environmental organizations signed a letter and took out a full-page ad in the Marin Independent Journal in support of the scientist’s recommendations and opposing the ordinance.

The details of the ordinance are complex, but we fear that it will lead to diminished habitat and degradation of water quality for all aquatic species. The ordinance fails to implement a core principal of the Countywide Plan: that development near streams should be avoided whenever possible. It does not require mitigation for smaller projects, and thus will result in a net loss of critical habitat and in cumulative impacts throughout our watersheds. Its plethora of exceptions will allow sheds, impermeable patios, paths, structures, pesticides and herbicides, and home-remodeling in the stream conservation areas. The ordinance is inconsistent with the Countywide Plan’s calls for “no net loss of riparian acreage” and for a “watershed approach” to planning that considers the connections of streams throughout the system and the impact of development on the entire system. The science-based recommendation for 100-foot setbacks from all streams is ignored.

Why is protection needed now?

The federal government lists coho as endangered and steelhead as threatened. Chinook are not listed. Once in most of the eastside Bay-flowing streams, coho are now extirpated from those streams. They are only in a handful of Marin’s ocean-flowing streams. The Lagunitas Creek watershed is one of the last strongholds for coho in California. Steelhead are still in many streams, and chinook are occasionally found in some of the larger stream channels, but all Marin salmonids are down to only 5 – 10% of historic populations.

NMFS warns of an “extinction spiral” with too few salmon left for the species to remain viable, leading to extirpation in our area. These fish are keystone species that many other species rely on for their survival. Salmon fishing was once a mainstay of northern California’s economy.


Contact the Marin County Board of Supervisors at:

3501 Civic Center Dr.
San Rafael, CA 94903

Tell them to create stronger protections for streams and fish, based on the scientists’ recommendation, by creating a “Sensitive Habitat” ordinance quickly.

You can send an automated e-mail to the Board at www.savemarinsalmon.org.

To keep updated on the county’s process, see www.co.marin.ca.us/depts/CD/main/comdev/advance/SCA.cfm.

To see salmon spawning in Lagunitas Creek, go on the Muir Woods salmon search 2B hike on Sat., Jan. 11 (see Chapter Calendar).

Laura Chariton, Executive Committee, Sierra Club Marin Group

“How Can the California Delta Survive?”

Dawn breaking at duck blind in the Delta. Photos by Roger Mammon.

Dawn breaking at duck blind in the Delta. Photos by Roger Mammon.

Tuesday, November 12, 7 pm, Fort Mason Center, Building A, 2 Marina Boulevard, San Francisco (entrance off Marina Boulevard at Buchanan Street–see map here; $10 parking maximum).

Zócalo Public Square, a not-for-profit daily Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism, is hosting a free program on the California Delta, followed by a reception where guests can chat with speakers and one another over a glass of wine.

Moderator will be Lois Kazakoff, deputy editorial-page editor for the San Francisco Chronicle.

The California Delta is one of the world’s great estuaries, providing water to most Californians and supporting hundreds of plant and animal species. But for decades, it has also been the place where grand plans and compromise go to die, thanks to its many conflicting interests and overlapping jurisdictions. The latest proposal for restoring the Delta, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan—which is supposed to provide the state with a more reliable water supply while protecting and improving the Delta ecosystem—faces political opposition and legal challenges that at best could delay it for years. Is the Delta doomed to decline? Or is there a way to restore habitats, fix levees, and guarantee water supply all at once? Delta Conservancy executive officer Campbell Ingram, Public Policy Institute of California co-director of research Ellen Hanak, and Delta farmer Russell van Loben Sels visit Zócalo to discuss whether the Delta can survive and even thrive.

For more details, see http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/event/how-can-the-california-delta-survive/.

Support the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary

960x640_montana-de-oro-state-parkThe 14 national marine sanctuaries in the United States celebrate and safeguard the nation’s richest underwater treasures. The National Marine Sanctuary Program is essentially the offshore version of our National Park System: a way to designate marine environments notable for their biodiversity and cultural history, and to ensure proper management for their ecological integrity.

In 1992 Congress pondered the creation of both a Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and a Central Coast National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of California. Congress opted for half a loaf, drawing an arbitrary line in the ocean just south of San Simeon, decreeing 5,300 square miles north of that line as a national marine sanctuary, and the waters to the south as out of luck.

The Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary was designated in 1980. That leaves the coast of San Luis Obispo and part of Santa Barbara from Point Conception to Cambria — as the hole in the doughnut. This area will be in the cross-hairs when next the cry “drill, baby, drill!” is heard.

Hence the need for the Chumash Cultural Heritage National Marine Sanctuary. The Chumash people were the first inhabitants of California’s central and southern coastal regions, and among the few ocean-going First Peoples of the hemisphere. Their ancient submerged sacred sites extend 13 miles offshore. More than a dozen coastal sites have been continuously occupied for more than 9,000 years.

This cultural heritage, along with the most significant wetland system on the central coast, rocky intertidal zones, coral communities, the highest coastal dunes in the state, magnificent kelp forests, marine mammal haul-out areas, a major sea-otter population, and three whale and porpoise feeding areas, combine to form a clear message, one that we need your help to send to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries: the waters of the Central Coast deserve marine sanctuary status!

As oil supplies get tighter and fracking spreads offshore, this is the only way to permanently protect these waters and their priceless cultural and biological treasures.

We are pleased to support the Northern Chumash Tribal Council in this initiative, and are collecting names in support of this designation. Please sign our petition, and you will be listed as an official supporter.


Sign Up


Andrew Christie, director, Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club

reprinted from http://action.sierraclub.org/site/PageServer?pagename=chp_santalucia_ChumashNMS&autologin=true&s_src=313Z2500S1

Volunteer Chris Thorsen loves water, fire, and baseball

Chris Thorsen in his element.

Chris Thorsen in his element.

It’s with water that Chris Thorsen serves the Sierra Club—foaming, fast-moving water, usually in the South Fork of the American River. Since 2007, Chris has volunteered in the Bay Chapter’s Inner City Outings (ICO) Rafting Section, which provides an introduction to (wet) wilderness for urban youth and adults who ordinarily have little opportunity to savor and understand nature.

Chris’s relationship with the Sierra Club came about through ICO, and he connected with ICO through his love of rafting. In 2003, his friend Lance Chuck took Chris on a river trip, and Chris was hooked. Lance not only led private trips, but also volunteered with ICO, and in a few years Chris began volunteering too—first as equipment manager and assistant trip leader, and eventually as trip leader and a member of the ICO Rafting Section Steering Committee.

The work is a bit rough—but it is enormously rewarding. After first running rivers with Lance, Chris wanted to become a private river guide himself. His experiences with the ICO, however, have taught him much about people as well as rivers. Most of the ICO student rafters are from San Francisco and Oakland, though he has worked with a group from Los Angeles and with residents of a halfway house/school in Marin. A modified trip for a class of second-graders helped him see the river through their eyes. An adult group from Alcoholics Anonymous changed his perspective again. One youth group runs a river with ICO every summer, and Chris has seen the same kids grow up year after year.

Before bouncing down the river on a raft, herding a flotilla of other rafts filled with shrieking amateur paddlers, trip leaders must plan and organize the adventure. They also train assistant leaders. Maybe Chris is just a big kid—he has been able to work well with young people and to help his assistants get along with them too.

Fellow ICO Rafting trip leader Ryan Clark says, “ICO is full of people who put in a tremendous amount of work with little fanfare and thanks, but Chris really stands out. He’s the ultimate team player. He will always do what’s best for ICO, even at great personal inconvenience, and he will never rock the boat [or even the raft!] or call attention to himself.”

Growing up in San Francisco and Concord, Chris went camping a few times with his parents and brother, but most of his outdoor activities involved Little League. After graduating from Clayton Valley High School, he started at Los Medanos Community College because of its firefighting program. Before enrolling in that program, though, he transferred to a trade school and became an electrician, which is still his occupation. His desire, however, is to attend Los Medanos’ Fire Fighter One Academy, which would prepare him to use fire equipment of all kinds, to fight urban and wildland fires, and to perform a wide variety of rescue operations.

Though he would like to incorporate fire into his profession, water in many forms dominates Chris’s leisure activities. He has run rivers as far away as the Shotover in New Zealand. He has surfed at Aptos and scubaed at Monterey.

A favorite dry pastime is following baseball. A committed Giants fan, he plans to travel to New York this fall to watch his team play the Yankees. At least once a year, he tries to visit a Major League ballpark and buy a cap for a souvenir. It may take a while, but he hopes eventually to get a complete collection.

Meanwhile, he’s collecting memories—fervid, fiery ones—of wild rivers and ecstatic river-runners.

Karen Rosenbaum