June 24, 2016

June ballot Measure AA will restore wetlands for a healthy Bay and safer communities

Image from KQED Quest: "From Salt Ponds to Wetlands" at the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by: Joan Johnson.

Image from KQED Quest: “From Salt Ponds to Wetlands” at the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by: Joan Johnson.

Vote ‘Yes’ on Measure AA in this June’s election and you’ll be helping the Bay Area take a major step forward in responding to climate change and sea-level rise.

Sea-level rise threatens Bay-side communities

As many of us have witnessed during the latest El Niño storms, flooding in low-lying bay shoreline areas is becoming more common. As the bay rises three, four, or even six feet as a result of climate change (as scientists project will happen within this century) many shoreline areas will face constant inundation. Another way of saying that is that some areas may become a part of the Bay.

That is, if we don’t do something.

We could build levees around the entire Bay at a cost in the many, many billions. Then again, remember Katrina, remember the Mississippi, and all the other sites where levees have failed. Levees may be necessary in some areas – we’re not likely to allow San Francisco’s downtown to disappear under water – but they’re not the best solution.

Happily (if one can talk about happiness in the face of disaster) there appears to be an answer that makes use of nature’s natural flood barrier, tidal wetlands.

Wetlands: the natural solution

Tidal wetland vegetation slows storm surges, reduces the height of waves and encroaching waters, and so helps avoid flooding. Wetland vegetation traps sediment, and as the Bay rises so will the elevation of the tidal wetlands. As they trap the bay mud and grow new vegetation on this new elevation, wetlands raise our shoreline; a natural and growing levee. This won’t work everywhere, but it will be a critical element in how our Bay Area responds to the rising tides.

But, of course, first we need tidal wetlands. The Bay has lost over 80% of its tidal wetlands over the last few centuries as we humans have been altering the shoreline for agriculture, salt production, and urban development.

But thanks to the Sierra Club and many others the tide began to turn a few decades ago. Even before sea-level rise was recognized as the threat we know it is today (and wetlands recognized as an answer to the water’s encroachment) wetlands were valued for “cleaning and retaining water naturally, preventing floods, and providing a habitat and food source for a wide variety of plant and animal species” (Sahagian and Melack 1998; Mitsch 2005; Erwin 2009; Ranieri et al. 2013). With this in mind, environmental groups such as the Sierra Club began to save threatened tidal marshes.

As conservation efforts ramped up, state and federal agencies began to make it much harder to destroy wetlands for agriculture or development. Once the message finally got out, the goal of restoring those lost wetland acres took hold and wetland restoration became an active endeavor. Over the last decade tens of thousands of acres of tidal marsh have been restored along the Bay shoreline.

But current estimates show the need for at least 100,000 acres of restored wetlands for the health of the Bay and to address sea level rise. And restoring wetlands can be expensive — not as expensive as levees but still pretty expensive. Estimates are that it will take many hundreds of millions of dollars to restore the Bay’s wetlands to health. Where is the money to come from to undertake this essential task?

What would Measure AA do?

In 2008 the State Legislature created the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority, which was tasked with helping fund “the restoration, enhancement, protection, and enjoyment of wetlands and wildlife habitat in the San Francisco Bay and along its shoreline.”

To fund this effort, this year the Restoration Authority is presenting the “Clean and Healthy Bay Ballot Measure,” or Measure AA, on the June ballot in each of the nine Bay Area counties. Measure AA would create a $12 parcel tax that would raise $500 million over 20 years to fund critical Bay restoration and flood protection projects. The Authority’s enabling legislation and the ballot language ensure that the money will go where it’s needed. It’s not enough money to completely protect the Bay Area from sea-level rise, but it’s a great start to help us get ready for a higher bay.

This ballot measure will result in a healthier and safer Bay and most of all, it gives us all a chance to do something positive about climate change and sea-level rise. We still need to put all our energy into stopping the use of fossil fuels and reducing greenhouse gases – but that is saying ‘No.’

Here is a chance to say ‘YES’! Voting ‘Yes’ on Measure AA fights climate change by creating a healthier Bay ready to take on the rising seas. Please vote this June and vote ‘Yes’ on Measure AA.

Arthur Feinstein, Bay Chapter Executive Committee

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