March 29, 2015

To save native Delta fish species, fight for freshwater flows


Photo courtesy

The drought may be harming both humans and wildlife, but extinction is forever. Several fish species—including a major run of salmon–in the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary are at imminent risk of extinction, even as state and federal agencies have petitioned for more water to be sent from the Delta to agricultural and municipal water users.

Delta outflow standards exist to ensure that all of the fresh water doesn’t get pumped out of the Bay-Delta Estuary for human use alone, thereby protecting fish and wildlife that depend on the Bay and Delta.  Yet, according to many Central Valley residents and legislators, these environmental standards create an onerous and unnecessary impact to their water supply. As California’s water supply dwindles with the ongoing drought, the demand grows louder to divert every last drop of fresh water that reaches our Bay.

At a recent State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) meeting, Central Valley residents arrived wearing t-shirts that read, “Water for People, NOT for Fish!” They were petitioning the State Board to permit a relaxation of Delta outflow standards and simultaneous higher Delta pumping levels than dry-year regulations usually allow. Yet winter-run and spring-run Chinook salmon, Delta smelt, steelhead trout, and potentially longfin smelt—all endangered species—are all at the critical juncture in their life cycles that puts them at increased risk of getting killed by the Delta pumps.

The State Board responded to the water users’ petition with a revised order that attempts to balance the need to preserve critical reservoir storage with the need to provide water supply and protect endangered fish species and the health of the Bay-Delta Estuary. It remains to be seen whether this attempt will be successful: last year’s similar attempts at a balanced allocation of water led to lethally warm in-stream temperatures that resulted in a 95% loss of the brood year of winter-run Chinook salmon.

As the San Jose Mercury News recently stated in an editorial (“Delta’s health should take priority over pumping”), “California needs to get serious about protecting the health of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, one of Silicon Valley’s most valuable water sources. The short-term needs of Central Valley farmers are significant. But they pale in comparison with preserving the long-term water quality of the estuary that provides water for two-thirds of the state’s residents.”

The State Board will determine in March how much water should be pumped from the Delta in the coming months. They need to hear that extinction is not an acceptable outcome of water allocation decisions during the drought!

Darcie Luce is a Water Policy Specialist for Friends of the San Francisco Estuary’s Freshwater Flows Program.


Write to the State Water Board today requesting that they:

  1. Reverse their decision to suspend the D-1641 March requirements for inflows to San Francisco Bay and ensure that these flows critical to the continued existence of Delta smelt, winter-run Chinook salmon, and other species are actually provided for the rest of March and on through the ecologically important spring period.
  2. Reverse their decision to partly suspend the D-1641 limits on export pumping, in order to prevent devastating impacts on the last remaining Delta smelt and winter-run salmon.
  3. Reject any new petitions to suspend the flow requirements and export limits for April and May 2015, and give the endangered species of the Bay-Delta estuary their last, best chance for survival.

Your email does not need to be very long, but feel free to personalize it to let the Board members know why you care about protecting the fish and wildlife of the San Francisco Estuary.

Send your email to:

Activist trainings: develop the skills to affect real change!

trainingsJoin the Bay Chapter for upcoming activist trainings to learn and practice the skills our organizers use in their advocacy work. Trainings are free for members and $25 for non-members.

Public Speaking Training

Sunday, April 12, 3-5 pm
Yosemite Room, 3rd Floor, Sierra Club national headquarters
85 2nd Street, San Francisco (two blocks from the Montgomery BART station)

Learn how to prepare for and deliver a public comment at a hearing, press conference, or other public event.

RSVP here!

Messaging Training

Sunday, May 10, 3-5 pm
Bay Chapter office, 2530 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley (at Dwight)

Learn how to communicate to the general public about an issue or campaign.

RSVP here!

Exploding trains, backroom deals, and a warming planet: Big Oil is a bad neighbor

The fireball that followed the derailment and explosion of two trains, one carrying Bakken crude oil, on December 30, 2013, outside Casselton, ND. Photo courtesy

The fireball that followed the derailment and explosion of two trains, one carrying Bakken crude oil, outside Casselton, ND.
Photo courtesy

The Bay Area has a long and complicated relationship with the oil industry. The region is home to five refineries, the oldest of which started operating in the late 19th century. Chevron, Shell, Phillips 66, Valero, and Tesoro are five of the top seven producers of oil products in California and their Bay Area facilities represent about 40% of the state’s total refining capacity.

As we’ve described in previous articles in this publication, the oil market is changing as the world runs out of accessible crude extracted through “conventional” methods. New grades of “extreme” crudes like Bakken shale oil and Canadian tar sands are extracted through energy-intensive and highly-polluting methods like fracking and clear-cutting forests to mine for tar sands beneath them. All along the journey from the ground to refineries to your car’s fuel tank, extreme fuels leave behind a long list of devastating impacts on climate and public health.

The dangers to public safety are multiplied when extreme oil is transported from its extraction site to refineries by rail. Activists have coined these trains “bomb trains” because when they derail, they tend to explode, incinerating anything in their path and sending fireballs hundreds of feet into the air. There were four train derailments in North America between mid February and mid March, all of which caused explosions that were so intense that emergency responders let the fires burn themselves out instead of fighting them. The derailments in West Virginia and Illinois also spilled large amounts of oil into nearby rivers that provide drinking water to the neighboring communities. The oil and rail industries continue to claim that crude-by-rail accidents are anomalies that are few and far between. With four accidents within one month, those claims cannot be taken seriously.

The Bay Area’s one existing crude-by-rail terminal is operated by Kinder Morgan in the Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail yard in Richmond. This terminal was given a permit to operate by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) in late 2012, without any public process or input from local decision makers. The Richmond City Council passed a resolution asking BAAQMD to revoke the permit for this terminal as it poses extreme danger to the community and is in close proximity to the Point Richmond business district, homes, and an elementary school. Many community-based organizations, including the Bay Chapter, have joined the call to revoke this permit.

Until recently, the Kinder Morgan terminal was bringing two 100-car trains of Bakken shale oil to Richmond each month. From Richmond, the unrefined crude was offloaded to trucks and driven to the Tesoro refinery near Martinez. In late November 2014, Kinder Morgan stopped receiving shipments of Bakken shale when the global price of crude oil dropped sharply. Investment in extraction of extreme crudes relies on long-term oil dependence and consistent profits. When global oil prices tanked in the fall and into the winter, the production of these extreme crudes started to become economically unsound. Kinder Morgan still has a permit to operate their crude-by-rail terminal, and can resume bringing dangerous oil trains into Richmond whenever they choose, with no public notice.

The Kinder Morgan facility is just one example of how the oil industry operates in the Bay Area: behind closed doors, with little public process or input, and often in coordination with elected officials whose first priority should be representing the interests of the communities surrounding these refineries — not those of the oil companies.

In addition to the Kinder Morgan terminal, there are several other proposed refinery projects that would bring extreme oil into the Bay Area:

  • a rail spur at the Valero refinery in Benicia;
  • the WesPac mega oil terminal in Pittsburg to bring in crude oil by barge and rail; and
  • a complicated  project to import Canadian tar sands oil by rail for processing at two linked Phillips 66 refineries in Rodeo and San Luis Obispo County (see “Toxic tar sands at center of Phillips 66 plans for Bay Area“).

There was some hope that lower oil prices would cause some of these projects to be delayed or cancelled altogether, but the future of each project is still uncertain. The WesPac project has been in limbo for the past year, while the environmental review for the Valero crude-by-rail project is being recirculated for the third time. The Rodeo portion of the Phillips 66 project was approved last month by the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, while the San Luis Obisbo portion has stacked up thousands of letters of opposition as it goes through the environmental review process.

Throughout California, more that 5.5 million people live within the “blast zone”, which spans a quarter mile on either side of the railroad tracks. We’ve seen too many derailments that result in explosions and we know that our air, our water, our health, and our lives are being risked for the profit of the richest industry in the history of the planet. Residents across the state are rising up in opposition to the transport of extreme oil through our communities by rail, by barge, by pipeline, and by truck. Join the movement to keep these dirty and dangerous fuels in the ground. To get involved, email Bay Chapter conservation manager Jess Dervin-Ackerman at

Let’s keep the “wet” in “wetlands” at Sharp Park

Save the FrogsAt its April meeting in San Rafael, the Coastal Commission will be considering an application by the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department for an ill-conceived project in one of the most biologically-important areas managed by the department.

The goal of the so-called “Infrastructure and Habitat Enhancement” project is to dry the naturally-wet Sharp Park Golf Course by dredging nearly 100,000 gallons of sediment and native vegetation from what remains of the Laguna Salada wetland complex in order to speed the flow of water to a pumphouse. The increased flow would be disastrous for the breeding of the California red-legged frog in the wetland’s pools and lagoons. The water is also vital to the survival of the San Francisco garter snake and the many other species in this vital wetland ecosystem.

The Coastal Commission is the first agency reviewing this project that has a responsibility to reasonably protect wetlands and other coastal resources. Showing up to the Coastal Commission hearing is the best way to fight for the integrity of this sensitive wetlands ecosystem and the species that reside there.

The Commission will consider the Sharp Park issue sometime during their meeting in San Rafael, which is scheduled for April 15-17, but the exact date and time for the hearing are yet to be determined. If you would like more information on this issue, please contact Jess Dervin-Ackerman at or (510) 848-0800 x 304.

Community Choice energy programs surge across the region

Bay Chapter conservation organizers Jess Dervin Ackerman and Ratha Lai rally for Community Choice energy at the February 2015 March for Real Climate Leadership in Oakland.

Bay Chapter conservation organizers Jess Dervin Ackerman and Ratha Lai rally for Community Choice energy at the February 2015 March for Real Climate Leadership in Oakland.

Community Choice energy is catching on across the region, confirming the Bay Area’s position as a leader in the transition to a clean-energy economy. Depending where you live, your home or business may already be powered by the cleaner electricity provided by a Community Choice program — and if you’re not right now, it’s just a matter of time.

Community Choice energy (also known as Community Choice Aggregation, or CCA) is an alternative to the old model of the corporate utility monopoly that empowers governments to pool electricity customers to form a local power agency. Communities are thus able to provide power to local customers by purchasing renewable energy on the open market or by investing in local renewable infrastructure. Whereas PG&E relies on electricity from dirty and carbon-intensive sources, Community Choice programs choose clean and renewable power — and the benefits accrue locally, rather than to the shareholders of a for-profit utility like PG&E.

Since Marin Clean Energy (MCE) became California’s first Community Choice energy program in 2010, the power model has spread beyond Marin County as more communities recognize the extensive benefits that Community Choice provides. These benefits include local green jobs and investment in the local economy; cleaner air and a lower carbon footprint; and freedom from the unstable and steadily-increasing costs of electricity generated by fossil fuels.

Marin (and beyond!): a model for the region

3.4.15costcomparisons-RES-650x298Since its founding in 2010, MCE has expanded to cover unincorporated Napa County and the cities of Benicia, El Cerrito, Richmond, and San Pablo. By May of 2015, the program is projected to serve 165,000 customers in three counties.

MCE has been an unambiguous success for customers, the environment, and the local economy, as evidenced by the growing list of cities that wish to join its program. With a base rate that is cheaper and cleaner than PG&E’s, MCE saved its 125,000 customers more than $5.9 million in 2014. The program has created permanent local jobs and contracts for services like information technology and energy efficiency with local companies. Even more jobs are created as part of projects to develop local renewable-energy resources like a 2- to 5-megawatt solar plant at the Port of Richmond, scheduled for completion in 2016. MCE’s sustainable-workforce policy prioritizes fair compensation and support for local businesses, union labor, and apprenticeship programs — policies that are good for individual workers and the economy as a whole.

People who live in MCE’s service area are automatically enrolled in the “Light Green” 50-percent-renewable energy program. Residents or business customers who have the resources and desire to do more for the environment can opt up to “Deep Green” 100-percent-renewable energy. Deep Green costs only a penny more per kilowatt-hour than Light Green rates, so for most residential customers, the additional cost is less than $5 per month. In addition to slashing their carbon footprint, customers who opt up to 100-percent-renewable energy also support the development of new, local renewable-energy projects; half of the revenue from the Deep Green premium is directed to a local renewable-development fund for projects like the Port of Richmond solar installation.

MCE is launching a second 100-percent-clean energy choice called Local Sol that will draw its power from local solar installations. In its initial phase, Local Sol is limited to 200 participants. If you live in MCE’s service area and you want to learn more about opting up to either Deep Green or Local Sol, visit

Contra Costa County: a growing call for Community Choice

CCA_SolarPanel_constructionSince we last wrote about Community Choice in this publication last fall, three more cities in Contra Costa County have joined Marin Clean Energy. In February, enrollment notices for residents of El Cerrito, Benicia, and San Pablo landed in mailboxes, alerting them that they’ll soon be automatically enrolled in the clean-energy program.

Lafayette may be the next city in Contra Costa County to jump on the MCE bandwagon. The city’s Environmental Task Force has recommended that the city council authorize a feasibility study to evaluate joining Marin Clean Energy. Walnut Creek took this step last year. And in a discussion about its climate action plan in December, the Walnut Creek City Council decided to work to persuade the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors to establish a county-wide Community Choice energy program. Certainly, with more and more cities jumping ship for MCE, Contra Costa County should consider the option.

A county-wide Community Choice program would benefit the county in many ways. It would mean that cities like Lafayette would not have to bear the cost of feasibility studies on their own. In addition, there are many unincorporated areas within Contra Costa County — such as Rodeo, Crocket, and Kensington — that do not have the option of establishing their own Community Choice programs  but might wish to join one. Add on the benefits to the environment and the local economy and it’s clear that establishing a Community Choice energy program in Contra Costa County would be a major step toward creating more sustainable, responsible, and resilient communities.

Alameda County: steady progress

8961efbc-3966-49b5-b5af-976f00dcd604Last June, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted to take the first steps in establishing a Community Choice program, allocating $1.3 million in funding for an exploratory phase. Since then, the county’s Transportation and Planning Committee has reviewed many elements that will shape the program, including its goals, structure, and the role and composition of the advisory committee. The County’s Transportation and Planning Committee has stated a goal of launching the program as soon as possible, with a current estimated launch date of early 2017.

The East Bay Clean Power Alliance, of which the Bay Chapter is a member, has been closely following this process to ensure that Alameda County’s program emphasizes community participation, development of local renewable resources, and the creation of local clean-energy jobs.

County staff have just begun developing the application process for the advisory committee and are expecting the committee’s membership to be finalized by the end of March. The advisory committee will consist of Supervisors’ appointees and representatives of cities and other entities that are interested in participating in the Community Choice program.

San Francisco: unexpected breakthrough

IMG_0869After years of blocking progress on CleanPowerSF, this January San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee dropped his opposition to the city’s Community Choice program, allowing it to finally move forward. The success of the program is not assured, however; 2015 is an election year and we suspect the mayor’s support is not unconditional. This means we must ensure that CleanPowerSF is well on its way to launch and unable to be stalled or thwarted before Election Day on November 4th, 2015. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), which oversees the program, has pledged to launch CleanPowerSF by the end of the year. At present, however, it appears that the SFPUC is moving too slowly to meet that goal.

The SFPUC has decided to adopt a two-tiered pricing structure like that of Marin Clean Energy, which the Sierra Club has advocated for several years. Under this pricing structure, CleanPowerSF will sell two types of electricity. The base level, into which all customers will be automatically enrolled, will be generated from 50 percent renewable energy and will sell for less than PG&E’s standard, dirtier electricity. The low price will help keep customers in the program. CleanPowerSF will also offer a 100-percent renewable option for an as-yet-undetermined price.

Unfortunately, the SFPUC is delaying the formal setting of the program’s maximum electricity rates. Despite Commissioner Francesca Vietor calling for rates to be set in February, the SFPUC has put off this step — a prerequisite to getting CleanPowerSF up and running.

The Sierra Club will rally at 12:30 pm on Tuesday, April 28,  at San Francisco City Hall to ask the SFPUC to end the delays and finally provide a clean energy choice for San Francisco after 12 long years. Learn more here.


Want to advocate for Community Choice in your community? Add your name at and we’ll be in touch with opportunities for you to make a difference.

Streamside development pushes Marin salmon to edge of extinction

Coho salmon. Photo courtesy of SPAWNUSA.ORG.

Coho salmon. Photo courtesy of SPAWNUSA.ORG.

As reported in recent issues of the Yodeler, the critically endangered California coastal coho salmon have all but gone extinct in Muir Woods, a jewel of the Bay Area named after environmentalist John Muir. In San Geronimo Valley in Marin County, the last large surviving coho salmon run south of Fort Bragg is dwindling. Shockingly, the Marin County Board of Supervisors steadfastly refuses to act to prevent the extinction of the California coho salmon. We are out of time. Action must be taken now to save this native species.

All along the coast, the genetically-distinct California coastal coho salmon have faced a host of environmental impacts over the last 150 years, including logging, agriculture, development, and dams. After plunging by 90 percent or more from historic numbers, the species was added to the U.S. Endangered Species list in 1996. This means the species is in imminent danger of extinction, possibly in the next few years.

According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, the biggest threat to the California coho salmon today is development. Salmon need clean, cool water in which to hatch their young, while the young need complex, natural streams to provide food and shelter from big winter storms.

Development within 100 feet of streams eliminates vegetation that shades streams and provides wood to protect young salmon. Building decks, patios, driveways, and houses near streams removes shade and trees from streams and prevents rain from soaking into the soil — instead sending stormwater shooting into streams like water cannons. Right now, San Geronimo Valley is at a tipping point, where more development will increase these impacts and doom the species to extinction.

Over 150 salmon scientists have written to the Marin County Supervisors asking them to limit development near salmon habitat. The Board’s own consultants recommended that setbacks and vegetation protections be put in place to protect the species. Yet, for years, the Board has refused to put science-based, common-sense regulations in place to prevent further development on stream banks and to protect critical streamside vegetation. Marin County has now lost two lawsuits over its failure to comply with environmental laws to protect coho salmon, yet it continues to approve more development projects near streams.

The Sierra Club, the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN), and partner organizations are demanding that the Marin County Board of Supervisors follow scientific recommendations and enact a comprehensive, common-sense ordinance that will preserve critical coho habitat by protecting vegetation and limiting development on stream banks.


Here are four steps you can take to help save coho salmon:

  1. Make a call for coho! Call the EACH of the Marin County Supervisors to tell them it is time to take action to protect our coho salmon: Kate Sears: (415)473-7331, Katie Rice: (415)473-6159, Judy Arnold: (415)473-7371, Damon Connolly: (415)473-7354, and Steve Kinsey: (415)473-7331.
  2. Sign our online petition to the Marin County Board of Supervisors.
  3. Come to one of our free “State of the Marin Coho Salmon 2015” presentations by SPAWN Legal Program Director (and long-time Sierra Club member) Doug Karpa to hear an update on the health of the endangered coho salmon population in the Lagunitas Creek Watershed. Karpa will take questions and comments and share actions citizens can take to help ensure these iconic native fish remain a part of our landscape for generations to come. Find details at
    1. Thu, March 26, 7 pm: San Anselmo Council Chambers, 525 San Anselmo Ave., San Anselmo
    2. Mon., April 6, 7 pm: Corte Madera Town Center Community Room, 770 Tamalpais Drive, Suite 201, Corte Madera
    3. Wed., April 15, 7 pm: U.S. Army Corp of Engineers Bay Model, 2100 Bridgeway, Sausalito
  4. Join the California Coho Task Force to help make this campaign a success. For more information or to join the campaign, contact Doug Karpa at

— Doug Karpa, Legal Program Director, Turtle Island Restoration Network

Farewell to Frank Dean — Head of Golden Gate National Recreation Area moving on after productive tenure

Frank Dean.

Frank Dean.

Frank Dean, who served as General Superintendent of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) since 2009, is leaving the National Park Service to join the Yosemite Conservancy as its new President and CEO.

“Frank Dean came to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area after the sudden death of our much-loved superintendent, Brian O’Neill,” recalls Becky Evans, longtime GGNRA activist. “O’Neill had been deeply involved in the communities surrounding the park for more than 25 years. It was a hard position to inherit, but over his tenure Frank has succeeded in improving the park in many ways.”

Frank’s first job was to bring together his deeply-saddened staff, which he did most effectively. Many projects in the park were left partly-finished upon O’Neill’s death, and had relied on his community connections. Frank approached this unfinished business with a strong background and deep knowledge base that enabled him to bring the projects to a successful conclusion.

“This park, embedded in an urban area where so many people care vociferously about its attributes, is one of the most complex to administer in the national park system,” said GGNRA advocate Amy Meyer. “Frank’s stalwart support of national park principles and his personal warmth won the admiration and affection of park advocates.”

A park superintendent is frequently under the radar except to those working on specific issues — which in an urban area can be many and diverse. Frank worked hand-in-hand with the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and the Presidio Trust to conserve and improve the GGNRA. Among his numerous accomplishments as Superintendent of the GGNRA, he:

  • Fostered an innovative partnership with the Golden Gate Bridge District and Parks Conservancy to provide modern visitor facilities at the iconic bridge;
  • Initiated a new partnership to protect the Mt. Tamalpais ecosystem;
  • Established a major capital campaign to preserve facilities on Alcatraz;
  • Worked out a win-win arrangement with the Veterans Administration Medical Center under which their temporary need for extended parking as they undergo construction is helping pay for restoration and eventual repurposing of the octagon house at Lands End.
  • Continued the Ocean Beach project begun by his predecessor in coordination with the urban planning nonprofit SPUR and seven agencies. The project is designed to beautify the beach and adjacent areas and help the southern part, in particular, become more resistant to the effects of climate change.
  • Defended the requirements of the National Historic Preservation Act, which helped lead to the defeat of the George Lucas Museum proposed to be erected adjacent to the Presidio’s Crissy Field.
  • Participated effectively in a multi-agency effort to deal with the difficult traffic, parking, and natural resource problems at Muir Woods, a project now approaching resolution.

Prior to serving at GGNRA, Frank was superintendent of Saratoga National Historical Park and assistant superintendent at Point Reyes National Seashore. His position at the Yosemite Conservancy marks a return to his roots; a trip to Yosemite as a college student triggered Frank’s passion for the outdoors and conservation, and inspired a career working in our national parks.

Frank went on to serve in Yosemite as a park ranger, and from 1990 to 1995 was management assistant to the superintendent and the primary National Park Service contact on Yosemite Conservancy projects. Working with the Conservancy, he helped establish project review guidelines for work with the National Park Service (NPS), and he led the NPS team on the dramatic improvements and restoration of Glacier Point overlook. Frank also was a park ranger in Sequoia and Grand Canyon national parks.

Frank will be missed, but we look forward to seeing more of his good work in action at Yosemite!

— Becky Evans

Banking on California’s groundwater: strategies for a precious and imperiled resource

An Unregulated Past

Hydrologic Cycle. Image courtesy

Hydrologic Cycle. Image courtesy

Water pumped from underground aquifers has long been a major source of California’s water supply. In normal rainfall years, groundwater provides about 40% of water for urban and agricultural uses. In dry years, groundwater supplies closer to 60% of our water. But unlike the surface water from rivers, lakes, and reservoirs, whose use has been regulated by the State since 1928, groundwater has been largely unmonitored and unregulated. Anyone owning property over an aquifer has been free to drill as big and deep a well as they could afford, and pump out as much water as they wanted.

Under this model, property owners were in theory limited to using the pumped water on the land overlying the basin only if there was no surplus water in the basin, but since most of California’s large basins remain at least partially unmonitored, the question of whether or not pumped groundwater was “surplus” has been largely ignored.

The lack of groundwater regulation and periodic droughts led to a tragedy of the commons. Well owners hurried to pump as much water as possible before their basins went to court or went dry. NASA satellite observations show that between 2003 and 2010, the Sacramento and San Joaquin basins lost enough groundwater to nearly fill Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the U.S. In 2012 and 2013, these basins further declined at the steepest rate observed since NASA began monitoring groundwater.

A Regulated Future

Governor Brown and the California State Legislature addressed California’s groundwater problems by passing the state’s first-ever groundwater legislation in 2014. The legislation identifies groundwater basins of high and medium priority, most of them in the Central Valley, and requires a local groundwater-sustainability agency to be established for each of these basins by 2017. These agencies will have the power to require well monitoring and regulate groundwater extraction. Agencies managing basins subject to critical overdraft will be required to have a plan in place to sustainably manage their basins by 2020. All medium- and high-priority basins must achieve sustainability by 2040 or be subject to State Water Resources Board control.

These new laws are being met with mixed and sometimes hostile reactions in Central Valley farming communities, where groundwater rights are considered private property rights, and water scarcity is perceived as a lack of surface storage and an excess of environmental regulation.

Groundwater banking as an alternative to surface storage

The Sierra Club opposes building new dams, and for good reasons. Above-ground storage projects damage local ecosystems and are bad investments, providing little additional water at enormous cost. Potential groundwater storage has more than ten times the storage capacity of all of California’s reservoirs combined. Many environmental organizations and the State see groundwater banking as a solution for providing water reliability in the future.

Successes in Groundwater Banking

In the area around Fremont, water shortages developed as early as 1910 as water was pumped out of the local basin by San Francisco and Oakland. The local water table was falling by as much as an inch a day. Area residents responded by voting in 1913 to form the Alameda County Water District (ACWD), the first water district in California, to manage the local water supply, including the groundwater basin. Using water purchased from the State Water Project, ACWD managed by 1972 to bring its water table back above sea level and halt saltwater intrusion. By percolating excess wet-year water into the groundwater basin and pumping it out in dry years, ACWD conjunctively manages its groundwater basin and surface water to supply between thirty and sixty percent of the water for the Fremont area.

Semitropic Water Bank Fails Bay Area Agencies

Canal and tank of the Semitropic Water Bank. Photo courtesy Chris Austin on Flickr, via

Canal and tank of the Semitropic Water Bank. Photo courtesy Chris Austin on Flickr, via

Although groundwater banking is a concept with great promise, in practice it can be unreliable, particularly when storage sites are located at a great distance from their depositors. A recent example of the failure of water banking just when it’s needed most is the 2014 failure of the Semitropic Water Bank near Bakersfield to deliver stored water back to Bay Area water agencies.

Semitropic’s banking system relies on an exchange program in which the Northern California agencies withdraw water flowing from north to south through the State Water Project aqueduct in exchange for depositing water in the Semitropic bank next to the SWP aqueduct in Bakersfield. ACWD, SCVWD, and the Zone 7 water district have, over the years, stored enough water in the Semitropic bank to supply all their customers for one year. Their ability to recover the equivalent amount of water was unexpectedly curtailed when the State Water Project (SWP) cancelled its north-south water deliveries in 2014. With no water flowing through the aqueduct to the Bay Area, Northern California agencies were not able to recover any of their banked water.

Another danger to the water stored in the Semitropic bank is the fracking wastewater injected into the aquifers in Kern County. In July of 2014, California ordered an emergency shutdown of 11 oil and gas waste injection sites in Kern County, fearing they may have been contaminating the groundwater basin that Silicon Valley depends on for its drought-year water.

For Reliability, Bank Locally

The new State groundwater regulations will help stabilize California’s groundwater situation, making groundwater banking and recovery more reliable. However, since the local agencies charged with regulating groundwater have in most cases yet to be established, and have until 2040 to bring their basins into a sustainable condition, current groundwater-banking projects should be undertaken with caution. The most reliable groundwater banking is local banking, and the most readily-available source for banked water is treated waste water, as demonstrated by the OCWD.

— Charlotte Allen

Warm Springs community development: an opportunity for true sustainability

Warm Springs BART station under construction in background; development with 2,200+ houses planned for area in foreground.

Warm Springs BART station under construction in background; development with 2,200+ houses planned for area in foreground.

At 879 acres, the site of the Warm Springs Priority Development Area (PDA) is one of Fremont’s last large undeveloped areas. PDAs are areas targeted for high-density infill development alongside public transit. The Warm Springs PDA is being built from the ground up, providing a unique opportunity to create a model of sustainable development and transportation, if done right.

Three of the Sierra Club’s concerns with the Warm Springs PDA are its lack of truly sustainable housing and businesses, improper and inadequate BART parking, and lack of a networked citywide trail system for bikes and pedestrians.

City leaders need to make the Warm Springs PDA a model of sustainable development, like Malmo, Sweden. Malmo turned an industrial wasteland into a thriving eco-district, setting a world-class example for sustainable living. In Malmo, energy needs are met solely with renewable resources like wind and geothermal; paths for pedestrians and bicyclers have priority; buildings are constructed to be highly energy efficient; and food waste is converted to biogas, which in turn fuels local buses.Why not in Fremont?

At the center of the PDA is the new Warm Springs BART station, scheduled to open later this year. Adjacent to this transit hub will be more than 4,000 housing units. The first development up for approval would include 2,200+ homes on 111 acres including an urban TK-5 school on five acres with a joint-use four-acre urban park (download the master plan for this development). The proposal for this development does not include any alternative-energy infrastructure, just “solar ready” housing. Nor does it provide Class I trails linked to a city-wide system, which would encourage walking and biking and reduce car dependence.

The Warm Springs BART station’s 2,000 parking spaces are planned as a flat parking lot rather than a multi-level structure. Flat parking is counter to the basic concept of a PDA, which provides for increased density and upward development. Acres of potential parkland are being paved for parking. And will 2,000 spaces even be adequate to meet rider demand? The Fremont BART station’s 2,030 flat spaces are woefully inadequate, with cars overflowing into adjacent business districts and neighborhoods on a daily basis.

To achieve the goals of a successful PDA, Fremont must prioritize accessible, integrated public transit, affordable and sustainable housing for families, and benefits for the community like local jobs and job-training programs. We must urge all Bay Area leaders to demand development that promotes truly sustainable communities. Fremont’s Warm Springs PDA should follow Malmo’s example and be the model for other Bay Area PDAs.

Read more about the Warm Springs/South Fremont Community Plan here.

— Jannet Benz

Decision coming soon on “wreck-reation” in Tesla Park

Trails-only area at the Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area; photo by Celeste Garamendi

Damage to the hills in the trails-only area at the Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area; photo by Celeste Garamendi.

We are still fighting to save the biologically unique and culturally important Tesla Park in eastern Alameda County from the damaging impacts of off-highway vehicle (OHV) “wreck-reation”.

The California State Parks Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation (OHMVR) Division has delayed at least three times the release of the Draft General Plan update and Environmental Impact Report EIR for the existing Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area (SVRA) and its proposed expansion into Tesla Park land. This effort to complete a plan to guide future management and operation of Carnegie SVRA, begun in 2012, is the OHMVR Division’s third attempt to create such a plan. Other attempts from 2000 and 2004 were aborted without explanation. The Sierra Club continues to work with the Friends of Tesla Park alliance to press for State Parks to change their plans and permanently preserve Tesla Park, and to prepare for review of the Draft General Plan and EIR once it is finally released.

One troubling issue with regard to natural resource management in this sensitive area is the failure of Carnegie SVRA to issue statutorily required annual habitat monitoring systems reports. With no annual reports there can be no meaningful or timely adaptive management. While this is just one of many significant issues with Carnegie SVRA management, we are concerned that the failure to conduct credible natural-resource assessments is occurring throughout the State Park OHMVR system.

When the Draft General Plan and EIR are released we will need as many people as possible to submit comments. To receive our notification, make sure you are on the Bay Chapter’s email list. You can sign up for our East Bay Bulletin and “General” lists.

— Celeste Garamendi