Pearls Newsletter for November 2018


November   2 0 1 8
Nuggets of Bay-Delta news—pearls in the ocean of information—curated by the reporters and editors of ESTUARY News magazine. 
 
 
N E W S
 
 
The Nature Conservancy’s venture in growing food crops for wintering cranes on Staten Island is under fire from an unexpected source—the Wetlands Preservation Foundation. The nonprofit, headed by Stockton tomato packer Dino Cortopassi, is suing TNC and the California Department of Water Resources, which holds a conservation easement on Staten Island, alleging farming practices that cause soil subsidence and threaten levee integrity, and misuse of revenue from farm operations. The 9200-acre farm, acquired by TNC in 2001, is a major destination for migratory greater and lesser sandhill cranes (the latter a California endangered species) as well as Aleutian cackling geese and other birds. As habitat is replaced by houses, orchards, and vineyards, a third of the state’s crane population converges on the island to feed in corn and triticale fields and roost at night. While corn cultivation is recognized as depleting the Delta’s peat soil, some believe rice is less damaging; a rice-farming pilot project is planned for Staten Island. Cortopassi owns property across a branch of the Mokelumne River from Staten Island, where he grows rice and operates a private waterfowl hunting club; he has approached TNC about buying Staten Island in the past. TNC spokesperson Jay Ziegler says selling the property, either to Cortopassi or another purchaser, hasn’t been ruled out but that such a transaction would require DWR approval. He  defends TNC’s stewardship of Staten and maintenance of the levees, pointing out that TNC has reinvested $10 million from crop sales over the last 8 years. “We would rather work with Mr. Cortopassi out of court to achieve even more ambitious wildlife goals,” he says. DWR does not comment on pending litigation. TNC and DWR have filed demurrers requesting dismissal of the suit as without merit. Meanwhile, Cortopassi has amended his original complaint; the defendants have until November 13 to respond to the amendments.  JE
Photo: Emily Wells/The Nature Conservancy
 
 
 
Restoring wetlands is an extremely effective way to cool land surfaces, a study conducted in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta indicates. For three years, Kyle Hemes of UC Berkeley and colleagues kept tabs on the heat flux and air flow above three restored Delta wetlands on Twitchell and Sherman islands, and an alfalfa field on Twitchell Island. Surface temperatures at wetlands with open water were up to 5.1 degrees Celsius cooler than the crop field during the daytime. As expected, the dark open water absorbed more solar radiation, and released the energy slowly at night. But wetland vegetation played a role as well. The tall, uneven surfaces of tule and cattail stands, and their patchy distribution, hastened the movement of heat away from the land surface. “Whereas we’re often focused on the greenhouse gas reduction benefits of restoration, the significant cooling effects associated with wetland restoration provide local climate benefits,” Hemes says. The next step, he adds, is to understand how widespread wetland restoration could have air cooling effects across an entire region. The study also suggests engineers should design wetlands that will retain patches of open water even as they age to maximize the cooling effect. While flooding wetlands can increase water loss due to evaporation, this cooling effect joins habitat creation, reversal of soil subsidence, reduction of stresses on levees, and myriad other benefits of expanding managed wetlands in the Delta. KW
Photo: Kyle S. Hemes
 
 
 
Just months after becoming the first project awarded Measure AA funding, the first phase of tidal breaching at the Montezuma Wetlands restoration project will be two-thirds complete by the end of November. “We are on track to complete the levees and transition zones next year so we can breach into the slough and restore the area to tidal action,” says Jim Levine, managing partner of Montezuma Wetlands LLC, which owns the property. The breach of the first major restoration area is planned for December 2019. This phase of the multi-phase project will restore 600 acres of previously subsided shoreline on the eastern edge of Suisun Bay to tidal, seasonal and some sub-tidal habitat. “A lot of threatened and endangered species habitat is going to be provided just by Phase One of this really large effort,” says the Coastal Conservancy’s Laura Cholodenko. The swift progress follows nearly two decades of preparation, during which Montezuma Wetlands has been using sediment from the Port of Oakland and other dredging projects to return the area to tidal elevations. The $1.6 million Restoration Authority grant will provide funding for final grading of site and some levee enhancement, including the creation of ecotones to provide refuge for species during high tides. Montezuma owns a total of 3600 acres in the area, of which roughly half are planned for restoration in the coming years. CHT
Photo courtesy of Montezuma Wetlands LLC
 
 
 
In response to the critical threat that changing ocean chemistry poses to both ecosystems and economies, the California Ocean Protection Council adopted the state’s first Ocean Acidification Action Plan on October 25. The plan addresses ocean acidification—like climate change, a consequence of rising atmospheric CO2 levels—in the context of other threats such as polluted runoff, warming temperatures, and rising seas. It promotes local solutions that are likely to provide multiple benefits—from improving water quality to promoting healthy seagrass, marsh, and kelp forest habitats. The plan, one of the first released by a member of the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification, identifies six key strategies, and outlines five-year goals and actions for each. “We hope this plan can serve as a model for other jurisdictions that are looking to address ocean acidification and global ocean change through concrete and targeted local, regional, multidisciplinary and scalable activities,” says the Council’s Jennifer Phillips. CHT
 
 
 
Incidental findings of a long-term study of brown bear predation on salmon have revealed a hidden link between the fish and forest health. For 20 years, Tom Quinn, a professor in Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington, waded in southwestern Alaska’s Hansen Creek with his students, counting and measuring sockeye salmon carcasses in the stream. Quinn asked his students to toss the bodies on the north bank of the creek to avoid double counting; over the years, they tossed close to 295 tons of salmon onto the north bank. In 2016, Quinn and his colleagues and students took core samples from the white spruce growing on both sides of the creek. The samples revealed that over the course of the study the salmon-fertilized trees on the north bank had caught up in growth with the taller trees on the south side (which had more sunlight exposure). Nutrients from the salmon bodies had leached into the soil or made their way into it via defecation or urination by bears, eagles, or other wildlife. In addition to demonstrating how the nutrients in salmon can aid tree growth, says Quinn, the study shows the importance of these fish for an entire ecosystem. “Many of our streams have far fewer salmon than we used to have. Some of those ecosystem benefits have been lost. So when we go to Alaska and do these studies, it reminds us down here that these things matter.” LOV
Photo: Kyla Bivens, an undergraduate student in the UW School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, uses a hooked pole to throw a dead sockeye salmon onto the bank of Hansen Creek in southwest Alaska.
 
 
 
Recent discoveries are promising new weapons against red tides, the massive blooms of microscopic marine algae that are notorious for playing havoc with marine ecosystems. The culprit behind poisoned seabirds, closed crab fisheries, stranded sea lions, and shellfish poisoning in humans are often diatoms producing the neurotoxin domoic acid. Now, scientists have identified the genes and biochemical processes responsible in diatoms of the genus Pseudo-nitzschia. The finding, published in the journal Science, opens the door to rapid genetic monitoring of algal blooms as a means to spot nascent harmful blooms and track their spread. “By identifying the genes that encode domoic acid production, we are now able to ask questions about what ocean conditions turn these genes on or off,” said lead author Patrick Brunson of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The achievement comes not a moment too soon: with algal blooms getting larger and more frequent due to climate change, the need to close fisheries and beaches against algal toxins is urgent. KW
Photo: NOAA
 
 
 
Floods and droughts can cause pools and riffles—and the bugs that live in them—to become more homogenous. For years, scientists monitoring water quality in streams and rivers have collected mixed samples of aquatic invertebrates from riffles, pools, and transition zones. But UC Santa Barbara stream ecologist David Herbst and his colleagues recently finished a 15-year study of the benthic life in small streams of the central Sierra that examined pools and riffles separately. They found that during flood and drought events, these habitats and their inhabitants become more uniform. But while floods come and go, droughts can have longer-term effects on the biodiversity in the stream. “As stream flows go down, the riffles go dry first,” says Herbst. “The riffle habitat, the richest place in the stream, can be depleted during drought conditions. The habitat itself is lost and so you lose that biodiversity normally harbored in the riffle.” Herbst says his study also points to the importance of habitat type in restoring straightened, engineered channels to a more natural sinuous shape. “The sinuosity creates higher flows at bends and variety in the riffles and pools. It’s restoring that ecological function that restores the hub of the food web, the bugs.” LOV
Photo: Bruce Medhurst
 
 
 
The recent California Adaptation Forum in Sacramento included more sessions and voices on climate justice and equity issues than in year’s past, but the public was missing. “When you have two hundred of the best climate adaptation professionals in the room together, that’s an opportunity…” said Phoenix Armenta from the Resilient Communities Initiative. Armenta and Lucas Zucker from the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy were members of a special equity-tribal advisory committee convened before the conference to help with program development, diversify attendance, and elevate the conversation on equitable climate adaptation. “There’s always tension about whether to weave [equity] into every single session or give it its own separate track,” said Zucker. “You get your planner types… who can go through the entire conference never being exposed to any of the equity content.” In 2018, the committee ultimately decided to integrate equity across the conference tracks and worked hard to make speaker recommendations to create more diverse panels. But “the space wasn’t created to give people that are most impacted a sense of ownership or… community,” said speaker Lil Milagro Henriquez-Cornejo from the Mycelium Youth Network.  More feedback and a young reporter’s perspective can be found in Acclimatewest’s Adaptation by Another Name. TO
 
 
Editor: Cariad Hayes Thronson
Contributors: Joe Eaton, Tira Okamoto, Lisa Owens Viani, Kathleen Wong
Please send suggestions for future Pearls to editorestuarypearls@gmail.com

 

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