Prop 68 Climate Resilience Miniseries Episode 7: Planning Regional Coastal Resiliency for California State Parks

(Intro to the series here)

“This project provides an opportunity for all Californians to have a say in what the California coast of the future will look like.” – Michelle Succow

Today we are talking about a Prop 68 Project to develop a template for how coastal state parks should assess sea-level rise vulnerability and how to plan and adapt to site-specific impacts. The team at State Parks decided to pilot this work in the San Diego District, given the diversity of coastal habitats and land uses in the region.

California State Parks manages nearly 25 percent of the California coastline, with 128 coastal units. This presents an incredible opportunity for State Parks to lead the state in moving forward on sea-level rise planning and adaptation. “Coastal units in the State Park system are already experiencing impacts caused by severe erosion and flooding and we anticipate that those impacts are going to increase as sea levels rise and so having a consistent and statewide approach for how State Parks can assess those vulnerabilities, is really important,” notes Michelle Succow, one of the leading members of the Project Team. This project will establish that statewide approach to vulnerability assessments across State Park units and develop a roadmap for how the identified vulnerabilities can be addressed through planning and adaptive measures. Earlier this year, State Parks released their Sea Level Rise Adaptation Strategy and this project advances many of the goals identified in the Strategy. … read more

Prop 68 Climate Resilience Miniseries Episode 6: Elkhorn Slough Tidal Marsh Restoration Phase III

“Our hope is that this project will demonstrate we can undo past damage and that it’s worth it because you cannot have healthy humans without a healthy environment” – Monique Fountain

Today we are visiting Elkhorn Slough. Designated a “Wetland of International Importance” by the Ramsar Convention, the Slough supports a diversity of species, ranging from harbor seals to Dungeness crab. Of course, the Slough is known for the large resident population of southern sea otters that can be seen by the visiting public at close range swimming in the tidal creeks, foraging in the eelgrass meadows, and resting on the salt marsh where they frequently haul out. While these charismatic and fuzzy animals are effective at drawing in the public and fostering stewardship across the broader Monterey Bay community, equally as important are our coastal foundation species (salt marsh, eelgrass, oysters) which are responsible for building the emblematic ecosystems of the California coast. 

This Prop 68 Project will complete the last 30 acres of a 119-acre tidal marsh restoration project and includes the restoration of tidal marsh, eelgrass beds, and Olympia oysters. Reversing the degradation that Elkhorn Slough has experienced over the past 150 years, this project aims to re-build a coastal landscape that is resilient to sea-level rise. The Project Team includes multiple state agencies, academics, and the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band. “This is our chance to bring back some of those wild places in partnership with Native Americans so that these coastal habitats can once again provide the sort of values that they have in the past as a legacy for future generations” notes Dr. Kerstin Wasson, science lead on the project.  … read more

Prop 68 Climate Resilience Miniseries Episode 5: Heron’s Head Shoreline Resilience Project

(Intro to the series here)

“We spend a lot of our lives hearing about how humans are negatively affecting the environment…and we don’t always hear about the exciting good things we do for the environment–and this project is one of those” – Erica Petersen

Today we are at Heron’s Head Park in San Francisco to meet with members of the team leading a large project that will use nature to engineer resilience to erosion and sea level rise. This project seeks to protect this highly accessible and valuable wetland habitat for future generations.

“With this project we get to demonstrate these natural infrastructure techniques for shoreline protection. These dynamic solutions to climate change and sea level rise are going to be so important over the coming decades, it’s great to start to install them now and learn from them and build the knowledge and scientific basis for applying these [nature-based solutions] throughout the state,” comments Eddie Divita, lead ESA designer on the project.

The shoreline at Heron’s Head Park has been eroding for the past 20 years and so to prevent further erosion this project will construct a coarse material beach and an adjacent offshore oyster reef to dampen the wave action that is currently pounding the shore. “Every year that we don’t control shoreline erosion, we’re losing marsh,” notes Carol Bach, Lead Project Manager. 

Photo courtesy Literacy for Environmental Justice

This Prop 68 project also includes the restoration of endangered tidal marsh plant, Suaeda californica, or the California sea-blite; this plant grows tall and climbs, providing ideal high tide refuge for bird and mammal species seeking cover to avoid predators while also staying dry. Over time, the team expects the coarse material beach to develop a wave-built berm. To stabilize the berm and provide high-tide refuge for marsh animals, Dr. Katharyn Boyer and her team of San Francisco State University undergraduate and graduate students in partnership with the community-based non profit education organization, Literacy for Environmental Justice (LEJ), will plant S. californica using plants raised by LEJ Eco-Apprentices.

Boyer has used this “arboring” technique at other sites throughout San Francisco Bay and is optimistic that the S. californica restoration at Heron’s Head will provide critical habitat for species such as the federally-endangered Ridgway’s Rail and salt marsh harvest mouse. “We can use a federally endangered plant to support some federally endangered animal species,” adds Boyer.  

Photo courtesy Bionic Landscape Architects

San Francisco Bay is an ideal location for this type of project: “the Bay is directly connected to the outer coast of California, it drains 40 percent of the state’s watershed, and supports many endangered and endemic species,” says Marilyn Latta, Project Manager for the State Coastal Conservancy. “This project is part of an overall regional blueprint for the Bay to bring back not only tidal wetlands, with a goal to restore 100,000 acres of tidal wetlands within the Bay, but also to restore the subtidal habitats that we so rarely see…seagrasses, oyster reefs, sandy bottom, mudflats,” adds Latta. … read more

Prop 68 Climate Resilience Miniseries Episode 4: Bolinas Lagoon Wye Wetlands Resiliency Project

(Intro to the series here)

“Part of this is just the regular stewardship practice of taking care of the land together” – Max Korten

Today we are in the beautiful Bolinas Lagoon of Marin County, this tidal embayment is a Ramsar Site, recognized internationally for its ecological importance. Bolinas Lagoon supports many listed and endangered species including the California black rail, red-legged frog, steelhead trout, and coho salmon. This Prop 68 Project is to finalize the designs for the Bolinas Lagoon Wye Wetlands Resiliency Project. 

The primary goal of this project is to restore natural processes, reversing past land-uses (ranching, logging, mining) that left the wetlands vulnerable to sea level rise, by fragmenting and developing the area immediately surrounding the lagoon. The design includes removing a part of a road that currently separates the uplands and brackish marshes of the lagoon from neighboring freshwater wetlands and building a bridge to restore tidal flow to the area and removing a barrier to eventual marsh migration. The team has also incorporated plans to reroute a creek that is currently behind a water control structure, to its historical path allowing it to flow directly into the lagoon. They plan to allow the creek to self-form and evolve over time with minimal intervention beyond the initial channelization.

“For the community, their main connection to the rest of the world is this road, which already gets flooded during high tides and storms, one of the ancillary benefits of this project is that they have a more consistently safe and accessible access into and out of their community,” says Max Korten.

“This is a stepping stone, it’s the first step that we need to take to accommodate sea level rise and allow for wetlands to be able to migrate towards our uplands”, notes Veronica Pearson, the Lead Project Manager for this effort. Max Korten, Director of Marin County Parks is hopeful that this Prop 68 Project can help inform future adaptation efforts across the California coast, noting that sea level rise will present some difficult decisions for regions of the state that are heavily developed. “Bolinas Lagoon can serve as a model for the more challenging places in the state where there are harder trade-offs,” adds Korten.  … read more

Prop 68 Climate Resilience Miniseries Episode 3: Eelgrass Habitat Suitability Model Update for Targeted, Climate-Smart Eelgrass Restoration in San Francisco Bay

(Intro to the series here)

Today we are talking about a Prop 68 Project to develop an Eelgrass Habitat Suitability Model for San Francisco Bay–where many of California’s eelgrass enhancement and mitigation projects have been conducted. In order to successfully restore eelgrass, we need to first find the best locations to restore, which is not as easy as it may sound. 

The goal of this project is to update an Eelgrass Habitat Suitability Model (HSM) that was first developed by Merkel & Associates more than 10 years ago. Not only do we have much better data today than was available 10 years ago, we also know much more about the conditions that eelgrass needs to successfully establish and expand, post-restoration. This project takes advantage of the wealth of data now available and applies lessons learned from previous restoration projects and our improved understanding of how eelgrass may respond to climate impacts to develop an adaptive, climate-smart HSM. “We have learned a lot through our restoration efforts about what works and what doesn’t, but site selection remains a tricky problem, especially as we think about the future of eelgrass habitats as conditions shift with climate change”, states Dr. Katharyn Boyer, the lead academic on the project.  … read more

Prop 68 Climate Resilience Miniseries Episode 2: Quantifying the Social and Economic Benefits of Nature-Based Adaptation Solutions

(Intro to the series here)

“We’re getting input from flood managers and stakeholders in the region…that’s exciting because it makes me feel that people will make decisions based off what we’re finding from this project” – Rae Taylor Burns

Today we visited University of California, Santa Cruz’s Coastal Science Campus to talk with Professor. Michael W.  Beck, Co-PI on this Prop 68 project and Rae Taylor Burns, a PhD Student helping run the models for this effort aimed at measuring the social and economic benefits of nature-based adaptation solutions to protect San Mateo County from storms and sea-level rise. The primary goal of this project is to assess flood risk in San Francisco Bay and to identify the role of nature-based solutions in reducing those risks.

The project uses complex computational models for the SF Bay to evaluate current and future flood risk. By modeling  increases in sea-levels and storms, the team can assess the consequences of increased flooding to people and property, but also assess how ‘restored’ wetland habitats adjacent to development in low-lying areas can reduce flooding risk. Similar models are used to assess how management choices and other adaptation solutions can mitigate other climate impacts, such as wildfires, drought, and extreme heat.  

This team, led by Dr. Borja Reguero at UC Santa Cruz, will determine how effective nature-based solutions such as wetland restoration are at reducing the social and economic costs of flooding. “We need to adapt to sea level rise and storms, it is not a question of if, but when it will occur, we need to act now,” notes Dr. Reguero. Wetlands in the SF Bay shoreline represent a nature-based solution to the increasing challenges posed by climate change. The project will assess where and how nature-based solutions can protect San Mateo’s coastline, the interactions with the levee system, and revised ways to finance nature-based adaptation. When discussing the outcomes of this work, Beck notes that “it’s important to know that nature-based solutions are going to be just one part of the range of solutions for reducing [flooding] risks.” … read more

Prop 68 Climate Resilience Miniseries Episode 1: Richardson’s Bay Regional Agency Eelgrass Protection & Management Plan

(Intro to the series here)

“This is a huge deal because we are on the cusp of something that is hopefully going to make a difference” – Curtis Havel

Today we are in Northern California, visiting the beautiful town of Sausalito to learn about a Prop 68 Project to establish an Eelgrass Protection and Management Plan (EPMP) for Richardson’s Bay. We met up with Curtis Havel, the Richardson’s Bay Regional Agency Harbormaster and Rebecca Schwartz Lesberg, President and Founder of Coastal Policy Solutions to discuss their efforts to finalize and begin implementation of Phase 1 of the EPMP. The EPMP is part of the Transition Plan enacted by the RBRA Board of Directors in June of 2020. This project involves many different stakeholders–from regular users of the anchorage to state agency staff, academics, researchers, restoration practitioners, community-based organizations, and non-profit organizations. “We have had a lot of stakeholders involved…to make sure that their unique perspectives are included” stated Rebecca.  

To develop the boundaries of the EPMP, the project team used a marine spatial planning approach to better manage the use of Richardson’s Bay by delineating an ‘Eelgrass Protection Zone’ where anchoring will not be permitted. This area is also quite shallow, at Mean Lower Low Water (MLLW) the ‘Eelgrass Protection Zone’ is 5 feet or less deep,  making it difficult for mariners to safely anchor. In clarifying the goals of the EPMP, Curtis commented that the plan “does not prohibit people from enjoying the area…you can still get on your boat and sail through the area, paddle board, kayak, or swim…you can still enjoy it”. 

The implementation of the EPMP relies on four components, listed below:  … read more

Announcing OPC’s new Climate Resilience Miniseries!

Episode 0 – Who is OPC? What is Prop 68, a brief primer on the Climate Resilience Miniseries

The Ocean Protection Council (OPC) was created by law in 2004 with the passing of the California Ocean Protection Act. OPC is a Cabinet-Level State Policy Body within the California Natural Resources Agency. The mission of OPC is to ensure that California maintains healthy, resilient, and productive ocean and coastal ecosystems for the benefit of current and future generations. To meet its mission, OPC  is tasked with developing science-based policy recommendations to decision-makers and coordinating with other ocean-related state agencies and partners to advance state efforts to protect ocean and coastal resources informed by the funding, collection, and sharing of scientific data. What does that mean in practice? Well, at the start of this year (2021), OPC funded 15 coastal resilience projects using funds allocated to OPC through Proposition 68. These “Prop 68 Projects” – as we will call them throughout this mini-series – were chosen in large part for their alignment with OPC’s mission, and specifically our Strategic Plan. 

So, what is Proposition 68? Well if you voted in California’s midterm election in 2018, you probably saw this proposition on the ballot. Proposition 68 was first drafted by Senator De Leon as a senate bill to enact the California Drought, Water, Parks, Climate, Coastal Protection, and Outdoor Access for All Act of 2018 – but we know it as Prop 68, a proposition that voters passed, issuing $4B in bonds to be allocated to projects around conservation, water, and parks.

Thirty-five million of that $4B was allocated to OPC to use for grants for projects that ‘conserve, protect, and restore marine wildlife and healthy ocean and coastal ecosystems with a focus on the state’s system of marine protected areas and sustainable fisheries’ and $21.2 million was allocated to OPC to fund projects that ‘assist coastal communities, including those reliant on commercial fisheries, with adaptation to climate change, address ocean acidification, sea level rise, or habitat restoration and protection, including, but not limited to, the protection of coastal habitat associated with the Pacific Flyway.’ Our miniseries will focus on this last chunk of projects, those that were funded under Chapter 10 of Prop 68 – Climate Preparedness, Habitat Resiliency, Resource Enhancement, and Innovation. … read more