Front Rudder - April 2019

King Tides From Mother Nature

It used to be just a passing fancy. An occasional nuisance that interfered with our day every great once in a while. That is changing and not just with what we read in the news or watch on TV from other distant parts of the world. It is coming and we are not ready for it!

I used to ride my bike in from San Rafael to the City on a regular basis. King tides would rear their ugly heads on occasion diverting me from my regular route or sometimes I would just plow through the inch or two of water on the trail. But now we are talking about seawater that measures in the feet, 101 being closed and the Embarcadero being completely flooded. It is not March Madness, it is Full-Moon madness!

In case you haven′t noticed it and if you haven′t, you must be a groundhog (yes, Phil got it wrong this year) or an Ostrich, if they′re not extinct yet. Global warming, not fake news is here and in a profound way! We thought we got the job done in the 1980′s when we kicked Reagan′s wacko Interior Secretary James Watt to the curb, but the deniers are back in the Trump administration with a vengeance.

I am going to keep as much of the politics out of this as possible and just focus on the facts. Yes, there is such a thing and facts do exist. The facts in this case are undeniable, unless you get a paycheck from the White House. Anyway, I need to keep my promise.

Though it doesn′t help when Trump comments on the dire warning issued by his own administration on economic effects of climate change saying; “I don′t believe it and I′m not willing to sacrifice the economic well-being of our country for something that nobody really knows.”

The National Climate Assessment draws on input from 13 federal agencies, including NASA and the Defense Department, with contributions from 300 scientists. The latest volume spans more than 1,600 pages, and a key recurring theme is that climate change will be devastating to the U.S. economy.

It states that exhausted fisheries, declining crop yields, deteriorating infrastructure, lost tourism, and extreme weather damages all stemming from climate change will slice hundreds of billions of dollars out of the U.S. economy. By the end of the century, climate change could cost the United States $500 billion per year.

Of course we can go back to Trump′s quotes a few years back when he said, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” Whoa!

The problem with all of this is that each generation is a custodian of the world that we live in. Ours focused on water pollution and smog beginning in the 1970′s. We made great strides in cleaning the air and water here in America. Now, the effort is focused on global awareness and the profound changes taking place that effect our very survival as a species, not to mention just trying to leave the place better than we found it for our kids and grandkids. Dropping out of the Paris Accord didn′t help.

Now, I will keep my promise.

The weather all around us is changing. Here in California, we are on the front lines. Last fall the fires were devastating and now we are inundated with atmospheric rivers. It is great for the reservoirs until they are overflowing. It is important to remember that climate and weather are two completely different forces. Weather is what we experience on an hourly, daily basis. Climate is what develops over years and decades. We can look at trends or now it seems we are breaking records regularly daily, weekly and yearly!

Recent rains have dumped more than 580 billion gallons of water unto our state! Reservoir levels are beginning to approach normal again but, feast or famine storm systems is no way to manage our water needs.

An atmospheric river as defined is a narrow corridor or filament of concentrated moisture in the atmosphere. Atmospheric rivers consist of narrow bands of enhanced water vapor transport, typically along the boundaries between large areas of divergent surface air flow, including some frontal zones in association with extratropical cyclones that form over the oceans.

Pineapple Express storms are the most commonly represented and recognized type of atmospheric rivers; they are given the name due to the warm water vapor plumes originating over the Hawaiian tropics that follow a path towards California. The term was originally coined by researchers Reginald Newell and Yong Zhu of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the early 1990s, to reflect the narrowness of the moisture plumes involved.

To date California has seen more than 20 atmospheric rivers this season with more to surely come. Even with our droughts this has become almost too much of a good thing. While our reservoirs have been replenished, flooding and mudslides have devastated several communities like Sausalito. Last year Ventura County suffered horrible slides when the rains have saturated ground to liquid. Even Oprah Winfrey′s home was not immune to the carnage.

It has also led to massive snowfall totals in the Sierras with depths measuring in the dozens of feet and hundreds of inches. Great for skiers if you can get up to Tahoe to enjoy.

The Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015 as an essential step to address climate change. It has the central goal of keeping global average temperature rise this century to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to as close as possible to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Last December at the UN Climate Change Conference COP24 in Poland, governments set to agree the implementation guidelines of the Paris Agreement, thereby unleashing its full potential.

As of November 2018, 184 states and the European Union have joined the Agreement, which entered into force with record speed.

To support efforts to implement the Paris Agreement and to increase ambition and climate action, UN Secretary-General António Guterres will bring world leaders, from government, finance, business, and civil society to the Climate Summit on September 23, 2019.

The Summit next year will come exactly one year before countries will have to enhance their national climate pledges under the Paris Agreement.

The Secretary General said, “Only a significantly higher level of ambition will do. To that end, the Summit will focus on areas that go to the heart of the problem, the sectors that create the most emissions and the areas where building resilience will make the biggest difference. We will bring together players from the real economy and real politics, including representatives of trillions of dollars of assets, both public and private.”

In order to ensure that the transformative actions in the real economy are as impactful as possible, the Secretary-General has prioritized the following action portfolios, which are recognized as having high potential to curb greenhouse gas emissions and increased global action on adaptation and resilience.

Recently the Port of San Francisco, the City and several other State and local agencies came to action in addressing our venerable, crumbling seawall here around our fair city. Last fall San Francisco Mayor London N. Breed, State Senator Scott Wiener, State Assemblyman David Chiu, Supervisor Aaron Peskin, City Administrator Naomi Kelly and numerous other City leaders joined together to thank San Francisco voters and applaud the approval of Proposition A, the $425 million General Obligation bond to address urgent life safety improvements to the San Francisco waterfront.

The Seawall Program is a citywide effort to strengthen the Embarcadero seawall and create a more sustainable and resilient waterfront. The vote tally according to the San Francisco Department of Elections had the measure passing with over 80% of the vote.

“San Franciscans voted resoundingly to strengthen the Embarcadero seawall,” said Mayor Breed. “Our city understands the urgency of being prepared not only for the next big earthquake, but also for the eventual impacts of climate change and sea level rise. This is an important step to ensure a safe waterfront for everyone.”

The Embarcadero seawall stretches over three miles of waterfront from Fisherman′s Wharf to just beyond AT&T Park. The seawall sits over unstable mud and is vulnerable to lateral spreading and settlement in a major earthquake. If the seawall were to fail it could destroy or seriously damage critical utilities, transportation infrastructure, and buildings along the Embarcadero.

The Seawall underpins the Embarcadero Historic District and provides flood protection to over 500 acres of the city and regional transportation systems, including the BART and Muni Metro underground transit network.

“Protecting San Francisco from sea level rise and earthquakes will be one of the most important projects of our generation, and I′m pleased to see that San Francisco voters see the value of this investment,” said Supervisor Peskin, who sits on both the California Coastal Commission and the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission and was the lead sponsor of the General Obligation bond. “The time is now to ensure a safe and resilient waterfront for San Francisco residents and visitors alike.”

With the general obligation bond funding approved by voters, the Port has identified funding sources for the full $500 million needed in Phase I for life safety improvements. Current and planned funding includes the aforementioned local General Obligation bond, a grant from the State of California ($5 million), as well as contributions from the San Francisco Planning Department and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency ($2 million) and the Port ($14 million).

Additionally, the Port is pursuing State legislation to support the remaining funding need to the Seawall Program through the Port′s Infrastructure Financing District. Full infrastructure improvements to the Embarcadero seawall are estimated to cost up to $5 billion and will require continued investments from local, state, federal, and private partners.

The Embarcadero seawall was constructed more than a century ago by the State of California to develop a deep-water port to support the State′s economy. Constructed between 1879 and 1916, the Embarcadero waterfront is now an essential part of San Francisco′s identity, and provides a home to businesses both large and small, the National Historic District, a thriving maritime and tourism industry, the City′s Financial District, a regional transportation network system, beautiful public parks and open spaces.

The Embarcadero took a huge leap forward after the devasting 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake when the ugly, seismically dangerous double-decked freeway extension was torn down to make way for the open space we now enjoy. Then the San Francisco Giants added to the mix when they built their beautiful new ballpark downtown and now the Warriors are rejoining the party with a long needed new arena at Mission Rock.

The schedule for seawall improvements has a needed investment of up to $5 billion over several decades with different timeframes for seismic and sea level rise risks. The Port of San Francisco has developed a program of phased implementation. The Port anticipates that the Seawall Program will include at least three phases:

· Phase I: Near-Term Actions to be funded by the Seawall Bond and local, state, and federal partners to address life-safety and emergency response and San Francisco Seawall Earthquake Safety and Disaster Prevention Program. Recovery, planning and actions estimated between 2017-2026.

· Phase II: Mid-Range Plans to advance seismic and flood projects that will provide greater reliability and stability of the waterfront for actions estimated between 2026-2050.

· Phase III: Long-Term Vision for actions estimated between 2050-2100.

Phasing the program enables the Port to construct the most urgent safety improvements immediately while planning for longer range risks, opportunities, and constraints. The Port has adopted an aggressive schedule to complete repairs in the most vulnerable areas of the Embarcadero seawall as soon as possible.

The Phase I project construction is scheduled to be completed by 2026.

“You can get an even higher high tide if you′re at perigee, which is when the sun and the moon are all in line and we′re at our closest point in the orbit of the moon,” said Calla Schmidt, assistant professor of hydrology at University of San Francisco told NBC Bay Area.

“If you think about our highest high tide right now being 6 inches over what our normal highest high tide is, that′s a pretty good look at the kind of sea rise you would expect in the next decade,” Schmidt said.

“Over the next 100 years, the predictions are anywhere between 36 and 66 inches. So, there are even some higher predictions that are out there,” said Steven Reel, project manager of the Seawall Resiliency Project, a multibillion-dollar effort to raise the sea wall. A failure to be proactive could mean major disruption for everything from utilities to transportation, he said.

“One of the things that′s really important is the underground, the BART tube, the Muni metro and the flood risk if you look right here the Muni trains come out of the ground right here. And that′s right on the border of the current 100-year flood,” Reel told NBC.

Reel says in the last century the bay has risen 8 inches and the seawall has handled that, but it′s glaringly insufficient for the next century.

With a bit of fun in the mix the Port of San Francisco and Ritual Coffee Roasters have partnered to educate the public about San Francisco′s Seawall Earthquake Safety Program through the creation of a specialty espresso blend, the Seawall Stroll.

“We know that a resilient Embarcadero Seawall is the foundation for a resilient San Francisco,” Port Director Elaine Forbes said. “Strengthening the seawall is a citywide issue, local businesses like Ritual Coffee that are not directly on the waterfront still depend on the seawall because no matter where you live or work, public transportation, emergency response, and a thriving local economy are key.”

The Embarcadero seawall transformed what was once a tidal mudflat into the thriving waterfront we know today. The original coastline was not far from Ritual Coffee′s SoMa roastery on Howard Street between 6th and 7th Streets. Today, all the activity along our northern waterfront can be attributed to this vital piece of infrastructure.

Ritual Coffee and the Port of San Francisco may seem like an unusual public education team, but the partnership underscores how critical the Embarcadero seawall is to protecting thriving local businesses and supporting our local economy. We cannot afford not to act when it comes to the Embarcadero seawall. The seawall protects more than $100 billion in assets and economic activity along the waterfront, assets at risk are 10 to 40 times greater than the investment needed to strengthen the seawall.

“I decided to partner with the Port on the education efforts for the Seawall Program because Ritual is a San Francisco coffee company and this is a San Francisco issue,” said Ritual Coffee Roasters Owner and Founder Eileen Rinaldi. “In order for Ritual to continue to grow and thrive, San Francisco′s local economy needs to also be growing and thriving. Strengthening the seawall is critical to that.”

“The seawall was constructed more than 100 years ago by dredging a trench in the Bay and filling that trench with rock, much of it from Telegraph Hill! While an impressive feat, this was not engineered construction” said Steven Reel, Seawall Program Manager. “Today, the seawall is the backbone of our waterfront but it′s also highly vulnerable to earthquake damage and sea level rise. Fortunately, there are many things we can do to strengthen the seawall to ensure a strong waterfront for future generations.”

Rinaldi started Ritual Coffee in 2005 when the coffee scene in San Francisco was far less renowned than it is today. Ritual′s flagship location is on San Francisco′s Valencia Street. Today, there are five locations in San Francisco and one in Napa, and the beans are roasted in small batches in the SoMa neighborhood. Ritual was a pioneer, and remains a leader, in San Francisco′s specialty coffee movement.

Ritual′s Seawall Stroll Espresso Blend will be available anywhere Ritual is sold through September 2018. The espresso blend includes the best of the newly arrived coffees, including beans from Guatemala, Costa Rica, Kenya, and Ethiopia. The Seawall Stroll will have bright citrus notes along with a tea-like quality to it, making it perfect for either a straight shot or combined with milk for cappuccinos and lattes. Ritual commissioned local artist Ryan Johnson for the Seawall Stroll illustration.

In this whole reimagination of the City′s waterfront there are many things to consider. In the last couple of decades SoMa has been transformed from old warehouses (I know, I used to live in one!) and decaying neighborhoods to a trillion dollars-worth of economic and civic improvements. Having it disappear under water would be economically catastrophic!

We also must look at other parts of the City that are scheduled to undergo transformation in the next decade like Pier 70, Hunter′s Point and Candlestick Point. Many of San Francisco′s hopes and dreams of dealing with affordable housing lie with those infrastructure projects. Also, what will finally be done with Piers 30/32? That political football has been passed down the way like a hot potato. A golden opportunity was missed when the America′s Cup made a brief appearance here when Larry Ellison put a proposal on the table to develop hotel, shops and a sailing academy there before it was killed by a short-sided lobbying effort by Peskin.

Opportunities for upgrading Municipal Pier at the Maritime Museum Park went to the wayside too and what was $60 million dollars back in 2011 has surely doubled by now, so clearly fixing that scenic walkway must be a priority.

With all of this we have been focusing just on the San Francisco waterfront. This doesn′t even begin to scratch the surfaces of Marin, the East and South Bays. Let alone the Delta and speaking of; one of the highlights of Governor Newsom′s 1st press conference was his addressing the controversial Twin Tunnels water project.

The California Water Fix and Eco Restore as it is known was a $15 billion plan proposed by former Governor Jerry Brown and the California Department of Water Resources Board to build two large, four-story tall tunnels to carry fresh water from the Sacramento River under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta toward the intake stations for the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project.

Each tunnel was to be 150 feet below ground, 40 feet in diameter and 30 miles in length. According to sources the tunnel project was as big or bigger than the English Channel Tunnel.

The project was to include three new intakes with a capacity of 9,000 cubic feet per second each, and a total annual yield of 4.9 million acre-feet. The proposed cost for the tunnels was over $15 billion dollars, with $8 billion additional devoted to habitat restoration. The project was to be funded by revenue bonds created by the agencies who benefit and paid by the farmers and urban water users who benefit from the project and not taxpayers.

But as Governor Newsom noted in his first official address, “We also need a fresh approach when it comes to meeting California′s massive water challenges. We have a big state with diverse water needs. Cities that need clean water to drink, farms that need irrigation to keep feeding the world, fragile ecosystems that must be protected. Our water supply is becoming less reliable because of climate change and our population is growing because of a strong economy,” continued Newsom. “That means a lot of demand on an unpredictable supply. There are no easy answers.  But let me be direct about where I stand; I do not support the Water Fix as currently configured. Meaning, I do not support the twin tunnels. But we can build on the important work that′s already been done. That′s why I do support a single tunnel.”

Detractors of the Tunnel Project just collectively breathed a sigh of relief! “The status quo is not an option. We need to protect our water supply from earthquakes and rising sea levels, preserve delta fisheries, and meet the needs of cities and farms,” said Newsom. “We have to get past the old binaries, like farmers versus environmentalists, or North versus South. Our approach can′t be either/or.” Newsom continued with a shopping list of assessments and needs like; “Conveyance and efficiency and recycling projects like we′re seeing in Southern California′s Met Water District, expanding floodplains in the Central Valley, groundwater recharge, like farmers are doing in Fresno County.

We need a portfolio approach to building water infrastructure and meeting long-term demand. To help bring this balance, I′m appointing a new chair of the California water board, Joaquin Esquivel,” said Newsom. “Our first task is to cross the finish line on real agreements to save the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta. We must get this done for the resilience of our mighty rivers, the stability of our agriculture sector, and the millions who depend on this water every day.”

Our own Bill Wells weighed in after Newsom′s remarks saying; “I guess one tunnel is only half as crazy as two tunnels, but still crazy! Basically, you still have the same construction impacts to the Delta and its people as the two tunnels which will be disastrous,” said Wells. “Even one 44 foot (OD) tunnel will have the capacity to drain the Sacramento River, in a conversation with the prior DWR Director Mark Cowin. They can push 15,000 cubic feet of water through a 10 foot diameter tunnel so you could still drain the river which flows at around 15,000 to 20,000 cubic feet at Freeport during the summer.

The Delta Chambers & Visitor′s Bureau totally oppose any diversion of the Sacramento River around the Delta,” said Wells. “We possibly could agree to building a diversion at Sherman Island which would enhance the natural flow and be self-regulating as far as how much fresh water could be removed. If you take too much and you start pulling salt water from the bay.”

Which brings us to the crux of the real issue. Clean drinking water. If Flint, Michigan has taught us anything it is we always have to be vigilant in ensuring safe and clean water.

The Flint water crisis first started in 2014 when the drinking water source for the city of Flint, Michigan was changed from Lake Huron and the Detroit River to the cheaper Flint River. Due to insufficient water treatment, lead leached from the lead water pipes into the drinking water, exposing over 100,000 residents.
After a pair of scientific studies proved lead contamination was present in the water supply, a federal state of emergency was declared in January 2016 and Flint residents were instructed to use only bottled or filtered water for drinking, cooking, cleaning and bathing. All the lead pipes are being replaced, expected to be completed in 2019.

Newsom emphasized that here: “More than a million Californians woke up without clean water to bathe in or drink. Some schools have shut down drinking fountains due to contamination. Some poorer communities, like those I visited recently in Stanislaus County, are paying more for undrinkable water than Beverly Hills pays for its pristine water. This is a moral disgrace and a medical emergency.

There are literally hundreds of water systems across the state contaminated by lead, arsenic, or uranium. Solving this crisis demands sustained funding. It demands political will!”

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