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Posts Tagged ‘Habitat Restoration’

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A view of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) has produced a video called Restoring California’s Great Estuary that explains the EcoRestore initiative which is one of the big, state-wide efforts that is aiming at restoring some fairly significant amounts of habitat to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Being that I work for a State agency called the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy, this is something that I pay a lot of attention to. But there are a lot of reasons that everyone who lives in California, and many people who live outside the state, should also be interested in this video. A large portion of the people, farms, ranches, and industries in California rely, at least in part, on water from the Delta. That fact alone should make efforts like

Also, I work with many of the people featured in this video including my boss, Campbell Ingram. Seeing talented people that I know talking about an issue that I care about makes this video that much more appealing to me, but that probably won’t have much impact on you.

Enjoy!

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A study was published earlier this month in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment on the effects that invasive species have on other species around the globe. The study is by Tim M. Blackburn, Celine Bellard, and Anthony Ricciardi, and it can be found here.

The main thrust of the paper is that invasive species of plants and animals have been found to have a significant impact on the extinction of other plants and animals all around the world. Specifically, 25% of the plant species that have gone extinct in recent years have been the result, at least in part, of invasive species. Additionally, 33% of the animal species that have gone extinct in recent years have been the result, at least in part, of invasive species.

These numbers are pretty compelling components to the story of just how damaging invasive species can be. It is part of the reason I find working on invasive species control in California to be rewarding.

I am currently working on the control of Arundo (which is a large invasive reed), water primrose (an invasive aquatic plant), Phragmites (which is another invasive reed that is a bit smaller than Arundo), and Nutria (which is a 20 pound semi-aquatic rodent). Each of these species pose unique threats to the native species of California and to many other aspects of the ecosystem as well.

Hopefully, protocols can be developed to stop invasive species before they contribute even more extinctions!

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Delta Conservancy Logo 3I have been working at the Delta Conservancy for about a year and half, now. In that time, one of the major projects I have been working on is our Proposition 1 Grant Program. Proposition 1 was a water bond passed by voters in 2014. Among many other things, it allocated $50 million dollars for the Delta Conservancy to give out to fund projects that would restore habitat, improve water quality, and/or support sustainable agriculture within the legal boundary of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. A large part of my role here has been to help our Program Manager and higher ranking staff to form the competitive process by which organizations can submit proposals for projects, the process of reviewing and ranking those proposals to determine which will be funded, and then the management of the specific grant awards to successful projects.

In 2015, just before I began working here, the Delta Conservancy received its first round of project proposals, and in the fall of 2016 we received our second round of proposals   (there will be subsequent rounds in the fall of 2017, 2018, and 2019). I was very involved in reviewing those proposals and scoring them to determine which would go on to be awarded funding. We have now gone through the entire process of reviewing the proposals, recommending the most qualified proposals to our board of directors for approval, and then writing the actual grant agreements, twice. This is the exciting part because it now means we are able to move forward with giving funds to get projects accomplished.

I thought it might be interesting to introduce you to those projects as they get underway. I am going to be the grant manager for two of the projects from our 2015 batch of proposals and three from the 2016 batch. The first to begin was the Lower Marsh and Sand Creek Watershed Riparian Restoration Planning Project that I wrote about here. The most recent grant funded project to be signed is one called the Three Creeks Parkway Restoration Project, and it will restore about a mile of creek bank from the dry, open, barren ground that it is now to a healthy, vibrant, shaded native riparian corridor. It is the one I will focus on in this post.

The Three Creeks Parkway Restoration Project was proposed by a non-profit organization called American Rivers. The site of the project is an area in the city of Brentwood in eastern Contra Costa County where Marsh Creek is joined by Sand Creek and Deer Creek (the three creeks referenced in the project name). This stretch of Marsh Creek runs through a pretty urban environment, and at the moment, there is very little growing there.

Prop 1-Y1-2015-019_Photo

Confluence of Marsh, Deer, and Sand Creeks in Brentwood, Contra Costa County. Photo courtesy of American Rivers.

The project will dig out the steep banks of the creek on both sides and reshape them into more gentle slopes with small floodplains on either side. This will help reduce the risk of flooding and also create a bunch of floodplain habitat that is a rare thing in the Delta. After reshaping the banks, the new contoured will be planted with hundreds of native trees, hundreds of native shrubs, and thousands of native understory plants. As these plants all grow, they will create habitat for birds and other wildlife, shade the water in the creek keeping it cooler and more hospitable for native fish, and create a lovely trail for people to use. This stretch of restored creek will also connect other parts of the creek that have already been restored and so make it easier for animals and plants to disperse up and down stream.

Over the next three years that the Delta Conservancy will be funding this project for, it will be amazing to see this habitat come into being.

PrintThis project has a budget of $836,409 awarded from the Proposition 1 Grant Fund by the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy.

As of this writing, we are getting ready to open our third round of proposals which will then require review and scoring. I am looking forward to seeing what projects are proposed and which are successful and will be funded by the Delta Conservancy.

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The American Carbon Registry (ARC) is part of Winrock International, a philanthropic, nonprofit organization that works to empower disadvantaged communities, increase economic opportunities, and sustain natural resources.

ARC logoSpecifically, the ARC was founded in 1996 as the first voluntary greenhouse gas registry in the world. It utilizes market forces to make it economically advantageous to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This week, the ARC presented a number of leading individuals and organizations with awards to recognize their important contributions to curbing greenhouse gas emissions, and so work to limit the impacts of global warming.

Delta Conservancy Logo 3One of the awards presented was the Innovation Award that recognizes efforts that are based on ACR’s guiding principles of innovation, quality and excellence. This year, the Innovation Award went to a group of organizations that helped to create a carbon registry methodology for the restoration of California deltaic and coastal wetlands. The lead agency among those organizations was the Sacramento-San-Joaquin Delta Conservancy!

Here is an excerpt from the ARC’s award announcement. The full announcement can be found here.

“The Innovation award was presented to the developers of two landmark methodologies, one for California wetland restoration and the other for the transition to low global warming potential foams.

ACR honored the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy as the lead agency, HydroFocus as the lead author and both U.C. Berkeley and Tierra Resources for technical support for the development of the methodology for the Restoration of California Deltaic and Coastal Wetlands. Funding for the methodology was provided by the California Coastal Conservancy, Department of Water Resources, U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Metropolitan Water District and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD).

In the San Francisco Bay Area, more than 90 percent of historic tidal wetlands disappeared in the last 150 years. Over 2.5 billion cubic meters of organic soils have disappeared since delta islands were first diked and drained for agriculture in the late 1800s, resulting in land subsidence up to 25 feet below sea level. Drained and cultivated organic soils in the delta continue to oxidize, subside and emit an estimated one to two million metric tons of CO2-equivalent annually — equal to annual emissions from over 300,000 passenger vehicles.

We have been pleased to work with ACR and other partners on this methodology and appreciate the recognition,” said Steve Deverel, president of HydroFocus. “Restoration activities that rebuild subsided lands are critical to long-term ecosystem sustainability, are important to reducing the risk of levy failure and sea level rise, and are a significant source of GHG emissions reductions.

“State and federal funding remains insufficient to address land subsidence that threatens the California water system, and carbon market revenues could help fill the funding gap,” added Campbell Ingram, executive officer of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy. ”The new ACR methodology provides an incentive to landowners in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, Suisun Marsh and other historically natural wetland areas in California to convert their most subsided and marginal agricultural lands to wetlands, or to produce wetlands crops such as rice, which will stop land subsidence and reverse it over time.” 

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Delta Conservancy Logo 3I have been working at the Delta Conservancy for a little over a year, now. In that time, one of the major projects I have been working on is our Proposition 1 Grant Program. Proposition 1 was a water bond passed by voters in 2014. Among many other things, it allocated $50 million dollars for the Delta Conservancy to give out to fund projects that would restore habitat, improve water quality, and/or support sustainable agriculture within the legal boundary of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. A large part of my role here has been to help our Program Manager and higher ranking staff to form the competitive process by which organizations could submit proposals for projects, the process of reviewing and ranking those proposals to determine which will be funded, and then the management of the specific grant awards to successful projects.

In 2015, just before I began working here, the Delta Conservancy received its first round of project proposals (there will be subsequent rounds in the fall of 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019). I was very involved in reviewing those proposals and scoring them to determine which would go on to be awarded funding. We have now gone through the entire process of reviewing the proposals, recommending the most qualified proposals to our board of directors for approval, and then writing the actual grant agreements which is pretty exciting because it now means we are able to move forward with giving funds to get projects accomplished.

I thought it might be interesting to introduce you to those projects as they get underway. I am going to be the grant manager for four of the projects from our 2015 batch of proposals. The first to begin was the Lower Marsh and Sand Creek Watershed Riparian Restoration Planning Project that I wrote about here. Our second grant funded project was just signed, and it will help create a fish friendly farming certification program for growers in the Delta, and it is the one I will focus on in this post.

Fish Friendly Farming (FFF) the title given to a whole process by which growers in a region can agree to use techniques called Beneficial Management Practices (BMPs) when growing their crops. By voluntarily conforming to these BMPs, growers are using land and water resources that minimize harmful effects on fish and wildlife, and maximize conservation strategies.

Different BMPs need to be created for different geographic regions because those different regions have a huge range of factors, many or most of which may vary. What types of crops are grown in a region? What types of soils are those crops growing in? How much water is available, and of what type (groundwater versus surface water, for example)? What species of fish and wildlife are found in a region? What types of habitats occur in a region? All of these and more mean that BMPs need to be very carefully applied so that they remain consistent and useful. This link contains information and a video on the Fish Friendly Farming program that has been developed for the wine country of Napa and Sonoma counties in California.

chinook 01

Fall-run Chinook Salmon

One area in which BMPs have not been well developed is the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and developing this BMPs is exactly what the first goal of this project will be. A second will be to publish and distribute the Delta specific BMPs in a handbook that can be used by growers. A third goal will be to enroll Delta growers in the voluntary process so that they can become certified Fish Friendly Farms. This project will be conducted by a non-profit organization called the California Land Stewardship Institute (CLSI). The CLSI will work with growers, other agricultural specialists, ecologists, and conservation biologists to create BMPs for the major crop types in commonly grown in the Delta. This project has a budget of $89,450 awarded from the Proposition 1 Grant Fund by the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy.

In the three years that this certification development project will take, it is going to be very interesting to see what practices are identified as the most effective at protecting wildlife while still maintaining the economic output of the agricultural products. I will keep you posted on these developments and also on the other grants I will be managing as they come online.

As of this writing, we are about to receive our second round of full proposals which will then require review and scoring. I am looking forward to seeing what projects are proposed and which are successful and will be funded by the Delta Conservancy.

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Delta Conservancy Logo 3I have been working at the Delta Conservancy for just over a year now. In that time, one of the major projects I have been working on is our Proposition 1 Grant Program. Proposition 1 was a water bond passed by voters in 2014. Among many other things, it allocated $50 million dollars for the Delta Conservancy to give out to fund projects that would restore habitat, improve water quality, and/or support sustainable agriculture within the legal boundary of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. A large part of my role here has been to help our Program Manager and higher ranking staff to form the competitive process by which organizations could submit proposals for projects, the process of reviewing and ranking those proposals to determine which will be funded, and then the management of the specific grant awards to successful projects.

In 2015, just before I began working here, the Delta Conservancy received its first round of project proposals (there will be subsequent rounds in the fall of 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019). I was very involved in reviewing those proposals and scoring them to determine which would go on to be awarded funding. We have now gone through the entire process of reviewing the proposals, recommending the most qualified proposals to our board of directors for approval, and then writing the actual grant agreements which is pretty exciting because it now means we are able to move forward with giving funds to get projects accomplished.

I thought it might be interesting to introduce you to those projects as they get underway. I am going to be the grant manager for four of the projects from our 2015 batch of proposals, and so will focus on those projects because they are the ones I am most intimately involved with.

Of the grants I will be managing, one has gone through the complete process and has a signed and executed grant agreement with the Delta Conservancy, and that is the one I am going to introduce here.

prop-1-y1-2015-019_photo

The confluence of Marsh Creek (entering from the left) and Sand Creek (entering from the right) in Brentwood, CA (Photo by American Rivers).

The project is called the Lower Marsh and Sand Creek Watershed Riparian Restoration Planning Project. It was proposed by a non-profit organization named American Rivers with two major goals: 1) to develop a plan to select and organize restoration projects along the portions of Marsh Creek and Sand Creek where they flow through the cities of Brentwood, Oakley and Antioch, CA, and 2) to create and distribute guidelines for how to incorporate stormwater runoff into land use designs. This project has a budget of $73,493 to be spent over the course of three years.

The area where both goals of this project will focus is an area of heavy urban and suburban development. Of all the regions in the Delta, the cities listed above encompass the largest, and fastest growing, human population. The creeks in this area flow down canals that have very little vegetation along their banks and so provide almost no habitat for native birds, mammals, insects, fish, etc. The first goal of this planning project will help American Rivers and their partners to move quickly to acquire properties along the creeks as they become available, and also to design habitat restoration projects on those properties.

When heavy rains fall on the region, that water must go somewhere, and go there quickly. This stromwater runoff is a pulse of water that hits the system suddenly and washes debris, litter, and other pollutants into the creeks. This creates the need for dealing with these stromwater runoff flows in such a way as to minimize the negative impacts to the creeks. The second goal of this project will be the development of techniques for how property owners along the creeks can manage stromwater runoff. These techniques may include stormwater drains that have screens for catching trash that can then be easily disposed of, the formation on drainage ditches that will let stormwater runoff pool and then flow more slowly into the creek and so reduce erosion and limit the release of large amounts of pollution, and other practices that will benefit the creeks of the region. These guidelines will be incorporated into the property development handbook that they cities use and that property developers must follow.

In the three years that this planing project will take, it is going to be very interesting to see what restoration projects come to the surface and what stormwater guidelines are developed. I will keep you posted on these developments and also on the other grants I will be managing as they come online.

Now that it is fall of 2016, our second round of proposals are in the midst of being reviewed and scored. I am looking forward to seeing what projects are proposed and which are successful and will be funded by the Delta Conservancy.

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The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy (where I know work) was allotted $50,000,000 from the voter approved Proposition 1 for projects that will enhance habitat, improve water quality, and/or increase sustainable agriculture in the Delta. These funds are to be given out over the course of five years, starting with the first solicitation in fall of 2015. The Delta Conservancy created a competitive grant program where applicants can send in proposals and Delta Conservancy staff, with the input from other experts, determine which proposals have the best chance of success and will enact the most valuable projects. This first round of projects could be planing projects of up to $100,000 or implementation projects of up to $2,000,000. A major component of my work has been to help administer this grant process and evaluate the proposals that have applied for the Delta Conservancy’s Prop 1 money in this first year. We, the staff, shepherded projects through the process and made recommendations to our governing board, who voted to approve or reject the various projects that were submitted. Going forward, I will continue to be highly involved in the next 4 years of funding cycles.

Swainson's Hawk - Jabari Bellamy

Adult Swainson’s Hawk hunting over a California grassland (Photo compliments of Jabari Bellamy)

One of the projects that applied for the Delta Conservancy money was submitted by the Environmental Defense Fund to convert approximately 300 acres of private agricultural working land currently used for growing various row crops into pastureland bordered by hedgerows of native vegetation. This crop conversion will encourage Swainson’s Hawk prey species and so make this land high quality foraging habitat for Swainson’s Hawks. This project scored in our competitive process and was approved by our board (pending a some final administrative paperwork). To read more about the project, and find out more about the work that the Environmental Defense Fund is doing, check out this link to their write up of the project.

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I have been working at the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy for about four months now, and it occurred to me that I have not shared much of what the Delta Conservancy, and I in particular, have been doing in that time. My start here has certainly included a steep learning curve as I have become more familiar with the agency, my coworkers, and the many projects that the Delta Conservancy is pushing forward.

IMG_2976

Figure 1. A stand of Arundo.

I am starting to feel my feet under me, and wanted to share some the projects I am working on. So, first up is the Arundo Control and Restoration Project. This is a project that was started before I was hired and was managed by one of the other employees here at the Delta Conservancy. About a month after I started working here, she took a job elsewhere, and the Arundo Project was transferred to me.

Arundo donax, or Giant Cane, is an invasive plant native to the Mediterranean and Middle East, and which was introduced to southern California for building material and in the hope that it would grow along levees and help with flood and erosion control. Unfortunately, while it did grow extensively along levees, it did not help with flood and erosion control. Instead, it actually had the opposite effect. While it will grow into dense mats, these mats have shallow root systems, so when high flows occur, the strong currents tend to rip off large chunks of Arundo which then rips off large chunks of the levee underneath. Additionally, Arundo forms dense mono-culture stands, out competes native vegetation, and provides little useful habitat.

To start to remedy the situation and role back these negative effects, the Delta Conservancy’s Arundo Control and Restoration Project was founded.

Arundo Sites in the Delta - Map

Figure 2. Map of Arundo donax sites in the Delta (Young et al. 2015).

The overall plan is to figure out where Arundo is growing in the Delta, prioritize those sites to figure out which could provide the highest value habitat if the Arundo was removed, remove Arundo, and replace it with restored native vegetation. The native vegetation will be restored on the same areas where Arundo is removed from, except where this is not feasible due to landowner restrictions and land use policies. When it is not possible to directly replace existing Arundo stands with restored vegetation at the same location, restoration will occur at nearby sites that will be prioritized according to their habitat value.

Contracting with the Sonoma Ecology Center, the Delta Conservancy has completed the map of Arundo sites in the Delta (Figure 2) and also prioritized those sites according to their restoration value (Figure 3). As you can see in Figure 3, the darker the colored dot, the more potential value that area has if the Arundo is removed and native vegetation is restored.  

Arundo Sites in the Delta - Prioritized Map

Figure 3. Map of Arundo donax sites in the Delta prioritized by color (Young et al. 2015).

As is evident from these maps, there is quite a bit of Arundo in the Delta. Attempting to tackle all of it simultaneously seems a herculean task, so the total project was divided into two phases. Phase I is the pilot project phase. In Phase I we planned to locate a subregion of the Delta that contained Arundo, and develop our protocols and techniques to effectively control Arundo and implement habitat restoration work. Phase II would then be a significant expansion of Phase I into more regions of the Delta.

We are currently in the midst of Phase I. Based on the information in the above maps, and on opportunities to find land owners who had Arundo on their property and were willing to grant us access to work, the Delta Conservancy partnered with the Solano Resources Conservation District (Solano RCD) in identifying the Cache Slough Complex (CSC) as a prime region for Phase I to occur. We are currently working on a stretch of Ulatis Creek in Solano County. Ulatis Creek runs southeast out of Vacaville, CA for about 20 miles before emptying into Hass Slough and then into the Sacramento River. For almost all of its length, Ulatis Creek is constrained between levees on either bank. About 15 miles southeast of Vacaville, at a bend in the creek, there is an area where the levee on the north bank is set back a few hundred feet from the creek channel. In between this setback levee and the regular bank of the creek, and extending along the north shore, is an area of about 18 acres. Part of this 18 acres is covered in Arundo and the rest is used, intermittently, to graze sheep by the property owner.

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Figure 4. Ulatis Creek site. Sheep are grazing and the dense vegetation along the far edge is almost all Arundo.

This 18 acre area has been chosen, thanks to a willing private landowner, as the first stage of Phase I. In 2015, 3.77 acres of Arundo at the western end of the site were treated with an herbicide for the first time. Successful Arundo control has been shown to require two or three treatments to completely kill the plants in an area. This summer and fall, the Solano RCD will begin clearing non-native vegetation, laying out irrigation lines, and planting native vegetation. This native vegetation will take the form of somewhere on the order of 1500 trees of a mix of species and native understory species such as California Rose and Mugwort. Riparian trees will be planted along the perimeter of the site which will grow to shade the waterway and stabilize the banks. In the middle of the area, oaks and other upland tree species will be planted to create a more varied habitat pallet in the area. All these plants will then need several years of watering to make sure they are well established. This time also gives us the opportunity to replace plants that die.

If we are successful, and the removal of Arundo and establishment of native vegetation goes well, we will be well on our way to extending this effort to more areas of the Delta. Overall, this effort will replace areas of low habitat value and high potential for economic and environmental costs with areas of high habitat value that can be utilized by  a large range of species and better foster the ecosystem and sustainable economy of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. I am excited to watch this project unfold as we move forward!

References:

Young, A., B. Sesser, and C. Liu. 2015. Delta Arundo mapping and prioritization. Sonoma Ecology Center.

 

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