In the next few weeks, our region is due for its first major storm of the season. Bay Area residents will be faced with flooding in our neighborhoods and along our commutes. Many of us will see a lot of trash being quite literally flushed from our city streets into local creeks and the Bay, along with a long list of dangerous chemicals and toxic pollutants. Some of that rain could have been captured and stored for local use during the dry season, but it will flow away instead.

One of the reasons that flooding is prevalent in urban areas is because we have paved over most of our land. In natural areas, stormwater is absorbed into the dirt and either percolates into underground aquifers or slowly flows to the nearest creek. Our cities have so little remaining unpaved spaces that stormwater can only pool on the asphalt or flow into the storm drain system, carrying pollution to our creeks and the Bay. Most of our cities’ storm drain systems were built over 50 years ago. Severe underinvestment in these systems have left them inadequate, full of holes, and crumbling. They are becoming a liability.

If we want to protect our cities from flooding, reduce Bay pollution, and improve our resilience to climate change, we need to change the way we manage stormwater. The answer is relatively simple: more green, less grey. More dirt and plants, less asphalt and pipes. What I’m referring to is a broad set of strategies known as green stormwater infrastructure. Green infrastructure is a nature-based approach to managing stormwater flows. By mimicking nature in our built environment and allowing stormwater to filter back into the ground, we not only reduce flooding and pollution, but also gain additional benefits of more green space in urban areas: cooler neighborhoods, a better environment for walking and biking, even improved public health. In some parts of the Bay Area, green infrastructure can send fresh water back down into our groundwater supply, storing it for future use. The many benefits of green infrastructure are especially critical as our communities grapple with climate change, and work to reduce our regional contribution to the problem.

Rain garden at the Serramonte Library, Daly City.
Rain garden at the Serramonte Library, Daly City. Photo: Matt Fabry

There are examples of green infrastructure in our region demonstrating what should be done everywhere: the Lakeside Green Streets project along Lake Merritt in Oakland; El Cerrito’s rain gardens along San Pablo Avenue; the Chynoweth Avenue Green Streets project in San Jose; and many others.

So why aren’t we doing this everywhere? One major reason is funding. Our cities need help paying for these beautiful and functional spaces. State and federal agencies must make more funding available for green infrastructure, especially for projects along city streets and other public spaces. Our cities need to raise more money for these projects, and that’s usually done through stormwater fees. The City of Alameda is proposing a stormwater fee increase, and we’re advocating for a stormwater fee to be included in a potential parks measure in Oakland.

A rain garden embedded in a curb extension.
A rain garden embedded in a curb extension. Photo: Matt Fabry

Finally, we need political leadership to build more green infrastructure in our cities. Some of our elected representatives at the local and state level already share in the vision of greener, climate-resilient communities. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, along with the city council, recently directed city staff to develop a green infrastructure plan with the goal of achieving multiple community and environmental benefits. But in order to avoid more flooding and pollution, green infrastructure planning must happen collaboratively in our cities in every corner of the region, and leadership is needed to drive these multi-stakeholder efforts.

Our vision for Bay Smart Communities that broadly implement green infrastructure is possible to achieve, but only with public support and political leadership. Stay tuned for opportunities advocate for green infrastructure in your community.

By: Rachel Ishizaki

Youth v Apocalypse leading the march
Youth v Apocalypse leading the march

The Global Climate Strike that took place from September 20 to September 27 was the largest mobilization of climate activists ever seen and was inspired by teenage climate activist, Greta Thunberg. The week of strikes were organized to coincide with the United Nations Climate Action Summit where world leaders met to discuss how they will meet the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Over 7 million people rose up in defense of the environment to demand that countries enact much more ambitious climate policies.

Save The Bay staff at the climate march
Save The Bay staff at the climate march

Carrying a sign that had a picture of the earth and said “I’m with her”, Save The Bay’s political director Cheryl Brown and I marched through San Francisco’s financial district on Friday, September 20. We arrived at Embarcadero BART and were immediately met with a wave of young activists, powerfully chanting and marching. I immediately got goose bumps; what we were witnessing was a powerful effort of thousands of youth who were unified in their concern for the planet. The crowd’s disappointment in our political leaders’ failure to address climate change was visceral.

The San Francisco march was once of 6,135 across the planet. 185 countries and over 7.6 million people participated in the week of climate strikes. Youth vs. Apocalypse (YVA) led the march with seven banners, each carrying a demand aimed at world leaders. The slogans that really stood out to me were “we demand justice and asylum for people displaced by climate change” and “we demand that people, not corporations, influence politics”.  Here’s a link to full descriptions of their seven demands.

The Sunrise Movement asking politicians what their plan is to ensure a just and sustainable future.
The Sunrise Movement asking politicians what their plan is to ensure a just and sustainable future.

At the end of the march, we gathered at Sue Bierman Park and Embarcadero Plaza where the waters of the Vaillancourt Fountain had been turned green, the color that embodies the environmental movement. Organizations set up interactive booths, young protestors enjoyed lunch after a morning of marching and members of YVA got up on stage to speak about the state of the environment. There were also guest speakers and a performance by Destiny Arts, an Oakland-based organization that is creating social change through the arts. All spoke to the importance of acting now to create climate policies that keep our future generations in mind. “This is only the beginning”, spoke a YVA member from the stage, a phrase I’ve heard echoed from across the globe during last week’s climate strikes.

What we do here at Save the Bay falls right in line with the climate strike’s fight for a just and sustainable future in which all people, regardless of income, ethnicity, or gender, have access to clean water, housing, and a healthy planet. And this is also only the beginning.

Protestors stopped in front of the PG&E building to chant and make their presence known.
Protestors stopped in front of the PG&E building to chant and make their presence known.

At Save The Bay, we launched Bay Smart Communities a few years ago to go beyond restoring the Bay landscape, and start work to address the biggest challenges facing our Bay community. Through Bay Smart Communities we support sustainable and equitable development practices within cities by advocating for green infrastructure, affordable housing, and a robust public transit system.

Save The Bay’s restoration team, along with their community and education based efforts, have restored wetlands across the Bay back to being functional tidal marshes. Save The Bay, along with other environmental and social organizations, is greatly needed during this time of rapid urban growth and rising sea levels.