wave.jpgHundreds of scientists, environmentalists and students convened in Oakland today to discuss the San Francisco Estuary Partnership’s newly released “State of the San Francisco Bay” report.

Audience members at the partnership’s 10th biennial conference this morning heard the report’s authors outline their findings, which measure key bay health indicators such as water quality, the state of native habitats and quantity of native and non-native wildlife.

The project’s leader, Andrew Gunther, executive director for the Center for Ecosystem Management and Restoration, called the 70-page report a “comprehensible assessment of whether we’re doing the right things” to maintain the bay’s health.

The authors said this year’s report–the first comprehensive assessment released by the organization in over a decade – reveals a cleaner bay than scientists have seen in past decades, but also one needing more wetland restoration and freshwater flows from the Delta and nearby rivers, among other improvements.

Gunther said the San Francisco Bay reminds him of an old Timex watch slogan–“It takes a lickin’ but keeps on tickin'”.

But, he added, “It doesn’t tick the way it used to, or the way it should.”

While the report shows improved water quality, with lower levels of heavy metal pollutants from wastewater plants, the bay is still home to a host of harmful pollutants from urban runoff, including mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs.

The authors cautioned that people should limit their intake of bay fish, as they absorb some of these pollutants.

Additionally, Natural Resources Defense Council scientist Christina Swanson said today that the bay lacks much-needed fresh water, a factor that has contributed to a deteriorating fish population, except for shrimp and crab.

“For the past several decades, the Bay has been in a state of chronic drought,” Swanson said. “Protecting the bay’s ecosystem and recovering its fisheries will require changes in water management in the bay’s tributary rivers and the Delta.”

Woods Institute for the Environment Senior Fellow Terry Root concluded the conference’s morning session with statistics about the current and future effects of climate change on the bay.

With an image of densely clustered homes along the San Francisco Bay coastline filling projection screens, Root described how rising sea levels in the coming decades are expected to encroach on the area’s tidal marshes, forcing out some bird species and disrupting natural habitats.

Nonetheless, the authors said today that human stewardship of the bay via efficient water use and management has improved in recent years, increasing the prospects for a healthier estuary in the future.

Gunther said he and his colleagues are now gathering criticism and input about the report, which they will use to set new goals for the next State of the Estuary report.

Laura Dixon, Bay City News

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