Thursday, March 27, 2008

DNA and social networks

In 2005 I visited Japan as a 'dam removal ambassador' to transmit knowledge gained from the Matilija Dam project. My gracious hosts from River Policy Network provided many opportunities to meet others and speak about ecosystem restoration.

Toward the end of the trip, one of my new friends said he had a gift for me. But first he had to explain. Since I understand no Japanese whatsoever, and his English is limited, he started drawing on a napkin. After much hand waving I recognized his sketch as a virus, and understood him to be describing viral replication, which involves synthesis of viral DNA. Hmmmm.

He then handed me this. He went on to tell me that on his trip to Matilija Dam the previous year he had collected a piece of concrete from the crumbling structure. The 'virus' in the test tube was created using this 'DNA.' Recognizing Matilija Dam to be one of the world's first large dam removal efforts, he has made many of these to present to each of the dam removal activists he encounters.

WOW. Dam removal DNA. A disease? Or an idea to be replicated?

Social scientists have developed tools to describe this. A social network map shows the connections that exist between people and/or organizations (nodes.) Network maps are a way of making visible and understanding relationships that are often otherwise invisible. The maps can show important features of the network that can be acted upon to leverage the network to produce better outcomes in the community.

At a West Coast Ecosystem Based Management (EBM) Network meeting this year, a social network diagram was presented based upon an on-line survey that each participant had completed. Looking at the beginnings of a social network model for EBM I could envision my connections within the small community of awareness that is evolving within the Ventura River watershed, and the growing network of links that literally reach around the world.

Jim Moriarty often speaks of DNA. And this idea was wonderfully communicated in What the BLEEP Do We Know

Here's one way of viewing it: as each of us 'infects' others with this 'DNA' we begin to build a critical mass. This increase in social awareness is the bare minimum that will be required to implement real-world changes to restore the global ecosystems upon which we depend for survival.

As my gift from Japan demonstrates, despite cultural and language barriers, our DNA, our social network, reaches around the globe.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Human impacts and Ecosystem-based management

Map detailing human's impact on the ocean reveals surprising data:

The March 22 article in the Ventura County Star summarizes a recent report that analysed human impacts on the world ocean. Turns out, there's not much we are not impacting, perhaps only 4%. And looking at the maps it is evident that human impacts are most intense in areas of high population density and industrial activity, including fishing.

In 2005, the Joint Ocean Commission formally recognized the broad extent of human impact on the ocean, and made recommendations for the United States to take leadership action on the ocean crisis. The fundamental message is that current policy and governance is not working, and we need to adopt an Ecosystem-based approach to management decisions at every level of our society.

Meanwhile, local folks around the world are working at the community level to implement change. It is clear that those who use and enjoy the ocean, its diversity of life, and the wilderness that begins at the shoreline, are willing to dedicate their time and energy. Surfrider Foundation activists embody this spirit, and are getting organized on the west coast.

With programs in Washington, Oregon, and California, we have been working to develop community-led examples of Ecosystem-based Management. Each of these projects is very different, ranging from marine/fisheries management to watershed restoration.

In Ventura, CA, our program includes coastal restoration, large dam removal, watershed management, and urban renewal. We recognize that each of these programs is integrally connected to the other, and the health of the oceans and our community depends upon finding solutions to undo past mistakes and create a sustainable future. We invite everyone to get involved in their watershed through our events and programs.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Dam Removal at SRF 2008

On March 5-8, 2008, the Salmonid Restoration Federation (SRF) hosted their annual meeting in Lodi, California. This years conference included talks about the central valley of California, where water diversions have left many once-great rivers bone dry, and the once-vast wetlands of the San Francisco Bay-Delta are on the brink of ecological collapse. Most of the dams here are destined to stay in place for the forseeable future, and complex work-arounds are being considered to restore water where there is none, without removing the existing infrastructure.

As a speaker in the dam removal panel, however, I felt privileged to learn of the latest developments on the cutting edge of a new era in river restoration. To anyone who has played with water as a kid (or adult), there is nothing more alluring than the concept of removing a dam. Large or small, it's something we can all relate to - a river is either free-flowing or it's not. But the actual transition from a river blocked by a dam and decades worth of sediment, to one that runs free, is a technical and scientific frontier. This has been done only a handful of times, and at relatively small scales.

The crux of the issue in removing a dam is not concrete demolition. It's sediment management. The nature of that sediment, and more importantly how we have treated the river downstream, dictate how a dam may be removed.

MECHANICAL TRANSPORT: If the material trapped behind a dam is contaminated, in the case of a mine for instance, it may not be released downstream, but rather must be removed by mechanical means. Think trucks. Lots of trucks, or perhaps a conveyor.

STABILIZE IN PLACE: In cases where development has encroached on the downstream floodplain, and mechanical transport may be cost prohibitive or infeasible due to the sheer volume, or lack of roads, creating a channel and stabilizing the sediment upstream may make sense.

NATURAL TRANSPORT is the method that really tweaks the imagination. "Blow and Go" makes sense when there is no downstream risk, but until recently this has not been done on a very large scale.

The panel of experts presented cases in which each of these methods has been used, or is being planned. But the highlight of the discussion at SRF was a presentation by Gordon Grant on Marmot Dam. Last October, this 50 foot dam on the Sandy River in Oregon was removed. A coffer dam was placed upstream to temporarily divert the river while the concrete was being blasted, then the river was allowed to do the work.

Watch and learn.

No one predicted the power of the river to restore itself. Flowing water arranged the sediment nicely downstream, and fish returned almost immediately to the Sandy River. See the documentary and more videos here

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Ocean Protection Council watershed tour

On Thursday February 28, 2008, the California Ocean Protection Council toured the Ventura River Watershed. The tour began at the Ventura County Government Center where the Watershed Protection District gave a short presentation describing the Matilija Dam Ecosystem Restoration project. The council members were then treated to a helicopter flight over the watershed, offering aerial views of the river and Matilija Dam. Vans transported other participants to the dam, where short presentations were given over a picnic lunch. Matilija Dam is slated for removal in 2013, and the project has been endorsed by the Ocean Protection Council and largely funded by the California Coastal Conservancy. The tour gave an opportunity for these policy makers to experience the dam and river for themselves.

The next stop was the beach at the mouth of the river, where Ventura City Councilman Brian Brennan gave an overview of the Surfers Point Managed Retreat project. The final design for this project is almost complete, and with funding construction could begin this year.

Finally, the group took a look at the Sanjon outfall at San Buenaventura State Beach. This site has been identified as an impairment to coastal water quality, a problem that we believe can be solved. Surfrider's proposal for wetlands and urban watershed restoration at this site was met with great interest, as it provides an integrated approach to stormwater management.

Tour participants were also invited to an after-hours reception at Jonathan's in downtown Ventura. We hope our guests learned the reasons we love this area, and why we are dedicated to protecting and restoring our coast and watershed.