Where Have All The Rivers Gone?

Dear Jane and Friends of the River,

I just turned 80! I’m so grateful to have been allowed to hang out on this amazing planet long enough to get to know the San Lorenzo River so much better.  Along with a fine celebration,

Sandra Postel
Sandra Postel on a research trip

I received a very interesting new book (2017) called Replenish, the Virtuous Cycle of Water and Prosperity.  ReplenishAmong a long list of writings and accomplishments, the author, Sandra Postel, won the 2017 Water Prize for restoring billions of gallons of water to depleted rivers and wetlands. Each chapter in the book tells a detail-rich and hopeful story of successful efforts around the world to reverse the ecological, economic and social damage created by the levees, dams, diversions, and other 20th century feats of engineering.  These are inspiring stories and I highly recommend the book.

Sadly, Postel’s last chapter asks the question:

On balance, are rivers getting healthier, aquifers being recharged, floodplains being rejuvenated and wetlands being expanded?  Are we becoming more resilient to droughts, floods and fire? Is the water cycle being replenished and repaired?  So far the answer is no.  At best, it’s one step forward, two steps back. “

This book inspires me to redouble our efforts to protect our little corner of the world and not to be part of any ‘two steps back’!   The local Desal Alternatives led a model citizens’ initiative  here in Santa Cruz by successfully blocking the city’s ecologically and economically costly desalinization plant and at the same time providing a far more creative and planet-friendly solution to water security than offered by the City.   The solution promoted by Desal Alternatives was to recharge our county’s depleted aquifers with re-directed San Lorenzo River water that would otherwise just run into the ocean.  After a long struggle, which required a ballot measure, this solution finally won City approval.  Postel unfortunately doesn’t mention our inspiring local story, but she gives high praise to the equivalent David vs. Goliath battle in Rockland County,  New York, where another  local citizens’ coalition was able to fend off a multinational  corporation from building a desalting plant.

There are powerful  commercial and recreational interests in Santa Cruz that exert undue pressures on our local government and that do not take into account the protection of our natural resources.  We need to stay alert to any efforts that discount the ecological importance of areas like the San Lorenzo River and its overbuilt delta, Jessie St. Marsh – as well as Pogonip, DeLaveaga Park, Lighthouse Field, and other natural treasures.

Jessie St. Marsh
Jessie St. Marsh dried up and cut down.  The City reports that it has plans to restore the freshwater portion of the original saltwater lagoon.  Let’s strongly support this positive direction! September 22, 2014.  Photo by B. Riverwoman

I haven’t spent much time outside in the last 20 days because of a skin condition on my face – it’s being treated and the doctor has forbidden me to be in the sun for thirty days.  I’m so eager to get back on the River. In the meantime, I have had  to rely on other lovers of the San Lorenzo River birdlife for this week’s river news.

My neighbor and good bird scout, Batya Kagan, keeps a special eye out for my good friends, including the PIED-BILLED GREBES.  I mentioned in my last post that I hadn’t seen any Pied-billed Grebes with the telltale bright black ring on bright white bills, a sign that they are ready to mate.  But the most recent news flash from Batya is that the birds, both sexes (!), are now decked out and ready to start their families.  They are late starters, and also tend to be the last nesters of breeding season on the river.  Good luck to them!

Pied-billed Grebe best copy
PIed-billed Grebe, August 1, 2015, San Lorenzo River, photo by B. Riverwoman

And speaking of mating, a faithful observer of birds  on the San Lorenzo River, Shantanu Phukan, reported on eBird on February 12 that he saw “two pairs of  COMMON GOLDENEYES with the males repeatedly displaying with the head flexed back.”

common goldeneye
Displaying male Common Goldeneye, Google image

Did it look like this photo from Google Images, Shantanu? I have never seen this.  I wonder if  the Goldeneyes mate here before they travel north in March and April to nest in Canada and Alaska?  Come to think of it –   depending on the gestation period – that might make sense.  The timing could be tricky, though.

Did I already mention in one of my earlier posts that local birder Randy Wardle publishes a monthly list on the Monterey Bay Birds website letting us know what to watch for in the upcoming month.  Here’s what he says about the birds that will likely appear in Santa Cruz in the month of February, birds we are likely to find on the river:

“ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRDS and BUSHTITS are nesting now, and the first DARK-EYED JUNCO and other cavity-nesters may begin nest building this month as well.  ALLEN’S HUMMINGBIRD numbers continue to grow and RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRDS begin to arrive toward the end of the month….  TREE SWALLOWS are the first migrant swallows to appear, joining the wintering population.  VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS start coming mid-February, followed by NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOWS and then CLIFF SWALLOWS and BARN SWALLOWS.  Among warblers…, in February ….YELLOW-RUMPED and TOWNSEND’S are still common, ORANGE-CROWNEDS will continue to be sparse in the lowlands until numbers start swelling toward the end of the month with the arrival of spring migrants.  And finally, “February can sometimes be a stormy month, so continue to watch the weather forecast and be ready to search for any rarities that might get blown ashore.  This is also a good time to clean your feeders to help prevent the spread of diseases among bird species.

Bushtit nest,Google image

I remember several years ago joining a bird walk with Steve Gerow when one of our group sadly found a Bushtit’s nest like this one that had fallen onto the ground.  It was empty by the time we found it.

According to a staff report at the last City Council meeting on February 13, the Benchlands homeless campground will be shut down on February 28th and moved to 1220 River St.  The City Council unanimously approved a three-phase plan to replace the current encampment with a more structured program with more services.  It’s been tried here before –  and failed, says homeless activist Brent Adams.

Benchlands Encampment, February 6, 2018 Photo by B. Riverwoman

Let’s hope it will work this time. I have actually enjoyed the brightly colored and orderly cluster of tents along the river, knowing that at least 50 or more people had minimal shelter and the comfort of sleeping legally.  I think the provision of porta-potties and washing stations has provided better protection for the river than campers hiding much closer to  the river without any services.

Quote of the day: “The health of our waters is the principal measure of how we live on the land” Luna Leopold

Wishing you all lots of bird friends and happy walks in nature.







3 thoughts on “Where Have All The Rivers Gone?

  1. That is a concept that those who target the homeless do not understand. They make sport of chasing them farther into situations where their pollution would be more a problem rather than help find less polluting situations for them. In Felton, those who considered homeless encampments a fire hazard actually burned a few of them down. So, they ‘fixed’ a ‘fire hazard’ by ‘burning’ it. hmmm. Then, those who lived there migrated farther out into the forests where any fire that spread into the forest would be more difficult to get to.
    Anyway, thank you for getting it.

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