Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Alameda's Contaminated Lagoons Exposed to California Water Board

"Environmental abuse is like racism; people are so
conditioned to it that it seems invisible."
Duck shock in Alameda's Lagoon #1

(For the record, I have the utmost respect for the Water Board and its staff. Their responsibility is immense; their budget is tight; and work must be prioritized. This regional office deals with major health threats like mercury and PCBS and major polluters like large dairy operations for nine counties and 76 municipalities. I sat through 5 hours of deliberations and presentations before returning a second time for a chance at the microphone. These dedicated professionals quietly go about the invisible job of protecting our health and lives.)

Alameda's aging finger lagoons are subject to state and federal environmental laws, and they're an environmental disgrace to the otherwise beautiful and progressive city of Alameda.

Today I presented a plea for strict enforcement of storm sewer regulations (see attached) at a hearing in the Elihu M. Harris State Building auditorium to the Regional Water Quality Control Board and attendees. It was highly satisfying to finally get in front of sympathetic and responsible authorities who can take appropriate action. (Here is a complete transcript of my presentation: July 8 Water Board Presentation)

The images projected onto a wall-sized screen in dimmed light were highly effective, and I delivered my rapid-fire opening statement like a prosecuting attorney. The words had been honed down to a bare minimum to fit the 3-minute format.

There's nothing special in the words I spoke. It was the simple truth people have been avoiding for years. Environmental abuse is like racism, people are so conditioned to its presence that it seems  invisible. Now the secret shame of the lagoons is out in the open.

There was a point, early on, when I sensed a hush in the place and I knew I had everyone's rapt attention. The comments from the Board Chair were rich with appreciation and concern. There was no substantive rebuttal. The Board staff seemed embarrassed, saying water quality in the lagoons was a long-known problem and would receive more attention.

It was immensely satisfying, a day I will not forget.

Nor, I suspect, will the people present.

The Water Board will be looking into the matter, and I now have friendly face-to-face relations there .

Great white egret in Marin County

There's a win-win-win solution begging to be implemented here that involves innovative thinking.

An eco-minded architect could design self-funding solar-collecting sculptures that also aerate while reducing the solar footprint on the lagoons, thereby increasing aesthetics while solving the algae problem.

Whats up, millennials? My generation Messed up. Let's put our heads together and make Alameda a model for eco-sensible partnering between man and nature. Property values would be enhanced and we could all be proud of the result.

All the Bay Area Universities should be falling over each other to solve this problem. You can't tell me that with today's technology we can't come up with a solution that preserves the beauty of the lagoons while restoring the richness of their natural function as marine habitat.

This is how they do it in Vancouver
Bayside water garden in Vancouver, B.C.

My dream is the return of seabirds to Alameda's finger lagoons. If we can't do this, they should be filled-in and made into a park.

Friday, May 29, 2015

AMP/CGI Drilling Project (Suspect #2) Checks Out

Great white egret at San Leandro Bay

According to Janice Adams of Alameda Power, their horizontal drilling project was completed in May, 2014, and did not involve the use of an oil-based drilling mud additive; so it is highly unlikely the Bird Goo is from that source.

Here's a link to her full response: AMP Response. It's pretty impressive.

So back to Suspect #1, the Lagoon Seawall Sewer Replacement Project.

Thanks to the folks at Alameda Sun, the word is getting out about our search for the Bird Killers.

Alameda Sun, May 21, 2015

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Goleta Nightmare: The Storm Sewer Delivery System

" What government body approved this pipeline design? What responsible authority would allow such inept engineering to be foisted upon the public? At what point do political cronyism and bureaucratic indifference become criminal negligence?"

Santa Barbara's Nightmare

Santa Barbara's Nightmare has returned. Delivered unimpeded with pinpoint accuracy by a storm sewer running along Highway 101, crude oil has again blackened a formerly scenic California beach and decimated a marine ecosystem. Didn't we learn anything from the '69 Santa Barbara disaster?

Click here for the breaking story from CBS: Santa Barbara's Nightmare , Do I need to describe the grim landscape that will appear on tonight's six o-clock news? Black sludge-covered seabirds and otters, seals and sea lions, struggling for life. An undulating mass of blackened seaweed where foamy breakers formerly rolled shoreward.

The Goleta oil spill reveals flawed engineering from horse-and-buggy days rife with ecological ignorance and indifference.

Why weren't automatic shut-off valves operating? Where was the backup system? A drop in pipeline pressure should have stopped the pumping and triggered an investigation. Catch basins could have been built along the pipelines for ease of clean-up and to prevent spillage from reaching sensitive areas. What design considerations were made for local seismic conditions?

Post-1969 and considering the high threat of earthquakes, catch basins should have been required. It is criminally deficient to not include even the simplest environmental safety features in pipeline design. We can send spacecraft to Saturn and beyond, but we can't build and safely operate a simple pipeline?

And don't use the worn-out cost excuse. Cost gets factored into the feasibility of the project. Safety is integral to cost. Are we mentally impaired when it comes to the design of ecologically prudent oil pipelines?

What government body approved this flawed pipeline design? What responsible authority would allow such inept engineering to be foisted upon the public? At what point do political cronyism and bureaucratic indifference become criminal negligence?

Lack of regulatory oversight was a major factor in the Goleta tragedy: Click here for an expose on how the pipeline operator dodged regulation  "Because the county was denied the regulatory authority to require that Plains equip its pipeline with an automatic shut-down valve in case of a rupture, The Santa Barbara Independent has discovered, the Plains pipeline is the only pipeline in the county without this key safety feature. "

The corporation must pay damages, but real accountability means some corporate types need to be in handcuffs and orange jumpsuits.

Storm sewers may be implicated in the still unsolved 2015 Seabird Massacre, presently under investigation by the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Alameda County Department of Environmental Health, and myself. (This investigation is the main purpose of this web site.)

Storm sewers. We never think about them, but they are pipelines for toxins into San Francisco Bay. What goes down the gutter ends up in our marine environment.

Goleta and the Seabird Massacre are wake-up calls. Attend the June 10 (click here for details) PUBLIC WORKSHOP HEARINGS FOR THE SAN FRANCISCO BAY STORMWATER PERMIT This hearing will consider comments regarding pending action which will help protect the entire San Francisco Bay from the discharge of toxic waste through storm sewers.

Don't let this happen to San Francisco Bay:

If you can't be at the hearing and have comments or questions, post them here on this blog and I will present them on your behalf at the hearing and post the follow-up here.

Here's a list of Bay Area politicians and organizations who can effect change: Whom to Contact

How many seabird massacres does it take for you to take action?

Goleta coastline, May 19, 2015.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Get Involved or Get Ready for Empty Skies

"More of us must become educated to the threat to wildlife imposed by ecological ignorance and indifference and poorly designed development and get actively involved--or..."

AT LEFT is a common tern looking for a meal in San Leandro Bay, where the marine ecosystem has entered a new era of catastrophic ecological threat due to global warming and other human activity.

Sediment buildup from Alameda's lagoons and dredging of the Oakland-Alameda Estuary have recently combined to shift tidal currents, drawing toxins from street run-off and lagoon chemicals into the feeding grounds of these magnificent aerial acrobats.

The human threat to marine wildlife here took a dramatic turn once before in the early 1900s, when dredging of a marsh turned the Alameda Penninsula into an island. The ecosystem had to adjust to the flooding and scavenging effect of powerful new tidal flows.

Further dredging of the newly-created Oakland-Alaemda Estuary made possible the Port of Oakland, a thriving seaport with hundreds of jobs, but a side-effect was a curse for the marine ecosystem of San Leandro Bay. New ship channel depths allowed larger ships to enter the Port but also increased the strength of tidal currents, drawing toxins from Alameda's lagoon effluent around the eastern tip of Alameda Island through the habitat of thousands of seabirds in San Leandro Bay.

Alameda's Tidal Curse is documented here on my blog: Alameda's Tidal Curse . The Curse is that whatever is carried down the Estuary from San Leandro Bay will be returned there and gets recycled repeatedly, day after day. The Tidal Curse is a prime suspect in the Seabird Massacre of 2015, where three hundred beautiful seabirds died and hundreds more were treated and released. The birds were caked in an oily goo that causes hypothermia a hideous death after hours of shivering from the cold.

The Massacre is still under investigation, but we don't have to wait. Action is already underway by the Regional Water Quality Control Board, who recently issued a new tentative ruling effectively declaring Zero Tolerance for anything but storm water to be released into storm sewers: Regional Water Quality Control Board Action .

This new ruling needs to be extended to include lagoons and all inland waterways feeding the San Francisco Bay. Call or write the Board with your comments. If you can--show up on June 12.

What will we learn from the 2015 Seabird Massacre? Will Alameda wake up? Will the City continue to use chemicals to control algae in their ancient finger lagoons? Will first responders become more responsive? Will the police show more interest in environmental cases? Will people use their cell phone cameras to record and report environmental threats? Will schools expand their ecological awareness curriculum?

Everyone enjoys seeing herons, terns, grebes, ducks, pelicans and egrets in our skies and waters. We share their living quarters. Urban development doesn't have to destroy wildlife. More of us must become educated to the threat to wildlife imposed by ecological ignorance and indifference and poorly designed development and get actively involved--or... day the skies will be empty.

Get involved.

Here's a list of politicians, agencies and organizations you can contact: Who to Contact

Friday, May 15, 2015

Drilling Mud "STP" Questions for Alameda Power

"Did anyone at AMP question why CTI's bid showed a substantially shorter duration than others?"

Suspect #2 in my search for the cause of the 2015 Seabird Massacre is a 2014 horizontal directional drilling (HDD) project to lay power conduit to Coast Guard Island from Alameda under the Estuary downstream from where a plume of greyish-tan sludge was reported prior to the massacre of hundreds of seabirds by a mysterious grey goo clinging to their bodies, causing death by hypothermia.

Laboratory analysis by California Fish and Wildlife of the Mystery Goo matches a type of oily "STP"-like* drilling mud additive that accelerates the rate of penetration (ROP) in earth-boring projects such as this drilling mud nightmare.

Drilling mud nightmare

Following is a list of questions I submitted today to Alameda Power about the 2014 CGI conduit drilling project.
"Previously asked:
1. Dates drilling began and ended.
2. What type drilling mud and drilling mud additives were used.

3. Please enumerate if exceptions were made to generally-accepted engineering standards for environmental protection.
4. Were exceptions made to City standards for bidding? If so, how were they justified?
5. What, if any, previous experience did California Trenchless Inc (CTI) have with directional drilling projects of this type and scale?
6. How did CTI control and dispose of waste drilling mud? (The on-line contract documents specified a "mud pit" for retaining waste drilling mud, but there was none observed during the several days I watched the drilling during my daily walks.)
7. What geological data did CTI and AMP use to ensure environmental safety, e.g., the nature and composition of the subterranean geologic formation?
8. Did CTI or AMP do post-project testing for drilling mud leakage? If so, what were the results?
9. What level of on-site supervision did AMP have throughout the project? (The drilling was only yards away from AMP's headquarters.)
10. How otherwise did AMP assure themselves of contract compliance?
11. Did AMP perform on-site testing regarding environmental risks such as frac-out and waste mud leakage and disposal?
12. Do AMP and CTI have insurance coverage for environmental risk?
13. Did anyone at AMP question why CTI's bid showed a substantially shorter duration than others? (The use of a drilling mud additive would have accelerated the ROP [rate of penetration], reducing cost by speeding up the project, but would also increase environmental risk.)
Some of the information may not be readily available and can be provided later, but please provide what you can early next week.
I live nearby and am available should my assistance be needed.
Thanks again for your cooperation."

We will get to the bottom of this.

*STP is a popular additive for motor oil that is advertised to reduce friction.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Encouraging News in Quest to Protect the Seabirds

(This page is reserved for encouraging news in our mission to find the cause of Alaemda's October Toxic Spill and the Mystery Goo and take corrective action.)

May 11, 2015: GREAT NEWS! Today the Regional Water Quality Control Board issued a Tentative Order for the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit under the Clean Water Act covering municipal stormwater discharges. What this order does, subject to changes after public hearings in June and July, is effectively a ZERO TOLERANCE edict against storm drain emissions other than storm water.

This means: No contaminants whatsoever. No fertilizers. No herbicides. No algicides. No surfactants. No blue dye to fight lagoon algae. It also means restrictions and monitoring at construction sites, which would ostensibly prevent the use of oil-based drilling fluids like what (I suspect) was responsible for the January 2015 Seabird Massacre. (This will be covered in a paper I plan to submit and speak on at the June10 hearing.)

PLEASE SEND ME YOUR COMMENTS AND INPUT TO BE INCLUDED. You can e-mail me or attach a comment here on the blog.

April 14, 2015: This morning's missive from the dedicated folks at International Bird Rescue in Fairfield:
"Dear Mr Heying,Thank you so much for taking the time to email your information and idea about the Mystery Goo to us. I have forwarded a link to your blog, as well as your email to the State investigators who are still working on the this case and determined to find the responsible party.
Barbara Callahan Interim Director International Bird Rescue"

Did a Coast Guard Island Drilling Fluid Disaster Kill the Seabirds?

"Such a fracture could leak drilling fluid into the Bay Area basin and watershed with catastrophic consequences to marine life such as the Bay Area's 2015 Seabird Massacre."

Suspect Number Two in my investigation is last year's trans-Estuary directional drilling project to string conduit to Coast Guard Island from Alameda. In the shot below, Alameda is to the left and Coast Guard Island is bottom center. (Refer to the attached Initial Study for a detailed project description.)
Coast Guard Island in Foreground

The material spewing into the air in the picture below is drilling fluid, an essential material in almost all earth-boring projects like last year's Alameda Municipal Power bore under the Estuary to lay 1,700 feet of flexible conduit to serve the Coast Guard's needs.

This Youtube video shows what can go wrong: Link to Video of Directional Drilling Nightmare

Directional Drilling Nightmare

Drilling fluid is often used under high pressure, so a massive uncontrolled discharge such as this could happen deep under water and go temporarily unnoticed by everyone but the drilling crew. A geologist should be consulted before using a rock bit anywhere near Bay Area waterways because of the risk of fracturing the often fragile native subsurface geologic formations. Such a fracture (called a "frac-out") could leak drilling fluid into the Bay Area basin and watershed with potentially catastrophic consequences to marine life such as the 2015 Alameda Seabird Massacre.

A drill bit could also hit a subterranean air pocket and fill it with drilling fluid that later leaks to the surface. For that matter, the entire 1,700-foot bore could contain drilling mud residue that continues leaking into the marine environment long after project completion.

Elsewhere in this blog I report that the Bird Goo lab analysis matches a type of additive used in drilling mud. Such additives are for various purposes, such as accelerating the rate of penetration (ROP), thereby reducing the cost of a project and enabling a contractor to win-out over higher bidders.

But speed can lead to mistakes, and accidents can happen. There's insurance to cover such eventualities.

I have asked the Coast Guard for a contact who can answer questions about the CGI drilling project. I will also speak to someone at Alameda Municipal Power.

There a questions to be answered: Were proper engineering standards for environmental protection followed? Was the bidding process deficient? The drilling was practically in AMP's backyard. Did they have on-site supervision throughout the project?

California Trenchless, Inc. was the drilling contractor. I have questions for them too, like how much drilling mud was used, and what kind. What kind of additives were used and how much? How did they dispose of waste drilling mud? What geological data did they use to ensure environmental safety? Did they do any post-project testing for drilling mud leakage? If so, what were the results? How much experience did CTI have in drilling projects of this scale?

Whenever there's dredging in the Bay Area, a Water Quality Board rep is on site testing turbidity every ten minutes. Drilling mud is equally if not more ecologically risky than turbidity. Was a Water Board rep present during drilling? If not, why not?

I am aware of only two significant drilling projects in the vicinity of Alameda within the relevant time frame prior to the Seabird Massacre--the Lagoon Seawall Sewer Replacement and the Coast Guard Island Conduit project. If anyone knows of another, speak up.

The finger of suspicion points at these two drilling projects and lagoon dredging in Alameda ongoing prior to the Seabird Massacre. Maybe all three played a role in the massacre. I am intent on probing these areas until answers are out in to the open.