City Misses Chance to Embrace Wetlands

‘Opportunity assets’ are not just about creating buildings

The city and its consultant recently released a report outlining what will be included in the new climate-action plan for Alameda. What it reveals, unfortunately, is their resistance to thinking big. The process for updating Alameda’s climate-action plan began as a promising effort for a comprehensive look at what it means to adapt our entire environment to climate change. It is winding up with a narrow focus on protecting local real estate, which the plan refers to as “vulnerable assets.” 

The city has rejected a broader scope of action that would include “opportunity assets,” as in opportunities to improve the natural environment, not just the built environment. Areas at Alameda Point not slated for development must be viewed as an opportunity asset that can be re-purposed for the good of the environment.

The report addresses solutions to the threat of flooding in our neighborhoods, but offers no vision or emphasis on adding wetlands and plant life to help consume the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, called carbon sequestration. Natural systems are one of the best and least-expensive ways to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. They can also absorb sea-level rise and storm surges made worse by levees and sea walls elsewhere around the Bay. 

There is no mention of adaptation opportunities at Alameda Point. The city’s Town Center and Waterfront Plan calls for removing pavement from the west side of the Seaplane Lagoon and creating an engineered wetland shoreline to naturally adapt to rising sea level and climate change. It also envisions the construction of floating wetlands anchored near the shore for additional biological value. 

It was given the name “De-Pave Park.” It is directly adjacent to an existing wetland on the federal property and is a prime opportunity to create one big wetland directly connected to the Bay. De-Pave Park should not be omitted from the city’s climate-action plan. It should be a marquee project.

Hundreds of acres of pavement on the federal property, which the city zoned as Nature Reserve, have also been disregarded. It’s part of our city, region and planet and should be included.

If left to fate, both of these areas at Alameda Point will remain vast concrete wastelands absorbing heat and making the planet warmer, eventually becoming flooded pavement of no value to the environment. The consultant should prepare conceptual drawings and quantify the benefits for these opportunity assets. Without a vision spelled out in the climate- action plan, there will be no action because no one will provide funding for something we do not think is important. 

The climate-action plan should include adding wetlands at Alameda Point. Add tidal canals on the Nature Reserve leading to new wetlands that will absorb storm surges. In certain areas, build up the elevation beyond worst- case sea-level rise with clean soil dredged from the Bay that would otherwise be dumped into the ocean. 

This will provide valuable soil that can be planted with vegetation that absorbs carbon dioxide and provide habitat for birds, bees and the web of life that cannot exist on concrete pavement overtaken by sea-level rise. 

It’s time to push our decision makers to think big, beyond the built environment. Our Island City — surrounded by water — should embrace wetlands and natural solutions in its climate- action plan.

 

Richard Bangert posts stories and photos about the environment on his blog Alameda Point Environmental Report.