How to Stay Active Outdoors During Shelter-In-Place

By Tom Stienstra

As Bay Area residents observe the government order to shelter in place as a means of containing the coronavirus outbreak, many who love the outdoors are looking for an escape from the monotony of being indoors at home all day. There is some respite out there if you know where to look.

Shelter-in-place requires people in six Bay Area counties to stay in their homes at all times, barring exceptions like grocery shopping, health care visits and getting exercise. Park trails are providing a refuge, even as visitors centers at state parks, national parks and national forests close to the public.

Health officers encourage short trips for fitness, as long as hikers do it alone or with close family members and keep 6 feet away from others, and make no stops driving to and from trailheads. With a few major exceptions, trails at national, state, county and regional parks, and open space, are still open for hiking, running and mountain biking.

“All outdoor state park spaces remain open and accessible to the public,” said State Parks director Lisa Mangat in a policy that most park districts are following.

Many open space areas are suspending docent-led activities and closing picnic areas. However, in many, rangers remain on duty to respond to emergencies.

In the East Bay hills Tuesday morning, field scout Brian Murphy of Rossmoor showed how to stay active within the order. From near his home, he hiked alone out of Tice Valley and into the hills to photograph blooming California poppies.

“It’s a nice opportunity to get out of the house to take the camera for walks in the peace and quiet, open space, and get in some good exercise as well,” Murphy said. “Sorry, enjoying the snow up at Tahoe is off the table.”

Ski resorts in the Lake Tahoe region announced over the weekend that they would shut down for the foreseeable future due to the pandemic.

Park officials recognize that fitness leads to health that can build strong immune systems. “Healthy Parks, Healthy People” is a global movement that “harnesses the power of parks and public lands as a health resource,” according to the U.S. National Park Service, which supports the movement.

The East Bay Regional Park District also operates a major program around the theme and links its annual “Trails Challenge” to the idea.

“I hike to stay healthy,” said my brother, Bob Stienstra Jr., “and you never know what you might see when you’re out there.” He lives on the South Peninsula and said he planned a short trip and hike to a local preserve operated by the Midpeninsula Open Space District.

Murphy and brother Bob said they would both heed the warnings: Keep travel to a minimum, do not engage others, avoid traveling in groups and keep the interior of your vehicle and surfaces you might touch sanitized. Go to the nearby trailhead, get your hike done and then return home.

While most park trails remain open, there are some new major exceptions across the region at areas where people might congregate.

In San Francisco, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area suspended tours on Alcatraz Island until April 8. The GGNRA also closed the Fort Point National Historic Site and the Lands End Lookout.

In Marin, the GGNRA also shut down Muir Woods National Monument, including all parking there, the Point Bonita Lighthouse and the Kirby Cove and Bicentennial campgrounds. Marin County Parks also closed all of its parks through April 7.

On the other hand, Marin County Open Space, where hundreds of trails and ranch-style roads are available for hiking and mountain biking, remain open, rangers said.

Most park districts have closed visitors centers, museums, group gatherings and programs, swim facilities, and anyplace where groups might gather. East Bay Parks also closed its two most popular campgrounds, at Anthony Chabot and Del Valle regional parks, and ordered all campers out on Monday.

In the Santa Cruz Mountains, Loch Lomond Recreation Area and its beautiful lake opened as scheduled on March 1, but closed Monday until at least well into April, said ranger Gar Eidam. “Hopefully we’ll still have a season,” he said.

For most, a common sense approach can solve most issues regarding park use, Murphy said. He has no wish to get sick or spread the illness, he added, and like many, “wants to stay active and maintain fitness.”

Tips for Connecting to Tuolumne

A Message from Our Director of Partnerships: 

To Our Tuolumne River Trust Community: 

I hope this message finds you in good health and positive spirits despite the challenges we are currently facing. It’s likely that you’ve been receiving multiple emails a day about how the organizations and businesses you support are handling COVID-19. The last thing I want to do is add to that noise. Instead, I’d like to offer some ideas and resources for how to cope with the challenges ahead. 

We’ve been having a lot of conversations at the staff level about how to best continue our work during this difficult time. Some of the questions we’ve been grappling with are about how we’re going to deliver our programs when we can’t show up in person, what types of messages we should send, and how to mindfully fundraise so that we can continue this work. 

While we don’t have immediate answers for all of those questions, one thing remains certain: nature, and the Tuolumne River Watershed, will continue to provide us with inspiration and peace. They will continue to be a refuge for us when times get tough, but only if we continue to take care of them too. 

We hope that you will find some solace (and maybe even escape) in the resources we’ve compiled for you below. 

If you’re in need of a breath of fresh air on your congested social media feed, we are posting daily photos and inspirations on our Instagram account that we hope bring you a few moments of reprieve. We’ll be featuring stories from our staff over the next few weeks and hope you’ll tune in. 

If you love the river and our work to protect it, please support us by making a contribution to our Great Race for Saving Water (virtual) fund-racer. It’s a small gesture that goes a long way for grassroots organizations like ours. Thank you for your support – we appreciate you! 

From my river-loving heart to yours,

Lauren

Lauren Barnum

Director of Partnerships

There are ways to get the 2020 salmon season off to a good start

Contact water officials to ensure supplies meet needs of people and fish.

Written by Robyn Purchia for the SF Examiner

San Franciscans are weeks away from the start of the 2020 salmon season, and the forecast looks fine. Plentiful rain and runoff during the last several years coupled with improved hatchery release practices has created a “conveyor belt” that is moving baby fish from rivers in the Central Valley out to the ocean through the San Francisco Bay.

“We have reason to be hopeful as we look to the start of salmon fishing in 2020 and we’re glad to see that programs supported by the Golden State Salmon Association are apparently resulting in more fish for everyone to catch this year,” said John McManus, president of the Golden Gate Salmon Association.

But our somewhat dry winter could hint at trouble for future salmon seasons. San Francisco’s primary water source is the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, which is fed by the Tuolumne River. Even though San Franciscans are conserving water and The City has expanded groundwater and recycled water use, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) still takes the same amount from the Tuolumne in wet and dry years. This means precious water isn’t going to those most in need — the salmon and all those that depend on them.

The fight to get the SFPUC to leave more water in the river has burned since the State Water Board proposed reducing the amount of water municipalities and agricultural users can take from rivers that feed the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Delta. Thankfully, SFPUC Commissioner Francesca Vietor is pushing staff to come forward with a plan to meet The City and the salmon’s water needs.

“I think she is taking her job as representing our environmental interests very seriously,” Peter Drekmeier, policy director at the nonprofit Tuolumne River Trust, told me.

Although the SFPUC joined the Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts to oppose the State Water Board’s Bay Delta Plan, the proposal passed in December 2018. The victory for environmentalists was quick-lived. Almost immediately, the SFPUC and irrigation districts convinced state lawmakers to let them finish developing a voluntary agreement to protect fish instead of comply with the requirements.

Unsurprisingly, over one year later, the SFPUC, irrigation districts and environmentalists have yet to come to a voluntary agreement. Then, last month, the federal government made things worse for wildlife and fishermen when President Donald Trump signed an order taking more water from the Tuolumne.

While the federal order throws the state’s efforts into question, it would be prudent for the SFPUC to voluntarily implement the State Water Board’s requirements. Volunteers at the Tuolumne River Trust developed a water supply calculator, to show the SFPUC that it could voluntarily release its share of unimpaired flow from the Tuolumne for two years during a drought. If The City hits a third dry year, the SFPUC could revert back to current diversion rates.

“What the SFPUC plans for is a worst-case drought that would last for eight years,” Drekmeier told me. “With the calculator I was looking for a scenario that could get the SFPUC through its Design Drought.”

Drekmeier presented these findings to the commission in February. In response, Commissioner Vietor asked staff to report on whether the SFPUC could release more water into the river this spring without compromising long-term supply. But the one-page memo staff provided last month didn’t address the issue of water availability. Instead, it discussed the SFPUC’s work to come to a voluntary agreement to protect fish and the need to coordinate with the irrigation districts.

San Franciscans who care about salmon cannot let SFPUC staff continue delaying meaningful action to protect them.

“We can’t keep approving new development when we haven’t approved enough water for the fish,” Commissioner Vietor told me. “I feel a sense of urgency because the fish are not doing well.”

Commissioner Vietor has asked staff to come forward with a plan for how The City can meet our water supply needs and have enough water for the fish. The hope was that SFPUC will have a resolution ready for the March 24 meeting. However, President Ann Moller Caen canceled the meeting in an abundance of caution due to COVID-19.

San Franciscans can email commissioners@sfwater.org and stay tuned for future meetings. If we want to enjoy delicious pink fish in the future, we have to act today.

Robyn Purchia is an environmental attorney, environmental blogger and environmental activist who hikes, gardens and tree hugs in her spare time. She is a guest opinion columnist and her point of view is not necessarily that of the Examiner. Check her out at robynpurchia.com

TRT Response to COVID-19 

To Our Tuolumne River Trust Community: 

In light of the rapidly changing circumstances caused by COVID-19 and recommendations from national and state officials, we are canceling all TRT-sponsored public events through May 31, 2020. 

This measure is taken in an abundance of caution for our communities. Guidance from our public health agencies has made it clear that avoiding crowds and social distancing are key to reducing transmission, especially among the most vulnerable. 

The following events are canceled: 

  • Modesto Rec Fest – March 21, 2020 
  • Tuolumne Jamboree – May 30-31, 2020 

The events scheduled for tomorrow, March 14, 2020 will continue as planned: 

  • Wildflower Hike at Red Hills 
  • Operation 9-2-99 River Clean-up – for more information, please contact organizer Chris Guptill by clicking here

We are not canceling our annual “fund-racer” in conjunction with the City of Palo Alto’s Great Race for Saving Water and Earth Day celebration. This is a virtual fundraiser that raises money to support our restoration, education, and advocacy programs. Climate change remains a serious threat to our communities, economy, and natural environment. We must continue our work to protect and restore the Tuolumne River, especially in these difficult times, and that work requires funding. 

We know that there is a lot of uncertainty and fear circulating right now, but this community of river lovers is strong, and we will get through the challenges we currently face. We are grateful to you, our supporters, for your unwavering support over the past 39 years. 

Be well,
Patrick Koepele

Executive Director
Tuolumne River Trust

Don’t be fooled, Modesto farmers — Trump’s California water plan doesn’t help you.

By The Modesto Bee Editorial Board

President Donald Trump promised in a Central Valley visit on Wednesday that his new water edict would benefit farmers, drawing applause and adulation from a Kern County crowd. But the brash move is more likely to hurt than to help growers, whether in Bakersfield or Modesto.

That’s because his plan may blow up delicate negotiations among all interests receiving water from rivers flowing to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, especially those here in the Northern San Joaquin Valley — the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers.

These on-life-support negotiations, called voluntary agreements, present our best chance at finding peace after decades of water wars. Such a truce would provide respite and certainty not only to our farmers, but also to the fish industry and environmentalists aligned with it. And, to the city of Modesto, whose water customers rely in part on treated water from the Tuolumne.

Former Governor Jerry Brown and his successor, Governor Gavin Newsom, see the value in voluntary agreements; we applauded when Newsom in September quickly vetoed misguided state legislation, Senate Bill 1, because it threatened to derail these all-important negotiations. Newsom risked severe political blowback but stuck to his guns because he knows that compromise, in the long run, is preferable to protracted court battles.

The water agencies in our area with the most at stake — the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts — have championed the voluntary agreements. They long ago accepted that giving up some of their Tuolumne River water would be far better than the state Water Resources Control Board’s much-maligned “water grab” proposal, which is anything but voluntary.

One might expect the irrigation districts and our local farmers to applaud Trump’s move on Wednesday — rolling back environmental restrictions to make it easier for Delta pumps to send a lot more water to farmers in the south Valley, and potentially to Southern California cities. With typical hyperbole, Trump told the cheering crowd that they are “going to be able to do things you never thought possible.”

Let’s be honest: Some of the president’s rationale rings absolutely true. For example, his administration’s biological opinion (enabling more water to move south) is based on recent science that is head-and-shoulders above outdated data that the state Water Board relied on to propose the hated water grab. The legislation vetoed by Newsom would ignore this sound science as well.

But the country’s negotiator-in-chief has zero interest in negotiating California’s water wars. His only goal is a complete and crushing victory for his political base. That’s why he signed the rollbacks in Kern County, which favored him by 13 percentage points over Hillary Clinton in 2016. And that explains why he was accompanied by fawning, loyalist office-holders such as U.S. Representatives Kevin McCarthy, Devin Nunes and Tom McClintock.

Also in attendance was David Bernhardt, who previously lobbied Washington legislators on behalf of the powerful Fresno-based Westlands Water District before joining Trump’s cabinet as Interior secretary. Westlands stands to gain as much or more than anyone under Trump’s water management plan, shepherded by Bernhardt.

The president’s Wednesday visit, coming just before the March 3 Primary, was calculated to help his cronies, not our farmers.

The next day, Thursday, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed a lawsuit challenging the president’s plan. Westlands previously indicated that such a lawsuit could prompt it to pull out of the voluntary agreements, threatening complete collapse just as we were nearing a healthy and sustainable compromise that might have been good for all.

Had Trump not inserted himself into the issue, Becerra would not have sued and negotiations would have stayed on track.

A resolution to this mess may await the outcome of the fall presidential election.

Meanwhile, if the voluntary agreements do blow up, California’s water future will be decided in courts over the next decade or so. In that case the only winners, as they say, will be the lawyers.