Archive for the ‘Delta & Environment’ Category

Contra Costa, 22 other DA’s reach settlement with gas station owner for underground storage tank environmental violations

Monday, November 22nd, 2021

Gas station underground storage tank diagram. Source: EPA

$1.1 million in civil penalties; 113 tanks statewide, seven in Contra Costa County

By Bobbi Mauler, Executive Assistant, Contra Costa County Office of the District Attorney

Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton announced today that the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office, together with 22 other California District Attorneys and City Attorneys, have reached a settlement with the Orange, California-based Hassan & Sons, Inc., H&S Energy, LLC and H&S Energy Products, LLC (formerly known as Colonial Energy, LLC),  (collectively referred to as “H&S Energy”) over allegations that the companies violated state laws regarding the operation and maintenance of motor vehicle fuel underground storage tanks (“USTs”). The settlement includes $1,100,000 in civil penalties, and investigative costs. H&S Energy has 113 fueling stations in California, of which, seven locations are in Contra Costa County. The settlement follows an investigation by local environmental health agencies of H&S Energy stations’ non-compliance with many provisions of the UST regulations.

The companies, started in 1996, have built and acquired gasoline and convenience stores throughout the state under the Chevron, Texaco, Shell, Extra Mile, and their own, Power Market brand, including locations in Bay Point, Brentwood, Oakley, Pittsburg and Martinez.

“UST owners and operators must comply with the applicable regulations in order to prevent potential harm to the environment,” said D.A. Becton. “H&S Energy was cooperative with the People’s investigation and expended significant resources in order to bring their stations into compliance.”

Under the settlement, which includes a Final Judgment and Permanent Injunction entered in Solano County Superior Court Case No. FCS057332 by the Honorable E. Bradley Nelson, H&S Energy must implement certain compliance assurance programs including hiring an environmental compliance manager and bi-annual environmental audits and reports submitted to the People. In addition, H&S Energy must pay $900,000 in civil penalties and $200,000 in costs. $550,000 is due within five days after entry of judgment, and the remaining $550,000 is due October 22, 2022.

Allen Payton contributed to this report.


Delta Conveyance (tunnel) Project Case Study Workshop on community benefits programs Nov. 17

Saturday, November 6th, 2021

Proposed Delta Conveyance Project Facility Corridor Options. Source: Scoping Summary Report.

Learn from other projects

Haga clic aquí para ver este aviso en español.

As part of ongoing development of the Community Benefits Program for the proposed Delta Conveyance (tunnel) Project, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) is holding a virtual workshop on Wednesday, November 17th from 6:00pm – 8:00pm to hear and learn from representatives of several different example community benefits programs around the country. (See related articles here and here)

Members of the local Delta community are encouraged to attend this event and hear firsthand experiences about the development and implementation of these programs, including different organizational structures, development timing, important milestones and lessons learned.

There will also be an opportunity to ask the panelists questions and engage in dialogue about their experiences and insights. Although these types of programs are not uncommon, there are various ways to go about setting them up. This workshop gives both DWR and the local community the chance to learn more about how it could be done for the proposed Delta Conveyance Project. (See details of the proposed system, here)

The workshop panelists represent a diverse set of projects and community benefits programs from different parts of the country:

  • Oakland, California, Partnership for Working Families 
    • Ben Beach, Legal Director
  • North Charleston, South Carolina, LowCountry Alliance for Model Communities Port Authority Redevelopment and Transfer Station
    • Omar Muhammed, Executive Director, LowCountry Alliance for Model Communities
  • Morro Bay, California, Castle Offshore Wind Project 
    • Scott Collins, City Manager, City of Morro Bay

While no other project or community benefits program exactly matches the specifics of the proposed Delta Conveyance Project and what might be most appropriate for the Community Benefits Program for this project, the example projects that will be discussed in this workshop offer different and valuable perspectives and examples with varying structures, locations and challenges. In preparing for this workshop, DWR researched community benefits programs for large infrastructure projects that had long-term construction impacts, where the benefits of the project were not local, but impacts of the project were, and where location and potential for environmental justice and economically disadvantaged community concerns were also involved.

Workshop Details & Registration

  • Wednesday, November 17, 2021 | 6:00pm – 8:00pm | REGISTER HERE
  • Workshop will be conducted on Zoom with a call-in option available


  • Welcome and Introductions
  • Presentations from the three project representatives
  • Focused panelist discussion:
    • How did the idea develop in your project?
    • How did the community come together to provide input?
    • When in the project lifecycle did people come together?
    • How did you solicit priorities?
    • How did you formalize the program?
    • How are community benefit funds distributed?
    • How are you measuring and monitoring community benefits?
  • Public questions/discussion

Participation Accommodations & Additional Information

  • Closed captioning will be provided
  • Workshop materials will be available in English and Spanish, and a simultaneous Spanish translation will be offered
  • Workshop access information and materials will be sent out prior to the workshop through Eventbrite
  • If you cannot participate in the workshop but have questions, please email us at
  • A recording of the workshop will be posted on the project website, along with the background material, when available

To register, click here.

ABAG, MTC adopt final Plan Bay Area 2050 and Environmental Impact Report

Monday, October 25th, 2021

“$1.4 trillion vision for a more equitable and resilient future for Bay Area residents” in thareas of housing, the economy, transportation and the environment

“Roadmap toward a more affordable, connected, diverse, healthy and vibrant region for all”

Includes “strategies that would produce more than 1 million new permanently affordable homes” and will “Implement a statewide universal basic income” to “provide an average $500 per month payment to all Bay Area households”

The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), during their joint meeting Thursday evening, Oct. 21, 2021, unanimously adopted Plan Bay Area 2050 and its associated Environmental Impact Report. The unanimous votes by both boards cap a nearly four-year process during which more than 20,000 Bay Area residents contributed to the development of the new plan.

All six representatives from Contra Costa County, including Supervisors Candace Andersen and Karen Mitchoff, Richmond Mayor Tom Butt and San Ramon Councilman Dave Hudson, who serve on ABAG, as well as Supervisor Federal Glover and Contra Costa City Representative Amy Worth, Mayor of Orinda, who serve on MTC, voted to adopt the plan.

Defined by 35 strategies for housing, transportation, economic vitality and the environment, Plan Bay Area 2050 lays out a $1.4 trillion vision for policies and investments to make the nine-county region more affordable, connected, diverse, healthy and economically vibrant for all its residents through 2050 and beyond. From housing strategies that would produce more than 1 million new permanently affordable homes by 2050 to transit-fare reforms that would reduce cost burdens for riders with low incomes and paths to economic mobility through job training and a universal basic income, the goal of a more equitable Bay Area is interwoven throughout the plan. With a groundbreaking focus on climate change, strategies also are crafted for resilience against future uncertainties, including protection from hazards such sea-level rise and wildfires.

It is a long-range plan charting the course for the future of the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area. Plan Bay Area 2050 will focus on four key issues—the economy, the environment, housing and transportation—and will identify a path to make the Bay Area more equitable for all residents and more resilient in the face of unexpected challenges. Building on the work of the Horizon initiative, this new regional plan outlines strategies for growth and investment through the year 2050, while simultaneously striving to meet and exceed federal and state requirements. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments are expected to adopt Plan Bay Area 2050 in fall 2021.

“Plan Bay Area 2050 reflects a shared vision that can’t be implemented by any single agency,” explained ABAG Executive Board President and Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín. “To bring all these strategies to fruition will require ABAG and MTC to strengthen our existing partnerships and to form new ones — not just with our cities and counties and the state government, but also with the federal government, businesses and nonprofits.”

What will Plan Bay Area 2050 do? What won’t it do?

Plan Bay Area 2050 outlines a roadmap for the Bay Area’s future. While it pinpoints policies and investments necessary to advance the goal of a more affordable, connected, diverse, healthy and vibrant Bay Area, Plan Bay Area 2050 neither funds specific infrastructure projects nor changes local policies. Cities and counties retain all local land use authority. Plan Bay Area 2050 does identify a potential path forward for future investments – including infrastructure to improve our transportation system and to protect communities from rising sea levels – as well as the types of public policies necessary to realize a future growth pattern for housing and jobs.

Ultimately, Plan Bay Area 2050 reflects a shared vision – one that cannot be implemented by any single organization or government agency. Only through partnership with local, state and federal governments – as well as with businesses and non-profit organizations – will the Plan’s vision come to fruition. Before the Plan is adopted in 2021, MTC and ABAG, along with partner organizations, will create an implementation plan that will advance the strategies outlined in Plan Bay Area 2050.

MTC Chair and Napa County Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza acknowledged the work ahead. “Building and preserving affordable housing. Adapting to sea level rise. Getting more people closer to their jobs and more jobs closer to the people. Sharing prosperity equitably. All of these are big lifts. But the new plan can serve as a north star for the Bay Area’s journey to 2050.”

Among the features that distinguish Plan Bay Area 2050 from previous regional plans is an associated Implementation Plan that details the specific actions ABAG and MTC can take in the next five years to put the new plan into action.

“The Implementation Plan is a commitment to do hard things, not just think about them,” said ABAG-MTC Executive Director Therese W. McMillan. “Even if these steps have to be taken incrementally, they will lead us to a more equitable and resilient Bay Area.”

Housing Strategies

Costs for housing are estimated at $468 billion, with $237 billion budget to preserve existing affordable housing by acquiring “homes currently affordable to low- and middle-income residents for preservation as permanently deed-restricted affordable housing”. An additional $219 billion is budgeted for new, deed-restricted affordable housing and $2 billion to “further strengthen renter protections beyond state law” by limiting “annual rent increases to the rate of inflation, while exempting units less than 10 years old.”

Economic Strategies

The total cost for economic strategies in the plan is $234 billion. Of that amount $205 billion is budgted to “Implement a statewide universal basic income” and “provide an average $500 per month payment to all Bay Area households to improve family stability, promote economic mobility and increase consumer spending.”

Transportation Strategies

The plan projects to spend a total of $578 billion is projected to be spent on transportation over the next 20 years, with most of that, $389 billion, to “restore, operate and maintain the existing system”. An additional $81 billion will be spent to “expand and modernize the regional rail network” to “better connect communities while increasing frequencies by advancing the Link21 new transbay rail crossing, BART to Silicon Valley Phase 2, Valley Link, Caltrain Downtown Rail Extension and Caltrain/High-Speed Rail grade separations, among other projects.” The third largest budget item for transportation is $32 billion to “enhance local transit frequency, capacity and reliability. Improve the quality and availability of local bus and light rail service, with new bus rapid transit lines, South Bay light rail extensions, and frequency increases focused in lower-income communities.”

Environmental Strategies

A total of $108 billion is programmed for Environmental Strategies. The largest portion of that is $30 billion to “modernize and expand parks, trails and recreation facilities”. An additional $19 billion is budgeted to “adapt to sea level rise” by protecting affected “shoreline communities…prioritizing low-cost, high-benefit solutions and providing additional support to vulnerable populations.

In addition, the plan includes $18 billion to “fund energy upgrades to enable carbon neutrality in all existing commercial and public buildings” through “electrification and resilient power system upgrades”, and another $15 billion to “provide means-based financial support to retrofit existing residential buildings.” To “protect and manage high-value conservation lands”, an additional $15 billion is included in the plan.

The adopted final Plan Bay Area 2050, the EIR, and all the supplemental reports accompanying the new plan are available online at

ABAG is the council of governments and the regional planning agency for the 101 cities and towns, and nine counties of the Bay Area. MTC is the transportation planning, financing and coordinating agency for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area.

Contra Costa County Fish and Wildlife Committee accepting project grant applications

Saturday, October 9th, 2021

By Maureen Parkes, Office of Communications & Media, Contra Costa County

Source: CDFW

The Contra Costa County Fish and Wildlife Committee is now accepting applications from individuals and groups interested in enhancing the fish and wildlife resources of the County. Grant applications must be received by Wednesday, January 5, 2022, at 5:00 pm.

Source: CDFW

The Fish and Wildlife Committee strongly encourages applications related to public education, improving habitat, scientific research, threatened and endangered species, and resolving human/wildlife interaction issues. In addition, the Committee wishes to fund one or more projects that increase collaboration with law enforcement agencies, the court, and community cultural organizations on enforcement issues and education, focusing on communities that may be unaware of local fish and game laws. Projects that provide multilingual signage and educational materials are encouraged.

Source: CDFW

The Fish and Wildlife Committee awards grants for prospective expenditures to non-profit organizations, schools and government agencies. The Committee generally does not recommend funding for operating costs and overhead, such as benefits or utilities, or ongoing staff support for an organization. Further, projects awarded monies from the Fish and Wildlife Propagation Fund must meet the requirements of Section 13103 of the Fish and Game Code.

Source: CDFW

Funding for the grant program is generated from fines for violations of the Fish and Game Code and Title 14 of the California Code of Regulations. The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors receives the Committee’s recommendations and holds final decision-making authority over the awarding of grants.

During the 2021 grant cycle, a total of $60,830.71 was awarded to seven projects. The awards ranged from $4,973.00 to $16,000.00. Application materials may be obtained on the Fish and Wildlife Committee website or by contacting Maureen Parkes of the Contra Costa County Conservation and Development Department by phone at 925-655-2909 or e-mail



Save Mount Diablo earns national recognition

Friday, August 27th, 2021

Save Mount Diablo’s stunning Curry Canyon Ranch is surrounded on three sides by Mount Diablo State Park. Save Mount Diablo currently owns and manages 19 properties and, with its partners, has protected more than 120,000 acres in 50 parks and preserves in the region. Photo credit: Al Johnson.

Strong commitment to public trust and conservation excellence

By Laura Kindsvater, Communications Manager, Save Mount Diablo

One thing that unites us as a nation is land: Americans strongly support saving the open spaces they love. Since 1971, Save Mount Diablo has been doing just that for the people of the San Francisco Bay Area. Save Mount Diablo has just earned an important recognition and distinction receiving its renewed national land trust accreditation award – proving once again that, as part of a network of over 450 accredited land trusts across the nation, it is committed to professional excellence and to maintaining the public’s trust in its conservation work.

Save Mount Diablo provided extensive documentation and was subject to a comprehensive third-party evaluation prior to achieving this distinction. The Land Trust Accreditation Commission awarded renewed accreditation, signifying its confidence that Save Mount Diablo’s lands will be protected forever. Accredited land trusts now steward almost 20 million acres – the size of Denali, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Glacier, Everglades, and Yosemite National Parks combined.

“It is exciting to recognize Save Mount Diablo’s continued commitment to national standards by renewing this national mark of distinction,” said Melissa Kalvestrand, executive director of the commission. “Donors and partners can trust the more than 450 accredited land trusts across the country are united behind strong standards and have demonstrated sound finances, ethical conduct, responsible governance, and lasting stewardship.”

Save Mount Diablo is one of 1,363 land trusts across the United States according to the Land Trust Alliance’s most recent National Land Trust Census. A complete list of accredited land trusts and more information about the process and benefits can be found at

“Renewing our national accreditation shows Save Mount Diablo’s ongoing commitment to permanent land conservation in the Mount Diablo area,” said Ted Clement, Executive Director. “We are a stronger organization than ever for having gone through the rigorous accreditation renewal process. Our strength means the special natural places we protect have a better chance of being protected forever, making the Mount Diablo area an even greater place for us and our children.”

About Save Mount Diablo

Save Mount Diablo is a nationally accredited, nonprofit land trust founded in 1971 with a mission to preserve Mount Diablo’s peaks, surrounding foothills, watersheds, and connection to the Diablo Range through land acquisition and preservation strategies designed to protect the mountain’s natural beauty, biological diversity, and historic and agricultural heritage; enhance our area’s quality of life; and provide educational and recreational opportunities consistent with the protection of natural resources. Learn more at

About the Land Trust Accreditation Commission

The Land Trust Accreditation Commission inspires excellence, promotes public trust, and ensures permanence in the conservation of open lands by recognizing organizations that meet rigorous quality standards and strive for continuous improvement. The commission, established in 2006 as an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance, is governed by a volunteer board of diverse land conservation and nonprofit management experts. For more, visit

Antioch council moves forward moratorium on oil, gas drilling in city

Wednesday, May 12th, 2021

Three oil well pumps operate at the site owned by Sunset Explorations just south of Antioch city limits on Deer Valley Road. Photo by Allen Payton

Would affect two potential wells in the city; no one from city reached out to owner for his input or to offer comments during meeting before council “consensus vote”; majority also supports county-wide moratorium

By Allen Payton

During their meeting on Tuesday night, May 11, 2021, a majority of Antioch City Council members expressed their support for a moratorium on oil and gas drilling inside the city limits. While the agenda item was only a discussion, Mayor Pro Tem Monica Wilson who proposed the matter, Council Members Tamisha Torres-Walker, Mike Barbanic and Lori Ogorchock supported directing the city attorney to return with a proposal for the council to vote on at a future meeting.

Wilson, Barbanica and Torres-Walker also expressed support for a countywide moratorium. Ogorchock was opposed. Mayor Lamar Thorpe didn’t express an opinion on either proposal.

The moratorium in Antioch would currently only affect one company, Sunset Explorations, owned by East County businessman Bob Nunn, who was not aware of Tuesday night’s agenda item until this reporter reached out to him for comment prior to the start of the meeting.

“I brought this item back up,” Wilson said. “It has two parts, first as a resolution as a city to call a moratorium and then a moratorium for the county. After hearing from many advocates in the community, I believe this is the time for it.”

In response to questions from the Herald, Nunn said he has “drilled a well in city limits a number of years ago”, but that “was a dry hole.” His company has also “filed a permit in the southeast corner of town that we have stalled,” and owns “mineral rights on FUA2 (Future Urban Area 2)” which is located north of Lone Tree Way and southwest of Highway 4, near the future extension of Laurel Road.

Nunn’s company also has a permitted site on the east side of Deer Valley Road just outside Antioch city limits, which started drilling three wells, three years ago.

Public Comments

Charles Davidson, who said he lives in Hercules, spoke about the oil drilling on Deer Valley Road. “The well’s owner denied the Air District’s inspector access to the site,” he claimed.

Antioch resident, Harry Thurston spoke in support of a county moratorium. “There has been limited oversight of this site by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. Antioch citizens are at unacceptable risk,” he said. “It will lead to unrestricted oil drilling in East County. We should be stopping all oil extraction” and then spoke about “environmental justice”.

Another speaker, an Antioch resident who said she purchased her home in 2008, spoke against oil drilling. “I’m in an area I can breathe clean air and drink clean water,” she said. “I want to live in a place where no environmental injustices take place. We have everything in Antioch. You just need to promote the right businesses. I have seen firsthand the destruction of many places in the U.S. and around the world due to oil. It’s time to embrace wind and solar.”

Shoshana Wechsler spoke next saying, “I’m a coordinator of Sunflower Alliance…and a resident of unincorporated west county. The toxic emissions in unincorporated Contra Costa don’t stay there. They go wherever the wind blows them. The greenhouse gas emissions threaten everyone and everything on this planet. The permit application slipped through the cracks. Phase out the existing drilling on Deer Valley Road. Other cities have done that. They got it done. It’s Antioch’s chance to put the climate resiliency plans to work. Your forward momentum on this, lifts everyone up.”

Barbara Collins, a resident of East Contra Costa County wrote in favor of the moratorium.

Another public comment submitted read, “Does the city have any power to limit the mineral rights of owners in Antioch? Please stop all this posturing about oil wells.”

Council Discussion and Consensus Votes

The council then took up the matter.

“About a year ago this month, three of us voted and approved a Climate Action Resiliency Plan. This would go along with that,” Wilson stated. “We are committed to making sure we have a healthy city and are free from health risks. The action that we did a year ago moves us away from fossil fuel. We also discussed the climate in our Strategic Plan. This needs to be more than just an item we discuss. We need to call for a moratorium in our city and ask for our county to do the same.”

Asked to offer her input, the city’s Environmental Resources Coordinator, Julie Haas-Wajdowicz said, “I would definitely echo what Mayor Pro Tem Wilson says. So, I think we should support a moratorium. Additionally, I would look forward to working on a declaration of climate emergency.”

“I don’t have a whole lot of background in oil drilling,” she added.

“I would like to bring this back for council to discuss a ban on oil drilling,” Wilson said.

Thorpe then asked for a “consensus vote” of council members.

Torres-Walker, Barbanica and Ogorchock all said, “yes”.

“This is something we have to research and come back,” said City Attorney Thomas Smith. “To me it sounds like something that can go through the zoning process.”

Torres-Walker and Barbanica also added their support to Wilson’s efforts for a county-wide moratorium. When asked, Ogorchock said “no”.

Asked if they were prepared to pay Nunn for his mineral rights, Barbanica, Ogorchock and Wilson did not respond. Asked if she had reached out to Nunn or had asked city staff to, prior to the meeting, Wilson did not respond.

Delta Conveyance aka tunnel Project Community Benefits Program Workshop 1 of 3 April 14

Monday, April 12th, 2021

Opportunity for neighboring community members to offer input of what they want from the impacts of the project

If you live or work in the Delta, we’d like to invite you to join an online workshop to provide feedback to the Department of Water Resources about the Community Benefits Program of the Delta Conveyance (tunnel) Project. On April 14, between 6:00 and 8:00 pm, Ag Innovations will facilitate a large online workshop to gather feedback from Delta residents on the Department of Water Resources (DWR), Community Benefits program.

To Register for the April 14 Workshop email
Click Here for more information.

However, as of Monday, April 12, the day the Herald received the notification of the meeting on the 14th, registrations are closed. If you would still like to participate, please email us at If you cannot participate in the workshop, but would like to provide input, please email us at A recording of each workshop will be posted, along with the background material, at

About the workshop: DWR is developing a community benefits program to acknowledge that if the Delta Conveyance project is approved it could have potential adverse effects on communities through construction of major capital projects. The Community Benefits program could create economic, social, and other benefits in the local community. A Community Benefits Program could go beyond what traditional “environmental mitigation” typically affords.

Why participate: While people oppose the Delta Conveyance Project, DWR has no expectation that participating in the workshops signals any support for the Delta Conveyance Project. The community benefits program would only proceed if the project were approved. But participating now provides community members a chance to shape the program to best suit the needs of the local community.

Ag Innovations is a 501c3 nonprofit and is committed to reaching out to underrepresented voices and creating meaningful opportunities to provide input, including at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic makes this challenging.  Please let us know if you have ideas for how we might work with you to bring your input into this process.

Stay tuned for additional workshops on the Community Benefits Program future workshops will be on:

Thursday, May 6, 2021 | 6:00pm – 8:00pm.


Tuesday, May 25, 2021 | 6:00pm – 8:00pm.


From Scoping Summary Report.

What is the Delta Conveyance Project?

The state is studying the potential impacts and benefits of two possible routes for a tunnel in the Delta, labeled the Delta Conveyance Project. The proposal aims to protect the reliability of the State Water Project to deliver clean water to homes, farms, and businesses in the Bay Area, Central Coast, and Southern California.

The project would catch fresh water in the northern Delta – especially during storms – through two new intakes near the town of Hood. A deep underground tunnel would carry that water 40 miles to the southern Delta where it would be pumped into the State Water Project. The project would be constructed over approximately 16 years.

DWR is currently studying potential impacts on traffic, noise, air quality, and historical, cultural, recreational, and other resources.

They have launched the Environmental Justice Community Survey to better understand how the project may affect the resources, values, and priorities that are most important you.

(See related articles here and here)

Dredging up the past at Antioch Dunes National Wildlife Refuge

Thursday, December 31st, 2020

Sand and water dredged from the San Joaquin River are pumped onto Antioch Dunes National Wildlife Refuge in October. The water will return to the river through outfall pipes, leaving the sand behind. Credit: Mark Hayes/USFWS

Sand from the Port of Stockton is restoring a unique refuge

By Brandon Honig, External Affairs Specialist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Over thousands of years, the shifting sands of time built dunes that reached 120 feet high and stretched for two miles along the San Joaquin River, about 35 miles east of San Francisco. Isolated from similar habitats, the Antioch Dunes slowly developed species found nowhere else in the world.

The gradual shifting of sand, however, was replaced by a rapid effort to turn it into bricks in 1906, after a devastating earthquake and fires demolished buildings in San Francisco. As industry depleted the sand over the next 70 years, the dunes’ unique species struggled to survive on dunes that eventually topped out at 50 feet.

Now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW) and Port of Stockton are trying to turn back the clock, one load of sand at a time. Since 2013, the Port has pumped nearly 92,000 cubic yards of sand — enough to fill more than 6,500 dump trucks — onto the dunes to support three endangered species: the Lange’s metalmark butterfly, Antioch Dunes evening primrose and Contra Costa wallflower.

There may be fewer than 50 Lange’s metalmark butterflies remaining today, down from an estimated 25,000 between 50 and 100 years ago. The butterfly is only found at Antioch Dunes National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Steve Martarano/USFWS

“The population of Lange’s has been trending downward for a couple of decades now,” said Mark Hayes, a biologist with the Service’s San Francisco Bay-Delta Office. “We counted about 10 butterflies in 2020, and the total population is very likely less than 50 currently. This is precariously low.”

The orange, black and white butterfly with a wingspan of 1 to 1.5 inches, whose population likely numbered 25,000 less than a century ago, was listed as endangered in 1976. The white-petaled primrose and yellow-petaled wallflower followed with listings in 1978.

The Service established Antioch Dunes National Wildlife Refuge for the three species in 1980, making it the first national refuge for insects and plants. At the time, the 55-acre urban refuge with two non-adjacent units was also the nation’s smallest.

Wildlife resource specialist Louis Terrazas inspects sand placed on Antioch Dunes National Wildlife Refuge through a partnership with the Port of Stockton. The landscape to the right shows refuge land that has not yet been restored with sand. Credit: Brandon Honig/USFWS

“This is a very industrial neighborhood we’re tucked into,” Louis Terrazas, a wildlife resource specialist for the refuge, said of Antioch Dunes. “There’s a shipyard on one side, a gypsum-processing plant, an old water-treatment facility over there and two strips of land owned by Pacific Gas and Electric.”

As sand disappeared in the 20th century, non-native grasses and plants took hold, crowding out the primrose, the wallflower and the Antioch Dunes buckwheat, which is the only plant where the Lange’s butterfly will lay its eggs. In the early 2000s, a series of wildfires further cut the butterfly population, leaving only about 100 alive in 2010 — all on the refuge’s 14-acre eastern unit.

With no butterflies to protect on the western unit, the Service decided to overhaul that site and try to restore the conditions that had once enabled the dunes’ endangered species to thrive. Refuge staff began looking for sources of sand in 2012 and were soon contacted by the Port of Stockton.

Beachgoers lounge on an Antioch, California, sand dune in the early 1900s, before much of the sand was mined for building materials. Credit: Contra Costa County Historical Society

The Army Corps of Engineers dredges sand from the San Joaquin River each year to clear passage for cargo ships, and the Port is responsible for finding sites to place the sand. The Port typically sent sand to nearby Sherman Island, but saw an opportunity to make a real impact at Antioch Dunes.

“Our board has been pushing us to reach out and find projects like this — ways we can go above and beyond the normal regulations to try to have a beneficial impact on the [Sacramento-San Joaquin River] Delta,” said Jeff Wingfield, the Port of Stockton’s director of environmental and public affairs. “It costs us a little extra in time and prepping the site and some other little work, but for us it’s important to beneficially reuse the material.”

Since the Port’s first delivery in 2013, the evening primrose has experienced a huge jump in numbers, Terrazas said, and the wallflower and buckwheat are also reappearing. Eventually the refuge hopes to re-establish the Lange’s butterfly on the western unit as well.

The Contra Costa Wallflower, right, and Antioch Dunes evening primrose live side by side at Antioch Dunes National Wildlife Refuge, the only national refuge established to protect plants and insects. Credit: Susan Euing/USFWS

To fully restore the refuge’s dune system, the Service could continue taking sand deposits for a couple of decades, Terrazas said, which might not be possible without the Port partnership.

“We bought some sand from another site in 2009, but it was really expensive, and the sand material had some non-native species in it,” he said. “We decided it was not the best method of restoring the site.”

The endangered Antioch Dunes evening primrose has shown a huge jump in numbers since dune-restoration began in 2013. Credit: Steve Martarano/USFWS

Under the current method, the Port provides and delivers clean sand, and it doesn’t cost the Service a dollar. USFW staff devotes a great deal of time to this project, but the sand itself and the labor to place it at the Antioch Dunes are donated.

“Restoring the dunes is vitally important to the refuge’s ecosystem and could be the key to long-term preservation of its endangered species,” Hayes said. “We value our partnership with the Port and hope this continues as we implement our restoration plan.”