Assemblymember Bill Quirk’s involvement with the Oro Loma ecotone project goes back to his time as a Hayward council member. PHOTOS/Steven Tavares

ENVIRONMENT | Hayward Assemblymember Bill Quirk understood a rise in sea levels was impending way back in the 1970s. As a scientist at NASA’s Goodard Institute of Space in New York City, Quirk built a computer model that today, he calls rudimentary compared to the massive data-crunching available today, that showed carbon dioxide levels would lead to sea level rise in the future. However, he couldn’t fathom its speed and breadth. Global warming is here and the oceans are slowly encroaching in the East Bay in places like the Hayward Shoreline. Now come the solutions.

Quirk,, along with Jeremy Low, sea level rise
program manager for Environmental Science
Associates, last Thursday in San Lorenzo.

On yet another bright, but dry afternoon in San Lorenzo, local officials and scientists lauded a new project on the grounds of the Oro Loma Sanitary District’s waste water plant that they hope will not only provide an environmentally-friendly solution to thwarting the seas from taking back important marshlands, but also rebuilding the shoreline and contributing to a healthy bay.

The $6 million feasibility project will allow scientists to study whether reconstructing the natural slope of the shoreline with help of more than 70,000 native plants will limit the eventually encroachment of sea rise. In addition to $2 million in state grants, the sanitary district pitched in over $4 million for the project. Its angle is to study whether treated waste water from its plant can use the same plants as a natural filtration to provide more fresh water back to the bay.

“This is a win-win-win and I think in the long run, it’s cheaper,” Quirk said in an interview before the ceremonial “first-planting” of immature native plants that will eventually be part of the study. “It’s a valid concept,” said Quirk. “It will work. The main thing is to get the money to do it.”

If scientist can prove the small-scale feasibility study, formally known as the Oro Loma Wet Weather Equalization and Ecotone Demonstration Project, can work, additional state dollars might one day be available to expand it to other areas around the bay.

At one point, said Quirk, a regional assessment tax was talked about for the 2014 ballot, but it was agreed that politically, the time was not right. But, armed with some early data from the study, set to begin later his year, Quirk hopes 2016 is a better political atmosphere for asking voters in the nine counties surrounding the bay to pay for an expansion of the study.

Although, Quirk has been involved in the ecotone project and sea-level rise issues since its infant stages as a Hayward council member starting nearly a decade ago, opponents have often scoffed at his environmental record because of his strong support for the Russell City Energy Center, a natural gas-fired power plant on the Hayward Shoreline, which was approved during Quirk’s time on the Hayward City Council.

Quirk has long maintained the science behind the power plant shows negligible amounts of pollution to the city. There is also some question whether the power plant, constructed in 2013, will be able to withstand sea-level rise over the next few decades.

In the meantime, the Hayward Shoreline is already disappearing. Near the Hayward Area Recreation District’s Interpretative Center–the rustic wooden building on the marshes just before the San Mateo Bridge toll crossing–you can already witness the landscape changing, said Quirk. “There used to be benches there,” said Quirk. Now, they’re gone.”