Heather Perry: It's a Small (Sediment) World

Author: Heather Perry
Fellow Type: California Sea Grant State Fellow
Year(s) of Fellowship: 2015
Host Agency: San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC)

When I first started my California Sea Grant State Fellowship with the Bay Conservation and Development Commission’s Sediment Management Team, I hardly knew what ‘sediment management’ was all about.

I soon came to understand that sediment management had to do with dredging, sand mining, beaches, mudflats, marshes, flood control, and watersheds. But what’s all that about?And why does anyone care? Well, depending on whether you talk to a dredger (one who excavates and disposes of mud from the Bay floor), a sand miner (one who excavates sand from the Bay floor for commercial uses such as making concrete), a beach goer (one who recreates at a beach), a wetland manager (one involved in the restoration or enhancement of freshwater or tidally influenced wetland ecosystems), or a flood control manager (one who works to prevent the destructive impacts of flood waters, resulting from high freshwater flows, increasing sea levels, or storm surges), you will likely get a whole slough of answers, due to the extreme variety of needs and uses each stakeholder has for sediment (silt, clay, mud, and sand). One thing I learned very quickly, however, is that sediment is an important and complex issue for every stakeholder group, and it can be a delicate subject. 

Dredging at the Larkspur Ferry Channel, 2015 (Photo: Pascale Soumoy, BCDC) 

Site visit to Napa’s Dry Bypass Innovative Flood Control , August 2015 (Photo: Pascale Soumoy, BCDC)

During my fellowship I became quickly familiar with the seemingly infinite number of players involved in sediment, and the amorphous concept of sediment management. After believing that I would never be able to learn all of the agencies, managers, consultants, scientist, and non-profits that have stake in sediment, I soon learned that the sediment world in the Bay area is not so big after all. With sediment becoming an increasingly valuable resource for the Bay as sea levels rise, flooding becomes more frequent, and human development continues to encroach on our valuable climate-mediating wetlands, I realized that the same faces continued to show up at meetings, workshops, and conferences throughout the year.

Through my multi-faceted work as a dredging permit analyst, a cartographer of sand resource maps, and a sediment science workshop coordinator, I gained confidence in working and collaborating with experts across a wide range of sectors and disciplines. Ultimately, everyone has stake in the same thing: protecting the beautiful Bay area. Now I know where to find all my partner ‘Sed-heads,’ and I’m not afraid to talk to them about anything mud! Through my fellowship, beyond the technical skills I honed like writing permits, letters, and reports, or creating deliverables such as maps or posters, I learned that every world grows small and familiar once you get to know it. And that is how to grow your confidence for the next seemingly foreign world.

Written by Heather Perry

2015 State of the Estuary Conference in Oakland (Photo: Jocelyn Enevoldsen, 2015 Sea Grant Fellow)

BCDC Staff on the celebration of the agency’s 50th Anniversary at the Exploratorium in San Francisco (Photo: Sharon Louie, BCDC)