Friday, January 24, 2020

Our Dinosaur is Here (More or Less). Stanislaus County's Secret is Soon to be Out!

Parasaurolophus

We are anxiously awaiting one of the last fixtures in our Great Valley Museum's Outdoor Nature Lab...our dinosaur! I hear that it is sitting in Receiving awaiting its placement near the paleontology mock dig. It's a scaled down version of the original creature, but will still be 16 feet long and 8 feet high. The model is a Parasaurolophus, which is serving as a stand-in for California's actual state dinosaur, the Augustynolophus morrisi. It turns out that our state dinosaur is rare enough that suppliers don't seem to offer them yet.

The Augustynolophus was a plant-eating dinosaur of the Hadrosaur family, the duck-billed dinosaurs. It has been found in Central California in the Late Cretaceous Moreno Formation, which is extensively exposed along the eastern margin of the Diablo Range, including Del Puerto Canyon in our county. The type specimens were found south of Stanislaus County, but fragmentary remains found in Del Puerto in 1936 are considered likely to be the same species. The 1936 discovery by teenager Allan Bennison was the first time dinosaur remains had ever been found in California. The Moreno Formation where the dinosaur remains were found was a marine environment, so the find could be considered unusual (dinosaurs were terrestrial creatures). What likely happened is that the animal was overwhelmed by a river flood off to the east where the Sierra Nevada is today, and the carcass floated out to sea where it finally sank to the bottom and was buried. Bennison found the bones, recognized their significance and reported them to his teacher in Gustine. The teacher notified paleontologists at U.C. Berkeley, and they eventually excavated 500 bone fragments, including 29 tail vertebrae and parts of the hind feet. The remains apparently reside in the University of California Museum of Paleontology (and wouldn't I love to get pictures one day!).
Augustynolophus Morrisi

The discovery site is on private land that is not accessible, but it can be viewed from the road in Del Puerto Canyon. It is perhaps very relevant to mention that plans are afoot to inundate the lower part of Del Puerto Canyon with a largely useless and possible dangerous reservoir, and the presence of this dam will make it more or less impossible to even see the location. It's a shame that one of the most important paleontology sites in California doesn't even merit a mention in the draft environmental impact report for Del Puerto dam.

There is time to have some impact on whether this dam is ever built. If you would like to be involved, please check out this Facebook site: https://www.facebook.com/groups/463664377903706/?multi_permalinks=478825349720942&notif_id=1579883197857937&notif_t=group_activity. There are some important meetings of regulatory committees coming up, and the public comments period on the draft EIR ends on January 27.


Sunday, January 19, 2020

What's Wrong With This Picture? Part 3: The Mass Wasting of Del Puerto Canyon

It's no secret that I am against the construction of a useless wasteful dam in Del Puerto Canyon. I have had a lot to say about the project in public testimony and in recent blogs, and my opposition is deeply rooted in my appreciation of the canyon as a unique and irreplaceable outdoor laboratory for understanding the geology and natural history of the Diablo Range. It ought to be a national park or monument, not a stagnant pool of mud. But my opposition to this project also follows from my understanding of the hazards of constructing a reservoir in unsuitable and unstable rocks with a proximity to earthquake fault zones of unknown potential activity.

The words "mass wasting" in the title might be interpreted in several ways. It would certainly be a huge waste of money, and a squandering of a treasure of national significance. But to a geologist, mass wasting has a specific meaning: it is the downhill movement of rock and debris under the influence of gravity. Most people call this landsliding, but "land" is a non-specific term, and "sliding" is too specific. Mass wasting can involve sliding debris, but also flowing and falling material.  This post is not about the future potential hazard of mass wasting in Del Puerto Canyon. It is about the active slides that are already there.


Let's see what the Geotechnical Memorandum of the Environment Impact Report has to say about the mass wasting hazard in Del Puerto Canyon:
A significant number of landslides are found within and in the immediate vicinity of the reservoir inundation area, the majority of these landslides are located within units of the Cretaceous Moreno formation, upstream from the proposed main dam. At least seven landslides are mapped within the inundation area of the proposed reservoir – six are in the Moreno formation and one landslide occurs in the Panoche formation (Figure 5). It is expected that additional small landslides and movement of existing landslides would occur as a result of reservoir infilling and operations. These landslides would be expected to experience continuous deformation without some form of stabilization/mitigation. The rate of movement of these landslides would likely be slow. Stability of the reservoir rim, including potential for seismically triggered landslides would be required for design of the Project.
But wait, as they say, there's more...
The proposed reservoir would inundate areas underlain by the Cretaceous Moreno and Panoche Formations. Landslides are found within and in the immediate vicinity of the Project Area, the majority of which are located within units of the Moreno formation, upstream from the proposed main dam. Movement of these landslides is expected as a result of infilling and seasonal operations of the reservoir. It is expected that additional landslides would form as well. Movement of existing and any newly developed landslides resulting from reservoir operation is expected, any deformation of the landslide would be relatively slow and at scale that would not form seiche waves of significant magnitude that would overtop the proposed dam. An assessment of landslide potential and impacts to the Project would be needed for final design of the reservoir and dam.
That's pretty much it. Seven landslides within the reservoir inundation zone, with no specifics about the age of the failures, or the volume and length, and nothing about the current activity. These are precious few words for what could be one of the most hazardous aspects of the proposed reservoir.

Here's figure 5 from the EIR (above). It is a geologic map that shows the different rock formations found at the dam site and the location of the landslides mentioned in the quote above. The proposed reservoir is outlined in blue, and the landslides are the white areas are in white, with black arrows showing the direction of movement. The scale of this map is very roughly 1 inch = 1 mile. These mapped landslides are not small. The smallest mapped slides are about 1/5 of a mile in length, while the largest is about a mile. A mile. These are not minor earth movements.

The three pictures in this post provide a perspective for understanding the size of these unstable masses. The images show the same slide from three different angles, and the trees and farm buildings provide scale. It's huge. It is probably several thousand years old, as it filled the canyon it occupies, pushing the stream all the way to the right against the mountain slope. But it is not done...as Del Puerto Creek has undercut the base (the toe) of the slide, the lower parts have been reactivated, forming the sharp terraces (scarps) above the creek.

Whatever stability exists with this slide lies in the friction between the mass and the underlying rock. But the slide is slated to be at least halfway inundated by the waters of the reservoir, and water is a hugely destabilizing force in mass wasting. It gets between rock surfaces and in essence breaks down the frictional resistance. Geologists other than myself will have to assess the possibilities of inundation, but one of the worst-case scenarios would involve a rapid flow or slide of a huge volume of rock and debris into the reservoir, displacing vast amounts of the water over the top of the dam (the seiching mentioned in the EIR). A less catastrophic outcome, but no less significant, would be the slow flow of debris into the lake. Every cubic yard of debris going into the lake is a cubic yard less of water storage. The slide in these pictures is the smallest of the mapped slope failures. Imagine what happens when all six or seven of the slides are rejuvenated by the waters of the proposed reservoirs.

These are serious concerns, and although the draft EIR addresses some of them, they are buried within something like a thousand pages of the EIR itself, and the background memorandums. This dam is being proposed for construction in an area of unstable and unsuitable rocks and sediments within an area where the earthquake risk is poorly known. I've been learning about the region for thirty years, and I was surprised to find that there was a 6.1 magnitude earthquake in 1881 in the immediate vicinity of the dam site (six miles), but that "the location is highly uncertain given its pre-instrumental age and is based on intensity estimates documented in the public record". That is the kind of uncertainty that should give everyone pause about the magnitude and risks of this dam proposal.

There will be many reasons offered as to why this reservoir is SO necessary, and how there will be SO many benefits. But the questions need to be asked, what is this taking away from all of us, and what is the full magnitude of the threats we will face if it constructed?

If you are on Facebook, check out https://www.facebook.com/groups/463664377903706/

Read the Environmental Impact Report at this link. If Del Puerto Canyon has significance to you, please respond and be active in the opposition! If you have expertise in any of the areas that will affected, you need to be heard from.

There are several important meetings and deadlines coming up very soon:

1/27 5:00pm Public Comments DUE. ahansen@delpuertowd.org OR Anthea Hansen PO Box 1596 Patterson CA 95363 (use the forms outlined in the EIR documents)
1/28 9:00am Board of Supervisors Meeting 1010 10th St Modesto CA - voice concerns, they have final decision


Friday, January 17, 2020

Nature, Red in Tooth and Claw, and the Defense Tonight on the Tuolumne River


Nature is wondrous, serene, and spiritually uplifting. And then all of the sudden the "circle of life" thing happens, and we are reminded that nature is also "red in tooth and claw". I've seen some dead animals along the trail of late, some natural, some murdered by humans. It's a jarring reminder that life is hard and often scary, especially for those who occupy the lower parts of the food chain. But sometimes the little ones do okay. Evolution is a competition. When predators evolve new ways of capturing and killing prey, the species who survive are the ones who have evolved new defenses.

And what a defense this little one has! I was wandering as I often do along the Tuolumne River, taking in the beautiful sunset, and feeling peaceful. But the olfactory peace did not last. The last quarter mile of my walk was accompanied by a distinctly terrible odor, the unmistakable scent of a Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis). The odor was somewhat diffuse, so it wasn't entirely awful, but I didn't actually expect to run across the individual responsible for the affront.
I saw movement up on the cliff, and realized that the creature was not one of the many feral cats that live along the trail. The skunk was moving along the rim of the canyon where the creature probably accesses a lot of pet food from the yards beyond. I warned my friends on the bluff about their potential problem, and appreciated the first chance to photograph (however poorly) an interesting (and smelly) new species on my daily trail.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

What Can You Say in 3 Minutes About One of the World's Special Places? Del Puerto Canyon and the Proposed Dam


I was one of a large number of speakers at a forum this evening on the future of a proposed dam at the mouth of Del Puerto Canyon near Patterson, California. I counted roughly 200 people in attendance, and of the 30 or so of the attendees who spoke, none spoke in favor of building the dam (there may have been supporters, but they chose not to speak). What follows is approximately what I said tonight (I had my comments all written out, but I always go off-script!). I've added the pictures to this post (I couldn't use them at the session).
Image may contain: one or more people and people sitting
Statement on the proposed dam and reservoir in Lower Del Puerto Canyon

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to this important issue. My name is Garry Hayes, and I have been a professor of geology at Modesto Junior College for 32 years. I wish to speak to several issues about the canyon and proposed dam.


First, the national significance of Del Puerto Canyon

The Environmental Impact Report is a perfunctory report on the geological resources and hazards at the proposed dam site in Del Puerto Canyon, but fails to communicate the national significance of canyon. Describing Del Puerto as a “typical” canyon of the Coast Ranges is like describing Yosemite as just another glacial valley. If the Diablo Range were under federal ownership, I am convinced that Del Puerto would have warranted consideration as a national monument or national park. Why? It is the only place in Central (and maybe all of) California where one can drive from the earth’s surface into the mantle and do it in an exceedingly scenic manner. One passes through 25,000 feet of marine sediments, through the underlying ocean crust, and into rocks that were once part of the earth’s mantle. At the same time, as others will note, the canyon offers a unique assemblage of endemic plants and animals. It has a rare riparian wetland habitat in an otherwise arid mountain range. I have taken hundreds of students into the canyon for field studies over the last 30 years. The National Association of Geoscience Teachers, the Geological Society of America and other national organizations have conducted tours in the canyon and many geologists have done research there.


It is not widely known, and the EIR fails to mention that the first dinosaur fossils ever found in California were found on a slope just above the inundation zone of the reservoir. I am disturbed that such a significant site would be simply ignored in the planning for this reservoir.
Saurolophus, the species of dinosaur found in Del Puerto Canyon


My other concern about this reservoir involves the instability of the slopes above the proposed reservoir. There are huge and clearly active landslides within the inundation zone. The EIR fails to address the possibilities of large-scale slope failures when the dam is filled. I am concerned about what happens when a slide that formed under arid conditions is subsequently inundated beneath a hundred feet or more of water. I find the statement in the EIR that “the rate of movement of landslides would likely be slow…” to be inadequate and worrisome.


Del Puerto Canyon is a region of national scientific significance, and I am concerned that the EIR does not acknowledge this fact. The backers of the dam have not adequately considered the importance of this important educational locality, and I strongly and sincerely request that the Del Puerto Water District reconsider the Ingram Canyon alternative, given that the Ingram project will not have the detrimental impact that would occur if a dam is built in Del Puerto. We should be increasing educational access to the canyon, not restricting it.

Thank you for your time and attention.
(end of comments)

Del Puerto can use your help! To get involved, there are several things you can do:

If you are on Facebook, check out https://www.facebook.com/groups/463664377903706/

Read the Environmental Impact Report at this link. If Del Puerto Canyon has significance to you, please respond and be active in the opposition! If you have expertise in any of the areas that will affected, you need to be heard from.

There are several important meetings and deadlines coming up very soon:

1/21 6:30pm City Council Meeting. 1 Plaza Circle. - request they take a stand, voice concerns
1/27 5:00pm Public Comments DUE. ahansen@delpuertowd.org OR Anthea Hansen PO Box 1596 Patterson CA 95363
1/28 9:00am Board of Supervisors Meeting 1010 10th St Modesto CA - voice concerns, they have final decision

Monday, January 13, 2020

What's Wrong With This Picture (Part 2)? The Problem of a Dam in Del Puerto

Actually, nothing is wrong with this picture, or any of the others in this post. Not yet...
These are pictures of the lower portion of Del Puerto Canyon, the parts that will be inundated if plans to build a dam are successful. There are viable options to this dam that will not destroy a popular and scientifically significant canyon in the Diablo Range of California's Coast Ranges. It is the only publicly accessible canyon in the range within Stanislaus County.
The canyon is a treasure for many reasons. Geologically, it is the source of a huge amount of research into the geologic history of Central California. Driving up the canyon is the equivalent of driving from the Earth's surface through 25,000 feet of oceanic sediment, another five miles of oceanic crust, and into the mantle, the Earth's layer that reaches all the way to the outer core. California's first dinosaur discovery was in the lower canyon, and other paleontological discoveries have been made nearby. The canyon has a unique mining history: mercury, chromite, magnesite, and others have been found in the upper canyon.
The canyon is a wonderful outdoor laboratory for botanists and zoologists. More than 160 bird species have been found here, making Del Puerto the third most diverse bird habitat in the entire county, exceeded only by the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge, and the Modesto Water Treatment Plant (!). Canyon explorers will see a huge variety of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and insects. I've seen badgers, bobcats, coyotes, rattlesnakes, king snakes, and all manner of lizards.
The wildflower displays in the canyon can be stunning. The unique soils in different parts of the canyon allow hundreds of flower species to flourish, including some that are found nowhere else in the world. There were few flowers last weekend, but come spring the slopes will be awash in color.

There are archaeological sites in the canyon of the occupation by the Yokuts and earlier cultures. These have barely begun to be understood or explored.
People of the San Joaquin Valley have few places where they can go in the Coast Ranges for recreation, and the building of a dam will remove yet one more access point. Del Puerto Canyon is a treasure for so many reasons, but not the least of which is that the canyon is a nearby place for spiritual recharge, exercise, and personal exploration. These intangibles are hard to put a price tag on, and that's the problem.

There will be many reasons offered as to why this reservoir is SO necessary, and how there will be SO many benefits. But the question needs to be asked, what is this taking away from all of us?

If you are on Facebook, check out https://www.facebook.com/groups/463664377903706/

Read the Environmental Impact Report at this link. If Del Puerto Canyon has significance to you, please respond and be active in the opposition! If you have expertise in any of the areas that will affected, you need to be heard from.

There are several important meetings and deadlines coming up very soon:

1/15 3:30pm Protest. Corner of Ward and Sperry
1/15 4:00pm Public Meeting. Hammon Senior Center 1033 West Las Palmas, Patterson
1/21 6:30pm City Council Meeting. 1 Plaza Circle. - request they take a stand, voice concerns
1/27 5:00pm Public Comments DUE. ahansen@delpuertowd.org OR Anthea Hansen PO Box 1596 Patterson CA 95363
1/28 9:00am Board of Supervisors Meeting 1010 10th St Modesto CA - voice concerns, they have final decision


Sunday, January 12, 2020

What's Wrong With This Picture? The Problem of a Dam in Del Puerto

What is wrong with this picture?

This is a map of all the historical sightings of Red-tailed Hawks on eBird in a portion of the Diablo Range between the Bay Area and the Central Valley. The Red-tail is a common bird that lives in a wide variety of habitats, ranging from coastal areas to mountains to savannas. So why, except for a single east-west line across the center of the picture, have they never been sighted in the interior of the Diablo Range? Is there a no-hawk zone in the range interior? It turns out that you could do a similar map for any common (or uncommon) bird species and the pattern would be similar. Are there no birds at all in the Diablo Range?
We raptors want to know...
The answer is that of course there are birds all over range. But there is no public access in the majority of the mountain range. It is largely under private ownership, and the most common sign to be seen anywhere is "No Trespassing". Except for that narrow stripe in the center of map, at Del Puerto Canyon. There is a public route, Del Puerto Canyon Road, that crosses the range and provides a (very slow) connection between Patterson and the Santa Clara Valley.

And that's the problem with the picture. Del Puerto is the only public access to the mountain range in Stanislaus County, and as such is one of very few places where anyone can study the unique geology, biology, botany and archaeology of this intriguing place. And it is the only place that offers year-round recreational opportunities (there are several county parks and a campground in the upper canyon). But now there are plans afoot to eliminate much of that access, and indeed to severely impact the natural environment. There are plans to build a large dam that will inundate five miles of the extraordinarily scenic canyon.

There will be many reasons offered as to why this reservoir is SO necessary, and how there will be SO many benefits. But the question needs to be asked, what is this taking away from all of us? Look to this blog for some answers in coming days. Also, check this blog from several days ago. If you are on Facebook, check out https://www.facebook.com/groups/463664377903706/


Read the Environmental Impact Report at this link. If Del Puerto Canyon has significance to you, please respond and be active in the opposition! If you have expertise in any of the areas that will affected, you need to be heard from.

There are several important meetings and deadlines coming up very soon:

1/14 9:00am Board of Supervisors Meeting 1010 10th St Modesto CA
1/15 3:30pm Protest. Corner of Ward and Sperry
1/15 4:00pm Public Meeting. Hammon Senior Center 1033 West Las Palmas, Patterson
1/21 6:30pm City Council Meeting. 1 Plaza Circle. - request they take a stand, voice concerns
1/27 5:00pm Public Comments DUE. ahansen@delpuertowd.org OR Anthea Hansen PO Box 1596 Patterson CA 95363
1/28 9:00am Board of Supervisors Meeting 1010 10th St Modesto CA - voice concerns, they have final decision

Friday, January 10, 2020

To the Unprepared, it is the Place of Death; For Scholars of Earth History, it's a Wonderland. Join us, February 13-17, in Death Valley!


Some lands are harsh and lie at the limits of human survival...visiting or inhabiting these lands without preparation would be deadly, and if you are dying of thirst or exposure, you're hardly going to care about the rugged beauty around you.

People have lived in this place in small numbers for at least 10,000 years. Four distinct cultures are known, including the Timbisha Shoshone who still live in the region. They were able to live and thrive within the limits imposed by this extreme desert environment. The first Europeans to arrive during the Gold Rush era were not prepared for the conditions, and it was they who conferred the present-day name of the park: Death Valley.

We are privileged to live in a time and place where technology allows us to visit these lands with our basic needs fulfilled, allowing us to appreciate the landscape and story behind the scenery. This is not to minimize the risks involved when the technology (or basic intelligence) fails us. Death Valley continues to be a dangerous place for the unprepared and people get into serious predicaments every year.
But what a place it is! Death Valley National Park is the largest park in the lower 48 states, and it preserves upwards of 2 billion years of earth history. The story in the rocks is more complete than any other park in the country, including even the Grand Canyon. The Paleozoic sediments alone are 20,000 feet thick, and the late Proterozoic rocks add 15,000 feet more. There are metamorphic rocks that are among the oldest in the American west, and volcanic rocks that are among the youngest (perhaps only a few hundred years).
The landscape is spectacular as well. The floor of Death Valley is the lowest and driest place in North America, and the hottest place in the world. Elevations range from -286 feet to more than 11,000 feet. There are times when one can stand in the broiling sun at Badwater and look at snowbanks on Telescope Peak. There are faults and badlands, alluvial fans and barren salt flats. There are hundreds of plant and animal species, including four species of fish (seriously).

Does this sound intriguing, a kind of place that you might like to visit? You could be there in a few weeks, and learn the details of the geologic story of this unique and precious place. I'll be teaching a 2-unit course on the geology Death Valley through Modesto Junior College on Feb. 13-17, 2020. We'll be camping out and spending our days hiking and exploring this fascinating place. If this all sounds interesting, join us! If you live in the Modesto area, we'll have an informational meeting on Thursday, January 30 at 5:30 PM in Science Community Center Room 326. If you can't make the meeting, all the trip information is available at the class website  at: http://hayesg.faculty.mjc.edu/Death_Valley_Field_Studies.html. Information on registration for classes at Modesto Junior College can be found at https://www.mjc.edu/.

Come and join us!