The Green Gate
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Air Water Wildlife Urban Living Health

Improvement Needed
Bay Area residents -- as individuals and consumers, in our work lives and at home -- are straining limited natural resources and polluting our environment. In order to undo some of the damage and to minimize additional harm we'll have to make adjustments to how we live. The trends are particularly worrisome in the following areas:

  • Gasoline consumption increased more than 13 percent between 1995 and 2000. Part of this increase is due to population growth, but part is because miles driven in vehicles are up -- more than 20 percent from 1990 to 2000. These findings are all the more troubling because the average vehicle on the road today is less fuel efficient than the average vehicle just a few years ago -- thanks to the popularity of vehicles such as SUVs and their poor mileage ratings.

  • Diesel consumption in California doubled between 1980 and 1999 and is projected to increase another 31 percent by 2020.

  • Consumption of electricity increased by 4.6 percent per household during the period 1992 to 1997. (In the first half of 2001, however, in response to the state's energy crisis, the Bay Area made significant reductions in electricity use.)

  • All of these factors have affected the Bay Area's contribution to global warming.

  • Residential water use is increasing in the largest service areas -- up almost 3 percent per person between 1999 and 2000.

  • Bay Area drinking water is generally safe, but San Francisco sometimes has high levels of TTHMs, contaminants that are suspected of causing cancer and have been linked to miscarriages.

  • The increasing pressures of urban sprawl and development on wetlands and open space are also of grave concern. Eighty-two percent of Bay Area tidal wetlands have been lost and, despite extensive protected acreage, nearly half a million acres of agricultural land and open space are at risk of development in the next 30 years.

  • Habitat loss and degradation, including massive water diversions, has harmed numerous species. The Bay Area provides habitat for as many as 105 species federally listed as endangered or threatened. The population of winter-run chinook salmon was 100,000 in the 1960s; in 1994, the worst year on record, the population had plummeted to just 189. Since then the population has rebounded somewhat, but it remains far smaller than in the past.

  • Toxic contamination pervades the Bay-Delta, the ecological heart of the Bay Area. Tests of water taken from various points in the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary revealed episodes of polluted water toxic enough to kill young fish and shrimp in the laboratory. Much of the estuary's sediment is contaminated, and contamination levels are likely to remain high for many years.

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The Green Gate is a project of the Natural Resources Defense Council
Copyright 2001 Natural Resources Defense Council