Log in

What’s Happening in Health

<< First  < Prev   1   2   Next >  Last >> 
  • 31 Oct 2023 11:19 AM | Jamila Jabulani (Administrator)

    Q.     How long have you been a member of the Black Health Network, and what drew you to CBHN?

    Equal medical care is not enough to end disparities in health outcomes and achieve health equity for all people of color. It takes elevating care experience, continuing to build trust, creating culturally responsive care, and establishing best practices that can be shared across the healthcare community. Joining the Black Health Network this year was an opportunity to partner with an organization whose mission is to highlight the inequities that permeate in many aspects of our society and advocate for change.

    Q.     What is your current profession?

    Throughout my career as a nurse and executive, I have gravitated toward mission-driven organizations that embody innovation, social responsibility, person-centered care, Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity (EID), and invest in the communities they serve. Searching for an organization that demonstrated those key aspects ultimately brought me back to California where I joined an organization that believes everyone has a right to good health.

    As the Senior Vice President and Area Manager for Kaiser Permanente in the Central Valley, I am proud to be a servant leader within an organization that is focused on providing high-quality, culturally responsive care so our members can achieve the best possible health outcomes.

    Q.     From your perspective, what barriers exist in achieving health equity for Black Californians?

    Black people are more likely to face social and economic challenges that adversely impact health, including higher rates of poverty and food insecurity. Disparities among Black Americans include higher rates of chronic conditions, shorter life expectancy, higher maternal and infant mortality rates, and lower screening rates for cancer and heart disease. Longstanding significant disparities in health and health care are directly related to the social determinants of health such as poverty, income inequality, wealth inequality, and food security. These disparities are mostly determined by a lack in the distribution of money, power, and resources in black communities creating environments with inadequate access to healthy food choices, subpar education systems, and safety and security, among other resources.

    We need policies and resources to support more black healthcare professionals. Black people represent over 6 percent of California’s population; however we only represent 3.2 percent of California’s physicians. The pandemic’s disproportionate impact on communities of color in the United States underscored the reality that when it comes to population health, we still have major work to do to achieve health equity. We need a more diverse workforce, community leaders, policymakers, community leaders with the right experiences, skills, cultural diversity, and linguistic capabilities to meet the needs of our communities and to create health equity.

    Q.     Both in your work and with CBHN, how have you been able to prioritize the health of Black Californians?

    Inequality impacts wealth, education, employment, housing, mobility, and health. At Kaiser Permanente, our community work is central to our mission. Through our community health grants, we support inclusive economic growth, which is critical to both individual and community health.

    • During the pandemic, we supported Faith in the Valley to conduct outreach and share information with several faith-based partners within our communities.
    • We support the African American Chamber of Commerce of San Joaquin County in their efforts to advocate, develop, and promote ethnic and minority-owned businesses. Our support has assisted the Chamber in supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs of color by offering training, mentoring, counseling, technical support, and professional development services to mitigate the negative impacts of the pandemic and to help prevent small business closures due to loss of revenue, business marketing, and lack of technological skills or resources.
    • For another year we are ecstatic to partner with Improve your Tomorrow (IYT) and fund their College Academy programs in Modesto and Tracy that work to increase the number of young men of color to attend and graduate from colleges and universities.

    Q.     What inspires you to keep doing the work you do?

    I’m inspired by black joy — a conscious intentional act of choosing joy to heal from the pain of social and economic injustices related to our lives being subjugated and our freedoms regulated. Joy radiates through me as I honor my ancestors, challenge stereotypes, and encourage the transformation of our society through our youth. Developing and inspiring our youth to seize possibilities and undertake their responsibility to transcend beyond “what was.”

    Our youth are the leaders and workforce of tomorrow, and many are challenged today by violence, intergenerational transmission of poverty, educational disadvantage, gender discrimination, and societal stereotypes. We must constantly remind them that they are the key to leading the future and closing the gaps we experience with health disparity. Our youth have grown up in a digitally interconnected world and demonstrate a technological sophistication that enables them to relate to the world, new ideas, information, and innovation. If we invest and mentor our youth and young adults, we have the privilege to influence generations to come, and help them to become the problem-solvers, entrepreneurs, and change agents of the coming decades.

  • 14 Sep 2023 8:31 AM | Jamila Jabulani (Administrator)

    How long have you been a member of the Black Health Network, and what drew you to CBHN?  

    Our agency, the Health & Human Resource Education Center, better known as (HHREC), was founded in 1984. We have six community programs, and our core programs are centered around health and wellness. Our most valuable program is the Black Women's Media Project funded through the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA). Our agency was drawn to CBHN via the amazing community advocacy work! HHREC partners with BH Brilliant Minds Project, Global Investment Company, and As You Are Nonprofit Called To Do His Work. Both HHREC and As You Are Called To Do His Work became organizational members this year! We are so passionate about mental health awareness for our people and sharing resources.

    What is your current profession?

    Executive Director. I have been working in the nonprofit sector for over fifteen years. I specialize in fund development and grant writing.

    From your perspective, what barriers exist in achieving health equity for Black Californians?

    The barriers are very much rooted in institutional racism. Not understanding how to navigate through the healthcare system and not having the resources and shared education to do so. We need access to more Black doctors, clinicians, and medical providers.

    Both in your work and with CBHN, how have you been able to prioritize the health of Black women?

    Our agency hosts and facilitates quarterly retreats for Black Women. We ensure that we provide a safe space for Black Women to do health and wellness activities like yoga, meditation, and art therapy. We are able to provide stipends and mental health awareness support. Our Black Women's Media Project produces a yearly digital magazine called "Crossing The Invisible Line."

    What inspires you to keep doing the work you do?

    My love for God and the Black community. I Pastor Taylor Chapel CME Church in Vallejo. I currently study under Bishop Dr. Charley Hames Jr., who is the new presiding prelate of the Ninth Episcopal District of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. I want to make sure Black women have access to peer support and resources for their community. We can do all things through Christ!

  • 21 Jul 2023 10:45 AM | Jamila Jabulani (Administrator)

    Dr. Henry has a Doctor of Public Health in health services research and a Master of Public Health in community health sciences.

    How long have you been a member of the Black Health Network?

    Not sure. First heard of, and interacted with, CBHN in the late ’90s. Connected with y’all again from 2016-2019. I joined again in May of 2021.

    What drew you to CBHN?

    People power. Making connections. Policy advocacy.

    What is your current profession?

    In 8 words, author, book publisher, consultant, speaker, and store owner. In a few more words, I run Community Intelligence, a public health research, policy analysis and health communications consulting firm; Go Crenshaw Publications; and, GoCrenshaw.Shop.

    From your perspective, what barriers exist in achieving health equity for Black Californians?

    Hmmm…I could go on and on ‘til the break of dawn on this one - but I won’t. How about lack of Universal Health Coverage; absence of recommended pedestrian safety infrastructure and countermeasures; and inadequate public investment in Black/Brown communities.

    Both in your work and with CBHN, how have you been able to prioritize the health of older Black Californians?

    To name just three of many. Community Intelligence prioritizes the health of older Black Californians/Angelenos by (1) conducting secondary research on the leading preventable causes of morbidity and mortality for Black people and developing policy recommendations; (2) writing books that detail things that can be done walking, advocating for placemaking and (3) wayfinding signage that help to make walking more interesting, and forming Crenshaw Walks, a walking group.

    What inspires you to keep doing the work you do?

    My family, my garden, my pool, and kung fu.

  • 10 Apr 2023 1:51 PM | Jamila Jabulani (Administrator)

    How long have you been a member of the Black Health Network, and what drew you to CBHN?

    I have been an official member of the Black Health Network since 2022, but I have been engaged in the California Black Health Network’s mission to build a black health agenda through its community outreach projects since 2017.

    What is your current profession?

    I am the Founder and CEO of Advocate for Nurturing Transition (ANT) Consulting and currently serve in the capacity as a Cultural Community Liaison Consultant for the African American community with Riverside University Health System - Behavioral Health.

    From your perspective, what barriers exist in achieving health equity for Black Californians?

    Multiple barriers exist, beginning with the mistrust of the medical system coupled with a shortage of Black physicians. There is an inherent lack of trust within medical institutions between providers and Black patients. Unfortunately, trusted messengers such as the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the National Institute of Health have each published apologies for their support of structural racist practices and the exclusion of African American physicians. These institutions have been instrumental in ensuring that Black people were disproportionately underrepresented in research studies and clinical trials, thereby creating barriers that continue to directly affect Black Californians from achieving health equity.

    Both in your work and with CBHN, how have you been able to prioritize the health of older Black Californians?

    I've been able to prioritize my work by staying informed, connected, and engaged through collaborations and community partnerships that support the health and well-being of older Black Californians.

    You co-lead BHN's Healthy Aging Peer Network; what motivated you to take on the role, and what do you hope to accomplish?

    I'm a lifelong learner, and I take joy in being an advocate. I hope through my advocacy work that I can one day be instrumental in transforming the consciousness of Black Californians to also serve as an advocate for self, family, and community.

    What inspires you to keep doing the work you do?

    There is much work to be done, and I'm inspired by knowing that my work brings me a sense of purpose and fulfillment.

  • 6 Mar 2023 12:32 PM | Jamila Jabulani (Administrator)

    How long have you been a member of the Black Health Network, and what drew you to CBHN?

    I have been a member of CBHN for about one year. I was drawn to CBHN because of its commitment to the health and wellness of Black Californians. CBHN is the only organization I am aware of, solely devoted to Black health equity advocacy, reducing health disparities among Black health-seeking constituents, and committed to addressing health's social and economic determinants through education, awareness, and coalition building.

    What is your current profession?

    I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker dedicated to the emotional, psychological, spiritual, and physical health of Black people.

    From your perspective, what barriers exist in achieving health equity for Black Californians?

    I believe several barriers exist, but I will focus on three. The first and most blatant is racism. The conscious/unconscious and biased/unbiased perspectives of Black people by non-Black people inform how Blacks can access care, how we experience the care given, and the disingenuousness and apathy in which we are collectively treated by non-Black healthcare professionals (and a few Black healthcare professionals). There is no compassion or grace applied to the delivery of care. The second is the invisible “caste” system in which Black people are placed in a “stratification hierarchy,” as eloquently articulated by Isabel Wilkerson, “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent,” which dictates how we are to be treated. The third is the impact of our posttraumatic slave trauma on our inability to “trust” the healthcare system, which has been and continues to be exploited as evidenced by a history of involuntary abortions, hysterectomies, research studies, pain-induced experiments, and the use of our biological cells to transform how terminal diseases are treated, thanks to Henrietta Lacks HeLa cell line, which immortalized one of the most important cell lines in cancer medical research.

    Both in your work and with CBHN, how have you been able to prioritize Black mental health?

    I have always been devoted to Black mental health and continue to be interested in mental health issues that impact Black people, especially those who are least likely to receive services. Black people are greatly affected by stress, anxiety, depression, and grief and loss, which is almost always directly correlated to racism, posttraumatic slave syndrome, or social stratification. This is usually manifested in Blacks being disproportionately represented either in the child welfare, juvenile justice, or correctional systems or economically impacted as reflected in unfair labor wages or high rates of unemployment and high rates of school failure in the K-12 public school system.

    You serve as the lead for BHN's Behavioral Health Peer Network; what motivated you to take on the role, and what do you hope to accomplish?

    I feel honored to serve CBHN as their Behavioral Health Peer Network lead. Black Mental Health is essential to our survival and intergenerational emotional health and wellness. For the first time, there is this emerging acceptance by Black people of the importance of one’s mental health. We are beginning to move away from the stigma and fully embrace our mental health. This is so exciting! Our children, youth, elders, and I am especially enthused by our Black men, all of whom are embracing their mental health. In this role, I hope to work with CBHN to both promote Black mental health and create a health provider resource directory so that Black consumers interested in finding health providers to serve them can access them through CBHN’s statewide directory.

    What inspires you to keep doing the work you do?

    We will probably be dealing with the reverberations of racism for quite some time. I see my role as helping us to care for ourselves in the presence of this invisible enemy and to allow us to cope with the emotional harm that comes with being Black in America. Further, I am committed to the healing work of our ancestors. We have been devastated by the psychological impact of chattel slavery and continue living with the psychological effect of posttraumatic slave syndrome. I am committed to being of service to us on our healing journey.

  • 4 Aug 2022 1:45 PM | Jamila Jabulani (Administrator)

    By Rhonda Smith

    July was National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, intended to bring awareness to the unique struggles that racial and ethnic minority communities face regarding mental illness in the United States. We wanted to take this opportunity to raise awareness of Tardive Dyskinesia (TD), an involuntary movement disorder associated with taking certain medications that treat bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, or schizoaffective disorder, which disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minorities. National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month also focuses on breaking the stigma about mental health among racial and ethnic minority populations. The involuntary movements associated with TD carry a heavy stigma and are particularly harmful to Black communities. Some facts:

    TD is characterized by uncontrollable, abnormal, and repetitive movements of the face, torso, and/or other body parts. This can include lip puckering; jaw biting, clenching, or side-to-side movements; tongue darting, sticking out, or pushing inside; twisting and twitching hands and feet; and torso and hip shifting, among other symptoms. Untreated, TD can cause great distress for patients and negatively impact their overall quality of life.

    With nearly 6 million Californians living with mental illness, TD is no minor issue. Research suggests the overall prevalence of TD following prolonged treatment with first- generation antipsychotics is up to 30%, and it is estimated that 600,000 people in the U.S. are affected by TD, but many go undiagnosed.

    We encourage policy makers, medical professionals, health care advocates, and patients to learn more about TD and its impact on our community. This is especially important as we are in the endemic phase of the COVID crisis, during which patients may not have had regular, in-person contact with health care practitioners so that conditions like TD can be diagnosed and treated.

  • 17 May 2021 11:36 AM | Rhonda Smith (Administrator)

    By Richard H Carmona • May 17, 2021

    A public basketball game at Venice Beach Recreation Center in Los Angeles. Photo by iStock.

    The past year has taken a toll on the physical and mental health of millions of Californians. While we were rightly focused on slowing the spread of the pandemic, widespread shutdowns brought about a more sedentary, inactive lifestyle, which has led to increased weight gain and worsened mental health for many. As Californians look ahead and as more people receive the vaccine, it is time for policymakers and citizens to start reprioritizing physical activity and placing much needed attention on the health equity crisis in our state.

    There is a direct correlation between obesity and developing serious COVID-19 complications and chronic diseases. In fact, about 78 percent of people who have been hospitalized, needed a ventilator, or died from COVID-19 have been overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And once the scourge of COVID has passed, the leading causes of death will continue to be heart disease and cancers — all exacerbated by physical inactivity and overweight. 

    This correlation is heightened by the fact that communities that were disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 were also already disproportionately impacted by inactivity and obesity. Data has shown that Black and Latinx communities suffered higher rates of COVID-19. Meanwhile in California, physical inactivity is the highest among Black and Latinx residents, at 23 percent and 27 percent, respectively. 

    The obesity rate in California is 25.8 percent, but that number jumps to 33 percent for Latinx residents, and 40 percent for Black residents. That figure is expected to be higher now as the pandemic has led to a 32 percent reduction in physical activity among individuals who were physically active. 

    These correlations can be attributed to the fact that many of our Black and brown communities exist in food deserts, experience a shortage of healthy food options and often have lower access to green space and safe outdoor spaces in which to recreate, among other reasons.

    Two recent studies show just how acute the COVID weight gain issue has become. A study in the Journal of American Medicine reported that during the first five months of closures, the average American gained nearly two pounds per month. And an even more concerning report by the American Physiological Association indicated that during the lockdown, 50 percent of millennials had gained weight during the lockdown, averaging an astounding 41 pounds.

    Separately, research from the Kaiser Family Foundation showed about four in 10adults in the United States have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder throughout the pandemic. That’s up from one in 10 during the first six months of 2019. Kaiser also found that many adults have suffered negative impacts on their mental health and well-being —  including difficulty sleeping (36 percent) or eating (32 percent), increases in alcohol consumption or substance use (12 percent) and worsening chronic conditions (12 percent) — due to worry and stress over the coronavirus.

    Fortunately, a healthy weight can be achieved through a regimen of healthful eating and physical activity. However, even before the pandemic, only about 23 percent of adults met or exceeded the federal physical activity guidelines of at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week. Even if an individual can’t meet the full recommended amount of exercise, researchers have found that as little as 20 minutes of physical activity a day can have anti-inflammatory effects that boost your immune system. And the pandemic has given us a new understanding of the value of maintaining a strong immune system.

    Fitness centers are committed to being part of the solution. They continue to work closely with local, state and federal public health officials as they reopen — implementing capacity restrictions and proven safety protocols like physical distancing, increased sanitization and air filtration. These policies are key to ensuring Californians have access to exercise while also mitigating the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

    I encourage policymakers to go beyond the current conversation and continue to discuss the underlying reasons for the health disparities in our state. We must pursue health equity by identifying solutions for food deserts, finding ways to ensure healthy food options regardless of zip code and, importantly, ensuring that every community has adequate and safe spaces for exercise, whether that be in a gym, park or on a walking trail. 

    Whether you are continuing your personal fitness routine or heading back to your fitness center, the important thing is to get your body active. Staying safe in a post-pandemic world means maintaining a healthy immune system, becoming physically active, eating well and maintaining a healthy body weight.  These lifestyle changes will allow you to live longer and happier!

    Dr. Richard Carmona served as the 17th U.S. Surgeon General and currently sits on the Chancellor’s Board of Advisors at UC Davis. 

  • 10 May 2021 11:37 AM | Rhonda Smith (Administrator)

    By Brett Walton Circle of Blue • May 10, 2021

    A monitoring program tracks toxic cyanobacteria and influences change.

    This piece is part of a collaboration that includes the Institute for Nonprofit News, California Health Report, Center for Collaborative Investigative Journalism, Circle of Blue, Columbia Insight, Ensia, High Country News, New Mexico In Depth and SJV Water. It was made possible by a grant from The Water Desk, with support from Ensia and INN’s Amplify News Project.

    LAKEPORT, California — Seven years ago, after the fish died, Sarah Ryan decided she couldn’t wait any longer for help.

    California at the time was in the depths of its worst drought in the last millennium and its ecosystems were gasping. For Ryan, the fish kill in Clear Lake, the state’s second largest and the centerpiece of Lake County, was the last straw.

    Ryan is the environmental director for Big Valley Rancheria, a territory of the Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians that sits on the ancient lake’s western shore. She and others raised alarms for several years about increasingly dire blooms of toxic cyanobacteria. But Lake County officials and state agencies were not gathering the data on toxin levels that Ryan thought was necessary to adequately communicate the health risks to tribe members or to anyone else using Clear Lake to swim, fish, drink — or walk their dog. 

    A year earlier a dog had died after drinking lake water. Fishing tournaments were cancelled due to the noxious scum, and the lake was starting to smell rotten in the warm months. It was time to act, she thought.

    Along with Karola Kennedy, then the environmental director at Elem Indian Colony, another area tribe, Ryan developed a plan. In the summer of 2014 Ryan and Kennedy laid out a map on a table — “our war room,” as Ryan described it — and chose several shoreline sites to collect water samples. They sent the samples to the lab and waited.

    The first results came back in early September, well after midnight on a Friday. Ryan was still awake. She looked at the readout on her screen. A sample taken about 100 feet from a drinking water intake showed more than 17,000 micrograms per liter of microcystins, a liver toxin produced by the microcystis species of cyanobacteria. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency health guideline for microcystins in waters where people swim and boat is 8 micrograms per liter. California suggests posting warnings at beaches when levels reach 0.8 micrograms per liter.

    “Oh my gosh,” Ryan recalled thinking. “We have a problem here.”

    In the summer and fall, mats of toxic cyanobacteria can clog the perimeter of Clear Lake. In this photo from June 23, 2020, a bloom forms in Soda Bay, on the lake’s southern shore. Photo courtesy of Micah Swann.

    A Lake Out Of Balance

    The sample results, and the work Ryan and Kennedy have done to promote and explain the implications for public health and the recreational economy, prompted local and state responses that distinguish Clear Lake as a test bed for understanding and solving a worsening global water pollution challenge. 

    Neither California nor the federal government regulate cyanotoxins in drinking water. Two-thirds of Lake County’s 65,000 residents are served by utilities that use Clear Lake as a water source. What government officials want is more data. Starting this summer, the State Water Resources Control Board ordered the 18 public water systems that draw from Clear Lake to test their treated and untreated water every two weeks for microcystins. In addition, the Water Board asked the state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment in February to evaluate scientific information on four cyanotoxins and recommend whether the state should establish notification levels, which are health-based thresholds that require utilities to tell customers when the toxins are present.

    Sometimes called blue-green algae and a constituent of harmful algal blooms, cyanobacteria are single-celled organisms that turn sunlight into energy. Alive on the planet for more than 2 billion years, they were the first species to produce oxygen as a by-product of respiration. You and I can be thankful for that. But because they’ve endured the eons — outlasting ice ages as well as hothouse conditions — they are adaptable survivors. 

    “In a way, their playbook is very deep,” Hans Paerl, a professor at the UNC Chapel Hill Institute of Marine Sciences and one of the country’s foremost researchers of cyanobacteria, told Circle of Blue. “Evolution has served them for a long period of time.”

    Today, however, a deep playbook is less and less necessary. Humans are making it easier on cyanobacteria. The organisms live everywhere, but they prefer warm, stagnant waters that are saturated with nutrients. As they see it, a planet blanketed by heat-trapping greenhouse gases, loaded with nitrogen and phosphorus, and saturated with slack water and rivers impeded by dams is a cozy and welcoming home. 

    “Almost every modification we’ve gone through — in terms of creating more nutrients or altering the flow of water in natural systems — seems to benefit their ability to form blooms and proliferate in those blooms,” Paerl explained. The blooms, in other words, are living in a boom time.

    Clear Lake, about 100 miles north of San Francisco, is relatively shallow, warm and, by its nature, biologically productive. That’s why it’s known as one of the best bass fishing spots in the country. It’s also considered the oldest lake in North America, which means that algae have probably been present for some portion of its 2 million years. Indigenous groups have lived along the lake’s clean waters and fertile shores for some 12,000 years. 

    But over the last century and a half, Clear Lake’s ecological balance has come undone. White settlers planted orchards, dug mercury mines, and built homes and towns. In the process an estimated 85 percent of the lake’s nutrient-absorbing wetlands were destroyed. 

    Unimpeded flows of nitrogen and phosphorus tipped Clear Lake into hyperproductivity, or eutrophication. Algae and cyanobacteria blooms worsened in the 1970s, started improving through the 1990s, and now are as extensive as any in generations. While the middle of the lake can be scum-free, the blooms paint the nearshore waters in the summer and fall in whorls of green and white. They emit terrible odors, described by various locals as like kimchi, dog poop, baby’s diaper, sewage, and “not as pungent as skunk, but on its way there.”

    An elder of the Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians, Ron Montez, Sr. has spent a lifetime around Clear Lake. The lake is central to the tribe’s culture, he said while at his office. Members collect tule reeds around its shores for making baskets and canoes and they immerse themselves in the water before dances and ceremonies. Photo by Brett Walton, Circle of Blue.

    Ron Montez Sr., an elder of the Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians, has witnessed those changes. He grew up around the lake, but his family had no running water. Instead they used buckets to gather from the lake what they needed at home. If algae were present, they would filter the water by pouring it through a cloth. To bathe, he would jump in the lake. Sometimes he would hold bread in his hands until the fish nibbled.

    Montez, who is 71, told Circle of Blue that the lake is central to his cultural identity and for his community’s livelihood. It’s where they collect tule reeds for weaving baskets and making boats, where they caught catfish, hitch, and perch for sustenance and income, where they splished and splashed. The lake is also where tribe members congregate for ceremonies, like the annual Big Head dances held in the spring. 

    “Before any dance we have to enter into the water, have our heads under the water,” Montez explained. The tribe members dance also for healing if someone is sick. “It’s cleansing before that time [of the dance], which is sacred.”

    Montez continued. “The water is very important,” he said. “It’s tied to us spiritually, physically. That has all been reduced because of the algae and other contaminants out there.”

    The environmental director for the Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians since 2006, Sarah Ryan has been instrumental in bringing attention to the harmful algal blooms and toxic cyanobacteria that blanket the shores of Clear Lake in the warm months. Photo by Brett Walton, Circle of Blue.

    Recognition and Response

    Sarah Ryan is not indigenous, but she has worked for Big Valley’s environmental department since 2001, becoming director in 2006. She notes that tribal governments in California, especially those along the Klamath River, have taken the lead on responding to toxic cyanobacteria.

    Ryan said the initial goal of the cyanobacteria monitoring program was to protect the health of Montez and other Big Valley Band members as they took part in the traditional cultural practices. The program costs Big Valley about $70,000 a year to operate for staff time, sample analysis, and equipment, Ryan estimates. Two or three Big Valley EPA staff members collaborate on the field work, sample collection, data entry, and public outreach. The funds come from state and federal grants, and they’re needed. Clear Lake has 100 miles of shoreline. 

    Monitoring sites were selected because of their importance to the tribes. Sampling more than 20 sites every two weeks in the summer and monthly in the winter is not a simple task. Ryan expects to be particularly active this year. The lake is at its lowest level since 2014, and the state is coming off its third-driest winter on record. In these conditions, blooms are likely to be very bad, she said.

    Around Clear Lake the influence of the monitoring program keeps growing. The data informs warning signs that the county posts at parks and boat launches. Ryan tallies the results on the Big Valley website, too. There have been follow-on studies of toxins in fish tissue and in private drinking water intakes. Public drinking water providers check the data for toxin levels around their intakes. 

    The monitoring program aligns with Ryan’s world view. Her father worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and she got her bachelor’s degree in government from the College of William and Mary. Science on one hand and policy on the other. Her mission is to ensure that the two stay connected. 

    “Government should be translating science into actionable items,” she said. “Otherwise, what are you doing?”

    Micah Swann, a third-year Ph.D. student at the University of California, Davis, displays equipment for monitoring water quality in Clear Lake. Photo by Brett Walton, Circle of Blue.

    Hazardous Conditions

    Though poisonings from drinking water are rare, simply being at the lakeshore when blooms are present is a risk. Touching certain cyanotoxins can cause rashes and allergic reactions. That’s why the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published its guidelines for recreational water. It’s also why the tribes wanted more information about what their members might be exposed to during their ceremonies.

    Health hazards do not end with skin contact. In a peer-reviewed study published in April, researchers found that a harmful algal bloom on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, was releasing anatoxin-a, a neurotoxin, into the air. The researchers speculate that sharp winds sent the toxin airborne, but it is unclear what effect inhaled toxins might have on human health. 

    The risk of aerosolized toxins is high enough that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will begin a study this year to assess airborne exposure in Florida residents who live or work on Lake Okeechobee, St. Lucie River, Caloosahatchee River, and Cape Coral canals — all places with a recent history of severe blooms. Results are expected in 2023.

    Though most attention is directed at phosphorus, Paerl says that nitrogen should not be neglected, either. Nitrogen is more manageable, Paerl told Circle of Blue. It can be cut more easily by restricting polluted runoff from streets, farm fields, septic systems, and wastewater treatment plants, while also minimizing erosion. Paerl has studied harmful algal blooms in large lakes worldwide, from Lake Erie to Lake Taihu, in China. 

    “That’s one thing we are prescribing for many of the large lakes that Clear Lake fits into: not only to reduce phosphorus inputs because it takes so long for the system to clear itself of phosphorus,” Paerl said. “But also deal with nitrogen.”

    There is an official process in this country for these nutrient diets. It’s called a total maximum daily load, or TMDL. Written into the federal Clean Water Act, TMDLs are a regulatory tool for reducing pollution in a waterbody. Some TMDLs apply to stream segments of fewer than a dozen miles; others, like the one for the Chesapeake Bay, encompass entire watersheds.

    Clear Lake has a nutrient TMDL that was put in place in 2007, but for phosphorus only. It identifies forest roads, country and federal lands, and irrigated agriculture as primary sources of sediment erosion.

    Nearly a decade ago, Ryan warned state officials that the TMDL was not effective.

    “It is obvious that the measures being taken by the communities in the Clear Lake Basin are not reducing nuisance algal blooms,” Ryan wrote to the State Water Resources Control Board on August 20, 2012.

    Karola Kennedy, her partner in developing the cyanobacteria program, also notified the Water Board of concerns about the TMDL. She said that projects to control erosion were not being monitored to assess whether they lived up to their promises. Kennedy did not want the state to extend compliance dates for reducing nutrient flows, which it is still considering.

    “The Elem Indian Colony Tribal community does not want to wait another generation for compliance on the nutrient TMDL,” Kennedy wrote on October 3, 2017. “Water quality issues have exponentially worsened in the past decade. We are fearful of what is to come if the responsible parties are given a pass for another generation.” 

    Kennedy, now the water resources manager for Robinson Rancheria, another Clear Lake tribe, told Circle of Blue that the lack of monitoring for erosion control is still a problem today. “It’s hard to say if those best management practices are truly that. If you don’t monitor them, you can’t manage it.”

    The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board is the state agency that oversees the TMDL. Adam Laputz, the board’s assistant executive officer, told Circle of Blue that the board is reviewing the TMDL to see if it should be extended or revised. Laputz said that any revisions would take into account new research in the last 15 years on the causes of harmful algal blooms and could include nitrogen limits or changes to the amount of phosphorus allowed into the lake. But given all the factors that feed the blooms — nutrients, water temperature, wind and water currents — determining whether the TMDL has been effective “is a very difficult question to answer,” Laputz said.

    One major project that aims to prevent more nutrient-laden sediments from flowing into the lake and to reverse the loss of wetlands is the restoration of a marsh ecosystem downstream of Middle Creek and Scotts Creek. Located at the northern end of the lake, the site contributes about 70 percent of the sediment and phosphorus that flow into the lake. By one estimate, restoring 1,400 acres of marsh where there are now fields and levees could increase the lake’s wetland coverage by 70 percent and reduce phosphorus inputs for the lake’s upper basin by 28 percent. Those reductions are only on paper right now. The county is still acquiring land for the project and has not started construction.

    The Middle Creek restoration is an important step, but larger schemes could be on the horizon. In 2017, an act of the Legislature established a 15-member Blue Ribbon Committee to discuss the restoration of Clear Lake. The act also funded an in-depth research program that is being led by the University of California, Davis. The goal of the program is to observe how water and nutrients move throughout the watershed.

    The California Natural Resources Agency said it is working on a grant that will extend funding for the program, which needs more data before it can fine-tune a working model of the watershed and lake dynamics. According to Geoff Schladow, the research program’s principal investigator, the model will provide glimpses of the future. Once the model is running, researchers can tweak variables like nutrient inputs, wind speed, and air temperature to test their effect on the blooms, which tend to concentrate in two of the lake’s sub-basins, the Oaks Arm and Lower Arm. That way, local agencies could issue cyanobacteria forecasts, directing swimmers and boaters away from hazardous areas and warning tourists coming up from San Francisco for the weekend about which beaches to avoid. The tribes, though, cannot simply change the location of their ceremonies.

    One theory is that blooms proliferate in the Oaks and Lower arms because the lake is deeper there and phosphorus in the lakebed sediment becomes unbound when oxygen is depleted. This “internal loading,” a legacy of centuries of erosion, is actually the largest source of phosphorus available to fuel cyanobacteria growth in the lake. Schladow said a potential remedy is to inject oxygen in these areas when levels reach critical thresholds. But researchers won’t know whether that’s the case until their model is complete and they can run tests. The results matter not just for scientific discovery but also for fiscal responsibility.

    “The truth of the matter is lake remediation costs a lot of money and you can’t afford to get it wrong,” Schladow told Circle of Blue.

    Angela De Palma-Dow, the invasive species coordinator for the Lake County Water Resources Department, reiterated that point. Lake County is one of the poorest in California, and there is not a lot of spare cash to throw at false solutions. 

    “It’s hard for us to put money into a project and have it have a negligible impact on water quality,” De Palma-Dow told Circle of Blue. She hopes the UC Davis study will provide recommendations that are “targeted and relevant.”

    Researchers who study Clear Lake are full of praise for the program that Ryan and Kennedy started. It’s hard to imagine so much legislative and scientific attention directed at the lake if not for the work of the tribal governments.

    “The fact they’ve been collecting data has raised the awareness in the whole community,” Schladow said. “We would be a long way further back if it wasn’t for those efforts.”

    Local officials acknowledge that the tribes are providing a public service that they are not able to fulfill.

    “Frankly, there’s no way our county would be able to do that work and we rely heavily on them and what they do,” De Palma-Dow said. “They’re great partners.”

    Ryan said that it took many years of cajoling before those partnerships took root and bore fruit. She’ll keep pushing colleagues in county and state agencies, because after all, science without government action to back it up is just not enough.

    Brett writes about agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and the politics and economics of water in the United States for Circle of Blue. He also writes the Federal Water Tap, Circle of Blue’s weekly digest of U.S. government water news.

<< First  < Prev   1   2   Next >  Last >> 

Call or Fax Us

Phone: 916.333.0613
Fax: 855.631.3878


520 9th St #100
Sacramento, CA 95814
Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software