October 26, 2021 - From the October, 2021 issue

OPC’s Mark Gold on CA Offshore Wind & The Blue Economy

The vulnerability of California’s ocean resources was brought into stark relief earlier this month as an estimated 25,000  gallons of oil spilled off the coast of Huntington Beach in Orange County. To illuminate the state’s approach to sustainable ocean resource management, TPR checked in with Mark Gold, Deputy Secretary for Oceans and Coastal Policy and Director of the Ocean Protection Council, who updates readers on the status of the Ocean Protection Council’s strategic plan and the Newsom administration’s priorities and responsibilities re California’s Blue Economy. Gold, a former Associate Vice Chancellor for Environment and Sustainability at UCLA, elaborates on the promise of sustainable aquaculture and offshore wind energy to achieve the state’s climate goals and sustain its vital ocean resources.

Mark Gold

“Adel [Hagekhalil] has made his career on integrated water management and bringing people together in making them realize that all water is the same. Whether it's water conservation or stormwater capture or water recycling or getting more out of your groundwater basins, it's one water. I am so excited to have someone with that mindset as a head of Metropolitan Water District.”—Mark Gold

Mark Gold, when we last interviewed you two years ago upon your appointment to the California Ocean Protection Council—which is tasked with managing efforts to protect the vitality of California's rich ocean resources and the ecosystems and economies that rely on it—we started by asking you to articulate your mandate from the Governor. We would welcome an update.

Mark Gold: The biggest priority for the administration—was to put together a strategic plan to protect California's coast and ocean.  So, we did that about 20 months ago. It’s true to the mission of the Ocean Protection Council and based on four different major pillars: climate, protection of biodiversity, equity, and the blue economy and has strong goals, objectives, and actions with metrics, target dates and accountability. Ever since the Ocean Protection Council approved that plan, it's been our charge to implement it to the best of our abilities, so that's really been the focus.

There's a lot of bold stuff in the strategic plan, and I'm glad to say that we have been moving forward on all four pillars with progress in each of the areas.

You mentioned the blue economy as one pillar of the Ocean Protection Council’s strategic plan. What priorities and responsibilities are included now in the Council’s  agenda for the blue economy?

Well, what we really want to see moving forward, for example, would be to have more of a sustainable and climate resilient approach to our fisheries. Obviously, the state of California has been a global leader on the Marine Protected Area network issues. To that end, there's a decadal review of the Marine Protected area network . Believe it or not, we’re about 8.5 years in at this point for the whole network. We're partnering with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Fish and Game Commission in that effort.

And related to that target of more sustainable fisheries, of course, would be aquaculture. As you know, aquaculture in the state of California has really been on a very piecemeal, case-by-case basis. There's no consistency. We made it clear in the strategic plan that the approach for California was to focus on the most sustainable aspects of aquaculture first, which would be algae as well as shellfish. We want to focus on seafood where we know there is a real chance to set the bar on sustainability and do it in a consistent way across the state. Also, we are looking more at the land-based side of aquaculture as well, how do we do that in the most environmentally sound and sustainable fashion that protects public health, marine ecosystems and grows the blue economy? So, an Aquaculture Action Plan is getting developed with the help of multiple agencies and should be completed in the next two years.   

The other part of the blue economy pillar that’s really exciting is offshore wind. The state of California has really set the bar globally on renewable energy progress, but one of the things that has been talked about is the need for diversification. The growth of solar and onshore wind has been tremendous, but offshore wind in the state of California doesn't exist. There was a real opportunity here to ask how we do this in California in the most sustainable way possible.

In that regard, there has been a focus on two potential lease sales: one 399 square mile area off of Morro Bay  on the central coast and the other one off of Humboldt County. The way we are all in on looking at floating offshore wind has not been done in a major way globally. There are only about a dozen or so of these floating turbine facilities around the world. California is looking at facilities that are 20 to 30 miles offshore, not causing the view impacts, and lessening impacts on fisheries, marine life, and seabirds. That's the way to go and what the state is  really spending a lot of time and effort in assessing the potential impacts of these potential lease sales and floating offshore wind development on marine life, fisheries, cultural resources, and the economy. .

The big decisions will be made next year. The federal lease sale decisions will be in the Fall of 2022. Before that, the Coastal Commission will make the consistency determination for the proposed Humboldt lease sale area around March or April of next year. For the Central Coast, the schedule is around June at this point. We're doing everything we can, along with colleagues at the Department of Fish and WIldlife, California Energy Commission, and State Lands Commission to provide the Coastal Commission with the information they need to make a comprehensive consistency determination. In all candor, it has been the most collaborative of any coast and ocean issue that I've worked on since I was appointed. I never would have expected it, but the degree of collaboration is extraordinary at this point and everybody is doing their part.

Elaborate on the potential for  wind power on the West Coast and the planning now underway in California; and address the role of the Ports in collaborating with the Energy Commission—yourself and others—to execute on this planning.

The role of the ports has not yet quite been established. There needs to be a comprehensive port feasibility study on capacity, environmental impacts, jobs, grid connectivity issues, etc.  The real focus right now in the State of California, and this is a major two-step process, are the consistency determinations on the proposed lease sale areas, which are scheduled for 2022. After that, there are going to be the decisions on which ports are appropriate for all the work that needs to be done on the Central Coast and on the North Coast. Humboldt Bay Port from the North Coast is obviously really important. Who in Central California or Southern California is going to play that enormous role? That is completely up in the air and won’t be determined until after completion of a feasibility study. Those sorts of discussions are already starting to occur, but we will see how that plays out in the next two or three years moving ahead. The second major consistency determination step at the Coastal Commission will be when wind companies propose actual projects in the lease sale areas a few years from now.

Mark, when we last interviewed you, you spoke a great deal about your wish to be more engaged with research universities on ocean science and to be working closely with the Sea Grant system. What success have you had?

Everybody had their best laid plans before COVID-19. We had a full schedule of meetings with UCs and Cal States, and we had two of our meetings go forward. We were geared up to do our next meeting at UC Santa Barbara, when COVID hit and major universities shut down from the standpoint of meetings in person. We worked with the Ocean Science Trust and our scientific advisory committee to meet with faculty  over Zoom, but the sort of face-to-face discussions that are just so important in working together with the universities do not work as well in a Zoom format. I think in the beginning part of 2022, we will start our academic roadshow again. In fact, I just met in person with UCSB professors last week to discuss ideas on how make California’s coastal waters and ecosystems more resilient to a rapidly changing climate.


 In the interim, we've still done a lot with the universities with different calls for projects. In particular, for the work we're doing on aquaculture, we're putting together an aquaculture  action plan for the state California; the first one ever in the United States, and we're partnering with UC Santa Barbara and the California Sea Grant on that project. We should have an action plan in the two years.  

Also, we just did a call for projects on ocean acidification in partnership with California Sea Grant. It's over $2.2 million in research, and the response has been nothing short of extraordinary. There are so many great proposals that we have to make hard decisions since  we have $18 million in proposals and only have $2.2 million to spend. In addition, we partnered with CDFW and California Sea Grant on over $2M in research on kelp forest restoration—an urgent need with bull kelp forest collapse off of Mendocino and Sonoma counties. We are really trying to work closely with the universities, but that aspect of rolling up our sleeves and working with them through the  roadshow concept definitely got curtailed. We are still doing great work through our scientific advisory team and working with the Ocean Science Trust.

Before you assumed your role, you were very active re aquaculture and ocean research in metropolitan Los Angeles and Southern California. Elaborate on your continuing Southern California collaborations and speak to the challenges they face.

I miss working with the LA region, and I still try to stay involved in local issues. I think the historic DDT dumping issue in  the 3,000 foot deep waters of the San Pedro basin has forced that. I've worked on DDT for such a long period of time, so I’m glad to work with  other state agencies on that particular issue to make sure that we're moving forward with site assessment and partnering with the USEPA, NOAA and other federal agencies on those efforts.

Another one is the Hyperion spill of 17 million-plus gallons and the subsequent near failure of the plant, which led to problems at the plant that lasted almost two months. There's a high level working group that was created by the City of LA that I've been involved in that is discussing the investigation of the causes of the major spill and possible actions to make sure something like this never happens again. The importance of completing the investigation and moving forward on the recommendations is paramount.  Mayor Garcetti’s ambitious local water plans  rely on the design and completion of an unprecedented advanced water recycling project at Hyperion and the city must  restore consumer confidence in Hyperion and the mayor’s vision to successfully complete such an ambitious water supply project after the incident that occurred this summer.

As you noted, you have long been involved in water quality. Speak to the significance of  the selection by the Metropolitan Water District of Adel Hagekhalil  to be their new general manager—why you were so supportive and what's the promise of that selection?

I was so stoked that Adel got that position. I personally think it's the most important water position in the state of California. With a service area of 19 million people, how progressive Metropolitan Water District is on water management impacts not only the entire state of California, but it impacts the whole Southwest. Adel has made his career on integrated water management and bringing people together to make them realize that all water is the same. Whether it's water conservation or stormwater capture or water recycling or getting more out of your groundwater basins, it's One Water. I am so excited to have someone with that mindset as a head of Metropolitan Water District.

The timing is perfect. We have the worst-possible water scarcity problems you can have with long-term shortages in the Bay-Delta system and the Colorado. I use water scarcity instead of drought because to declare something a drought seems like a way to say that things are going to get better, and they're not going to get better. Climate change is demonstrating that water scarcity is the reality of the Southwest. Adel is somebody who is relentless in how optimistic he is to be able to make these sorts of changes and is the perfect person at the right time to be running Met.

Again, when we last spoke two years ago, you talked about the funding that the governor had provided and the need for collaboration of the Coastal Commission, Bay Conservation and Development Commission , and Coastal Conservancy to bring these efforts together. Update readers on the state of that multi-agency collaboration?

In this particular case, it was in partnership with Secretary Crowfoot and Secretary Blumenfeld that we convened every department and agency that's working on coastal resilience, whether it was Caltrans or State Lands Commission or State Parks. It was not just the Coastal Commission, the Coastal Conservancy, and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission. We got together and put together really common-sense sea-level rise principles to align over 15 different departments and agencies in a more collaborative approach to sea level rise planning, communication, and project implementation.

On top of that effort is this climate resilience budget that just got approved. An additional $3.7 billion for climate resilience was added to the overall climate budget this summer. The climate budget was $15 billion this year, which is, by far, the biggest in California history. In this extra $3.7 billion, there was $500 million allocated for coastal resilience for 2022 and 2023 budget years. Those funds go to the Coastal Conservancy, and we will work closely with them, using these sea level rise principles, on how to make the smartest investments for the state of California in building coastal resilience. Also, Senate Pro Tem Atkins authored a far-reaching, comprehensive bill (SB 1) that was signed into law by the Governor, on planning for coastal resilience and funding coastal resilience projects.

We've set a very ambitious goal: let's plan for the state of California to be ready for sea level rise of about a meter—3.5 feet roughly—by 2050. The projects that we build today will be around for a half century or more. In the case of infrastructure, we need to plan much further out, and to that end, the Coastal Commission just put out a superb guidance document on how to plan for critical infrastructure (transportation, ports, water treatment plants and distribution systems,etc.) within the coastal zone. There is a lot of great work  that's finally moving forward on coastal resilience, and we're really excited to be in the middle of it.


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