Suisun City Climate Resilience Community Forum Engages Public Around Flood Risks

By Alex Lunine, Resilient Communities Program Manager

Panelists John Durand of UC Davis, Mayor Pro Tem Alma Hernandez, Emily Corwin of the Fairfield-Suisun Sewer District and Jaclyn Mandoske of Bay Conservation and Development Commission speak during the forum roundtable

Suisun City is vulnerable to increased flooding risks from sea level rise, king tides and storm surges that will threaten homes, businesses and jobs in the coming decades. The Suisun City Climate Resilience Community Forum brought together local environmental experts, city officials and city residents and community leaders to explore those risks, while informing a discussion around community-supported actions and solutions.

The Forum built upon the work of the city’s core team, which organized a Community Resilience Building workshop in June that led to a report by The Nature Conservancy.

Bringing together around 15 residents and a panel that included Mayor Pro Tem Alma Hernandez, Jaclyn Mandoske of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, Emily Corwin of the Fairfield-Suisun Sewer District, and John Durand from UC Davis, the Forum sought to engage community members on the topic to collectively work towards preventing and adapting to the threat of rising tides in Suisun.

The day started with an introduction by Alma Hernandez, followed by presentations on flooding issues and the Fairfield-Suisun Sewer District’s ongoing and planned flood-related projects.

If you have been keeping up with our outreach efforts, you might already be familiar with the flooding projections published by the BCDC in 2020: an increase of 6 to 10 inches in water level by 2030, 13 to 23 inches by 2050, and upwards of 41 to 83 inches by 2100. This timeline is indicative of flooding due to sea level rise only, and does not include the additional threats that storm surges or king tides present to the city. When determining flood mitigation efforts, all three factors of flooding have to be considered in conjunction with one another. A mix of three primary strategies can be implemented by the city to curb the impacts of flooding: protect, adapt, and retreat. Protection infrastructure, such as levees, seeks to prevent flooding from occurring. Meanwhile, adaptation measures, such as adjusting building codes to prevent water damage, attempt to mitigate the harm that flooding can inflict. Finally, retreat cedes that flooding and damage cannot be prevented in a given area, so preexisting or planned development should be abandoned.

To illustrate how flood mitigation strategies can look in action, Emily Corwin presented on three projects within the radar of the sewer district:

  • The district is planning to establish community treatment wetlands on-site at the district. These wetlands will reduce the amount of excess nutrients being carried out into the Bay, while also helping to bolster the flood resilience of the district and surrounding properties. Additionally, these wetlands are planned to serve as a public educational resource about the Suisun Marsh and host walking trails.
  • The next project was the renovation of the Kellogg Pump Station. This pump station, directly behind residences on Maple Street, was damaged by fire in 2020, and improvements to the station are planned to both bolster fire and flooding resilience and provide a walkable path along its creek.
  • The last project pertained to improving the capacity of the stormwater systems to move water out of Suisun neighborhoods. This, in part, includes replacing older piping.

The district wants to incorporate community feedback into its projects and what should be prioritized in their efforts.

The group adjourned for lunch and came back together for the community forum. The panel was able to answer questions from participants, including clarification from the presentations, what organizations and stakeholders the city could partner with to tackle flooding vulnerabilities, how flooding would impact the Suisun Marsh and examples of how flood-mitigation measures have looked in nearby communities.

Even if you could not attend on Oct. 22, you can still make your voice heard by watching the video recording of the event and filling out our survey.

Participants also gave crucial commentary on how Sustainable Solano can improve our outreach efforts. This includes having greater representation from government leaders at future roundtables to enhance the ability of community members to communicate their needs to the city, and reaching beyond coalition-building with the adult population to offer more ways for students to get involved.

This forum would not be possible without the huge contributions of time and effort from the Core Team: Alma Hernandez, Anthony Adams, Aleta George, Jay Gunkelmann, and Mike Zeiss. Additionally, I would like to thank Jaclyn Mandoske, Emily Corwin, and John Durand for lending us their expertise on the panel and for taking the time to join us for these important conversations.

I would also like to thank our high school interns for helping film during this event, even after their internships ended, and for all their hard work over the course of the summer.

If you are interested in learning more about flood risks or want to get more involved, we are partnering with Adopt a Neighborhood to host another Flood Walk from 10 am-12 pm Saturday, Nov. 19. Additionally, from 10 am to 4 pm on Dec. 3 and Dec. 10, we are installing a flood- and drought-resistant garden at a Suisun City home that was previously affected by fire. During the workshop, you can learn how to address similar hazards at your own home.

Climate & Environmental Festival Reconnects Community to Create Change

By Jonathan Erwin, Resilient Neighborhoods Program Manager

Sustainable Solano hosted Suisun City’s first Climate and Environmental Festival in October. From the long slumber of in-person events through the pandemic, it was great to finally see some friendly masked faces and engage with a like-minded community in Suisun City. Over the course of the day, presentations from San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, Pathways Climate Institute and Vital Cycles provided a vision and tools for the future while an engagement fair highlighted many organizational efforts across the area as well as broader Solano County.

Amidst the hubbub of the festivities, this event made me realize the importance of connecting with each other. For the past few months, I have found it hard to stay optimistic about the future. With climate impacts happening every day, it wears on my mental state just how insurmountable the climate crisis can feel. Coupled with the pandemic, isolation and physical disconnection from our support networks can leave us feeling the brunt of unsolvable doom.

But there is light in the end. Our conversations through the event both with old and new faces, reconnected us with the larger community across Solano County working and advocating for issues around the climate crisis. We have power in numbers, and our community is energized as ever for change. From resource management, transportation and sewer districts, we have advocates for this type of work across a spectrum of organizations. And the ideas that the 120-plus attendees from the festival came up with represent broad and different strategies that we can use to advance our work at Sustainable Solano and across the efforts of Solano County.

We hope to see you out and about over the next few months to learn more about what your vision is for a more sustainable future. Have an idea now? Feel free to reach out to us at

Check out some of the presentations from the day in the videos below.

2021 Suisun City Climate & Environmental Festival Educational Talks

Adapting to Rising Tides in Suisun City & Solano County
Protecting the Marsh: A New Suisun Marsh Protection Plan
Nature-Based Solutions to Address Climate Change

Climate Advocacy & Policy Lack Coordination in Solano County

By Benjamin Miramontes, California Climate Action Corps Fellow

Benjamin Miramontes joined us this summer as a California Climate Action Corps Fellow with a focus on researching climate action plans, disaster planning and environmental resources in the county. In this blog, they offer their observations and reflections on what they discovered in the process.

Exploring the maze of climate policy and advocacy in Solano County over the summer has left a strange picture in my head. While proposed countywide and city-specific ordinances around climate change are a seemingly comprehensive labyrinth of hazard projections and safety updates, the end result seems to be akin to boards being tacked onto a ship that is already taking on water. Similarly, advocates who are doing important work and aren’t collaborating with others leaves a lot to be desired in terms of meeting the needs of any given community. Climate policy and the state of advocacy in Solano County leaves me — a young person who will experience the increasingly malignant effects of climate change — fearing what a continued trend of meeting the bare minimum and a lack of communication means for our future.

Benjamin Miramontes

This summer, I was accepted to become a California Climate Action Fellow, and through their network I began conducting auditing and research efforts for Sustainable Solano. I have found the experience valuable in teaching me about Solano County’s politics in addition to those of the Bay Area as a whole. While the experience has been overwhelmingly pleasant in terms of preferable scheduling, interesting projects, and respect for my time outside the office, I cannot help but be concerned for the nature of climate change policy being implemented today.

The first proverbial elephant in the room was the disconnect between the myriad of small organizations across the region. This disconnect is a common one, some could call it “silo think.” Generally speaking, it is the separation or lack of communication and collaboration between different groups that are working on the same efforts. I am not stating that all organizations in the Bay should form an amorphous hive-mind. Rather, I cannot help but wish there was more happening after tuning into this sphere for the first time in years. I wonder daily about the organization’s place in local politics and environmentally oriented work, let alone the place of nonprofits in their vast array of efforts across the nation.

I have met some clearly passionate people working in nonprofits and citizen organizations who have been doing important work for their communities over the last few decades. I struggle to reconcile with the fact that these groups do not collaborate as much as they could. Different groups have different projects with different angles. That is a good thing, and that is the inherent nature of grassroots organization. However, the lack of outreach I perceive is worrying. There should be more room for these groups to meet regularly, maybe even elect their own leaders to act as moderators for large gatherings. Why are there so few groups coming together to form larger coalitions when their issues are so closely aligned? An organization advocating for bike lanes, a coalition of tree planters, and a group organizing for green infrastructure all want different things, but are still oriented in parallel. I hope that the leaders in these groups begin pushing to meet and work together with one another at larger scales, for example, bringing in resources from Benicia or Vacaville to help push for policy somewhere else in the county, like Vallejo. I am imploring nonprofits and city governments to communicate more openly about their different projects and needs, so they can better support each other in the work they do.

Another worrying trend I am noticing is the nature of climate policy here in Solano County. New plans are drafted for evacuation in the event of a fire, levees are built to withstand greater floods, and so on. This policy is not bad by any means, but it is largely reactive, and in the case of something like building a levee or trenches for flooding, it is particularly static. There is not a lot of policy in place in terms of “pre-emptive” mitigation or adaptation. In particular, I am referring to policy which takes some of our changes in climate and creates advantages out of them. For example, why are we not saving every bit of rainwater that we can? Cities across the country are utilizing stormwater for green spaces in cities, which can help provide cleaner and cooler air for residents, particularly in neighborhoods or hub areas which have been historically underserved. Cities should take advantage of the funding they can use to invest in green infrastructure and energy for government buildings, homes and multi-unit housing. While tax benefits and breaks are granted to those who install solar panels, could we develop programs to help provide those same underserved communities or struggling small businesses with solar power? In short, cities should collaborate with one another and strive to address multiple issues at once with each new environmental ordinance.

In the end, these are just some ideas I want to bring to you to help percolate thought, and hopefully, action. Putting time, money, and effort into green programs and projects now will pay dividends in the future. This was also meant to serve as a surface level introduction into the role of nonprofits and grassroots organizations in Solano County. I implore you to do research into this if it interests you.

Conversation Circles Program Creates New Opportunities and Environmental Resources

By Gabriela Estrada and Jonathan Erwin, Program Managers

While the Conversation Circles program in Central Solano (formerly the Listening Circles program) has come to the end of its grant term, our commitment to increase the understanding of environmental issues that affect Solano communities is ongoing. Using what we learned through the Conversation Circles program, we will continue to help residents access important environmental, health and other data that you can use to inform decision-making within your community.

Toward that end, we have created our Environmental Resources section of the website, where you can learn more about some of the environmental and health factors that affect our communities and see resources at the county and city level when it comes to addressing environmental concerns and preparing for disaster. The pages also list organizations that are working in our communities.

We have robust data for Fairfield, Suisun City and Vacaville out of the Conversation Circles program, and hope to build similar data for our other Solano County cities going forward.

As part of closing the Conversation Circles program, we created a Neighborhood Impact and Assessment Report where we documented the project, challenges and opportunities. Here are some of the newly created opportunities and lessons learned through this project: 

Connecting with Other Community Groups

Connecting with other organizations in each of the cities we worked with is key. These partnerships have opened the door for future collaboration efforts and further community engagement at a neighborhood level. Equally important, it also created an opportunity for us to combine efforts towards a common goal.

Building Trust and Showing Up

While we have a lot of partnerships with other organizations, this project brought us to a few neighborhoods that we’ve never worked in before. By collaborating with other organizations serving these areas, we were able to begin building trust and a sense of community. Sustainable Solano will continue to show up and create opportunities for engagement and will continue to work with community members in creating a happy, healthy and thriving community.

Connecting with Government Officials

Connecting with government officials gave the project manager a clear idea of the “lay of the land” to learn about the neighborhoods, the opportunities, the history and some of the potential challenges (both environmental and social) that a project might face. Connecting with government officials also created room for future collaboration efforts, including urban forestry efforts, community gardens and resiliency efforts through our other programs.

Increasing Reach with Support from Other Programs

We will continue to seek creative ways we can connect with community members through our other programs about the environmental data that affects their neighborhoods. 

For more details, read the complete Neighborhood Impact and Assessment Report

We plan on building on these lessons to inform the Environmental Resources pages and the rest of our programs, including the Resilient Neighborhoods program, now expanding to Suisun City, and the Youth Leadership program.

As we have continued to scale our Resilient Neighborhoods program and our research across Solano County, we realize that there is a disconnect in the information on environmental progress and the general public access to that information. City and county plans are often spread across many websites and buried with departments and commissions. Within this cacophony of public information, it can be difficult to find what is relevant and what is most up to date within the county and selected cities. As we found with last fire season, and potentially any upcoming disaster, knowledge is power and can mean the difference between safety and struggle. We will continue to find ways to make that information more easily accessible within Resilient Neighborhoods and beyond.

The Youth Environmental Leadership Fellowship now in development will encourage high school youth to examine CalEnviroScreen and other data, examine environmental justice issues within the county and their communities, participate in hands-on mitigation training, and present to city leaders and community members about the environmental information and possible solutions at the individual, community and policy level. This will continue to engage the wider community through the youth presentations and projects, and the data they collect will make our Environmental Resources pages more robust throughout the county. 

Through these pages, we seek to emphasize relevant local work and organizations that share our mission of nurturing initiatives for the good of the whole. See anything we missed? Let us know at


The Conversation Circles program and Environmental Resources page development was generously funded through the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Justice Small Grants Program.

The Power of Cultivating Vital Life Skills

By Nicole Newell, Sustainable Landscaping Program Manager

As the Sustainable Solano team was preparing for some time off in July to renew and recharge, we had the perfect opportunity for a reminder on taking care of ourselves. On July 13, Anne Freiwald gave a presentation on how to restore the resource of self by cultivating vital life skills. Anne is a passionate personal health and permaculture educator and holds a master’s degree in public health.

These vital life skills are familiar, but what was intriguing was how Anne provided examples of parallels relating to nature and our bodies. One example is how a garden requires mulch to build organic matter in the soil, and our body requires fiber for a healthy gut. She also gave specific techniques on how to calm our systems during stressful situations with our breath. Prior to her presentation, I thought of these skills as an exhausting never-ending to-do list. Shifting to thinking about these areas as skills felt empowering because it provides power in our choice. At times, this world can be overwhelming, but we do have the power to choose to put our energy in strengthening our systems.

View and print your own copy of Anne’s Vital Life Skills Mandala here.

Here are a few highlights from the talk:

Where do you breathe? Shallow in your chest? Or deep diaphragm breaths? Breathing slowly helps us respond with a calm system during stressful moments. So often during the day it is easy to get lost in the many tasks and to forget to pay attention to breath. When feeling stressed, just take a few minutes to get into the moment by
• Taking 5 deep diaphragm breaths
• Inhale to the count of 5 seconds
• Exhale to the count of 10 seconds

This technique helps to slow our systems down so we can move through this life in a peaceful state of mind.

How is your sleep? Do you turn off all devices two hours before bedtime? Turning off devices two hours before bedtime drastically helps with getting a good night’s sleep, we all know this. Nevertheless, it is difficult to break the habit of zoning out: playing games on the phone, watching hours of news, getting lost on YouTube or binge watching Netflix (I highly recommend Self Made and Anne with an “E”!). It is unrealistic to be perfect with this rule, but Anne invited us to consider turning off devices when a good night’s sleep is needed.

Awe & Nature
What in life makes you speechless? Finding something larger than yourself helps to adjust your thinking in order to see things differently. Seeing the larger picture can help to put individual experiences in perspective. It could be as simple as taking a few minutes each day to lie on the ground and look at the sky, a moment to feel insignificant and be in awe of something larger. Anne recommended spending 20 minutes at least once a week just sitting outside in nature, a backyard, or a park. Twenty minutes is the baseline, as this is the time it takes for the creatures to adjust to your presence. You then become part of the landscape while they continue to go about their activities with you being there, giving you a chance to observe.

Are you creative? This is not about being an artist. Of course having an art project is one way to be creative. Anne invited us to think about creativity in a way that we look at our daily problems. For example, how do we get creative in finding ways to connect during social distancing? Yesterday I saw two women sitting 6 feet apart at a garden with masks on just chatting.

Do you have at least one person that you can confide in and love? During the presentation Anne replaced the term “social distancing” with “spatial distancing.” She emphasized the importance of connecting with people during this pandemic and to stay physically distant but not socially distant. Finding at least one person in this world to confide in and love leads to many health benefits.

What supports you thriving in your life? Decide where you want your energy to go, and then prune out the areas where energy is wasted. In nature, Anne gave the example of pruning a tomato plant. When you prune tomatoes, the plant will have fewer tomatoes but they will be larger and more nutritious. When you are overwhelmed, Anne invited us to look where we want our energy to go, and then begin pruning the areas that need to be removed. That is powerful! Another exercise Anne gave was to answer the question: Who I am in 12 words? Just by giving words to that question, it is a reminder of who you want to be. This is a living question that can fluctuate, or it can be a simple reminder of the person you are.

What is OK? What is not? Anne asked us to begin with the generous assumption that everyone is doing the best they can, which allows a space for compassion when creating boundaries. In nature, Maximillian sunflowers are a boundary that deters deer from entering a property. What a great visual! Rather than putting up walls with people, the question is how can we get creative and make a boundary that is both beautiful and functional within our personal life.

This is not about eating. It is about what nourishes our gut. The garden needs mulch and our gut needs fiber! Most of us do not get enough fiber in our daily diet. At least two of our feel-good neurotransmitters (serotonin and dopamine) are made in our gut. Taking care of our gut will help us feel happy, calmer and more focused.

What activities do you like to do that require movement? The heartwood of a tree helps to provide support to it. The heartwood needs wind to strengthen, and we need movement. Make it a priority to move at least 20 minutes a day. Again, looking at this as a skillset as opposed to an obligation can allow you to proceed stress-free!

The hope is that by incorporating these vital life skills they eventually turn into daily habits that strengthen us and provide energy to do our work in the world from a clear, balanced place.

Anne Freiwald and Lydia Neilsen will lead Sustainable Solano’s new Permaculture Design Certificate course starting in January. Learn more about that course here and keep an eye on our future newsletters for updates and an exciting free introductory class this fall!

Enjoy the talk? Take this survey to help us determine future classes.

The Solano Sustainable Backyards program and the talk are generously funded by the Solano County Water Agency.

Backyard Chickens 101

By Tyler Snortum-Phelps, Sustainable Contra Costa

Tyler Snortum-Phelps, who has been keeping chickens for more than 20 years, offered this fun and informative class on keeping backyard chickens. Tyler works with Sustainable Contra Costa, which co-hosted the class. He is also a certified Master Composter and has taught home composting workshops for many years. In this blog, Tyler has been kind enough to answer questions there wasn’t time to answer during the talk. You can watch Tyler’s talk in the video here and read his responses to your questions below.

Find additional backyard chicken resources, from websites to books, here.

What’s the difference between chickens and quail. Is there one? Or are they kinda the same?

Chickens and quail are entirely different species and quail are NOT a domesticated animal! I was just pointing out the quail are “ground birds” like chickens, in the sense that they spend most of their time on the ground and rarely fly.

When chickens fight, does it stress them out?

There is a certain amount of stress when they struggle for their place in the pecking order, but it’s an important part of their life, and they can actually be unhappy when the social order is not clear. But if you are talking about roosters fighting, that is very different and chicken keepers should not allow this, as the roosters can be seriously injured. That said, most roosters (if you even have more than one) tend to work it out pretty quickly.

Are there any animals that chickens do not get along with that we should be aware of if we own a large farm with various other animals?

Chickens tend to get along well with most other animals (like anything, there are always exceptions!) with the possible exception of dogs. Their relationship with dogs can vary from total friendliness to a predator/prey relationship where the dog will stop at nothing to kill the chickens. And everything in between! Backyard chicken website and forums are full of stories, advice and ideas from dog owners. My initial advice is to start out carefully until you know what your dog will do, and from there you may to do further research.

If you show a rooster who’s boss, can you “out-mean” him?

Not a good idea to get too mean. I have heard stories about tennis rackets and baseball bats, but that’s an invitation to injury for the rooster. If he keeps attacking you, it may be time to get rid of him.

Do chickens prefer to lay on hay, straw or shavings?

Something soft and malleable is nice in the laying boxes, although they will lay on bare wood if they have to. One thing the bedding does is help keep the egg from cracking. Hay or shavings are great, and I like hay because it doesn’t compact and get soggy, and is cheap. Since I use hay as part of my coop floor bedding, I just put some more in the laying boxes. You will have to replenish it from time to time.

Can you do the deep litter method with pine shavings instead of hay?

I would probably recommend mixing something coarser and drier with the shavings, since they can get compacted and possibly allow mold to develop. Wood shavings are also more expensive than hay. I don’t, however, recommend wood chips because they are too coarse. The chicken forums have lots of great discussions about coop bedding choices.

Are the manure fumes unsafe to breathe in, more than just don’t breathe in a lot?

If you are raking your manure into the bedding regularly (usually just the pile under the roosting poles, the chickens will take care of the rest) then there should not be a build-up of odor that is dangerous. And remember your coop needs good ventilation!

I recently heard Salmonella can be an issue. Should this be a concern?

If your chickens are not crowded, have good clean food and water and a well-ventilated coop with bedding that is changed regularly, they should stay healthy and you have little reason to worry about Salmonella. Of course you should practice good basic hygiene: washing your hands after being in the chicken yard/coop or handling the chickens, checking your shoes so you don’t track manure into the house, and discarding any eggs with manure on them.


At what age do we switch the food from chick feed to chicken food?

18 weeks, or 4 ½ months is the recommended age to begin offering laying food. Earlier than that and their livers can’t handle the extra minerals.

How about giving the chickens apple seeds?

The chickens can eat a few apple seeds, like those in an apple core you give them, but don’t go out of your way to give them lots of seeds, since there is a small amount of toxin in apple seeds.

What is the best way to integrate new chicks into existing flock/coop?

Be careful when doing this, since the old flock can be very cruel to the newcomers. The best arrangement is one where the two groups can see each other, but not come into contact, like some kind of wire fence. After a few days you can try introducing them. If there are still aggressive chickens in the “old timers” flock, I have had success squirting them with a spray bottle or squirt gun each time they try to attack. They hate that and will hopefully learn not to harass the new chickens.

If the new chickens are young, and considerably smaller than the older ones, it can also work to create a space where they can hide which has an opening that the bigger chickens can’t get through.

One of our chicks turned out to be a rooster?

As I said on the show, you have to decide if you’re going to keep them. And if not, you can ask at your feed store what they recommend, or look for a local online forum where you can offer the rooster.

Does the chicken yard need to be flat ground or can it be slanted? We have a lot of hill space and less flat area in our yard.

Chickens definitely don’t love climbing hills but they can do it. You could try creating terraces that make it easier for them to walk along.

Are there any suggestions for cold weather rearing of hens (Canada)?

This is definitely a good question for online research. I’m not experienced with chickens in cold weather, but there is a lot of information about it out there. If you use heaters in the coop, be very careful and have safety measure in place. They can cause fires!

I’m also curious about using technology to help keep my hens comfortable in the Suisun heat.

Most important is to have plenty of shade, and keep the water fresh and full. As I said, you can hose down the coop and chicken yard on extra hot days. The chickens hate the water, but they will appreciate the cooling effect.

Does the roost have to be tiered? Or is it possible to create a top space for all the chickens?

It’s totally fine for the roosting poles to all be on the same level. Mine is at an angle.

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The Solano Sustainable Backyards program and the talk are generously funded by the Solano County Water Agency.