After Storm Recovery in Oakland Campus
Storms ravaged the typically picturesque 133-acre Oakland campus, but it has successfully recovered. Out of the 10,000 trees on campus, only 15 to 16 fell, though facilities are doing damage control to numerous trees across campus. Renée Jadushlever, the Vice President of Campus Administration and Strategic Initiatives who has worked at the Mills campus for over thirty years, said that she hadn’t seen any storm like it since the El Niño storms in 1998.
“We actually had hail, lightning and thunder, at the same time, which I have never experienced in my life,” Renée Jadushlever said.
The storms were caused by an atmospheric river and the Oakland area got approximately 13 inches of rain. Atmospheric rivers are swaths of the atmosphere that carry moisture and water vapor from the equators to the poles. They are crucial to the earth’s climate and weather patterns but can sometimes cause flooding and storms because of the massive amounts of water they can contain.
|“I’ve heard the joke from people here is ‘California needs the rain and we like the rain. We just weren’t expecting that all in one day,’” Andrew Gonzales, the sustainability manager at Oakland, said.
Following the storm at the beginning of January, the facilities and arbor crew has been completing sail pruning across campus, which is the process of thinning out branches on tall trees to create less mass that wind can take down. They prune branches on high trees to keep the tree healthy and ensure that it will not fall down in the next storm. Normally, with heavy rains the soil becomes so saturated that the roots become loose. Combined with thick branches and mass the winds can blow over, trees are likely to fall. With sail pruning, the tress will be able to withstand stronger winds.
“The facilities crew are exceptional,” Jadushlever said. “They are a small team, but it is amazing what they accomplish.”
Many of the storms were over winter break so classes were not going on, but when students returned and classes began, some classes had a virtual option to accommodate the weather. There are over 100 commuter students, and because of fallen trees and damage throughout the surrounding area it may have been more difficult to get to class. They also had to close a few parking lots on campus. Gonzales said that campus seemed more subdued than usual and turnout at the involvement fair was low, but he commends the efforts of residence directors to keep students informed and safe.
As the campus expands in the future, Gonzales says that they are looking to make the campus more climate resilient. They hope to restore the coastlines of Lake Aliso at the top of campus by pulling back invasive species and reinforcing the shore bank. They are also hoping to help protect Lion Creek, which is the only creek in Oakland that is not diverted into the ground. While some buildings on campus are already LEED certified, they are hoping to retrofit the older historic buildings to make them more efficient and comply with LEED standards and add some stormwater runoff catchments. Lastly, they are hoping to enhance the eucalyptus grove at the west end of campus by adding a seasonal wetlands area.
Steve Schneider, the director of horticulture at the Boston campus, recently visited the Oakland campus to help develop a strategic landscaping and stewardship plan for the Mills plant collections.
He also wanted to better understand the needs of the collections and facilities, given that things were severely underfunded for a long time. Meeting with people who care for the campus landscape and botanic garden were critical to such an evaluation. Actions are now being taken to conduct an updated inventory of all the trees across the Oakland campus in order to assess and document the collections for health and hazard condition. This effort will also officially add the Mills plant collections to Northeastern’s global network of arboreta.
Schneider believes that there may also be opportunities to improve and alter campus existing irrigation systems through reprioritizing where the water is directed to; trees versus lawns. Reevaluating the use of turf grasses in regions prone to drought has become a necessary way of life. Although shifting to more native ground cover plants represents one strategy, it may not be a one-size-fits-all solution to every problem.
“Climate change is requiring us to continually adapt. What is considered a native plant in Oakland right now might not necessarily thrive in the next ten or twenty years as things warm up. As these changes descend upon us, we’ll need to focus less on where the plant is originally from and what function it can serve give the conditions. Having a diverse plant collection in Oakland puts Northeastern in a unique position with respect to resiliency. It’s not going to be a question of whether we can grow plants on campus, its which ones.”
Schneider appreciates Northeastern’s ongoing support towards climate resiliency and maintaining campus.
“Northeastern sees and understands the value in campus landscape to a high level for sustainable, aesthetic, and historic reasons. There have already been generous amounts of resources allocated towards upkeep, and not just because of emergencies,” Schneider said.
Jadushlever said that the students are already passionate about sustainability. From the ECO scholars’ program in the sustainability office to annual creek cleaning and composting to environmental studies students testing the creek bed, students are fully engaged in the campus environment.
The larger Alameda County fared decently in the storm, at least better than some of the other sections of California. They provided support to the residents and distributed sandbags to help block water from entering people’s homes.
Written by Renée Abbott, February 22nd, 2023
Photos by Andrew Gonzales