Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, WaterTags , ,

Jerry Brown officially downsizes Delta tunnel plan. But can he sell one tunnel?

Dale Kasler, THE SACRAMENTO BEE

The troubled Delta tunnels project was officially downsized Wednesday, as Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration announced it would attempt to build a single tunnel in its effort to re-engineer California’s elaborate water-delivery system.

Unable to secure enough money from California’s water agencies for the original twin tunnels concept, the California Department of Water Resources said it would now try to build the project in phases: one tunnel now and a second tunnel years down the road.

The long-awaited announcement doesn’t appear to immediately solve the financial questions looming over the project, known officially as California WaterFix.

A letter to water agencies from DWR Director Karla Nemeth says the first tunnel would cost $10.7 billion. That’s much less than the price tag for building two tunnels, now officially pegged at $16.3 billion. But the one-tunnel option also is considerably more expensive than the estimated $6 billion to $6.5 billion that’s been pledged so far by participating south-of-Delta water agencies.

Read more at http://www.sacbee.com/news/state/california/water-and-drought/article198973869.html

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Water contamination plagues surviving homes in Santa Rosa’s Fountaingrove neighborhood

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa officials are scrambling to figure out why the drinking water in a wildfire-ravaged section of Fountaingrove is contaminated with a chemical commonly found in plastics and gasoline.

A team of local water quality officials, regulators and experts has been working for 2½ months to understand how the volatile hydrocarbon benzene is getting into the water system and how to fix the problem.

They suspect the heat of the Tubbs fire, which incinerated 1,400 homes in the area, may have damaged parts of the water delivery system, such as plastic water pipes or meters, and caused the dangerous carcinogen to leech into the neighborhood’s water supply.

But despite hundreds of water tests, detailed mapping of the results and targeted equipment replacement, the problem still persists, leaving officials confounded and a $20 million replacement of the water system a real possibility.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/7914293-181/water-contamination-plagues-surviving-homes?ref=most

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UC Davis study to focus on post-Sonoma County fire pollution

Mary Callahan, NAPA VALLEY REGISTER

Anyone who endured the October firestorms remembers the choking smoke followed by weeks of air that was acrid and irritating, while the surrounding world felt toxic after wildfires laid waste to 137 square miles of Sonoma County.

A research team from UC Davis now hopes to find out what, if any, potential health hazards may have resulted from the incineration of more than 5,100 homes and all they contained: cleaning products, paints, pesticides, electronics packed with rare earth elements, synthetic building materials, fuels.

The two-year investigation will focus on components in the smoke as the fires burned, as well as those left in the air and ash once the flames had roared through.

Researchers also plan to test the post-fire environment for any new chemicals that may have resulted from the transformation of existing materials under extremely high-temperature, low-oxygen conditions.

Read more at http://napavalleyregister.com/news/state-and-regional/uc-davis-study-to-focus-on-post-sonoma-county-fire/article_e45b2afc-df92-5280-84ae-b24382c5f1f6.html

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Water, WildlifeTags , , , ,

Op-Ed: The delta smelt heads for extinction, marking a half-century of failed California water policy

Michael Hiltzik, LOS ANGELES TIMES

The delta smelt is on the brink of extinction. This species…has fallen to the point where it can hardly be found anymore.— Doug Obegi, Natural Resources Defense Council

You might wish you had as much power to affect the environment and the economy as the delta smelt.

Enemies have blamed the tiny freshwater fish for putting farmers out of business across California’s breadbasket, forcing the fallowing of vast acres of arable land, creating double-digit unemployment in agricultural counties, even clouding the judgment of scientists and judges.

During the presidential campaign, the lowly smelt turned up in Donald Trump’s gunsights, when he repeated California farmers’ claim that the government was taking their water supply and “shoving it out to sea…to protect a certain kind of three-inch fish.”

But the delta smelt couldn’t be as powerful as all that. The latest California fish population survey in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which along with San Francisco Bay is the species’ only habitat, turned up only two delta smelt in four months of trawling from September through December. That’s the lowest count since 1967, and a far cry from the peak of 1,673 in 1970. The count is especially worrisome because it came after a wet year, when higher water flows in the delta should have led to some recovery in the numbers.

The figures arrive just as the Trump Administration is proposing to loosen Endangered Species Act protections for fish in order to “maximize water deliveries” to users south of the delta—that is, farmers—according to a Dec. 29 announcement by the Interior Dept. .

Read more at: The delta smelt heads for extinction, marking a half-century of failed California water policy – LA Times

Posted on Categories Water, WildlifeTags , , ,

Cotati neighbors discover surprising fact about Laguna de Santa Rosa

Yvonne Horn, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Website for Headwaters of the Laguna de Santa Rosa

Shortly after Jenny Blaker and her husband moved to Cotati in 1996 they were approached by the city with a request to acquire a creek- bordered strip of land behind their house so that an existing bike trail might be extended. The couple agreed.

Upon completion, Blaker was pleased with the trail, but not with how the project left the creek. “Bulldozed, bare of vegetation,” she described it.

Gathering together a few friends and neighbors, they approached the city and the Sonoma County Water Agency for permission to plant native species along the creek’s edges.

At the same time, Blaker began to be curious about the creek itself, which she describes as looking more like a ditch than a wandering waterway. Where did the seasonal water running through it originate, and where was it going?

Research and maps revealed that the creek’s flow began southeast of town, made its way through a 3-mile stretch of the city and continued northwest through a series of confluences to end up in the magnificent wetlands mosaic that embraces the eastern edge of Sebastopol — the Laguna de Santa Rosa. And then the heady news. Much to Blaker’s surprise, because of its location in the southeastern extremity of the Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed, Cotati’s watershed is in fact the acknowledged headwaters of the Laguna.

Meanwhile, with permission granted, Blaker’s small gathering of friends and neighbors set about improving the stretch behind her house with the goal of turning it into a more natural looking creek area.

So began the Cotati Creek Critters, a loose-knit assembly of friends and neighbors guided by Blaker, Maria Alvarez and others, in association with Cotati’s Community and Environment Commission. In the years to come the Critters grew from a half-dozen or so people showing up for twice-a–month “stewardship” days to as many as 60 pruning, mulching, planting, weeding, removing invasive species and collecting trash along the path-bordered creek.

Read more at: Cotati neighbors discover surprising fact about Laguna de Santa Rosa

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In the North Bay fire zone, early tests show no post-fire water contamination

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Samples taken from key Russian River tributaries downstream of the massive Tubbs fire scar have so far tested within the expected range for a suite of 30 pollutants and other traits that might betray contamination related to ash, burned wreckage and recent firefighting efforts, according to North Coast water regulators.

The results are just the earliest in the long-term monitoring planned for the 1,500-square-mile river watershed. Scientists want to ensure that critical water supply and wildlife habitat aren’t exposed to heavy metals, excess sediment and other pollutants potentially leached from thousands of burned structures, vehicles and unknown materials incinerated in the October firestorm.

Staff with the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board also caution that the results reflect a limited number of test sites — three from below the burn zone and one from above.

But the outcome of three testing rounds conducted last month nonetheless contributes to faith in the success of a multiagency, all-hands-on-deck effort to deploy more than 30 miles of straw erosion-control wattles and tens of thousands of gravel bags to filter runoff from winter rains and direct it away from storm drains and streams, Senior Environmental Scientist Katharine Carter said.

Read more at: In the North Bay fire zone, early tests show no post-fire water contamination

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By a landslide

Tom Gogola, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

Read more at: By a Landslide | News | North Bay Bohemian

Posted on Categories Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , , , ,

Mushrooms soak up fire debris toxics in stormwater

Stett Holbrook, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

The disaster of October’s wildfires didn’t stop once the flames were finally extinguished. The toxic ash left by the firestorms—incinerated plastics, hydrocarbons, solvents, pesticides, heavy metals—lay like a ticking bomb on home sites, awaiting a rain storm to wash the deadly debris into drains and creeks. Once in waterways, the lethal plume could infiltrate watersheds and imperil drinking water and aquatic life. But thanks to an unprecedented public-private partnership, protection from that environmental hazard in hard-hit areas like Coffey Park, Larkfield-Wikiup and Fountain Grove has come from an unlikely source: mushrooms.

Erik Ohlsen, a landscape architect and permaculture educator, saw that second wave of disaster coming and acted quickly to rally a diverse team of volunteers, environmental groups, landowners and public agencies to deploy cutting-edge bioremediation techniques using mushrooms and compost to absorb and neutralize the deadly runoff. He created the Fire Remediation Action Coalition on Facebook to help organize the effort and spread the word.

And word spread quickly. The project took off as another example of the volunteerism and generosity that have characterized local efforts after the fire. Sebastopol’s Gourmet Mushrooms donated thousands of pounds of substrate used to grow mushrooms. Sonoma Compost and West Marin Compost donated compost. Petaluma’s Wattle Guy provided, you guessed it, wattles—barriers and fences made from natural materials like rice straw and sticks. And groups like Russian Riverkeepers and the Clean River Alliance marshaled volunteers to make, fill and install the wattles and monitor water flow during and after the recent rains.

Read more at: Natural Remedy | Features | North Bay Bohemian

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Fire retardant use explodes as worries about water, wildlife grow

Matt Weiser, KQED SCIENCE

In 2014, scientists at the National Marine Fisheries Service published a study showing that two fire-retardant formulations are deadly to Chinook salmon, even when heavily diluted in streams.

Chemical fire retardants are considered a vital wildland firefighting tool, helping to slow the spread of flames while ground crews move into position. But as their use increases, the harmful side effects of these chemicals are coming under increasing scrutiny.

The chemicals, usually dropped from low-flying aircraft, largely consist of ammonia compounds, which are known toxins to fish and other aquatic life. Studies have shown retardants can kill fish, alter soil chemistry, feed harmful algae blooms and even encourage the spread of invasive plants. Yet there is little regulation of their use, and no safer alternatives on the market.

In California, state firefighting crews have applied 15.3 million gallons of chemical fire retardants so far this year, according to data provided by CalFire, the state’s wildland firefighting agency. That’s a new record, and double the amount used just three years ago.

CalFire applied 2.7 million gallons of retardant in a single one-week period starting October 9 – also a record. Of that amount, about 2 million gallons were used on the North Bay wildfires, which killed 43 people and burned more than 8,000 structures in October as they swept across several counties north of the San Francisco Bay Area, including Sonoma and Napa.

Read more at: Fire Retardant Use Explodes as Worries About Water, Wildlife Grow | KQED Science

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Berkeley Lab studies effects of North Bay fires on Sonoma County water

Matthew Lo, THE DAILY CALIFORNIAN

Another article on this study

With the coming rainy season, some Sonoma County residents are fearful of the effects of runoff from the recent North Bay fires entering the nearby Russian River, a major source of water for Sonoma and Marin counties.

Scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are studying the fire’s impact on the Russian River and the groundwater system, which serves about 600,000 residents in Sonoma and Marin counties, according to an article published by the lab last week.

The fires, which began Oct. 8, burned more than 100,000 acres and destroyed more than 5,700 structures. Many UC Berkeley students hail from the affected area and were subsequently uprooted from their communities.

The lab is also working with the United States Geological Survey, or USGS, and Sonoma County Water Agency, or SCWA, to monitor water quality in Sonoma County, according to an SCWA press release published last month.

There are six riverbank filtration systems located along and around Sonoma County’s Russian River, according to Michelle Newcomer, a postdoctoral fellow in the Climate and Ecosystem Sciences Division at the lab.

These riverbank systems, which pump river water 20 meters underground to natural aquifers, use sediments and environmental aerobic microbes to filter the water, according to Newcomer.

Read more at: Berkeley Lab studies effects of North Bay fires on Sonoma County water