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Decades-old project to raise Lake Mendocino dam gets a boost

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

In early 2014, after fewer than 8 inches of rain had fallen in the upper reaches of the Russian River the previous year, Lake Mendocino dwindled to a third of its capacity, exposing acres of bare ground, and Mendocino County supervisors declared a drought emergency.

“How many times do we have to knock ourselves on the head before we get it?” then-Supervisor John Pinches asked during the board meeting. “Folks, we’ve got to come up with another water supply.”

The irony, in retrospect, is that a major addition to the reservoir near Ukiah — boosting its capacity by 25 billion gallons — had been planned by the Army Corps of Engineers more than 50 years ago. But with California in the midst of a five-year drought, the plan was gathering dust on the shelves of the federal dam-building agency.

A coalition of local agencies, including Mendocino County and the city of Ukiah, already had paid $617,000 toward a feasibility study that would determine if the benefits of raising Coyote Valley Dam by 36 feet justified the cost of about $320 million.

But without more money, Corps officials said in 2014 the study could not move forward.

Now, with the prospect of drought and hotter weather considered California’s “new normal” due to climate change, new hopes have arisen for the relief Pinches and others have sought: More water in Lake Mendocino to quench the needs of residents, farmers and fish along 75 miles of the Russian River from Redwood Valley to Healdsburg and contribute to the Sonoma County Water Agency’s deliveries to 600,000 customers in Sonoma and Marin counties.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8431501-181/decades-old-project-to-raise-lake

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Court halts logging again on Gualala River property

Frank Robertson, SONOMA WEST TIMES & NEWS

Logging on the Gualala River was halted again last week when a judge ruled in favor of the Friends of the Gualala River and against Cal Fire, the state’s forestry agency.

Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Rene Chouteau halted the planned timber harvest while a legal clash continues over potential environmental damage from the Gualala Redwood Timber (GRT) company’s plan to selectively log about 350 acres of mature redwoods on its property known as “Dogwood.”

The Dogwood logging plan “is distinguished by the unprecedented extent of logging over hundreds of acres along miles of floodplains that include special habitats for steelhead, salmon, and protected rare plants, wetlands, and wildlife,” said Friends of the Gualala Redwoods in a media announcement of the court decision. It “also contains some of the largest, oldest and most mature redwood stands left in the Gualala River flats.”

Chouteau’s decision marks the second time in two years that Friends of the Gualala River (FoGR) has won a court order to halt GRT logging in the 100-year-old forest near the Gualala River estuary.

Two years ago Friends of Gualala River, Forest Unlimited, and the California Native Plant Society prevailed in a lawsuit against Cal Fire’s approval of GRT’s first Dogwood logging plan.

The first Cal Fire permit was vacated last year after Chouteau ruled that, in approving the timber harvest plan, Cal Fire had violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Chouteau gave Cal Fire the opportunity to fix and resubmit the logging plan to comply with CEQA. GRT submitted an amended version of the plan late last year.

Friends of Gualala again sued Cal Fire over the new plan, alleging it had “essentially the same CEQA and Forest Practices Act violations that it found in the first version of the plan,” said the group’s attorney Edward Yates.

Read more at http://www.sonomawest.com/sonoma_west_times_and_news/news/court-halts-logging-again-on-gualala-river-property/article_67c453d0-6f47-11e8-9192-7be5d70387cb.html

Posted on Categories Sustainable Living, WaterTags , ,

Sonoma County to seek half-year extension on controversial septic system changes

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County officials will ask state regulators for more time to craft new rules governing the estimated 45,000-plus septic systems in the county’s unincorporated areas after facing resistance from rural residents who feared the changes could force them to undertake costly and unnecessary upgrades.

The Board of Supervisors decided Tuesday to seek a six-month extension so county leaders can gather more community input and address concerns raised by homeowners, many of them from along the Russian River and on Fitch Mountain outside Healdsburg.

Supervisor Lynda Hopkins embraced the idea of an extension, expressing sympathy toward some of the criticisms raised by residents in her west county district. Hopkins advocated for more flexibility in the standards, which as proposed could require more expensive evaluations of replacement septic projects, among other changes intended to prevent wastewater systems from contaminating local watersheds.

Read more at: http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8353308-181/sonoma-county-to-seek-half-year

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Water Agency will present river estuary plan May 31

Frank Robertson, SONOMA WEST TIMES & NEWS

The May 31 meeting at the Jenner Community Center on Highway 1 will include a Water Agency presentation on the Russian River Estuary Management Project and will provide information recapping the 2017 lagoon management season.

The Sonoma County Water Agency will host a meeting in Jenner next week to update the public on Russian River estuary management efforts to maintain a closed estuary during the summer months.

“Communities along the lower river have long been interested in the estuary management project,” said Fifth District Sonoma County Supervisor and Water Agency Director Lynda Hopkins in a media announcement of the meeting. “Each May to October, the Water Agency manages the estuary to improve steelhead and coho salmon habitat and minimize flood risk for riverside communities. Estuary management is a key part of the Russian River Biological Opinion. Our annual community meeting is a great opportunity to receive current information and ask questions.”

The biological opinion issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in September 2008 required the Water Agency to change the way the Russian River estuary is managed in the summer. The purpose of the Estuary Management Project is to enhance summer habitat for young steelhead while minimizing flood risk to Jenner properties near the estuary. NMFS biologists believe that maintaining a summertime freshwater lagoon can create a healthier nursery for young steelhead. In other California rivers, the formation of similar “perched” lagoons has improved steelhead habitat during the summer months.

Since the mid-1990s the Water Agency has artificially breached the sandbar at the Russian River mouth when it closes and increases water levels in the estuary, threatening low-lying properties. The biological opinion calls for managing the estuary as a summer lagoon with an outlet channel in place to enhance conditions for steelhead to grow and thrive, giving them a better chance to survive ocean conditions, while continuing to minimize flood risk.

Read more at: http://www.sonomawest.com/sonoma_west_times_and_news/news/water-agency-will-present-river-estuary-plan-may/article_54f6f7ea-5e11-11e8-9913-bbc538cabe8c.html

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PG&E plan to sell Mendocino County hydropower project unsettles North Coast water system

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

PG&E intends to sell a remote Mendocino County hydropower project at an auction this fall, a decision that means little in terms of its meager electrical output but sends a ripple through the water system that supplies cities, residents and ranchers from Ukiah south through much of Sonoma County and into northern Marin County.

Many of the more than 600,000 customers and residents who get their water from the Russian River have no idea how much of it flows from the Potter Valley Project’s two dams on the Eel River and through an aging powerhouse in the out-of-the-way valley about 20 miles north of Ukiah.

There’s no indication yet that PG&E’s divestiture from the 110-year-old project — or the alternative of transferring it to local control — would jeopardize the annual diversion of more than 20 billion gallons of Eel River water into the Russian River. But the utility’s announcement opens the door to changes water experts have anticipated and unsettles communities across two counties that rely on it.

“The water supply needs to be protected,” said Janet Pauli, a longtime Potter Valley rancher and irrigation district official. “It’s very serious. There’s no way around it.”

Lake Mendocino, the reservoir near Ukiah, depends on the Potter Valley diversion to supply dry-season Russian River flows down to Healdsburg and supplement the supply the Sonoma County Water Agency delivers to customers in Sonoma and Marin counties. Most is taken from water stored in Lake Sonoma, the region’s largest reservoir.

But without the diversion, Lake Mendocino would shrivel in size in the driest years ahead, diminishing flows in the upper Russian River, a local government study found.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8314850-181/pge-plan-to-sell-mendocino

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Forests, Habitats, Land Use, WaterTags , , , , , ,

Measure C sparks debate over future of Napa County vineyards

Measure C sparks debate over future of Napa County vineyards

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Randy Dunn was worried about the future as he walked around his vineyards Thursday morning in the Howell Mountain wine region of Napa County.

Dunn has been farming the land since 1978, when he and his wife, Lori, bought a 5-acre parcel of cabernet sauvignon vines tucked around Douglas firs more than 1,400 feet above sea level. It was a time well before “cult cab” became part of the vernacular of Napa Valley and some prized wines sold for more than $1,000 a bottle.

Things have changed in Napa, Dunn contends. There is very little room left on the valley floor, he says, pushing rich investors and wine companies into the hills to carve out the remaining land left to plant vineyards in the country’s most prized wine region.

“They don’t know a thing about wines. They hire a project manager. They hire a vineyard consultant,” Dunn grumbled about some of his neighbors. “There is still a lot left to preserve. There is an incredible amount of hillside planting. Most people don’t see it because it’s tucked away somewhere. … Enough is enough.”

Napa County residents will determine if “enough is enough” on June 5 when they vote on Measure C. The initiative would limit vineyard development on hills and mountains to provide greater protection to watersheds and oak woodlands, the latter of which covered more than 167,000 acres, or about 33 percent of the county’s overall area before last year’s wildfires.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/8282347-181/measure-c-sparks-debate-over

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Straw Wars! Bay Area push to ban plastic straws picks up steam

Amel Ahmed, KQED

Oakland is now the latest Bay Area city to consider a proposal to bar food vendors from serving plastic straws unless requested.

Councilmember Abel Guillen, who introduced the proposal in March, says the legislation is part of broader effort in the city to reduce environmental waste. In 2006, Oakland adopted a policy called the Zero Waste Strategic Plan, which aims for a 75 percent reduction by 2010.

“To make further progress on our waste-reduction goals and shift our culture away from single-use products, my ordinance will focus on ‘by request only’ use and better enforcement of existing legislation,” said Guillen in a statement.

Berkeley is considering similar legislation that would go one step further by banning single-use plastic straws altogether. Meanwhile straw-upon-request ordinances are already in place in Alameda, Davis, Manhattan Beach and Santa Cruz.

Local environmental advocates say that anti-plastic straw ordinances would eliminate a key source of pollution in San Francisco Bay.

“Plastic straws and stirrers are big culprits in trashing San Francisco Bay and our oceans,” David Lewis, the executive director of Save the Bay, told the San Francisco Chronicle last year.

Read more at https://www.kqed.org/science/1923141/straw-wars-bay-area-push-to-ban-plastic-straws-picks-up-steam

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Bioremediation efforts mushroom in the aftermath of California’s North Bay fires

Dani Burlison, EARTH ISLAND JOURNAL

Fifty miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, California’s Sonoma County is famous for its wine-country image — a patchwork of picturesque rolling hills and vineyards graced with moderate temperatures all year round. Beyond the grapes and quaint roadside tasting rooms, oak woodlands rich with black oak, Douglas fir, madrone, and California laurel provide habitat for abundant wildlife and ecological services like erosion control and water filtration to the surrounding area. Typically hot and dry from midsummer through late fall, these woodlands also comprise an ideal environment for wildfires. It was here that flames ignited on the evening of October 8, 2017, fueled by winds of 50 miles per hour.

The fires, which also erupted in neighboring Napa and Mendocino Counties, spread quickly, reaching residential areas in the city of Santa Rosa late at night. Flames devoured nearly 250 square miles of open space and urban development, including 6,000 homes and business structures. The Tubbs, Nuns, and Pocket Fires also claimed more than 20 lives in Sonoma County, and sent a cloud of toxic ash over a wide stretch of the San Francisco Bay Area for weeks. Local ecologists promptly took action, driven by concerns about chemicals seeping into the region’s farmlands and streams, the Russian River, and eventually the Pacific Ocean.

“The concern about the toxic ash and fire runoff was becoming a priority,” says Erik Ohlsen, a Sonoma County ecologist and founder of the Permaculture Skills Center in Sebastopol. But, “the time frame was so small, the window was so small to do anything — how do you deploy on a scale that matches the scale of the fire, and process and strategize to catch and filter all that toxic ash?”

Ohlsen is part of the grassroots Fire Mediation Action Coalition that formed in response to widespread fire damage. In the aftermath of the fire, this group of ecologists, organic farmers, wildlife biologists, and residents discussed the probability of heavy metals, PCBs, dioxines, and a multitude of other chemicals contained in the ash contaminating local creeks, drinking water, and soil. Given the nearly 600,000 acres of agricultural land in Sonoma County, preventing chemicals from contaminating farms and vineyards was considered critical and urgent.

Read more at http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/elist/eListRead/bioremediation_mushroom_aftermath_californias_north_bay_fires/

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable Living, Water, WildlifeTags , ,

Urgency in Earth Day call to action

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

It’s been almost a half-century since newly minted leaders of the U.S. environmental movement called on Americans to rise and be counted as defenders of the planet and its increasingly imperiled ecosystems.

For the first Earth Day — April 22, 1970 — organizers wanted to take mainstream what had been an emerging awareness of the planet’s fragility, a call to action launched in the decade that had just ended.

The risks were abundant: pesticides, air pollution, oil spills, toxic dumps, overpopulation and depletion of land and water resources.

Pioneering images from the U.S. space program at that time revealed Earth as the finite world it remains to this day — small and glowing in a vast universe. Early Earth Day sponsors saw “a grave crisis” on the horizon, one that demanded urgency, commitment and action by all inhabitants.

“Are we able to meet the challenge? Yes. We have the technology and the resources,” Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, a senator from Wisconsin, declared on that first day of mass reflection. “Are we willing? That is the unanswered question.”

His query still hangs in the air. Sustained campaigns to clean up our air and waters have seen success in the U.S., along with efforts to protect some endangered species and special places. Innovation, behavioral changes and a shared recognition of the risks to the planet all have helped.

But threats to the environment are more global than ever: Climate change and sea-level rise, mass extinctions, acidification and pollution of our oceans, disappearing bees. It’s enough to bring despair to the sunniest among us.

So The Press Democrat sought inspiration and encouragement from a few of the expert resources Sonoma County has in abundance.

Our planet, they say, can never return to what it was before the onset of the industrial era and the change it unleashed worldwide. But there is reason to hold onto hope and take heart as we confront the challenges ahead — reshaping our perspectives, banding together in collective action that conserves resources and restores the environment, and making individual choices that lesson our impact and uphold our responsibility for its health.

“If we think somehow this is going to happen without sacrifice, that’s not accurate,” said Tessa Hill, professor of earth and planetary sciences at the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory. “There are fundamental things about the way we live today that are not sustainable.”

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8230333-181/earth-day-inspiration-from-sonoma?ref=TSM

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Sonoma County launches first test of ‘groundwater banking’ to prep for drought

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County’s first experiment with underground drinking water storage is taking place at an unremarkable well drilled to 230 feet into the floor of Sonoma Valley.

Here, enough Russian River water to fill a large swimming pool — about 500,000 gallons — is now on deposit in a sand and gravel aquifer that lies beneath a thick lid of 8 million-year-old lava rock underlying part of the valley.

On Tuesday, crews began pumping water back out of the ground in the first round of testing under a $250,000 study of groundwater storage and recovery conducted by the Sonoma County Water Agency and the city of Sonoma.

The goal of the study, which started last month and will run through July, is to “verify and empirically determine” the feasibility of pumping plentiful wintertime surface water into the ground for extraction during dry summers, with increasingly volatile weather patterns expected as a consequence of climate change, officials said.

If the practice, known as groundwater banking, proves viable it “will make us a lot more resilient” as climate change forces the county to “ping pong between floods and drought,” said Jay Jasperse, chief engineer and director of groundwater management for the water agency.

Similar projects are underway around the state as water managers move toward integrated systems meshing surface water in lakes, rivers and behind dams with water stored in underground reservoirs, known as aquifers, he said.

Read more at http://www.northbaybusinessjournal.com/northbay/sonomacounty/8187492-181/sonoma-county-groundwater-aquifer-drought