Enviro Updates

Sonoma County Conservation Council

A searchable archive of environmental news for Sonoma County

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , ,

Op-Ed: What Santa Rosa needs most right now: modular housing

Amy Appleton and Steve Birdlebough, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

High quality factory-built housing has been popular in Japan since the 1960s and has been widely used to expedite housing construction in Europe for over a decade. Unfortunately, too many of us here think of a run-down trailer park when someone mentions modular housing.

In the light of our ongoing housing shortage, worsened by the wildfires, new approaches such as assembly line construction are needed to speed the delivery of enough places for people to live here.

Factories can complete four to eight living units per day, whereas the on-site construction of a home takes close to a year.

Many fire victims now in hotels or Federam Emergency Management Agency trailers must find affordable housing elsewhere by April of 2019 — likely an impossible task for most. Factory-built living units may be the key to make timely housing available for these people.

Many fire victims have been taken in by family or friends. But life in a crowded home can be wearing. An extra factory-built room or granny unit to accommodate them could save relationships.

Also, we need to bring back the important members of our workforce who are now commuting from distant places. And how will we accommodate the construction workers needed to rebuild? More housing and shared housing are what thousands of people need.

Santa Rosa’s commendable goal is to enable speedy replacement of the 3,000 homes in the city that burned,and construction of more dwellings to restore the housing market. But with fewer than 100 building permits issued since the fires, little rebuilding is likely to finish by April 2019. Many more housing options are needed right away.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/8171380-181/close-to-home-what-santa

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable LivingTags ,

Organic milk market sours for Sonoma County dairy farmers

Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

With gray skies drizzling upon him, Doug Beretta rode his all-terrain vehicle back to the milking barn after doctoring a downed cow.

The brown-faced Jersey had calved the day before and looked healthy that same night when Beretta checked on his animals. But the next morning the cow wouldn’t stand and showed signs of milk fever, a potentially fatal malady caused by low calcium levels in the blood. So Beretta, whose green overalls quickly became streaked with manure, slowly injected a solution of calcium and phosphorous into one of the cow’s veins. About an hour later the animal was back on its feet.

If only the third-generation farmer could find such effective medicine to turn around a struggling organic dairy industry.

Over the last 12 years, North Bay dairy farmers like Beretta have switched in droves from conventional milk production to certified organic operations. The conversions allowed them to earn a premium price for their milk and to gain more stability for their businesses as the market for conventional milk weakened.

But the U.S. today is awash in organic milk. Farmers have seen prices fall, and many worry whether their processors will keep taking their product.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/8144369-181/organic-milk-market-sours-for

Posted on Categories Climate Change & EnergyTags , , , ,

Global greenhouse gas emissions rise for the first time in 3 years

Emily Holbrook, ENERGY MANAGER TODAY

The International Energy Agency (IEA) announced today that greenhouse gas emissions rose 1.4% in 2017, marking the first rise in three years.

As the IEA points out, emissions have reached a historic high of 32.5 gigatonnes (Gt), a resumption of growth after three years of global emissions remaining flat. The increase in CO2emissions, however, was not universal. While most major economies saw a rise, some others experienced declines, including the United States, United Kingdom, Mexico and Japan. The biggest decline came from the United States, mainly because of higher deployment of renewables.

The report states, improvements in global energy efficiency slowed down in 2017. The rate of decline in global energy intensity, defined as the energy consumed per unit of economic output, slowed to only 1.6% in 2017, much lower than the 2.0% improvement seen in 2016.

The growth in global energy demand was concentrated in Asia, with China and India together representing more than 40% of the increase. Energy demand in all advanced economies contributed more than 20% of global energy demand growth, although their share in total energy use continued to fall. Notable growth was also registered in Southeast Asia (which accounted for 8% of global energy demand growth) and Africa (6%), although per capita energy use in these regions still remains well below the global average.

Read more at https://www.energymanagertoday.com/greenhouse-gas-emissions-rise-for-the-first-time-in-3-years-0175767/

Posted on Categories Sonoma Coast, Sustainable LivingTags , ,

The ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ is ballooning

Livia Albeck-Ripka, THE NEW YORK TIMES

In the Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii, hundreds of miles from any major city, plastic bottles, children’s toys, broken electronics, abandoned fishing nets and millions more fragments of debris are floating in the water — at least 87,000 tons’ worth, researchers said Thursday.

In recent years, this notorious mess has become known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a swirling oceanic graveyard where everyday objects get deposited by the currents. The plastics eventually disintegrate into tiny particles that often get eaten by fish and may ultimately enter our food chain.

A study published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports quantified the full extent of the so-called garbage patch: It is four to 16 times bigger than previously thought, occupying an area roughly four times the size of California and comprising an estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of rubbish. While the patch was once thought to be more akin to a soup of nearly invisible microplastics, scientists now think most of the trash consists of larger pieces. And, they say, it is growing “exponentially.”

“It’s just quite alarming, because you are so far from the mainland,” said Laurent Lebreton, the lead author of the study and an oceanographer with the Ocean Cleanup Foundation, a nonprofit that is developing systems to remove ocean trash and which funded the study. “There’s no one around and you still see those common objects, like crates and bottles.”

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/22/climate/great-pacific-garbage-patch.html

Posted on Categories WaterTags , , , ,

More benzene found in Santa Rosa water tests after Sonoma County fires

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Benzene, the cancer-causing chemical that city officials believe was sucked into its water system in a heavily burned area of Fountaingrove, is continuing to be discovered outside the advisory area, including one place in Coffey Park, city officials acknowledged for the first time this week.

But officials insist the new findings are not an indication the problems in Fountaingrove are migrating to other parts of the city.

However, they have now found 20 locations outside the Fountaingrove advisory zone with elevated levels of benzene. Fourteen of the locations were identified in the last month after the city aggressively expanded its testing program.

All but one — a burned lot on Waring Court in Coffey Park — were located near the advisory zone in Fountaingrove.

City officials said the new problems have been easy to resolve, confirming their conclusion that the 184-acre advisory area in Fountaingrove has a unique and pervasive problem far different than any other area of the city.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8140783-181/more-benzene-found-in-santa?ref=most

Posted on Categories Climate Change & EnergyTags , , ,

Tell it to the judge, Big Oil

Jason Mark, THE NATION

Polluters admit climate-change basics in an unprecedented court hearing but still duck responsibility.

n Wednesday morning, Jim Hyden woke up well before dawn, braved a spitting rain, and skipped a day at work so he could arrive at the Federal District Courthouse in San Francisco at 6 am sharp to have “a chance to see some history.”

“I’m very interested in hearing the oil companies talk in court…about what they knew and when they it about climate change,” Hyden said as he waited in line with dozens of attorneys, reporters, and concerned citizens for an unprecedented court-ordered “climate-change tutorial” to begin. “And [to hear] what they did after they learned about it.”

It will be up to historians to decide whether the five-hour-long climate-science seminar that took place yesterday in federal court made history. During the weeks leading up to the hearing, boosters had promised “the Scopes Monkey Trial for climate change,” a unique chance to litigate the science of human-driven global warming in a court of law. In the end, there were no Clarence Darrow-like rhetorical fireworks; just scientists and attorneys dispassionately reviewing the evidence about how human activities are transforming Earth’s atmosphere.

This article is co-published by The Nation and Sierra.

Yet the hearing still marked an important milestone: For the first time, some of the world’s biggest carbon polluters were forced to explain to a US court whether they accept basic climate change science. Billions of dollars are at stake. The proceedings in San Francisco, according to legal experts, could shape the legal terrain for the lawsuits New York City and other plaintiffs are bringing against ExxonMobil and other fossil-fuel giants for the damage climate-fueled storms, sea-level rise, and other impacts have caused and will continue to cause in years to come.

“You can’t get away with sitting there in silence,” Judge William Alsup pointedly said to attorneys from ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, BP, and other fossil-fuel corporations at the close of the day. “If you disagree [about the information the court had just heard], you need to let me know. Otherwise, I will deem that you agree.”

Read more at https://www.thenation.com/article/tell-it-to-the-judge-big-oil/

Posted on Categories WaterTags , , ,

Fountaingrove water system needs $43 million replacement due to contamination after Sonoma County fires

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The entire water-delivery system in a 184-acre section of the devastated Fountaingrove neighborhood will likely need replacement after becoming contaminated with benzene, and it appears the city will initially be on the hook for a project whose estimated costs have soared to $43 million.

The intensive investigation into the exact cause of the contamination continues, but officials say they now understand how the cancer-causing hydrocarbon found in gasoline and plastics made it into the water mains in the area.

The city’s team of water engineers, consultants and regulators is “converging on the recommended approach” that would require the “full replacement of the distribution system, from the water mains to the meters on the properties” and related equipment like fire hydrants within the advisory area, Ben Horenstein, director of Santa Rosa Water, said Thursday.

The cost of that solution, which Horenstein had previously estimated at up to $20 million, has now more than doubled, and completion may take significantly longer than the year he initially hoped.

The development raises a host of questions about how quickly the devastated Fountaingrove neighborhood, which lost 1,420 homes in the Tubbs fire, may be able to recover, how the city can fund the needed repairs, and what it means for residents who still live there.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8144221-181/city-fountaingrove-water-system-needs

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , , , ,

Recology eyes big boost in composting in Sonoma County

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Carole Carpenter always felt funny about throwing thousands of pounds of used coffee grounds into the garbage.

The manager of the popular Railroad Square café A’Roma Roasters knew the rich brown granules made a great soil fertilizer, a fact she was reminded of whenever customers asked if they could take some home to sprinkle in their gardens.

“It seems like such a waste to just throw them in the garbage,” said Carpenter, who has managed the operation for 20 years.

But with limited kitchen space, no simple way to set the coffee grounds aside for gardeners, and no green bin to dispose of them in, Carpenter just did what was easiest — she told employees to toss them in the dumpster along with all the café’s other food waste.

So Celia Furber, the waste zero manager with Recology, the city’s new garbage hauler, and John LaBarge, a Recology waste zero specialist, sat down with Carpenter last week to see if they could find ways to help the eatery keep more food waste out of the landfill.

It turns out that A’Roma Roasters should have been composting its food waste since Jan. 1, 2017. That’s when businesses that create more than 4 cubic yards of organic waste a week were required under AB 1826 to begin diverting it from landfills. Larger producers were required to start a year earlier.

But the city’s previous hauler, The Ratto Group, did not make it easy to set up the service, Furber said.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8106202-181/recology-eyes-big-boost-in

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Habitats, Land Use, Local Organizations, Water, WildlifeTags , , ,

Dr. Lisa Micheli of Pepperwood Preserve earns Bay Nature Environmental Hero of the Year

Nate Seltenrich, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

Perched on a ridgeline in the Mayacamas Mountains northeast of Santa Rosa, Pepperwood Preserve spans 3,200 acres, protecting the headwaters of three watersheds that feed the Russian River and offering refuge to more than 900 species of native plants and animals. President and CEO Lisa Micheli, who took the helm at Pepperwood in 2009, has led the private preserve’s transformation into “a field station of global significance” recognized by the National Science Foundation. More than a dozen research projects—studying anything from climate change and hydrology to grasslands and phenology—are underway at Pepperwood at any given time, while the preserve and its 9,400-square-foot Dwight Center for Conservation Science also serves as a lab and nature-education center for students and citizen scientists of all ages.

Research, teaching, and outreach have come together at the preserve under Micheli, who holds a civil engineering master’s in Environmental Water Resources and a Ph.D. in Energy and Resources, both from UC Berkeley. In recognition of Pepperwood’s commitment to world-class science, environmental education, and community involvement, Micheli has been named Bay Nature’s 2018 Local Hero for Environmental Education.

Read the interview with Dr. Micheli at https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/dr-lisa-micheli-of-pepperwood-preserve-earns-bay-nature-environmental-hero-of-the-year

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Land Use, Sustainable Living, TransportationTags , , , ,

A bold, divisive plan to wean Californians from cars

Conor Dougherty and Brad Plumer, THE NEW YORK TIMES

It’s an audacious proposal to get Californians out of their cars: a bill in the State Legislature that would allow eight-story buildings near major transit stops, even if local communities object.

The idea is to foster taller, more compact residential neighborhoods that wean people from long, gas-guzzling commutes, reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

So it was surprising to see the Sierra Club among the bill’s opponents, since its policy proposals call for communities to be “revitalized or retrofitted” to achieve precisely those environmental goals. The California chapter described the bill as “heavy-handed,” saying it could cause a backlash against public transit and lead to the displacement of low-income residents from existing housing.

State Senator Scott Wiener, the bill’s sponsor, responded by accusing the group of “advocating for low-density sprawl.”

In a state where debates often involve shades of blue, it’s not uncommon for the like-minded to find themselves at odds. But the tensions over Mr. Wiener’s proposal point to a wider divide in the fight against climate change, specifically how far the law should go to reshape urban lifestyles.

Although many cities and states are embracing cleaner sources of electricity and encouraging people to buy electric vehicles, they are having a harder time getting Americans to drive less, something that may be just as important.

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/16/business/energy-environment/climate-density.html