Posted on Categories WildlifeTags , , , ,

Santa Rosa settles salamander dispute

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa reached a settlement with a litigious local environmental group that threatened to sue over the city’s management of land that may be habitat for endangered tiger salamanders.

The city recently agreed to pay $25,000 to Sebastopol-based California River Watch, which has been pressuring government agencies for decades to comply with environmental regulations such as the federal Clean Water Act.

In this case, the group alleged the city may have violated the federal Endangered Species Act, improperly managing its agricultural properties in the Santa Rosa Plain near the Laguna de Santa Rosa.

The city denied any wrongdoing. But it agreed to settle after concluding it would likely pay more to challenge the group in court, said Mike Prinz, a deputy director of Santa Rosa Water.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8362344-181/santa-rosa-settles-salamander-dispute

Posted on Categories Sonoma Coast, WaterTags , , , , ,

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

Posted on Categories Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , ,

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, WildlifeTags , , , , , ,

Forecast shows California salmon fishermen in for another year of sharp limits

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A third straight year of low king salmon runs is expected to deliver another blow to one of the North Coast’s most iconic and lucrative fisheries, wildlife managers indicated Thursday, as both regulators and fishermen faced the prospect of a federally mandated plan to reverse the trend and rebuild key stocks.

The grim news comes amid a dramatic, yearslong decline in the state’s commercial salmon landings, which are down 97 percent last year from their most recent peak, in 2013, when they hit 12.7 million pounds.

The full picture for commercial and sport seasons won’t be clear for several more weeks, but spawning projections show Sacramento River salmon — historically the largest source for the state’s ocean and freshwater harvests — have fallen so low that they’re now considered by regulators to be “overfished.”

Wildlife officials acknowledged that term minimizes the many factors that have led to this point, including shifting conditions in the ocean and years of low river flows during the drought, all of which have pummeled stocks.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8055549-181/forecast-shows-california-salmon-fishermen

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PG&E considering abandoning Potter Valley dams

Hank Sims, LOST COAST OUTPOST

Pacific Gas and Electric is actively considering the possibility of getting out of the business of operating dams on the Eel River, a company representative told a regional commission this morning.

The company’s decision, when it comes, could ignite a northern California water war.

The two dams associated with the utility’s Potter Valley Project — a hydropower system — annually divert tens of thousands of acre-feet of water out of the Eel River and into the Russian River watershed, where it is used by municipalities and agricultural operations in Lake, Mendocino and Sonoma counties.

At a meeting of the Eel Russian River Commission in Eureka this morning, PG&E director of power generation David Moller said that the utility has been looking at all its options as in undergoes the process of relicensing the dams. The current licenses for the project — issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — are set to expire in 2022.

Read more at https://lostcoastoutpost.com/2018/feb/23/pge-tells-regional-commission-its-thinking-about-s/

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

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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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Students work to protect environment

John Jackson, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

The success of the United Anglers of Casa Grande High School program has created the program’s greatest challenge.

The United Anglers of Casa Grande is a nonprofit educational organization located on the Casa Grande High School campus. Members of the organization are students who learn about fisheries, especially salmon and steelhead, and promote environmental awareness and activism through hands-on habitat restoration. United Anglers students operate and maintain a state-of-the-art conservation fish hatchery on the campus.

Interest in the program has exploded in recent years from around 30 students to more than 100, and now includes participants from Petaluma High School as well as Casa Grande.

Since the United Anglers program is a nonprofit and must raise all its own funds, the challenge comes in raising enough money to support the increase in membership, particularly at a time when the recent fires and disasters in other parts of the country are vying for benevolent contributions.

“I’m torn,” said program director and teacher Dan Hubacker. “We depend on support from families and businesses, but at the same time how do you ask them for donations after so many people have been affected by the fires?”

But Hubacker also said he feels an obligation to honor those, like himself, who have benefited by the program by keeping it going.

Read more at: A popular program

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, WildlifeTags , , , , , ,

PG&E project blamed for harming endangered fish in Eel River

Nicholas Iovino, COURTHOUSE NEWS

Pacific Gas and Electric’s operation of dams, tunnels and a 109-year-old power plant on Northern California’s Eel River harms endangered salmon and steelhead, two conservation groups claim in a new lawsuit.

California River Watch and Coast Action Group sued the utility giant in federal court Friday, claiming its management of the Potter Valley Project in Mendocino County threatens endangered Coho salmon, Chinook salmon, and steelhead trout in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

“The project water diversions have reduced flows and increased water temperatures in various parts of the Eel River, in addition to altering important environmental cues that, for example, tell fish when to spawn or begin their outmigration,” the 12-page complaint states.

The groups claim the project also creates conditions that are beneficial to the predatory Sacramento pike minnow, which further threatens the endangered fish.

Earlier this year, PG&E filed its intent to renew its Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license to run the 109-year-old irrigation and hydropower system. Its existing license expires in April 2022.

Read more at: PG&E Project Blamed for Harming Endangered Fish in NorCal River

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Forests, Land Use, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , , ,

In California, conservationists face off with vineyard owners 

Alastair Bland, GREENBIZ

Kellie Anderson stands in the understory of a century-old forest in eastern Napa County, about 70 miles north of San Francisco. To her left is a creek gully, a rush of the water audible through the thick riparian brush. The large trees here provide a home for deer, mountain lions and endangered spotted owls, while the stream supports the last remnants of the Napa River watershed’s nearly extinct steelhead trout.

“They want to take all of this out,” said Anderson, who sits on the steering committee of a local environmental organization, Save Rural Angwin, named for a community in the renowned wine country of the Napa Valley. She is studying a project-planning map of the area as she waves her free arm toward the wooded upward slope. “It looks like this will be the edge of a block of vines,” she said.

Anderson and two fellow activists, Jim Wilson and Mike Hackett, were visiting a property of several dozen acres that the owners plan to clear and replant with grapes, the county’s principal crop. The project is one of many like it pending approval by Napa County officials, who rarely reject a vineyard conversion project in the Napa Valley, a fertile strip that runs northward from the shores of San Francisco Bay.

In Napa County, neighboring Sonoma County and farther to the north in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, concern is growing among some residents, environmentalists and scientists about the expansion of vineyards into forested regions and the impacts on watersheds and biodiversity. In Napa, an aerial view reveals a carpet of vines on the valley floor, which is why winemakers hoping to plant new vines increasingly turn to land in the county’s wooded uplands. At these higher elevations, “about the only thing standing in the way of winemakers are the trees,” said Hackett.

“Napa is getting really carved up,” said Adina Merenlender, a conservation biologist at the University of California at Berkeley, who began studying the ecological impacts of vineyard conversions in the 1990s. “We see it all over the western and eastern ridges — it’s been relentless.” The transformation of shrub, oak and conifer habitat into new vineyards threatens wildlife migration corridors, she said. “We’re down to the final pinch points,” said Merenlender, referring to narrow corridors that eventually could become functionally severed from the relatively expansive wilderness areas in the mountains north of Napa County.

Federal fisheries scientists also have expressed concerns that the wine industry is harming endangered populations of steelhead trout. The creeks flowing off the hills of Napa County are critical to remnant populations of steelhead and salmon, and biologists with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) say the irrigation of vineyards has reduced stream flows and clogged waterways with eroded soils. “Extensive water diversions, groundwater pumping, and increased agriculture (vineyards) water use during the dry season have reduced the extent of suitable summer rearing habitat  … throughout much of the Napa River watershed,” NMFS scientists wrote in the Napa River chapter (PDF) of a 2016 report.

Read more at: In California, conservationists face off with vineyard owners | GreenBiz