Public meetings slated to inform Sonoma County groundwater users

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County residents dependent on private wells, and others interested in understanding how California’s new groundwater management law will be implemented locally, are urged to attend three upcoming meetings on the topic that begin Thursday night.

The sessions are being held to explain the governance structure being developed for three Sonoma County groundwater basins immediately affected by the state’s 2014 law. They include the Petaluma Valley, Santa Rosa Plain and Sonoma Valley basins.

New groundwater sustainability agencies are to be developed for each basin after public hearings planned for April and May. The deadline to create the new local agencies is June 30.

The informational meeting schedule is as follows:

Petaluma Valley, March 23, 6-8 p.m., Petaluma Community Center, 320 North McDowell Blvd.

Sonoma Valley, March 27, 6-8 p.m., Sonoma Charter School multi-purpose room, 17202 Sonoma Highway

Santa Rosa Plain, April 3, 6-8 p.m., Santa Rosa Utilities field office, 35 Stony Point Road.

More information is available at sonomacountygroundwater.org.

Source: Public meetings slated to inform Sonoma County groundwater users | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water

Baby salmon trickle back to Russian River waterways after a long absence

Stephen Nett, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

After an absence of more than a decade, a trickle of salmon are finally finding their way back to Sonoma County streams, thanks to private landowners and a coalition of conservationists.

Roughly 22 million years ago, the fish we know as salmon evolved the complicated biology they needed to commute between inland freshwater streams and the open salty ocean. Thus began one of the most remarkable life cycle journeys known on the planet.

Two million years ago, on the ancient California coastline, the salmon would have found a perfect cold and clear waterway emptying into the Pacific near the mouth of today’s Russian River. Running a hundred miles back among high ridges and dense redwood forest, its widely branching network of creeks and tributaries made ideal habitat for the spawning fish and its young.

And that paleo-Russian River has been the salmon’s home ever since.

So it came as a shock in 2001 when naturalists, fishermen and the community discovered that the number of coho salmon counted returning to the Russian River, once totaling 100,000, had dwindled to only 5.

It was found that throughout the watershed, the populations had crashed, and the salmon were disappearing, stream by stream. By 2004, only 3 of 39 tributaries and creeks in the entire watershed held any coho at all.

This past December, in a quiet event out of public view, red-flushed mature coho salmon were once again found spawning in the tree-shaded upper reaches of Mill Creek west of Healdsburg, where they had been virtually absent for decades.

That small, exciting homecoming was no accident. It came after more than 10 years of study and planning, captive breeding and painstaking stream rehabilitation by a smorgasbord of local, state, and federal agencies, private groups, academic institutions, community coalitions and concerned individuals.

And the vital key and the unsung heroes of the salmon rescue, according to those involved, are some of the private landowners whose property surrounds Mill Creek. In a scene that’s playing out along hundreds of miles of streams and creeks across Sonoma County, individual landowners are proving to be the crucial link in bringing the salmon home again.

Read more at: Baby salmon trickle back to Russian River waterways after a long absence | The Press Democrat

Filed under Habitats, Water, Wildlife

Graton may be next stop for Occidental wastewater 

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The plan will be informally introduced at a town hall meeting held by west county Supervisor Lynda Hopkins in April or early May, officials said.

Guerneville is out and Graton is now in as a potential destination for Occidental’s wastewater.

What may sound like west county musical chairs is actually the latest chapter in a 20-year effort to find an alternative for Occidental’s wastewater treatment plant, which has been under state orders since 1997 to quit discharging treated effluent into Dutch Bill Creek, a Russian River tributary and coho salmon spawning stream.

A plan to send five to 15 truckloads of untreated wastewater a day up Bohemian Highway to Guerneville was scrapped in response to protests from Guerneville residents, and officials are now considering delivery to Graton, where the local community services district has issued what amounts to an invitation.

“We’re taking a look at what might be a better option,” said Ann DuBay of the Sonoma County Water Agency, which operates the Occidental and Guerneville treatment systems and six others in the county.

Engineers are working out the details of the Occidental-to-Graton transfer between two small, rural communities, with a recommendation expected to go to the Board of Supervisors in the fall, said Cordel Stillman, the Water Agency’s deputy chief engineer.

Read more at: Graton may be next stop for Occidental wastewater | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sustainable Living, Water

It can be done: Carbon emissions in the UK have fallen to a 120-year low 

Akshat Rathi, QUARTZ

The last time the UK emitted less carbon dioxide than it did in 2016, most Brits were still traveling by horse and carriage.

Last year, the UK emitted 381 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), according to an analysis by Carbon Brief. The last time the country spewed less of the greenhouse gas was way back in 1894. (Industrial strikes in 1921 and 1926 also resulted in lower emissions, but for unintended reasons.)

Carbon emissions in 2016 fell by 5.8% compared with 2015, and the use of coal fell by a record 52% over the same period. More oil and gas was burned that year, but both are relatively cleaner fuels. The UK also generated more power from wind than coal for the first time ever last year.

The precipitous drop in coal use was attributed to UK’s carbon tax, which doubled in 2015 to £18 ($22) per metric ton of CO2.

Carbon emissions in 2016 fell by 5.8% compared with 2015, and the use of coal fell by a record 52% over the same period. More oil and gas was burned that year, but both are relatively cleaner fuels. The UK also generated more power from wind than coal for the first time ever last year.

The precipitous drop in coal use was attributed to UK’s carbon tax, which doubled in 2015 to £18 ($22) per metric ton of CO2.

Source: Carbon emissions in the UK have fallen to a 120-year low — Quartz

Filed under Climate Change & Energy

Santa Rosa meadow up for sale by Sonoma County over neighbors’ objections 

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

At the end of Beverly Way, a small and secluded street in northeastern Santa Rosa, lies the entrance to a grassy meadow beloved by local residents who for decades have wandered through the open field and among the massive oak trees beyond.

Visitors to the Sonoma County-owned land are welcomed by a prominent sign just beyond the street that declares the property part of the surrounding Paulin Creek Open Space Preserve, a more than 40-acre swath of land situated south of the former county hospital complex and above the Hillcrest neighborhood near Franklin Park.

But the meadow’s inclusion in a forthcoming county land deal — the sale of 82 acres to a local developer whose plans include hundreds of new housing units — has neighbors alarmed that the county is, perhaps unwittingly, turning over the field to housing construction.

A 16-foot banner recently staked down by Beverly Way neighbors speaks to that concern.“The county is selling our meadow to an apartment developer,” it proclaims, encouraging like-minded individuals to help prevent “the destruction of our preserve.”

Read more at: Santa Rosa meadow up for sale by Sonoma County over neighbors’ objections | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use

Proposed rule for pesticide spraying near schools revised by state agency

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The state Department of Pesticide Regulation on Thursday issued a revised proposed regulation on spraying pesticides near schools, changing an earlier version to provide farmers more leeway in reporting the spraying to school officials.

Despite that change, the proposed regulation remained largely the same as that issued in September and fundamentally bans pesticide applications within a quarter-mile of schools and day care centers on weekdays between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

The rule has been heavily lobbied on both sides. Agricultural interests complained that it was regulatory overreach that wasn’t backed up by available science. Environmental advocacy groups argued it did not do enough to protect children and did not contain sufficient provisions for enforcement. About 500 comment letters have been filed on the plan.

Under the original proposal, farmers would have been required to notify school officials and the county agricultural commissioners of pesticide sprays made within that quarter-mile area 48 hours before they occur.

The revised rule would only require them to provide an annual notification of pesticides that they expect will be applied near the school zones. The grower must describe the pesticides likely to be used, their names and active ingredients as well as a map showing the acreage and its proximity to the school.

Read more at: Proposed rule for pesticide spraying near schools revised by state agency | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living

New Oakmont bike-pedestrian trail may solve long-simmering access dispute

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A new path nearing completion in Oakmont will soon link the retirement community in east Santa Rosa to Trione-Annadel State Park, and in the process may help solve a long-simmering access dispute.

The 400-foot-long gravel trail is designed to allow bicycle riders and pedestrians to skirt a piece of private property over which the city once held an easement frequently used by the public.

The new path runs parallel to that driveway, links up with city property once used as a wastewater treatment plant and creates a continuous link between Stone Bridge Drive and Channel Drive on the northern side of Annadel.

“We’ve totally bypassed the private property with this path,” said Ken Wells, executive director of the Sonoma Trails Council, which is building the trail with 36 yards of gravel and a lot of volunteer labor from Oakmont residents.

The trail should open as soon as the area has five solid days of warm weather to help the material set, Wells said.

If the city designates a recreational trail across its property – which it is expected to do later this month – the city property and the Oakmont trail together could create a public trail that will not only allow Oakmont residents to access the park but help cyclists stay off busy Highway 12.

“It’s really a good example of the city working with a community group to come up with a creative solution,” said Mayor Chris Coursey, who rode past the path on his bike Thursday afternoon.

Read more at: New Oakmont trail may solve long-simmering access dispute | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sustainable Living, Transportation

California should take lead on wetlands protections

Op-Ed: SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

When the president made good on a key campaign promise Tuesday to roll back federal environmental rules on wetlands, cheers went up across farmlands. The acronym meant little to city dwellers, but the promise to “repeal WOTUS” — a staple at Trump rallies — had secured much of the rural vote for Trump. Fearing rollbacks would weaken environmental protections for a state that has led the nation in environmental protections, Democratic legislators in Sacramento preemptively introduced a suite of legislation to “preserve” California.

WOTUS, or “waters of the U.S.,” refers to a rule intended to clarify the scope of the 1972 federal Clean Water Act, which tries to keep pollutants out of drinking water and wetlands wet. The rule was developed after years of public comment and a lawsuit that went to the Supreme Court. In 2015, the Obama administration finalized the rule, which defined the extent of federal jurisdiction over small streams and tributaries.

The rule is particularly tricky to interpret in California because many streams and wetlands are ephemeral — they flow or are wet only immediately after it rains. Think arroyos in Southern California and vernal pools — seasonal ponds in small depressions with distinct plant and animal life — that dot the Central Valley.

Farmers and ranchers, of course, are not against clean water. But they object to rules that they say are impossible to interpret and that interfere with agricultural practices. The California Farm Bureau stepped in and has led the charge to roll back the rule.

The rhetoric on both sides has been escalating since long before the final rule was issued, particularly on the opposed side, after San Joaquin Valley farmer John Duarte was accused in 2012 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of damaging vernal pools when he plowed to plant wheat.

To fight the promised Trump rollback, California Democrats borrowed a move straight from the playbook of Scott Pruitt, who had sued the U.S. EPA 13 times and called for its destruction before Trump named him EPA administrator. State Senate Democratic leader Kevin de León of Los Angeles has introduced Senate Bill 49, which would use existing federal environmental law as the baseline for state law “so we can preserve the state we know and love, regardless of what happens in Washington.

”The California Farm Bureau welcomed the president’s executive order Wednesday as a rollback of confusing federal rules.

The chest bumping is good political theater, but California has the power to exert its authority over wetlands. The state already uses federal environmental law as a template for state law. And federal law largely leaves authority to the state.

The state needs to invest in institutional muscle at the State Water Resources Control Board to enforce rules that protect the environment from those who would fill wetlands and dump pollutants into streams or seasonal streambeds.

Californians know the value of wetlands in flood control and wildlife habitat. We all want clean water. If these are the priority state leaders say they are, the state should step up.

Source: California should take lead on wetlands protections – San Francisco Chronicle

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Habitats, Land Use, Water, Wildlife

Volunteers needed to clean up Santa Rosa Creek

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The all-volunteer Clean River Alliance, which has cleared hundreds of thousands of pounds of trash from the Russian River watershed over the past three years, is enlisting help for a monthlong blitz on Santa Rosa Creek.

Each Sunday in March the nonprofit group and associated volunteers plan to tackle a different stretch of the river tributary, where recent flooding has left garbage strewn in the trees and bushes, mixed in the water and scattered along the banks.

The alliance, founded by Forestville resident Chris Brokate and sponsored by the Russian Riverkeeper, is working in conjunction with the city of Santa Rosa to get as much trash as possible out of the watershed before it can become overgrown by summer foliage or be washed downstream by additional rain, spokeswoman Robin Factor said.

High school students can earn community service hours by participating, but all volunteers should keep in mind that conditions are often steep, muddy and slippery, and some lifting is required, Factor said.

The cleanups will run Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. as follows:

March 12, Santa Rosa Creek at Willowside Road. Meet at the bridge.

March 19, Santa Rosa Creek near Stony Point Road. Meet at a Place to Play city park, 2375 W. Third St. in Santa Rosa, near the pond.

March 26, Santa Rosa Creek near Pierson Street, downtown Santa Rosa. Meet at a Place to Play.

Details are available on Facebook (Clean River Alliance) or by calling Robin Factor, Clean River Alliance Santa Rosa, at 707- 293-8050.

Source: Volunteers needed to clean up Santa Rosa Creek | The Press Democrat

Filed under Local Organizations, Water

Can marijuana ever be environmentally friendly?

Natasha Geiling, THINK PROGRESS (from April 20, 2016)

Another big issue that the burgeoning cannabis industry will have to confront as legalization becomes increasingly widespread is the industry’s massive environmental footprint. Cannabis is the country’s most energy-intensive crop, largely because around a third of cannabis cultivation in the United States currently takes place in indoor warehouses, a process that requires huge amounts of lighting, ventilation, cooling, and dehumidifying. According to a 2016 report released by New Frontier Financials, cannabis cultivation annually consumes one percent of the United States’ total electrical output, which for a single industry growing a single crop, is a lot — roughly the equivalent of the electricity used by 1.7 million homes. If energy consumption continues at current levels, the electricity used by indoor cannabis operations in the Northwest alone will double in the next 20 years.

One of the first things that Tyson Haworth does when we meet on his farm in rural Oregon is spread his palms out, up toward the April sunshine, and apologize. “I just applied some predatory fungus in the greenhouse,” he says, splaying his fingers and inspecting his hands. He doesn’t use any synthetic pesticides on his farm, he explains, preferring predatory bugs and bacteria and fungi instead, and before he can show me around, he excuses himself to wash his hands in his house adjacent to the farm. Between the farm and the house, on the other side of the gravel driveway that leads visitors from the winding back roads onto Haworth’s property, is a wooden play structure — a sign of Haworth’s two kids, who are the reason he moved from Portland, about thirty miles north, to Canby.

Them, and because it was getting hard to keep growing his cannabis in a garage.

Haworth started cultivating cannabis in 2007, after his wife had to undergo a second back operation. The first time around, she took opiates to manage the pain, but she didn’t want to do that again. So Haworth — who grew up around his father’s wholesale produce company and worked as a manager of a wholesale organic distribution company himself — started growing cannabis, medically, both for his wife and for Oregon’s decades-old medical market. For years, Haworth cultivated cannabis on the side, not able to make enough profits from the medical market to become a full-time cannabis grower. Then, in 2013, Oregon’s medical marijuana market shifted, allowing, for the first time, a legitimate retail component.

And so Haworth put his organic produce job on hold and jumped feet first into cannabis cultivation, moving SoFresh Farms to Canby in 2014. But he didn’t want to completely eschew the decades of knowledge he had gained working in the organic produce industry. And so Haworth decided to do something that not many cannabis farmers were doing at the time: create an organic, sustainable cannabis farm, a place without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, a place that sequesters carbon and helps repopulate native flora. A place that grows cannabis and leaves the environment better for it.

“It’s not enough to not be bad,” Haworth said. “We want to be good. It’s not enough to not be part of the problem, we want to be part of the solution.”

Read more at: Can Marijuana Ever Be Environmentally Friendly?

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Land Use, Sustainable Living, Water