Sonoma County supervisors to serve on boards of three new groundwater agencies 

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County is pressing forward with plans to regulate local groundwater use for the first time as officials move to establish three new agencies that will be charged with managing one of the area’s most critical resources.

The Board of Supervisors weighed in Tuesday on the efforts of county staff members to implement a 2014 state law mandating the creation of so-called groundwater sustainability agencies in certain areas by June 30. Based on the law’s requirements, the county is forming such agencies for three of its groundwater basins: the Santa Rosa Plain, the Petaluma Valley and the Sonoma Valley.

Each agency will be governed by a board with elected or appointed members from various entities eligible to participate under the law, called the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. The law empowers the groundwater agencies to, among other duties, conduct studies, regulate extraction and assess fees. California landowners have historically not been limited in their ability to extract the groundwater beneath their properties.

“It’s certainly never easy to form a new regulatory entity, especially one that eventually will meddle, quite frankly, in something that for decades — if not longer — has not been meddled in,” Supervisor David Rabbitt said.

Read more at: Sonoma County supervisors to serve on boards of three new groundwater agencies | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water

Bill McNamara is Glen Ellen’s ‘Indiana Jones’ of rare plants 

Meg McConahey, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

“When the plants go extinct, the animals that depend on them go extinct. And it’s completely ignored,” [McNamara] said. “Most biologists who are aware of this are convinced that by the end of the century, if current trends continue, we will lose half of all animals and half of all plants will be gone.”

For a onetime landscaper from California, it was a Cinderella moment — standing beneath the glass vaulted ceiling of the Edwardian Lindley Hall in London, accepting one of the world’s highest honors in horticulture.

The crowd that applauded American Bill McNamara as he accepted the prestigious Veitch Medal from the Royal Horticultural Society on Feb. 22, included finely dressed members of England’s titled gentry and some of the biggest names in the botanical realm over which Great Britain still rules.

“It was such a big honor, it was a shock,” said McNamara, now comfortably back in his bluejeans at Quarryhill Botanical Garden, a refuge for rare and endangered Asian plants that he gathered himself from seed in wild and remote corners of China. In just 30 years, a mere baby in the world of botanical gardens, Quarryhill has come to be considered one of the most significant collections of its kind in the world, numbering close to 2,000 species plants in their natural form, unchanged by man through hybridization.

Read more at: Bill McNamara is Glen Ellen’s ‘Indiana Jones’ of rare plants | The Press Democrat

Filed under Habitats, Land Use

Russian River’s future draws diverse crowd to conference

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The supervisor’s goal in drawing together diverse interests from the public, private and nonprofit sectors is to “drive toward creating a one-watershed plan,” he said.

Environmentalists, bureaucrats, public officials, Native Americans and a patron of the arts gathered Friday to plot a future for the Russian River, the waterway they all consider a foundation for communities throughout the North Bay.

The river, which snakes 110 miles from the Mendocino County highlands near Willits to the Pacific Ocean at Jenner in Sonoma County, is a magnet for boaters, bird-watchers, swimmers and anglers, a water supply for 600,000 North Bay residents and the main artery of a 1,500-square-mile watershed.

It also faces a host of challenges over poor water quality and competing demands to support endangered fish, tourism, water storage, flood control and human needs ranging from raw thirst to pure inspiration.

Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore convened the Russian River Confluence, which drew about 220 people Friday to Santa Rosa Junior College’s Shone Farm, located about 2 miles east of the river in the Forestville area.

Read more at: Russian River’s future draws diverse crowd to conference | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water

Sonoma County on path to regulating groundwater supplies

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The first of three meetings to gather public feedback on a new regulatory framework for groundwater in Sonoma County drew a standing-room only crowd in Petaluma on Thursday night.

Concerns raised about the new regulations ranged from who is to be subjected to them, to how the rules will be enforced. Out-of-pocket costs were another worry.

“How much are we looking at?” asked Norma Giddings, who lives west of Petaluma and was among more than 100 people at the Petaluma Community Center.

The question underscored the many unknowns with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which seeks to regulate groundwater for the first time in California when the law goes into effect in 2022.

Officials on Thursday went over in detail, as they have in previous meetings, the progress they’ve made toward establishing local agencies to implement the state-mandated groundwater program.

They said much more will be known once those governing boards are in place.

Read more at: Sonoma County on path to regulating groundwater supplies | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water

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