Category Archives: Agriculture/Food System

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

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

Marin County ranchers, residents debate slaughter proposals

Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Efforts by the Marin County ranching community to obtain more local options for killing and processing livestock have run into opposition from residents who don’t want slaughter operations there.

The Marin County Board of Supervisors next week will consider language that would allow ranchers to bring mobile slaughter units onto their properties for cattle and other livestock. The provisions also would allow permanent, small-scale poultry processing facilities on farmlands.

Marin ranchers echo what their counterparts around the North Coast have long maintained: A lack of slaughter facilities in the region threatens to hold back the growth of niche livestock operations that offer grass-fed beef and other premium meats. Petaluma does have a slaughterhouse in operation for cattle and other animals, but for years the region’s ranchers have taken sheep, hogs and poultry to processing plants in the Central Valley.

“If the consumers want a local food movement, then the county needs to support it,” said Lisa Poncia, who owns Stemple Creek Ranch outside Tomales with her husband Loren, a fourth-generation rancher there.

Read more at: Marin County ranchers, residents debate slaughter proposals | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living

Sonoma County to spearhead plan to restore Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

After living along the Laguna de Santa Rosa for decades, Joe Aggio and his family have grown accustomed to having their land swamped with water, as has been the case this year, the waterway swollen to its greatest extent in more than a decade.

But the floodplain around their dairy farm also has become much more of a nuisance over the years.

Aggio, 32, said the wetland around his farm between Occidental Road and Guerneville Road used to be manageable and clean, flooding in the winter before draining off so his family could grow crops to feed their cows. But the waterway has become increasingly plugged with sediment, invasive Ludwigia plants, garbage and other discarded items like shopping carts and couches, he said.

“It no longer flows. It no longer drains. It’s just a stagnant mess,” Aggio said. “We’ve lost crops because of it. We haven’t gotten crops in because of it … It’s become increasingly difficult to farm the land.”

So Aggio’s hopes were raised recently when Sonoma County Water Agency officials secured a grant to move forward with plans that could eventually help alleviate the challenges faced by his farm and other landowners along the 22-mile waterway.

With funds from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Water Agency and environmental groups are embarking on a massive planning effort to revitalize the watershed that stretches from Cotati north to Windsor and takes in rural areas east and west of Santa Rosa.

The watershed, which includes Mark West and Santa Rosa creeks and many other smaller streams and wetlands, has been altered significantly over generations by agricultural and urban development.

One result of its transformation is the Laguna now fills with more sediment than it once did, at times hampering its ability to drain floodwaters into the Russian River.

“If this happens over a very long period of time — we’re talking hundreds of years — that eventually will get to a point where it could back up drainage back into Santa Rosa, Cotati and Rohnert Park,” said Mike Thompson, assistant general manager of the county Water Agency. “This is well beyond our lifetimes, but if it keeps filling up like that, the storage and flood protection of the Laguna that naturally occurs is being taken away.”

Armed with $517,000 in state grant funds, the Water Agency and other groups expect to spend the next three years developing a comprehensive restoration plan for the watershed. Project partners include the San Francisco Estuary Institute and the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation.

Read more at: Sonoma County to spearhead plan to restore Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed | The Press Democrat

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

Bucolic Valley Ford faces water problems linked to dairies

Paul Payne, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Restaurants in bucolic Valley Ford serve up local seafood and farm-raised beef. But don’t ask for local water.

Anything that makes it to the table in one of this town’s several eateries is trucked in from Petaluma because water from Valley Ford’s main well has been deemed unfit to drink.

That could soon change. Officials in the town of about 125 people near the Sonoma Coast hope to complete a multiyear effort this fall to pipe in clean water from a new well. It will put an end to mounting transportation costs and delivery problems connected to winter storms.

“It’s a bummer to have to truck in water,” said Geoff Diamond, manager of Estero Café on Highway 1, as he tended a small breakfast crowd Thursday morning. “It would certainly be an asset to the rest of the town to have clean water coming through.

”Some in Valley Ford — a longtime dairy town with a cluster of tourist-friendly businesses including the iconic Dinucci’s Italian restaurant — say the change can’t come soon enough. Restaurants are barred from serving well water but residents still get it when they turn on the tap.

Warnings of high nitrate levels associated with surrounding dairy ranches have prompted many to drink, cook and even bathe with bottled water. The State Water Resources Control Board issued a warning last month that pregnant women and infants younger than 6 months should not consume the well water. Additionally, the warning cautioned against boiling, freezing or filtering the water.

Read more at: Bucolic Valley Ford faces water problems linked to dairies | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Water

Sonoma County advances cleanup of illegal pot operation on public open space 

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A large illegal marijuana farm trashed part of a remote section of land owned by Sonoma County’s open space district, requiring what is expected to be a costly cleanup and highlighting once more the scourge of renegade pot operations on public land.

The now-abandoned plot, which county officials estimated had more than 1,000 pot plants, was discovered by an ecologist about four months ago on the former Cresta Ranch, which takes in steep, forested land northeast of Santa Rosa. The public property is among some 1,000 acres of land designated to one day become the Mark West Creek Regional Park and Open Space Preserve.

Sonoma County supervisors voted Tuesday to pursue $50,000 in grant money from CalRecycle, the state solid waste agency, to help repair the site. The Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District would tap its sales tax revenue for a similar amount to help cover the estimated cleanup cost.

The decision Tuesday, which included the first public report on the pot farm’s discovery, comes as local voters are already casting mail-in ballots for Measure A, a proposed cannabis business tax that is the only countywide issue in the March 7 special election. Measure A funds are intended to help cover the cost of implementing the county’s new medical marijuana regulations and would assist with cleanup of illegal sites like the one found at the former Cresta Ranch, officials said.

Read more at: Sonoma County advances cleanup of illegal pot operation on public open space | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Sustainable Living

Walt Ranch: Water concerns arise from Napa area vineyard’s plan to fell 14,000 oaks

Alastair Bland, NEWS DEEPLY

Residents are concerned that plans to cut down 14,000 oak trees to make way for grapevines will impact groundwater, fish habitat and climate change mitigation.

In the small community of Circle Oaks, California, a few miles east of the wine-soaked Napa Valley, residents are fuming over a wealthy Texas couple’s plans to cut down 14,000 adult oak trees and replant the cleared woodland with 209 acres (85 hectares) of irrigated grapevines. The project, opponents warn, will destroy fish and wildlife habitat, reduce the environment’s resilience to climate change, and drain groundwater reserves.

“They’re going to be using about two times the water our community uses,” says Ron Tamarisk, who has lived in the small town of Circle Oaks with his wife, Nancy, since the 1960s. Tamarisk says the community’s wells have never run dry before, but locals are concerned the proposed vineyard will deplete their supply.

“This is going to dewater Milliken Creek,” says Chris Malan, who lives in a rural unincorporated area just east of the city of Napa and very close to the project site. She is referring to a stream that feeds Milliken Reservoir, from which the city of Napa receives water.

The couple behind the project, Craig Hall and Kathryn Walt Hall, are already well established in the local wine industry. Craig Hall, who has led a career in Texas as a real estate developer, told Dallas News in 2014 that he expected to sell as much as $50 million in wines in 2015, mainly through the couple’s Hall and Walt wine labels. Now, he and his wife’s new project, first introduced in 2006, is on the verge of becoming reality. The proposal to expand their Walt Ranch vineyard was approved in December by Napa County’s board of supervisors.

Locals are outraged by the county’s lenience toward the wine industry in general, which many sources claim exerts political influence over county decision making.

“If this project goes through, it establishes a precedent that a rich newcomer can come in and get their way,” says Randy Dunn, a resident of the small town of Angwin, in the hills northeast of Napa. Dunn is also a winemaker. He grows 35 acres of grapes, mostly cabernet, and says he felled a single oak tree to plant his current vines in the mid-1990s.

The Walt Ranch developers initially planned to cut down almost 30,000 trees. They downsized the plan last year in response to general opposition and to questions about the legality of how the new vines would be irrigated. There was talk for a time of pumping in water from another watershed entirely, that of Putah Creek, a Sacramento River tributary.

Read more at: Water Concerns Arise from Napa Area Vineyard’s Plan to Fell — Water Deeply

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Forests, Land Use, Water

Bodega Bay to be release site for quarter-million hatchery salmon

 Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The hatchery-reared fish will be trucked directly to Sonoma County from the state-run Mokelumne River hatchery near Lodi as part of a continuing effort to augment California’s declining Chinook salmon stocks, which took an especially hard hit during the prolonged drought.

Modeled after similar programs elsewhere on the California coast, the operation involves the use of a custom-made net pen to be positioned in the water, dockside, at Spud Point Marina in order to receive the smolts. The pen will provide a place for the young fish to adjust after their tanker ride and to acclimate to salt water before they head toward open water with the outgoing tide a few hours after their arrival.

The key advantage of such an effort is it allows the young fish to bypass the obstacles they would otherwise face getting downstream to the ocean, past unscreened water pumps and other dangers in the Sacramento River/San Joaquin River system, enhancing their chance of surviving to adulthood.

“The delta pumps just eat all those fish coming down, the little smolts coming down the river, and this makes sure that they make it northward to Bodega Bay, as a start,” said veteran Petaluma angler Victor Gonella, founder of the Golden Gate Salmon Association, a sport and commercial industry group that put the project together.“This is just really good news for the fishermen in Bodega, the businesses in Bodega, anybody who loves salmon,” Gonella said. “We’re all hopeful that it will continue for years to come as we continue this process.”

Read more at: Bodega Bay to be release site for quarter-million hatchery salmon

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Sonoma Coast, Wildlife

San Joaquin Valley continues to sink because of groundwater pumping, NASA says

Joseph Serna, LOS ANGELES TIMES

California’s San Joaquin Valley continues to sink at an alarming rate because of groundwater pumping and irrigation, according to a new study by NASA. Ground levels in some areas have dropped 1 to 2 feet in the last two years, creating deeper and wider “bowls” that continue to threaten the vital network of channels that transport water across Southern California, researchers say.

The findings underscore the fact that even as record rain and snow have brought much of California out of severe drought, some parts of the state will probably struggle with water problems for years to come.

Despite a new series of storms that battered California this week, state water regulators decided Wednesday to maintain drought restrictions for at least a few more months as they continue to assess recovery.

Researchers said subsidence has long been a problem in parts of California. “But the current rates jeopardize infrastructure serving millions of people,” said William Croyle, acting director of the state Department of Water Resources. “Groundwater pumping now puts at risk the very system that brings water to the San Joaquin Valley.”

Subsidence occurs when water is removed from underground aquifers and the surrounding soil collapses on itself. Even if the underground water is replenished, subsided basins can’t hold as much water as they did previously.

Read more at: San Joaquin Valley continues to sink because of groundwater pumping, NASA says – LA Times

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Water

Sonoma County’s Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery shows sustainability is sound business

Jane Bender, Center for Climate Protection, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL

In 1978, Jennifer Bice took over her parents’ small goat dairy. Today, her award-winning goat milk yogurt, kefir and artisan cheese are sold nationwide, and she has expanded her offerings with a line of organic, lactose-free cow milk products.

Growth has been consistently double-digit: 25 percent in the earlier years and now closer to 12 percent–14 percent. She has built this successful enterprise with no investors and, until 2005, no bank loans.

From the beginning, Jennifer has steadfastly maintained the highest standards of sustainability. As she says, “It’s not just smart business. It’s who we are.” And who they are today is a company of more than 70 employees, working proof that profits and sustainability can go hand in hand.

SUSTAINABILITY TAKES MANY FORMS

Jennifer treats her animals and employees with the same respect she shows the environment. They are all dimensions of Redwood Hill’s sustainability program, deserving of the highest consideration and care.

Her farm and the creamery are showcases of resource preservation and renewable energy. Along with extensive recycling, insulation, LED and sensor lighting, and electric charging stations, the creamery runs primarily on renewable energy generated by two acres of solar panels.

The farm runs on 100 percent solar energy as well.The company reclaims its wastewater and pumps it to neighboring lands for irrigation. In addition, Jennifer is currently implementing a 100,000-gallon rainwater catchment system at the farm. That system will enhance the salmon habitat in nearby Green Valley Creek as well.

Redwood Hill Farm is also growing a drought-resilient goat feed called Tagasate that allows the farm to reduce its trucked-in feed, which in turn reduces its carbon footprint as well as saving dollars on feed.

“Sustainable milk production starts with good animal care, which is foundational to our business,” she explains. As a result of that commitment, Redwood Hill Farm was the first goat dairy in the U.S. to become Certified Humane, a standard that focuses on animal health, freedom of movement and nutritious diet.

Read more at: Sonoma County’s Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery shows sustainability is sound business | The North Bay Business Journal

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living