Category Archives: Sustainable Living

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

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

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

Trump’s budget cuts: Even worse than you thought

Dan Farber, LEGAL PLANET

As you dive into the details, things keep looking worse.Trump is proposing huge cuts to EPA and other agencies. That’s bad enough. We’re beginning to learn more details, and the message is grim.  While these cuts may not emerge from Congress at the end of the day, they do express the Administration’s goals. In particular, they demonstrate that the Administration is deeply hostile to environmental science and that it lacks any interest in continuing to clean up our air and water.

Here’s what we know as of now:

Environmental Science. I have posted previously about the threat to scientific research posed by the Trump Administration. The Administration’s attack on environmental science – climate science in particular – is now taking concrete form.

  • NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research would lose 26% ($126 million) of its current funding.NOAA’s satellite data division would lose 22% ($513 million) of its funding.
  • The Global Change Research, a program started by President George H.W. Bush, would be eliminated.EPA’s research on air, climate, energy (EPA) would be cut 50% (to $46 million)EPA’s research on chemical safety and sustainability would be cut 30% (to $62 million.)
  • Overall, EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD) would be cut 40% (from $510 million to $290 million).
  • [Addendum] On March 9, the press reported that the Administration is planning at 30% cut for DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which researches cutting edge energy technologies.

Read more at: Trump’s Budget Cuts: Even Worse Than You Thought | Legal Planet

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable Living

PG&E plans to repaint transmission towers coated with lead paint 

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

PG&E is undertaking a campaign to repaint about 6,000 electric transmission towers coated with lead-based paint, including 65 of the tall structures in Sonoma County.

Letters will be sent this week to owners of the 32 properties where the towers are located months ahead of the work that’s expected to begin in the fall, said Nicole Liebelt, a PG&E spokeswoman.

The letters will be followed by phone calls and personal contact by PG&E representatives.

While use of lead paint is still allowed on commercial structures, Liebelt said PG&E is voluntarily undertaking the repainting program — expected to cost $300 million to $400 million — out of concern for pubic health. PG&E no longer uses lead paint on its towers, Liebelt said.

Read more at: PG&E plans to repaint transmission towers coated with lead paint | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sustainable Living

River residents castigate county over Occidental sewage trucking

Frank Robertson, SONOMA WEST TIMES & NEWS

Public comment on the project’s environmental document, called the Initial Study and Negative Declaration, will be accepted through this Friday, Feb. 24, said Sonoma County Water Agency spokeswoman Ann DuBay. After the deadline, water agency staffers will look at the comments and determine whether the environmental review has been adequate or needs more work. “It could take a few months” before the environmental review is complete, said DuBay.

A full house of concerned river residents admonished the Sonoma County Water Agency last week over plans to truck the town of Occidental’s sewage to Guerneville for treatment and disposal.Her neighborhood is “prepared to do anything necessary to stop this absurd idea,” said Guerneville resident Susan Packer, who owns vacation rental property adjacent to the transfer site.

With Occidental’s sewage set to be trucked daily to a pumping station on Riverside Drive, where ongoing problems include odors and recent collection system overflows during Russian River flooding, “you certainly can’t handle any increase,” in sewage coming into the pump station, said Packer.Neighbors organized as the West Guernewood Action Group agree the transfer project is “incompatible and ill-considered” and are talking to an attorney, Noreen Evans, to represent them in opposition to the project, said Packer.

The united crowd of more than 100 people packed into the Monte Rio Community Center last week had little good to say about the project that would help the town of Occidental meet a state-imposed deadline to bring its sewage disposal methods up to code and avoid fines that could hit $10,000 per day. Occidental’s compliance deadline is Jan 1., 2018, said Sonoma County Water Agency Deputy Chief Engineer Cordel Stillman.

“We know there are some issues” with trucking the town’s sewage to Guernewood Park, where it would then be piped under the Russian River to the Russian River Sanitation District’s sewage treatment plant on Neeley Road, said Stillman at last week’s public hearing hosted by the water agency. The trucking project was hammered out during talks in Occidental last year when Occidental residents rejected a water recycling plan there because of the prohibitive cost.

Trucking the sewage to Guerneville was seen as a stopgap measure that would give Occidental ”breathing room” until a more permanent solution is found, said Stillman.

The meeting in the Monte Rio Community Center was the first real public forum for river residents to weigh in on the transfer plan that was hatched last year as a way to solve Occidental’s inability to find an affordable sewage disposal plan so that the town’s wastewater does not pollute Dutch Bill Creek.

Read more at: River rats castigate county over Occidental sewage trucking | News | sonomawest.com

Filed under Sustainable Living, 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

Sonoma Valley growth sparks debate over area’s future

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The “Scenic Route” sign on Highway 12 announces the obvious to motorists heading into the Valley of the Moon. It’s cradled by mountains, dotted with giant oaks, horse ranches, vineyards, remnants of old orchards and the odd water tower.

The road delivers inspiring views of imposing Hood Mountain, its craggy face standing sentinel over a historic route from Santa Rosa to Sonoma that carried stagecoaches and trains before the automobile took over.But today, the two-lane highway is crowded with traffic generated by commuters, residential and commercial development, sightseers and visitors headed to wineries and tasting rooms.

winery map, Sonoma Valley

Winery Expansion on Sonoma Highway 12 (Press Democrat, from Sonoma County PRMD, October 2016.)

The northern arm of Sonoma Valley, between Madrone and Melita roads, is home to more than 40 tasting rooms and event centers that each year attract more than 140,000 people to special events. They could be joined by another half-dozen or more tasting rooms and more than 110 annual special events with 20,000 more people if permits in the pipeline previously approved, but not yet built, are exercised.

The burgeoning wine industry and plans for a high-end luxury hotel, spa and winery off La Campagna Lane in Kenwood have especially drawn attention and opposition while highlighting the impact of development along the county’s busiest wine road.

The growth has set off alarms among rural residents concerned about the loss of agricultural land and the vehicles and noise generated by winery events, especially on weekends. They raise the specter of “Napafication,” the fear that roads will become as clogged as in Napa Valley, where traffic on Highway 29 slows to a long crawl on Saturdays and Sundays when visitors stream to the abundant large corporate-owned wineries.

Read more at: Sonoma Valley growth sparks debate over area’s future

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living, Transportation