Category Archives: Sustainable Living

Concrete torched in Sonoma County fires being recycled for roadbeds

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Marta May lives in Bloomfield and is used to seeing trucks coming and going from the Stony Point Rock Quarry west of Cotati.

But never has she seen anything like the procession of heavy-duty dump trucks recently waiting to deliver their seemingly endless loads of rubble to the facility.

“There’s millions of them,” May said after passing the long line of trucks along Stony Point Road late last month.

Equally amazing is what they are leaving behind: a mountain of concrete chunks 30 feet high, the remains of hundreds of driveways and foundations cleared from some of the 5,100 residential properties in Sonoma County destroyed in October’s fires.

“It’s huge and it keeps getting bigger, and you wonder how much bigger that it can get,” May said.

The activity around the quarry is just one more reminder of the unprecedented scale of the fires, which scorched 137 square miles in Sonoma County, killed 24 people, and triggered the largest wildfire cleanup in the state history.

While tens of thousands of tons of ash and debris from destroyed homes is being deposited into the Sonoma County landfill, raising concerns about its future capacity, by contrast the concrete heading into the quarry will be recycled, said Mark Soiland, president of the Soiland Company, which owns the quarry.

Read more at: Concrete torched in Sonoma County fires being recycled for roadbeds

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living

Block California’s egg law, 12 states ask the Supreme Court

Associated Press, LOS ANGELES TIMES

A dozen states are banding together to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to block a California law requiring any eggs sold there to come from hens that have space to stretch out in their cages.

Missouri Atty. Gen. Josh Hawley said Monday that he plans to file a lawsuit on behalf of the states alleging that since California’s law took effect in 2015, it has cost consumers nationwide up to $350 million annually because of higher egg prices. The suit argues that California’s requirements violate the U.S. Constitution’s interstate commerce clause and are preempted by federal law.

A federal appeals court panel rejected similar claims last year in a separate case brought by six states, ruling that they failed to show California’s law would affect more than just individual farmers. The latest lawsuit seeks to address that by citing an economic analysis of the California law. It also asks the Supreme Court to take up the case directly instead of requiring that it first move through the lower courts.

Hawley, a Republican who is running for U.S. Senate in 2018, is leading the lawsuit. Other plaintiff states are Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Utah and Wisconsin. All have Republican attorneys general except Iowa, which has a Democrat.

Read more at: Block California’s egg law, 12 states ask the Supreme Court – LA Times

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living

Santa Rosa open to new composting operation at Laguna wastewater site

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa is open to a large-scale composting operation on city-owned property near the Laguna Road wastewater treatment plant, an option that could provide curbside garbage customers some monthly savings.

The Sonoma County Waste Management Agency has been looking for a new site for an organic composting facility since a longtime operation atop the Central Landfill west of Cotati was shut down by regulators in 2015 over water pollution concerns.

Since then curbside customers have been paying millions of dollars to have their organic garbage hauled out of the county, an expensive, wasteful process that local officials want to end.

The county waste agency invited composting companies to submit proposals for a new facility in late May. As part of that process Santa Rosa made it known it might be willing to allow such an operation on surplus property north of the treatment plant.

The city interviewed potential operators, reviewed their plans, and winnowed the list to four companies it felt would be the best fit, said Emma Walton, water refuse engineer for the city.

The four finalists were San Diego-based BioMRF, the multinational firm Sacyr, StormFisher, which is headquartered in London, and a Petaluma-based venture called Renewable Sonoma, which appears to have partnered with SCS Engineers in Santa Rosa.

Read more at: Santa Rosa open to new composting operation at Laguna wastewater site

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

Abalone diving banned next year to protect population on brink of collapse

Tara Duggan, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

Sport abalone diving in Northern California, a tradition going back generations, will not be allowed next year in the region because biologists say the state’s population is on the brink of collapse.

Thursday’s decision came at a meeting of the California Fish and Game Commission in San Diego after a warning from scientists at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife that the population is in severe decline.The commission voted unanimously to close the fishery for one year, which has not happened since it closed the abalone fishery in the southern part of the state in 1997. The Northern California season would normally be open from April to November.

“There are multiple indications that this fishery is collapsing,” said Cynthia Catton, an environmental scientist for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “There’s no sign that it’s even hit the bottom yet. We’re seeing continuing active mortality. We’re seeing continued starvation conditions.”

Read more at: Abalone diving banned next year to protect population on brink of collapse – San Francisco Chronicle

Filed under Sonoma Coast, Sustainable Living, Wildlife

California’s massive fires reveal our illusion of control over disasters 

Faith Kearns, BAY NATURE

I drove away from the Pepperwood Preserve in the Sonoma County hills on a hot and windy Sunday evening in October feeling hopeful. I’d spent part of the day talking with members of the California Naturalist Program about wildfire-induced emotional trauma in the region. As I arrived home in Berkeley later that evening, however, that peculiar fire weather feeling Joan Didion described as when the “winds show us how close to the edge we are” kicked into overdrive.

Several hours later, I awoke to the overwhelming smell of smoke and the news that people all over the Bay Area were hearing: a number of large fires were running wild through the beautiful place I’d left just the night before.

As the days went on, a horrifying picture emerged. Story after story of sudden and terrifying evacuations appeared. Whole neighborhoods had been awoken in the middle of the night by people—some police and firefighters, but many simply neighbors—banging on doors or honking horns as emergency alert systems lagged.

These reports from citizens are harrowing enough on their own but, as a scientist working on disasters like drought and wildfire in California for over a decade, I’m especially struck by the changing commentary from the emergency response community itself. As an example, Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott told the Sacramento Bee that “it’s becoming more the norm now to have multiple damaging fires” at the same time. In the Ventura County Star, Cal Fire Battalion Chief Jonathon Cox said the fire was “unstoppable.” Santa Rosa Fire Chief Tony Gossner noted the pace of alerts and evacuations simply couldn’t keep up with the pace of the fire. These are remarkable statements from top-down, command-and-control institutions.

Read more at: California’s Massive Fires Reveal Our Illusion of Control Over Disasters – Bay Nature

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Land Use, Sustainable Living

Mushrooms soak up fire debris toxics in stormwater

Stett Holbrook, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

The disaster of October’s wildfires didn’t stop once the flames were finally extinguished. The toxic ash left by the firestorms—incinerated plastics, hydrocarbons, solvents, pesticides, heavy metals—lay like a ticking bomb on home sites, awaiting a rain storm to wash the deadly debris into drains and creeks. Once in waterways, the lethal plume could infiltrate watersheds and imperil drinking water and aquatic life. But thanks to an unprecedented public-private partnership, protection from that environmental hazard in hard-hit areas like Coffey Park, Larkfield-Wikiup and Fountain Grove has come from an unlikely source: mushrooms.

Erik Ohlsen, a landscape architect and permaculture educator, saw that second wave of disaster coming and acted quickly to rally a diverse team of volunteers, environmental groups, landowners and public agencies to deploy cutting-edge bioremediation techniques using mushrooms and compost to absorb and neutralize the deadly runoff. He created the Fire Remediation Action Coalition on Facebook to help organize the effort and spread the word.

And word spread quickly. The project took off as another example of the volunteerism and generosity that have characterized local efforts after the fire. Sebastopol’s Gourmet Mushrooms donated thousands of pounds of substrate used to grow mushrooms. Sonoma Compost and West Marin Compost donated compost. Petaluma’s Wattle Guy provided, you guessed it, wattles—barriers and fences made from natural materials like rice straw and sticks. And groups like Russian Riverkeepers and the Clean River Alliance marshaled volunteers to make, fill and install the wattles and monitor water flow during and after the recent rains.

Read more at: Natural Remedy | Features | North Bay Bohemian

Filed under Sustainable Living, Water

A growing number of young Americans are leaving desk jobs to farm 

Caitlin Dewey, THE WASHINGTON POST

Liz Whitehurst dabbled in several careers before she ended up here, crating fistfuls of fresh-cut arugula in the early-November chill.

The hours were better at her nonprofit jobs. So were the benefits. But two years ago, the 32-year-old Whitehurst — who graduated from a liberal arts college and grew up in the Chicago suburbs — abandoned Washington for this three-acre farm in Upper Marlboro, Md.

She joined a growing movement of highly educated, ex-urban, first-time farmers who are capitalizing on booming consumer demand for local and sustainable foods and who, experts say, could have a broad impact on the food system.

Read more at: A growing number of young Americans are leaving desk jobs to farm – The Washington Post

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living

A look at Sonoma County’s plan to fight food waste

Arlene Karidis, WASTE 360

About 45,500 tons of food is dumped in California’s Sonoma County landfill each year, while about 82,000 of its citizens go hungry every month. The Sonoma County Food Recovery Coalition (SCFRC) is working to bridge that divide by diverting what is salvageable and edible to feed the hungry.

SCFRC is developing an online, countywide listing whereby charities can accept donations of produce, dry goods and prepared food. Donators will be able to enter their zip codes to find nearby drop-off locations for their surplus food. But the coalition, including government organizations, non-profits and individuals, has plans beyond this mapping tool.

“The SCFRC is dedicated to creating a community where food is shared equitably and where there is a deeper understanding of the valuable resources that go into producing food. We are working on community-based solutions to reduce food waste, increase food recovery, and create more awareness about this issue,” says Mimi Enright, program manager for University of California Cooperative Extension’s (UCCE) Community Food Systems. (UCCE is facilitating SCFRC’s initiative.)

As a corollary effort to the resource listing, SCFRC is planning an awareness campaign with both a consumer and business focus. And it’s developing a website to serve as a landing page to provide consumers and businesses with more information on how they can support food recovery.

One of the lead organizations is nonprofit CropMobster. It is building the listing technology. It will host the directory on its website and market it on its existing platform, which serves the San Francisco Bay Area.

Read more at: A Look at Sonoma County, Calif.’s Plan to Fight Food Waste

Filed under Sustainable Living

Sonoma County fire cleanup weighs heavy on landfill

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Although nearly 260 destroyed homesites had been cleared of their post-fire debris in Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park neighborhood through Nov. 19, it represents less than a quarter of the burned properties in one corner of the devastating 36,807-acre Tubbs fire.

Just those cleared sites, however, produced a mountain of ash, twisted metal and charred wood — nearly 50,000 tons, according to county officials, with all of it going to Sonoma County’s Central Landfill.

The dump west of Cotati is the main disposal site for what local and state officials are calling the biggest debris removal from a wildfire in California history.

The scorched remains of more than 5,100 Sonoma County homes are bound for the Mecham Road location for burial — loads that have spiked daily traffic from heavy-duty commercial trucks and could burn through the life expectancy for one of the North Coast’s few operating landfills between Petaluma and the Oregon border.

Other than to confirm an increase of inflows from fire debris, a spokesman for Republic Services, the Arizona-based waste giant that operates the county-owned dump, declined to offer specifics about the number of trucks or how much material is now coming through the gates. He added that it presented no need for worries over capacity.

“From where we stand, as the operators, we are not concerned,” said Russ Knocke, Republic’s vice president of communications and public affairs. “Without a doubt it’s something that will factor into overall capacity at the site, but in terms of cause for immediate concern, again, I would say no.”

Still, to handle the additional level of waste and the sudden need for a place to unload it, Republic Services requested a four-month-long emergency waiver at the end of October for its daily weight maximums. Without that, only 2,500 tons of materials from a maximum of 900 trucks are permitted each business day.

Under operations covered by the emergency waiver, on the single biggest disposal day since the fire, the Central Landfill accepted 5,800 tons — about six times the most recent year’s pre-fire average. That compares to roughly 1,000 tons of municipal solid waste per day in 2016, and less than 860 tons daily in 2015.

Read more at: Sonoma County fire cleanup weighs heavy on landfill

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living

Artificial lights are eating away at dark nights — and that’s not a good thing

Amina Khan, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES

Earth is losing its darkness. A new study using satellite data finds that artificially lit surfaces around the world are spreading and growing brighter, producing more light pollution at night.

The findings, described in the journal Science Advances, track what researchers called a worrisome trend that has implications for the environment as well as human health.

“This is concerning, of course, because we are convinced that artificial light is an environmental pollutant with ecological and evolutionary implications for many organisms — from bacteria to mammals, including us humans — and may reshape entire social ecological systems,” Franz Holker of the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, one of the study’s authors, said in a briefing.

Thanks to electric lights, outdoor lighting grew at a rate of 3% to 6% annually in the second half of the 20th century. While this has benefited human productivity and safety, it has come with a dark side: The night is no longer dark enough.Half of Europe and a quarter of North America have experienced seriously modified light-dark cycles, the study authors wrote, calling it a “widespread ‘loss of the night.’ ”

This light pollution can have serious consequences for living things, which have evolved in accordance with a natural day-night cycle, where the only major sources of light at night would have been the moon or more intermittent sources such as volcanoes, lightning, wildfires or auroras.

“From an evolutionary perspective, now, artificial light at night is a very new stressor,” Holker said. “The problem is that light has been introduced in places, times and intensities at which it does not naturally occur, and many organisms have had no chance to adapt to this new stressor.”

Read more at: Artificial lights are eating away at dark nights — and that’s not a good thing – LA Times

Filed under Sustainable Living