Category Archives: Water

In California, conservationists face off with vineyard owners 

Alastair Bland, GREENBIZ

Kellie Anderson stands in the understory of a century-old forest in eastern Napa County, about 70 miles north of San Francisco. To her left is a creek gully, a rush of the water audible through the thick riparian brush. The large trees here provide a home for deer, mountain lions and endangered spotted owls, while the stream supports the last remnants of the Napa River watershed’s nearly extinct steelhead trout.

“They want to take all of this out,” said Anderson, who sits on the steering committee of a local environmental organization, Save Rural Angwin, named for a community in the renowned wine country of the Napa Valley. She is studying a project-planning map of the area as she waves her free arm toward the wooded upward slope. “It looks like this will be the edge of a block of vines,” she said.

Anderson and two fellow activists, Jim Wilson and Mike Hackett, were visiting a property of several dozen acres that the owners plan to clear and replant with grapes, the county’s principal crop. The project is one of many like it pending approval by Napa County officials, who rarely reject a vineyard conversion project in the Napa Valley, a fertile strip that runs northward from the shores of San Francisco Bay.

In Napa County, neighboring Sonoma County and farther to the north in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, concern is growing among some residents, environmentalists and scientists about the expansion of vineyards into forested regions and the impacts on watersheds and biodiversity. In Napa, an aerial view reveals a carpet of vines on the valley floor, which is why winemakers hoping to plant new vines increasingly turn to land in the county’s wooded uplands. At these higher elevations, “about the only thing standing in the way of winemakers are the trees,” said Hackett.

“Napa is getting really carved up,” said Adina Merenlender, a conservation biologist at the University of California at Berkeley, who began studying the ecological impacts of vineyard conversions in the 1990s. “We see it all over the western and eastern ridges — it’s been relentless.” The transformation of shrub, oak and conifer habitat into new vineyards threatens wildlife migration corridors, she said. “We’re down to the final pinch points,” said Merenlender, referring to narrow corridors that eventually could become functionally severed from the relatively expansive wilderness areas in the mountains north of Napa County.

Federal fisheries scientists also have expressed concerns that the wine industry is harming endangered populations of steelhead trout. The creeks flowing off the hills of Napa County are critical to remnant populations of steelhead and salmon, and biologists with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) say the irrigation of vineyards has reduced stream flows and clogged waterways with eroded soils. “Extensive water diversions, groundwater pumping, and increased agriculture (vineyards) water use during the dry season have reduced the extent of suitable summer rearing habitat  … throughout much of the Napa River watershed,” NMFS scientists wrote in the Napa River chapter (PDF) of a 2016 report.

Read more at: In California, conservationists face off with vineyard owners | GreenBiz

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

California flood protection starts giving rivers more room 

Ellen Knickmeyer, ASSOCIATED PRESS

After more than a century of building levees higher to hold back its rivers, California took another step Friday toward a flood-control policy that aims to give raging rivers more room to spread out instead.

The plan, adopted by the flood-control board for the Central Valley, a 500-mile swathe from Mount Shasta to Bakersfield that includes the state’s two largest rivers and the United States’ richest agricultural region, emphasizes flood plains, wetlands and river bypasses as well as levees.

Backers say the changing strategy will better handle the rising seas and heavier rain of climate change, which is projected to send two-thirds more water thundering down the Central Valley’s San Joaquin River at times of flooding.

The idea: “Spread it out, slow it down, sink it in, give the river more room,” said Kris Tjernell, special assistant for water policy at California’s Natural Resources Agency.

Handled right, the effort will allow farmers and wildlife — including native species harmed by the decades of concrete-heavy flood-control projects — to make maximum use of the rivers and adjoining lands as well, supporters say.

They point to Northern California’s Yolo Bypass, which this winter again protected California’s capital, Sacramento, from near-record rains. Wetlands and flood plains in the area allow rice farmers, migratory birds and baby salmon all to thrive there.

For farmers, the plan offers help moving to crops more suitable to seasonally flooded lands along rivers, as well as payments for lending land to flood control and habitat support.

Read more at: California Flood Protection Starts Giving Rivers More Room | California News | US News

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Habitats, Water

Sonoma County supervisors endorse Knights Valley winery over neighbors’ objections

J.D. MORRIS, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors signaled Tuesday that it would approve a new winery in Knights Valley, advancing a long-planned 10,000-case facility despite concerns from residents worried about how the project would impact the rural area, particularly its limited groundwater supplies.

After a nearly three-hour hearing, supervisors unanimously agreed to move the Knights Bridge Winery proposal forward, indicating the board intends to deny a request from residents who wanted the county to require another layer of environmental review.

The board directed county staff to bring the winery’s use permit back for a formal vote Sept. 19, incorporating several conditions proposed by Supervisor James Gore, who represents Knights Valley.

“There’s one thing everybody has in common, which is this beautiful place,” Gore said at the hearing’s outset. “It’s absolutely gorgeous and pristine, and it’s a place that deserves protection and deserves the highest level of review for projects, too.”

The most significant of Gore’s conditions would solidify a pledge made by the winery’s proponents that the project would offset any additional groundwater use, a key concern of residents opposed to the winery, slated for a roughly 86-acre site on Spencer Lane about a mile west of Highway 128. The property’s net demand on its well — half the acreage is planted in vineyards — was previously estimated at about 162,900 gallons per year.

Read more at: Sonoma County supervisors endorse Knights Valley winery over neighbors’ objections | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Water

20th Annual Coho Confab in the Mattole: August 24-26

SALMONID RESTORATION FEDERATION

Registration is still open for the 20th Annual Coho Confab in the scenic Mattole River valley in Humboldt County this August 24-26. SRF is coordinating this event in cooperation with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Mattole Restoration Council, Mattole Salmon Group, and Sanctuary Forest. The Confab will feature workshops focused on coho recovery strategies and BMP land stewardship practices for landowners.

Field tours will include the Mattole estuary where participants will see off-channel slough, Heliwood placement, riparian restoration, forest and fuels reduction, water conservation, and stream bank stabilization projects.

Tours will also include a tour of the Salt River estuary restoration, beaver dam analogues, and groundwater recharge planning projects in the Mattole headwaters. One-day registration is now available.

Read more at: August 2017 eNewsletter Highlights | Salmonid Restoration Federation

Filed under Water, Wildlife

Op-Ed: Cap-and-trade funds to support creative rural solutions

Paul Dolan and Renata Brillinger, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Overview from the CALCAN (California Climate and Agriculture Network) website:

Climate Smart Agriculture Programs – The state of California currently has four Climate Smart Agriculture programs that provide resources for California farmers and ranchers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and store carbon in soils and trees, while providing multiple benefits to agriculture and the environment. The programs are funded with proceeds from the state’s cap-and-trade program.

Healthy Soils Initiative – The Healthy Soils Initiative was proposed by Governor Brown in 2015 and received initial funding of $7.5 million in 2016. The Initiative provides funding for farmer and rancher incentives to increase carbon storage in soils and reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions through practices that build healthy soil such as compost application, cover crop, reduced tillage, conservation plantings and more. The program will also fund on-farm demonstration projects to provide growers, researchers and other ag professionals strategies for mitigating climate change in agriculture.

State Water Efficiency & Enhancement Program (SWEEP) – The program funds growers to improve their irrigation management practices to save water and energy and reduce related greenhouse gas emissions. Eligible project activities include pump upgrades and solar pump installation; conversion to drip or micro irrigation; improved water storage and/or recycling, soil moisture monitoring and irrigation scheduling.

Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program (SALCP) – The program funds local government projects and permanent easements on agricultural lands at risk of development to prevent sprawl.

Dairy Digester Research and Development Program (DDRDP) – The program funds dairy digesters and related research to reduce methane emissions from the dairy sector. A portion of the funding will be allocated in 2017 to a new program called the Alternative Manure Management Program (AMMP).

Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed Assembly Bill 398, which extends cap-and-trade, California’s cornerstone climate change program, through 2030. The program requires the largest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions (e.g., the oil and gas industry, cement plants, large food processors) to cut their emissions. Without putting a price on carbon, we are unlikely to meet our climate change goals, the most ambitious in the country.

The state Legislature and governor will now debate how to budget billions of dollars in cap-and-trade revenue. In the past three years, California has invested more than $3 billion of cap-and-trade funds in our communities to accelerate the transition toward a clean energy economy. In January, Governor Brown proposed an additional $2.2 billion for the 2017-18 fiscal year.

To date, the money has been invested across California on projects that reduce emissions by weatherizing homes, installing solar panels, improving public transportation, building transit-oriented housing and more. In addition to these urban strategies, the state has also embraced sustainable agricultural solutions to climate change.

Since 2014, nearly $200 million has been granted to farmers and ranchers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to store carbon on their land. The country’s first Climate Smart Agriculture programs are demonstrating to the world that farmers and ranchers can be leaders in climate innovation.

Read more at: Close to Home: Cap-and-trade funds need to support creative rural solutions, like those on the North Coast | The Press Democrat

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

Blue-green algae-related toxin warnings remain at Russian River beaches 

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Russian River tested clean this week for a toxin related to blue-green algae that prompted cautionary signs at 10 popular beaches last month and in each of the past two summers.

The river remains open to swimming and other recreation. But warning signs urging visitors to avoid ingesting river water will remain at 10 popular beaches between Cloverdale and the river mouth as a precaution against exposure to the neurotoxin involved, the Sonoma County Department of Health Services said.

The weekly sampling suggests the threat, already minimal, could be diminishing. But precautions can only be lifted after several weeks pass without detection of the neurotoxin called anatoxin-a, county health personnel said.

Read more at: Blue-green algae-related toxin warnings remain at Russian River beaches | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water

Work begins at site of Dutra’s Petaluma plant

Matt Brown, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

Work has begun at the site of a controversial asphalt plant just outside of Petaluma, a long planned facility that environmentalists have said will degrade sensitive wetlands along the Petaluma River.

The Dutra Group has started site improvements on the 38-acre property at Haystack landing on the southern edge of Petaluma. Workers have installed a septic system and Sonoma County is in the final stages of issuing the company a permit to begin grading for phase one of the project, which includes space for a new station for the San Antonio Volunteer Fire Department, according to the county planning department.

The company still needs several state and federal permits in order to receive final permission from the county to begin the bulk of the construction.

“We’re being very cautious,” said Gary Helfrich, the county planner working on the project. “There’s a lot of passion about this project. We want to make sure that when and if we issue permits, we do it correctly.”

Dutra first proposed the asphalt plant in 2004. A political hot potato, it was narrowly approved by the county Board of Supervisors in 2010, and opponents almost immediately filed a legal challenge. A series of court rulings upheld the project, and the company has since moved forward in seeking necessary permits.

Read more at: Work begins at site of Dutra’s Petaluma plant | Petaluma Argus Courier | Petaluma360.com

Filed under Land Use, Water

Some Napa and Sonoma vineyard owners under new rule for storm water runoff

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A new regulation aimed at improving the water quality of two tributaries that run into San Pablo Bay means vineyard owners in those watersheds will have to obtain new permits under more rigorous guidelines for their storm water runoff.

In approving the new rule last month, members of the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board said they were concerned that vineyards could be discharging sediment and pesticides into the watershed that would, among other things, trigger erosion and threaten fish habitat.

Under the rule, land owners in the Sonoma Creek and the Napa River watersheds will be under three different levels of monitoring, from those who are largely adhering to the best environmental practices that have been certified by a third-party organization to those that will fall under more stringent oversight because they would have to make significant changes to management of their property.

The board did not say how many vineyard owners would be affected, but the rule would cover about 40 percent of the total land in both watersheds, representing about 59,000 planted acres. Those with fewer than 5 acres of vineyards would be exempted.

The wine industry was largely rebuffed in its push for major changes from a proposed draft issued by the board last year. Vintners estimate that it could cost from $5,000 to $7,000 to develop a farm plan to obtain the new permit, and the total could significantly rise to much more if they are ordered to make changes to their properties, such as retrofitting an unpaved road or monitoring water quality.

Read more at: Some Napa and Sonoma vineyard owners under new rule for storm water runoff | Sonoma Index-Tribune | Sonoma, CA

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Water

Sonoma County issues toxic algae warning for Russian River beaches

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County provides more information on blue-green algae at its website here

Sonoma County officials posted caution signs at beaches up and down the Russian River on Wednesday alerting visitors to positive test results for a potentially dangerous, naturally occurring neurotoxin linked to harmful algae, a problem surfacing around Northern California this summer.

Water samples collected at three local beaches turned up very low levels of a substance called Anatoxin-a, which is produced by certain species of blue-green algae, Sonoma County health officials said.

It’s the third year in a row the algae-related toxin has been detected in the river.

The most-recent samples were taken Monday and the test results received Wednesday, Sonoma County Health Officer Karen Milman said.

Though the level of toxin in the water “was just at the ability to detect it,” the finding triggers precautionary alerts under state guidelines, she said.

Rivergoers should be particularly watchful of dogs, which are actually attracted to harmful algae, according to studies, and, by virtue of their relative body size and habits when around fresh water, are particularly susceptible to exposure.

Read more at: Sonoma County issues toxic algae warning for Russian River beaches | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water

Why some western water agencies are writing 100-year water plans 

Jerry Redfern, NewsDeeply

The plan calls for increased water conservation through groundwater management (including recharging the aquifer beneath Albuquerque), surface-water management (including protecting current water rights and buying more in the future), watershed restoration, water recycling and reuse programs and stormwater capture and storage.

In February of this year, the largest water district in a state with little water enacted a plan that attempts to manage that increasingly fickle resource for 100 years.

The plan, Water: 2120, is the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority (ABCWUA) in New Mexico’s blueprint to direct water procurement, protection and use for the next century.

“This really came out of eight to 10 of us sitting around in a room every Wednesday morning and talking this through,” said Katherine Yuhas, water resources manager at ABCWUA and one of the lead planners on the project.

It’s common for water agencies to develop plans looking 20 to 40 years ahead, or in some cases 50 to 60 years. And ABCWUA, of course, has had planning documents in the past, the last one looking 60 years out. But “this is the first one to take into account climate change,” Yuhas said, and “it’s the first one to look out 100 years.” Plus, it covers everything from watersheds to infrastructure to household use.

Other Western water groups are also working on long-range plans. Santa Fe is looking closely at Water: 2120. Next year, Austin Water plans to unveil Water Forward, which it calls, “a water plan for the next century.”

And in Arizona, the Office of Assured and Adequate Water Supply Program at the Department of Water Resources requires new developments in certain metropolitan areas to show they have physical and legal access to water for 100 years.

Read more at: Why Some Western Water Agencies Are Writing 100-Year Water Plans — Water Deeply

Filed under Water