Category Archives: Water

Crews break through blockage to reopen river

Frank Robertson, SONOMA WEST TIMES & NEWS

High surf conditions closed the mouth of the Russian River at Jenner for about a week before Sonoma County Water Agency crews dug a channel that biologists hope will balance the interests of the river’s endangered native salmon and steelhead trout along with flood prevention.

On July 17, the Water Agency opened an outlet channel on the beach at Goat Rock State Park appears to be working this week.“ The goal of the outlet channel is to enhance habitat for federally listed juvenile salmon and minimizing flood risks by keeping freshwater levels in the estuary while allowing river water to flow out of the estuary and prevent ocean water from entering,” said Water Agency spokesperson Ann DuBay.

She said the Water Agency will monitor conditions at the estuary and manage the lagoon’s depth this summer so that high water doesn’t flood low-lying areas in Jenner such as the visitor center on Highway 1.

Ideally the outlet channel would remain in place until mid-October to maintain the estuary lagoon.

The Water Agency is conferring with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and other agencies to discuss an appropriate outlet channel and lagoon management strategy, said DuBay.

The Water Agency has been trying, with limited success, to maintain a summer lagoon since 2008 when NMFS issued a biological opinion that ordered changes in the agency’s Russian River operations.

Since the biological opinion was issued calling for the Water Agency to maintain a closed summer estuary if and when the Jenner sandbar closes naturally, a maintenance plan has been implemented three times, said Water Agency Environmental Resources Manager Jessica Martini-Lamb.

Read more at: Crews break through blockage to reopen river | News | sonomawest.com

Filed under Water, Wildlife

Sonoma County Water Agency manager named head of California Department of Water Resources

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Grant Davis, general manager of the Sonoma County Water Agency, was tapped Wednesday by Gov. Jerry Brown as the state’s new director for the Department of Water Resources, handing a veteran of North Bay politics and water policy a central role in Brown’s controversial bid to overhaul California’s water system with a $17 billion pair of tunnels under Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Davis, 54, has led the county Water Agency since 2010 and is set to begin in his new post in Sacramento in August, pending confirmation by the state Senate. The Department of Water Resources is the lead state agency providing water for 25 million residents, farms and business.

Its most contentious proposal under Brown is the pair of massive tunnels intended to convey Sacramento River water under the Delta and deliver it to users to the south, including farmers in the San Joaquin Valley and cities in Southern California.

“The governor supports that California WaterFix and so do I,” Davis said Wednesday, using the nickname for the disputed project that pits Northern California water and environmental interests against influential agricultural and urban users south of the Delta.“

I will be a major participant in that effort,” Davis said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C., where he was on an unrelated trip to lobby for funding to support long-range weather forecasting.

Davis would succeed former DWR Director Mark Cowin, who retired late last year along with the agency’s chief deputy director, Carl Torgersen. The appointment comes as the state continues to emerge from a historic five-year drought, with a push to fortify supplies, build new reservoirs and protect the environment — initiatives that can be in conflict.

Davis said there is “a long way to go” in addressing the state’s water demand and a need to “find a balance” between water supplies and protection of “habitat and fisheries.”

Read more at: Sonoma County Water Agency manager named head of California Department of Water Resources | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water, Wildlife

Santa Rosa may rethink use of chemical sprays such as Roundup in parks

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa is the latest Sonoma County city to take a harder look at how it uses synthetic herbicides like Roundup following the state’s action to list the key ingredient in the weed killer as a known cause of cancer.

The City Council agreed Tuesday to re-bid a large landscaping contract to see if there are maintenance options that don’t use glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup, or neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides suspected of contributing to the demise of bee populations.

The city will seek bids for landscaping methods using common chemical sprays, as well as bids using more organic methods outlined by the Russian River Watershed Association.

“I will be very interested to see the Russian River-friendly proposal,” said Councilman Chris Rogers, who urged the city rethink its approach.

The move was the latest by a local government amid rising regulatory and scientific scrutiny of glyphosate, listed this month by California as a cancer-causing agent over the objection of agrichemical giant and Roundup maker Monsanto, which contends it is safe when used appropriately.

Read more at: Santa Rosa may rethink use of chemical sprays such as Roundup in parks | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sustainable Living, Water, Wildlife

Surge in lamprey population in Eel River

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Swimming by the thousands up the Eel River this year, Pacific lamprey are literally climbing the wall of a dam near Potter Valley in Mendocino County.

Driven by the biological imperative to spawn in the river’s gravel beds, the snake-shaped, prehistoric fish — commonly mistaken for eels — have almost no chance of scaling the 63-foot high Cape Horn Dam.

For decades, their best option has been a fish ladder that flanks the dam, but even it halts the migratory journey for most lamprey, a largely ignored ocean-going species that shares the stream with federally protected chinook salmon and steelhead trout. Those that do clear the passage, by inching their way up the concrete walls, take up to five weeks to do so.

“They go crazy at night just trying to find a way up,” said Scott Harris, a Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist who runs the Van Arsdale Fisheries Station next to the dam.

The surge of lamprey numbers at the dam this year is a mystery, but wildlife watchers welcome the spectacle as a possible sign of a rebound in the population that mistakenly gave the Eel River its name in the 19th century.

Read more at: At Eel River dam, thousands of spawning lamprey make for natural spectacle | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water, Wildlife

Napa, Sonoma vineyards to have new watershed regulations

Cynthia Sweeney, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL

SF Bay Water Board Napa River and Sonoma Creek Vineyard Program

Vineyard owners in the Napa River and Sonoma Creek watersheds are facing new regulations after a decision by the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board meeting July 12.

The decision is the result of a lengthy environmental-impact report years in the making that addresses protection of species and habitat in the area.

The requirements are aimed at “regulating discharges from vineyard properties to achieve discharge performance standards for sediment and storm runoff and control pesticide and nutrient discharges,” the regulations said.

The action also aims to protect “habitat for federally listed steelhead populations, locally rare Chinook salmon populations and exceptionally diverse native fish assemblages.”

There was no timeline given as to when the adoption would go into affect, and specifics on reporting to the regional board were not announced.

The watersheds contain an estimated 162,000 acres of vineyard properties, with 59,000 acres planted in grapes, from which there are or may be discharges of sediment and concentrated storm runoff that affect water quality.

Read more at: Napa, Sonoma vineyards face new watershed regulations | The North Bay Business Journal

Filed under Water, Wildlife

Russian River beach still closed; officials search for cause of high bacteria levels 

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Inquiries and inspections have been made about septic tanks, porta-potty operations and homeless encampments as well, in an effort to narrow down the cause, ….

Updates on the status of the beach are available at sonomacounty.ca.gov/Health/Environmental-Health/Water-Quality/Fresh-Water-Quality/.

Monte Rio Beach will remain closed to swimming for at least one more day as public officials continue to pursue the reason for elevated lab tests that indicate contamination of the water with harmful bacteria, the Sonoma County Department of Health Services reported Monday.

The decision to keep beach-goers out of that stretch of the Russian River through at least Tuesday extends the ongoing beach closure to a fifth day, though officials have yet to confirm or pinpoint any specific hazard or source of pollution.

But state guidelines governing water quality required the closure last week because of test results above the state-allowed threshold for two indicator bacteria considered markers for possible fecal contamination. The beach status is now considered day-to-day.

The latest round of testing put total coliform bacteria at 11,199 organisms per 100 milliliters of sampled water collected off the beach Sunday, Deputy County Health Officer Karen Holbrook said. The state standard is 10,000 organisms per 100 ml.E. coli was measured at 149 organisms per 100 milliliters in samples taken Sunday. The state standard is 235 per 100 ml.E. coli levels dropped below the safety threshold July 6 and appear to have stayed there, though they remain above the two-digit numbers typical of routine testing at 10 Russian River beaches conducted by the county.

The highest test result in the past week put the E. coli level at 833 organisms per 100 ml. or almost four times the state standard, possibly as a result of huge crowds at the beach over the July Fourth weekend.

Read more at: Russian River beach still closed; officials search for cause of high bacteria levels | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water

Apply to sit on a Groundwater Sustainability Advisory committee

SONOMA RESOURCE CONSERVATION DISTRICT

Apply to the Sonoma RCD for Appointment to the Petaluma Valley, Santa Rosa Plain, or Sonoma Valley GSA Advisory Committees: Applications due August 4, 2017

As you may know, the Sonoma RCD is a Member Agency in all three of the Groundwater Sustainability Agencies that have recently formed in Sonoma County (Petaluma Valley, Santa Rosa Plain, Sonoma Valley). As a Member Agency, the RCD will appoint one member to the Advisory Committee for each GSA. The RCD is seeking applications from stakeholders within each groundwater basin who are interested in serving on the Committee. For more information, and to apply, please click on the link for your basin:

Petaluma Valley
Santa Rosa Plain
Sonoma Valley

Apply for GSA Advisory Committee Interest-Based Seats
Each basin also has a number of “interest-based” seats that will be appointed by the GSA Board. Stakeholders can learn more and apply directly to the GSA for
these seats by clicking here.

Filed under Water

California delta tunnels win early approval. Questions remain

Ellen Knickmeyer and Scott Smith, AP WIRE

National Marine Fisheries Service: California WaterFix Biological Opinion

Gov. Jerry Brown won crucial early approval from federal wildlife officials Monday for his $16 billion proposal to re-engineer California’s north-south water system, advancing his plan to build two giant tunnels to carry Northern California water to the south even though much about the project remains undetermined.

The National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gave their green light by finding that the project would not mean extinction for endangered and threatened native species of salmon and other fish. The project, which would tap part of the flow of California’s largest river, the Sacramento, would change the way the San Francisco Bay Area, the farm-rich Central Valley and populous Southern California get their water from what is the West Coast’s largest estuary.

The twin tunnels, both four stories high and 35 miles long, would be California’s most ambitious water project since the 1950s and 1960s. Then, Brown’s father, the late Gov. Pat Brown, helped oversee building of the pumps, dams, and aqueducts that move water from the green north to more arid south. Supporters say the tunnels are needed to modernize and secure water deliveries from the delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, now done by aging pumps that pull the rivers and the fish in them off-course.

Read more at: AP Wire

Filed under Sustainable Living, Water, Wildlife

Disputed Gualala River logging plan stalled pending revised study 

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

See the Friends of the Gualala River website for more information about this logging plan.

A disputed 2-year-old plan to log along several miles of the Gualala River floodplain remains in limbo five months after a Sonoma County judge nullified its approval and sent it back to state forestry officials for revision and additional public review.

Acting on a lawsuit brought by environmental groups, Superior Court Judge Rene Chouteau ruled in January that the 330-acre project was deficient because it failed to account for the cumulative impacts of a different logging plan in development when the proposal at issue was first submitted.

It’s not clear just how much revision of the so-called Dogwood plan submitted by Gualala Redwood Timber will be necessary before it earns a pass from the judge, and there is likely more courtroom action ahead in any case.

“I think everyone expects that this is the first round of litigation,” said Eric Huff, forestry practice chief with Cal Fire, the state forestry agency.

Chouteau’s formal order, filed April 18, gave Cal Fire wide discretion to determine how broadly the Dogwood harvest plan should be reconsidered.

Larkspur attorney Ed Yates, who represents several environmental groups trying to block logging in the floodplain, said it would behoove Gualala Redwood Timber to substantially adjust its plan, given the many objections plaintiffs have lodged against it.

The Dogwood proposal “is legally inadequate in many different areas: plants, endangered species, water quality, climate change, alternatives, mitigations,” Yates said.

Read more at: Disputed Gualala River logging plan stalled pending revised study | The Press Democrat

Filed under Forests, Habitats, Water

Here’s how big wine gets to avoid environmental rules in Napa

Alastair Bland, KCET

According to Anderson, vineyard managers frequently install drainage systems incorrectly, fail to plant required cover crops to control erosion, incorrectly place deer fences in a way that prevents free passage of smaller wildlife, and use pesticides illegally. She says erosion control measures often fail to work, causing loose sediment to wash into creeks. There it can smother gravel beds used by spawning salmon and steelhead, which have almost vanished from North Bay watersheds. Many biologists have pointed to vineyards as a leading cause of the fish declines.

In 2006, Napa County officials issued a permit for The Caves at Soda Canyon, a new winery in the hills east of the city of Napa. As most such project permits do, the document set strict limits on how the developer could build his winery.

But The Caves’ owner Ryan Waugh allegedly ignored some of these limitations. Waugh dug an unpermitted cave into a mountain, and hosted guests at unapproved ridgetop tasting patios. After county officials became aware of the violations, they ordered Waugh in 2014 to block off (but not fill in) the illegal cave, stop the unauthorized wine tastings and muffle a noisy generator.

Neighbors had complained about the generator’s din, claiming that Waugh had promised years earlier to connect his facility to silent power lines. They’re primarily concerned, however, about the winery’s impacts on local traffic and congestion.

County documents report that Waugh followed through on all orders to correct the violations (something neighbors, who say they can still hear the generator, dispute). Then, Waugh submitted a request for a modification to his permit, and in April, the Napa County Planning Commission voted to approve it. The new permit brings the unauthorized components of his operation into full legal compliance while also increasing The Cave’s annual production limit from 30,000 gallons of wine to 60,000. The decision is a win for Waugh, who has reportedly put his winery on the market for $12.5 million.

Neighbors say that laws don’t apply to people invested in Napa County’s influential wine industry.

“You can just drill an unpermitted cave and have unpermitted tastings, and just get retroactive approval from the county, and get more allowed production than you initially had,” says Anthony Arger, who lives nearby. Arger is concerned that The Caves’ enhanced use permits will lead to a dangerous increase in vehicle use on Soda Canyon Road.

The county’s decision to clear Waugh’s record while allowing him to enlarge his business illuminates what Arger and other community activists say is part of a countywide problem. They argue that Napa County officials, especially those in the Planning, Building and Environmental Services department, collude with the wine industry, ignoring violations of local rules, to increase wine production and tourist visits at the expense of the environment and local residents’ health and safety.

Read more at: Here’s How Big Wine Gets To Avoid Environmental Rules in Napa | KCET

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