Category Archives: Water

Water regulator to deny Dutra permit

Matt Brown, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

In its letter to the company, the water board said that Dutra did not properly study alternative sites for the asphalt plant.

“After review of the Alternatives Analysis, we have determined that the Applicant has not yet demonstrated that the proposed Project constitutes the least environmentally damaging practicable alternative,” the board wrote in the letter. “As such, the Alternatives Analysis is inadequate.”

A regional water regulator intends to deny a permit for the Dutra Group, dealing a serious setback to the company’s contentious plans to build an asphalt plant along the Petaluma River just south of the city.

The San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board sent a letter on Nov. 1 telling the company that its application is incomplete.

“We’ve told them of our intention to deny their permit,” said Fred Hetzel, an environmental scientist who is working on the Dutra permit for the water board. “(The denial) will come within the month.”

The water board permit is a key approval that the company needs before it can start construction on the long planned asphalt plant on 38 acres of land at Haystack Landing. The company also needs permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bay Area Air Quality District and California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Read more at: Water regulator to deny Dutra permit

Filed under Air, Land Use, Water

Damage to creeks, water supply analyzed after Sonoma County fires

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

It’s called “first flush,” the rain that fell last week upon the scars of recent wildfires and threatened to wash into local streams whatever ash, debris or contaminants had been left upon the landscape.

From fire retardant to heavy metals to organic byproducts and exposed sediment, anything left behind by the flames was at risk of being swept into storm drains and streams during the season’s first substantial rains, experts said.

Public agencies are hopeful that a feverish effort to deploy thousands of straw wattles and other barriers around burned structures, charred hillsides and storm drain inlets prevented some pollution from occurring with storm runoff.

But strategic stream testing will help measure their success as water quality engineers and experts gear up for what will be a long-term campaign to protect water resources and restore scorched watersheds into the rainy season and beyond.

“Healthy watersheds mean a healthy environment, and right now we have a very unhealthy watershed,” said Sonoma Clean Power Director of Programs Cordel Stillman, who is helping to coordinate county and municipal watershed recovery projects in the wake of the wildfire disaster.

Read more at: Damage to creeks, water supply analyzed after Sonoma County fires

Filed under Water

Students work to protect environment

John Jackson, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

The success of the United Anglers of Casa Grande High School program has created the program’s greatest challenge.

The United Anglers of Casa Grande is a nonprofit educational organization located on the Casa Grande High School campus. Members of the organization are students who learn about fisheries, especially salmon and steelhead, and promote environmental awareness and activism through hands-on habitat restoration. United Anglers students operate and maintain a state-of-the-art conservation fish hatchery on the campus.

Interest in the program has exploded in recent years from around 30 students to more than 100, and now includes participants from Petaluma High School as well as Casa Grande.

Since the United Anglers program is a nonprofit and must raise all its own funds, the challenge comes in raising enough money to support the increase in membership, particularly at a time when the recent fires and disasters in other parts of the country are vying for benevolent contributions.

“I’m torn,” said program director and teacher Dan Hubacker. “We depend on support from families and businesses, but at the same time how do you ask them for donations after so many people have been affected by the fires?”

But Hubacker also said he feels an obligation to honor those, like himself, who have benefited by the program by keeping it going.

Read more at: A popular program

Filed under Water, Wildlife

A secondary disaster

Letter to the Editor, PRESS DEMOCRAT

EDITOR: An article in last Wednesday’s paper quoted officials regarding the urgency for fire clean-up before winter rains commence (“With upcoming rain, fear of contamination”). Property owners are reluctant thus far to allow government to clean up their toxic ash and may be setting the stage for a secondary tragedy: massive polluting of our waterways.

Remaining ash, containing an eviscerated combination of toxic products, may be washed into the water or settle on gardens and farms to do irreparable damage. This stuff is so toxic that men in white suits with masks, gloves and boots have to remove it to a special place where they allow toxic wastes.

It is time-consuming, dirty, expensive and hazardous. And it needs to be done immediately before the heavy rains begin.

Those holding off may find it hard to find qualified people to do the job properly and affordably so they can obtain permits to rebuild. Time is of the essence to get it done. Please sign your right-of-entry form, and let others arrange to do the work free of charge.

It’s a hard choice. We feel sympathy for people having to make it, but the effects could be so dire, it might greatly compound the suffering and loss.

BRENDA ADELMAN, Russian River Watershed Protection Committee

Source: Wednesday’s Letters to the Editor

Filed under Sustainable Living, Water

After the Napa fires, toxic ash threatens soil, streams, and the San Francisco Bay

Adam Rogers, WIRED

By any measure, the fires that tore through Northern California were a major disaster. Forty-two people are dead, and 100,000 are displaced. More than 8,400 homes and other buildings were destroyed, more than 160,000 acres burned—and the fires aren’t all out yet.

That devastation leaves behind another potential disaster: ash. No one knows how much. It’ll be full of heavy metals and toxins—no one knows exactly how much, and it depends on what burned and at what temperature. The ash will infiltrate soils, but no one’s really sure how or whether that’ll be a problem. And eventually some of it—maybe a lot—will flow into the regional aquatic ecosystem and ultimately the San Francisco Bay.

That’s the bomb. Here’s the timer: An old, grim joke about the California says that the state only has three seasons: summer, fire, and mudslides. Those mudslides happen because of rain; the Santa Ana (or Diablo, if you’d prefer) wind-driven wildfires of autumn give way to a monsoon season that lasts through winter and into spring. The rains of 2016-2017 ended a longstanding drought and broke all kinds of records.

Scientists and environmental health agencies know, mostly, what to expect from ash that comes from burned vegetation. But these fires included something a little new. They burned through the wildland-urban interface and into cities. “For how many structures that were burned in fairly small areas in these fires, I think that’s a first-of-its-kind event,” says Geoffrey Plumlee, associate director of environmental health for the US Geological Survey. “The concern is, can they get it cleaned up before the heavy rains come?”

Read more at: After the Napa Fires, Toxic Ash Threatens Soil, Streams, and the San Francisco Bay | WIRED

Filed under Water

Next challenge in Wine Country fires: colossal cleanup before winter rains 

Kurtis Alexander, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

While the worst of the wildfires is over for Wine Country, the region faces another daunting test: the cleanup of heaps of ash, twisted metal and blackened debris scattered across some 250 square miles of burned hills and valleys — an area five times the size of San Francisco.Never before has California seen such wildfire destruction. The blazes that roared through Napa and Sonoma counties this month obliterated at least 7,200 houses, barns and businesses, including entire neighborhoods, each with untold amounts of hazardous items now littered about, from pesticides to propane to melted plastics.

Residents are eager to get their properties cleared of the often toxic wreckage so that they can rebuild, though it will be months before any construction starts. Plans for the huge cleanup are still being worked out, with a goal of finishing early next year. The state will lead the effort, in partnership with the federal government, but only after the fires are extinguished and logistics are addressed.

Officials need to find landfills with enough space to take the rubble and get consent from landowners to clear their properties, matters that could take weeks. Once that’s done, the state is likely to hire hundreds if not thousands of contractors to truck out the debris from private residences and public property. Businesses and their insurers, though, will probably be responsible for cleanup at their sites.

Read more at: Next challenge in Wine Country fires: colossal cleanup before winter rains – San Francisco Chronicle

Filed under Sustainable Living, Water

In Sonoma County toxic debris removal, officials in a race against rains

Christi Warren, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Don McEnhill, Russian Riverkeeper: “I am very concerned, but there’s only so much you can do. You cannot prevent 100 percent of the toxins and things from going in (the watershed), but I feel like with the meetings that have been held this week, people have been very proactive about threats to the watershed, and that does give me hope that we’re going to do everything we possibly can before we have the rains come in.”

With ash now blanketing much of Sonoma County, environmentalists are turning their efforts to debris removal in a race against the oncoming rainy season. Their primary concern: protecting the watershed from toxic runoff.

As the fire roared through Santa Rosa, car batteries, insulation, couches, industrial facilities, carpets, plastics — all things that shouldn’t burn — did.

In response, Cal Fire officials created the Watershed Emergency Response Team. A coalition of state and federal agencies, as well as local environmental nonprofits, it’s dedicated to keeping as much debris as possible out of the county’s waterways.

Their next step will be to evaluate the fire areas and identify which of those are at the most risk for watershed emergencies, prioritizing debris removal and runoff mitigation that way, said Johnny Miller, a public information officer for Cal Fire.

Once identified, sandbags, barriers and straw wattles will be placed to protect against any erosion that could result from winter rains. While Sonoma County is expected to get rain tonight and Friday morning, the .25 inches that could fall is not enough to cause officials much concern.

This winter could be another story. With the North Bay facing a La Niña, it’s hard to tell just how much rain might fall, said Steve Anderson, a forecaster with the National Weather Service.

“Typically that means wetter than normal in the Pacific Northwest and dry in the desert Southwest,” he said.

But in the North Bay, “There are equal chances of above and below normal. … We’ll just have to see what kind of weather patterns set up.”

Read more at: In Sonoma County toxic debris removal, officials in a race against rains | The Press Democrat –

Filed under Water

Threat to Gualala River Dogwood Forest logging ends with court decision

Peter Baye and Rick Coates, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

“The real problem isn’t going to go away until the Board of Forestry and CAL FIRE follow their own rules, including CEQA. Until they do, we are not going away, either” said Charlie Ivor, president of Friends of Gualala River. “The Gualala River floodplain forest is going to be protected according to law, no exceptions.”

The lawsuit to stop logging the Gualala River floodplain redwood forest tract in the “Dogwood” timber harvest plan (THP) is over. CAL FIRE was ordered by Sonoma County Superior Court to vacate (revoke) the Gualala Redwood Timber Company timber harvest plan on April 18, 2017. CAL FIRE finally responded to the writ sending a “Notice of Director’s Decision Vacating Approval” to GRT’s forester Art Haschak on September 7, 2017, prohibiting any further logging in the Dogwood THP area. GRT must now file a new timber harvest plan if it seeks to log some or all of the floodplain redwood forest in the vacated “Dogwood” THP.

The Dogwood THP was shut down by the Court after logging on one tributary had begun. The five miles of riparian redwood forest along the main stem of the river in the Dogwood THP area has not been logged.In March, the court also ordered CAL FIRE to “reconsider” its approval of the Dogwood THP within 150 days. The Court entered judgment against CAL FIRE on March 23, 2017, based on the agency’s failure to assess any cumulative impacts of another floodplain timber harvest plan submitted by Gualala Redwood Timber during the Dogwood timber harvest plan review period, the “German South” THP.

While environmentalist plaintiffs are celebrating their victory, and the fact that the century-old floodplain redwood forest in the Dogwood THP area will be spared for now, they remain concerned CAL FIRE has not improved or reformed its environmental reviews of floodplain forest logging. The Court ordered CAL FIRE to “reconsider” approval of the Dogwood THP, including direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts to wetlands, rare plants, floodplain forest, and listed fish and wildlife species. But after being ordered to revoke the logging permit, CAL FIRE and GRT made a minimal, nominal effort to meet this order. Rather than substantially reconsider or correct the many basic environmental flaws of the timber plan, CAL FIRE and GRT minimally complied with Judge René Chouteau’s order to “reconsider” its approval by submitting only a single supplemental page, three paragraphs long, with minor changes.

Read more at: Threat to Gualala River Dogwood Forest logging ends with court decision

Filed under Forests, Habitats, Land Use, Local Organizations, Water

Op-Ed: Rebuild State Route 37 to address sea level rise and traffic 

Fraser Shilling and Steven Moore, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

State Route 37 — which snakes across Solano, Napa, Sonoma and Marin counties in Northern California — is living on borrowed time.

At times, the highway appears to be impassable because of the 44,000-plus vehicles that travel portions of it every day. However, the effects of climate change will render this critical northern Bay Area crossing absolutely impassable during high tides unless we collaborate regionally on the best way to balance traffic needs and the valuable wetlands the roadway straddles.

The societal challenge we face is adapting to environmental changes in a resilient way while being ecologically sustainable. In the Bay Area, rebuilding State Route 37 to avoid its potential loss in the next 20 years because of flooding will be our first regional foray into adapting to sea level rise — an issue that will threaten most of our shoreline infrastructure, coastal ecosystems and population centers.

State Route 37 provides a critical “northern crossing” of the San Pablo Bay as it stretches from Interstate 80 in the east, to Highway 101 in the west, serving local residents, commuters and visitors, as well as freight haulers traveling between the Central Valley and the Santa Rosa area. Today the highway is built atop a berm, an outdated method of building roads across marshes and waterways that constricts the ability of the bay to improve water quality by filtering out pollutants, produce more fish and wildlife, and absorb floods.

The temptation may be to work on a quick, easy fix that reduces traffic congestion while ignoring long-term consequences. These consequences include traffic congestion returning to current levels in a few years, and the San Pablo Bay tidal marshes being cut off from the life-giving ebb and flow of the tides.

Read more at: Rebuild State Route 37 to address sea level rise and traffic – San Francisco Chronicle

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Transportation, Water, Wildlife

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