Category Archives: Water

New report says California’s ‘iconic’ native fish facing extinction in 50 years

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The “Fish in Hot Water” report includes a road map for addressing the threats to California’s native fish, including restoration and protection of critical habitats, such as spring-fed rivers, flood plains and estuaries as well as river system headwaters.

Read the report here: http://www.caltrout.org/sos

On a tree-shaded bend in Dutch Bill Creek at Monte Rio, three technicians from the Sonoma County Water Agency huddled on a gravel bar to examine the day’s catch, all in the name of science and a sustained campaign to restore one of California’s most endangered fish.

Retrieving 163 coho salmon smolts, or young fish, from a wooden fish trap set in knee-deep, clear flowing water, the crew bathed the four- to six-inch salmon in a bucket of Alka-Seltzer solution, briefly numbing them for easier handling.

The technicians measured, weighed and counted the year-old, hatchery-bred fish before releasing them to continue a perilous journey to the nearby Russian River and out to the Pacific Ocean.

If the young coho, swimming mostly by night to evade predators, make it to the ocean and grow to adulthood, they may in about 18 months return to the Russian River and be counted once again before they spawn and die.

There’s a lot riding on the coho completing their short, human-assisted life cycle.Nearly half of California’s native salmon, steelhead and trout — 14 out of 31 species — are facing extinction in 50 years under current conditions, according to a scientific study released last week.

Another nine species are likely to vanish in 100 years unless steps are taken to address threats such as low water flows, pollution, urban growth, dams and degraded habitat, exacerbated by the recent drought and climate change, the 106-page report by the conservation nonprofit California Trout and the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences said.

Read more at: California’s ‘iconic’ native fish facing extinction, with climate change a major cause | The Press Democrat

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

Calif. court rules against appeal filed by Sierra Club, others over vineyard permit 

John Sammon, LEGAL NEWSLINE

Two Sonoma County vintners received a judgment in favor of their proposed wine making operation when an appeal by the Sierra Club was turned back by the state’s 1st Appellate District Court of Appeals.

The court found in favor of the defendants Ronald and Ernest Ohlson, operators of the Ohlson Ranch, who applied for a permit to turn grazing land on their property into a grape vineyard. The Agricultural Commissioner of Sonoma County (commissioner) issued the permit after making a determination the issuance was a “ministerial” act, and therefore exempt from California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) standards.

The commissioner’s decision was challenged by the Sierra Club, Friends of Gualala River and the Center for Biological Diversity, who asked for a writ of mandate, a court order to an agency or court to follow the law by correcting a previous action (issuing the permit).

Before the year 2000, grape growers in Sonoma County could plant vineyards without government review or permission.. Since then, new directives have been added, including submitting plans to address erosion controls, proper grading, drainage and other safeguards.

The Ohlsons filed an application in 2013 to turn 108 acres out of 132 acres of range land into a vineyard. The property included wetlands and marshy depressions but no trees or streams. Erosion was to be controlled by the use of anchoring grass, mulch, filter strips and cover crops.

Read more at: Calif. court rules against appeal filed by Sierra Club, others over vineyard permit | Legal Newsline

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

In wine regions, vineyards and conservationists battle for the hills

Alastair Bland, YALE ENVIRONMENT 360

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,” says 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 says.

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 that are now 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,” says Hackett.

Read more at: In Napa Valley, Vineyards and Conservationists Battle for the Hills – Yale E360

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

Assembly bill carries renewed hope of improvements for Clear Lake

Glenda Anderson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Cloud-shrouded mountains towered above the glistening waters of Clear Lake on a recent April day as pelicans dove for fish and pairs of grebes dashed side by side across the water in a mating ritual. But not all is pristine on the lake, which suffers from chronic problems with algae overgrowth and mercury contamination from old mining operations, issues that have plagued the ancient lake for decades.

Local, state and federal officials over the years have launched numerous efforts to address the problems and avoid potential new ones like invasive mussels, with limited success. The efforts have included three failed county tax measures since 2012 aimed at improving lake quality, an ongoing federal cleanup of a mercury mine and a long-awaited wetlands restoration project.

Now, a bill sponsored by Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters, is offering new hope for lake improvements. AB 707 doesn’t currently include funding, but local and state officials say it could make such financing easier to obtain by getting multiple agencies and groups to work together on a common goal.

“This is a big deal,” said Lake County Supervisor Jim Steele, a former Fish and Wildlife scientist and manager.

AB 707 would create a “blue ribbon” committee that would bring together a battery of scientists, elected officials, tribal members, environmentalists and others to study the problems and come up with potential solutions.

Read more at: Assembly bill carries renewed hope of improvements for Clear Lake | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Water

Op-Ed: Marching for science on Earth Day

Don McEnhill, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Please join us today at noon at Julliard Park in Santa Rosa for a rally to hear five local scientists and the western U.S. director of the Union of Concerned Scientists and then join us for the March for Science.

On Earth Day 2016, 174 countries and the European Union signed the Paris Climate Agreement, with the United States, China and other nations pledging to sign. It was a jubilant day for the Earth. It marked a high point in turning around our Earth’s future from the bleak projections of our climate scientists to a brighter future of a cooler planet. The world’s governments led by the United States clearly agreed with scientists and signed the agreement to save our earth and the human population from devastating effects of climate change.

Today’s Earth Day celebrations find scientists under attack by the new administration in Washington, while President Donald Trump actively ignores science and puts your health and children’s future at risk. Earth Day 2017 couldn’t be a more polar opposite to 2016, as the environmental protections for clean water and clean air are being gutted, and we’re en route to backing out of the Paris agreement.

The election of Trump installed a president who stated in 2015, “Environmental protection, what they do is such a disgrace; every week they come out with new regulations,” and he vowed to “abolish” the Environmental Protection Agency. Trump’s actions to date are a laundry list of anti-regulatory actions that CEOs have been clamoring for because they supposedly hold back U.S. businesses from “getting America back to work.”

A closer look at Trump’s environmental rollbacks to date tells a different tale. It’s not about jobs or helping blue-collar workers. It’s really about increasing corporate profits. The economics of pollution are simple. Every dollar spent controlling pollution is one dollar less in profits. It is very lucrative to pass the costs of doing business on to the public, which is left to breathe dirtier air and drink more polluted water. So are people really winning with these rollbacks based on attacks on well-accepted science? Only if you own a lot of stock in a polluting corporation. Then you can cash in.

The proposed rollbacks on clean water are stunning. HR 465, the Water Quality Improvement Act of 2017, allows polluters to claim that the costs of cleaning up dirty water are too high and relieves polluters of regulations allowing more dirty water into rivers like the Russian River. HR 953, the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2017, removes all regulations over the use of pesticides near rivers like the Russian River, despite the fact that the chemicals pollute our drinking water and kill our fish. HR 1430, the HONEST and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act of 2017, actually prevents the Environmental Protection Agency from using scientific evidence in the decision-making process.

These attacks on the environment and ultimately our health are just the tip of the iceberg. Trump can only get away with it if we ignore science. We need to remind the people back in Washington that we demand the best available science be used to make decisions and reject the anti-science rhetoric. We need to support scientists who have spent years in school and who work on the world’s toughest problems for everyone’s benefit.

For Riverkeeper, this wasn’t an Earth Day to plant trees by our river but to organize the Santa Rosa March for Science in support of the scientists and their work that we depend on every day to protect and regenerate our river.

Please join us today at noon at Julliard Park in Santa Rosa for a rally to hear five local scientists and the western U.S. director of the Union of Concerned Scientists and then join us for the March for Science. A number of organizations will have ideas for actions you can take to resist the war on science and to strengthen our environmental protections — for our health and our environment.

Don McEnhill is executive director of Russian Riverkeeper.

Source: Close to Home: Marching for science on Earth Day to protect your health | The Press Democrat

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Water

Sonoma County officials gather input on proposed hotel expansion at Graton Resort and Casino

Martin Espinoza, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Traffic, crime and groundwater use were among the main concerns raised by residential neighbors of the Graton Resort and Casino during a town hall meeting Tuesday evening to discuss a proposal to double the size of the casino’s new 200-room hotel, which opened last November outside Rohnert Park.

The expansion, proposed by the casino’s owner, the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, would add 211,328 square feet of building space to the existing 300,000-square-foot hotel, according to the draft tribal environmental impact report, released in March.

The casino, opened in November 2013, occupies more than 300,000 square feet.The town hall, hosted by Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt, drew about 50 people to the Stony Point Christian Fellowship, located a little more than 2 miles north of the casino.

Officials from several county agencies, including the Sheriff’s Office, County Counsel’s Office and the Transportation and Public Works department, attended the meeting to review the 853-page draft environmental impact report and respond to questions from the public.

Read more at: Sonoma County officials gather input on proposed hotel expansion at Graton Resort and Casino | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Transportation, Water

Fate of Russian and Eel River flows rests in big fight over small hydroelectric project

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Even the record rainfall that dowsed the North Coast this winter, filling reservoirs and streams, will not be enough to head off a looming clash over the water that courses down two of the region’s largest rivers, the Russian and the Eel.

Together, they drain a swath of territory, including cities, forests and vineyards, that stretches from central Sonoma County to Fortuna, in Humboldt County — an area larger than Connecticut.

A key link between the two rivers, a small powerhouse more than 100 years old, is now the focal point in a fight over the water that flows down these rivers. It’s a standoff with many of the main players in western water wars — farmers, environmentalists, water districts serving urban customers and fishermen. And it raises many of the same questions: Who benefits and who loses from water taken for decades from one river — at over 20 billion gallons a year — and funneled into another river?

In this case, it is the Eel River that has been tapped, its water sent down a milelong tunnel through a mountain in Mendocino County, into a PG&E powerhouse and ultimately into a fork of Russian River, which flows down through Sonoma County.

Water drawn from the Eel River sustains Lake Mendocino, the main source of drinking water for residents along the Russian River from Redwood Valley down to Healdsburg.

Turning off that supply could devastate agriculture and diminish that primary water source for thousands of people, according to interests on one side of the tug-of-war.

The vast majority of the more 600,000 North Bay residents who depend on the Russian River for drinking water are unaware of the plumbing arrangement and the controversy that has long swirled around it and two related dams on the Eel River, where once-prolific runs of salmon and steelhead trout have dwindled amid various human impacts, water diversion among them.

But for the partisans — the water managers, environmentalists, public officials, ranchers and scientists — the dilemma of parsing out this water between competing interests, between people and fish, between town and country, is revving up again over the relicensing of the PG&E powerhouse, called the Pottery Valley Project.

“It’s a critical moment,” said Rep. Jared Huffman, the San Rafael Democrat whose North Coast district spans the adjacent watersheds.

Read more at: Fate of Russian and Eel River flows rests in big fight over small hydroelectric project | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water, Wildlife

Governor Jerry Brown declares drought over in California

Dale Kasler and Christopher Cadelago, THE SACRAMENTO BEE

The drought officially ended in most of California on Friday, but state officials vowed to clamp down on wasteful water use and impose a long-term conservation program that could create friction with urban water users.

Following a deluge of wet weather that left reservoirs brimming and the Sierra snowpack bulging, Gov. Jerry Brown declared an end to a drought that brought California some of the driest periods in recorded history.

But the governor warned the state’s groundwater supplies remain perilously low in some areas, and the state will continue to forbid Californians from hosing off sidewalks, watering their lawns during or immediately after rainfalls, and other wasteful practices. Municipalities will have to keep reporting their monthly water usage. With climate change threatening to make future droughts worse, Brown and others called on Californians to remain cautious about water usage.

“The next drought could be around the corner,” Brown said in a prepared statement.

Dry weather began in earnest in early 2012. It wasn’t until January 2014, with conditions worsening, that Brown declared a state of emergency and the drought officially began. Friday’s decision rescinds that declaration, as well as most drought-related executive orders he issued when the drought reached its zenith in 2015.

Brown lifted the drought order in every county except Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Tuolumne, where the governor said emergency drinking water projects will continue to help communities where wells have gone dry. The state will also continue fighting the bark beetle outbreak that has killed millions of trees weakened by drought.

Read more at: Gov. Jerry Brown declares drought over in California | The Sacramento Bee

Filed under Sustainable Living, Water

Fallen trees in Sonoma County creeks add to salmon habitat

Nick Rahaim, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

“There’s not a lot of information out there about how to protect habitat in watersheds,” Green said. “Many people don’t realize fast-flowing, unobstructed creeks are not how this area evolved.”

Walking along the shaded banks of Dutch Bill Creek outside Occidental, geomorphologist John Green and environmental scientist Derek Acomb are satisfied with the winter that just passed. A deluge of water swelled thirsty watersheds, and strong winds knocked down an untold number of trees throughout the Sonoma County.

“It’s been a good year for trees coming down,” said Acomb, with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “It’s all about context; it’s all about where you are.”

While falling trees are a threat to both life and property, they create healthy habitats for coho salmon and steelhead trout. As much as dams, logging, agricultural runoff and overfishing throughout the decades have contributed to the collapse of salmon and trout populations, clearing creeks and rivers of downed trees and upended roots has been a major driver, too, Acomb said.

With more than 90 percent of the county’s watershed in private hands, the onus is on landowners to protect riparian habitat on their property. Before an individual can alter downed trees, logs and other forest material in waterways on their property, they must first receive a free permit from Fish and Wildlife — unless there is an immediate threat to life and property. The Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District can also assist in the process, said Green, the lead scientist and program manager there..

There are times when property owners call Fish and Wildlife, afraid debris in a nearby stream might flood their property or their homes. While there are serious emergencies, he said, most trees don’t pose an immediate threat.

“When they call, they’re in a survival state-of-mind,” Acomb said. “Then the following day the water has subsided and they see they’re going to be OK.”

Until the late 1990s, flood protection was the primary focus when managing creeks, streams and rivers, not habitat protection, said Green, overlooking a creek flowing through Westminster Woods where he has devoted a decade of work. The faster the water flows, the more quickly it can drain water when the rivers hit flood levels.

But without the protection from pools created by debris shaping the creek beds and slowing down the flow of water, juvenile salmon and trout are vulnerable to predators like river otters, raccoons and blue herons, Green said. Pools created by fallen timber also provide a place for coho to wait out a long, dry Californian summer before they finally venture out to the ocean in the winter months, he continued.

“With a little less flood capacity you can have a huge increase in habitat,” Acomb said, standing on the mossy bank next to Green. While the two work for different agencies, they have partnered to restore habitat in west Sonoma County.

Read more at: Fallen trees in Sonoma County creeks add to salmon habitat | The Press Democrat

Filed under Habitats, Water, Wildlife

Standing Rock activist speaks at SRJC

Martin Espinoza, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

“This is a low-level oil war going on right in our country,” he [Iron Eyes] said, adding that activists “faced deadly force, people faced corporate-sponsored, state-executed” violence, and that the Keystone project will bring more of the same.

Even though oil has begun to flow through the Dakota Access Pipeline, the months-long battle against the controversial pipeline has fueled resistance against an economic system that puts corporate interests ahead of people’s rights, said Chase Iron Eyes, a Native American activist and a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Speaking Monday afternoon to a packed crowd of students, faculty and local activists gathered at Santa Rosa Junior College’s Bertolini Student Center, Iron Eyes said the activism at Standing Rock has also energized political resistance against President Donald Trump, who green-lighted the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline, or DAPL, and also resurrected the Keystone XL pipeline.

DAPL’s final segment was recently completed after Trump signed an executive order in January lifting President Barack Obama’s administrative opposition to the project. Obama rejected the Keystone project in 2015.

Iron Eyes said those who supported the movement against DAPL have a “responsibility, the duty to take what is powerful from Standing Rock, from the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri rivers” and consider it a victory, even though the protest camps have been razed.

Read more at: Standing Rock activist at SRJC: Standing Rock protest energized political resistance | The Press Democrat

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable Living, Water