Tag Archives: agriculture

Wineries’ impact brings taste of bitterness to Sonoma campaign

Peter Fimrite, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

A supervisors race between two liberal candidates in Sonoma County has turned into a good ol’ Wine Country brawl amid fear that the region is too quickly transforming into a pricey, water-sucking theme park for the almighty grape.

The tug-of-war over the seat being vacated by disgraced Supervisor Efren Carrillo is billed by some as a choice between forests and vineyards, farmlands and event centers, conservation and industry.

But the election pitting organic farmer Lynda Hopkins against former state Sen. Noreen Evans for supervisor of the Fifth District, which covers western Sonoma County, including the entire coastline, is more complicated than that.

Both candidates purport to want the same thing — to protect the environment, particularly the Russian River; create affordable housing to counter skyrocketing prices; improve roads and other infrastructure; and prevent the county from turning into a wine monoculture.

The argument over which candidate can achieve those things has turned into a mud-slinging imbroglio, mainly over the alleged influence of special-interest groups.

At stake, if you believe the two candidates, is the future of bucolic Sonoma County, which has seen an explosion of winery development and a population increase of almost 4 percent since 2010.

“The major issue is the influence of wineries and agriculture,” said Ernie Carpenter, a former supervisor who is supporting Evans. “We are having a corporate buyout of many old family vineyards and wineries.”

Evans and her supporters say Hopkins is bankrolled by mineral extractors, real estate developers, and dozens of vineyard and winery owners worried about the government restricting tourist-friendly projects that would, in turn, clog already over-tapped roads.

Read more at: Wineries’ impact brings taste of bitterness to Sonoma campaign

Filed under Sustainable Living

California drought puts Chinook salmon in danger of extinction

Ellen Knickmeyer, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Another deadly summer of drought has heightened fears of extinction in the wild for an iconic California salmon, federal officials said Wednesday.

Officials with the National Marine Fisheries Service said preliminary counts indicate that hot, shallow waters caused by the drought killed most of this year’s juvenile winter-run Chinook before they made it out to the Pacific Ocean.

It “doesn’t look very good,” said Garwin Yip, a federal fisheries spokesman.If a final count this winter confirms the bad news, it would mean a second straight summer in which 5 percent or less of the young fish survived California’s drought.

Since the fish spawn on a three-year cycle, the die-off would make management of next year’s water critical for the salmon’s survival in the wild.

The development suggests failure for a second year in a row for federal efforts to manage water flows from Lake Shasta, a main reservoir in the state’s water system, to keep salmon and other species alive.

“Droughts are always hard on salmon, but water management decisions made it worse this year,” said John McManus, executive director of the Golden Gate Salmon Association.

The juvenile salmon depend on water temperatures in the mid-50s, and were unable to survive in the warmer temperatures produced by shallower than usual water.

Chinook salmon are a mainstay of the state’s commercial fishing industry. California’s fishing industry and environmental groups are vying with the state’s farmers for diminishing water supplies in the driest four years on record.

Source: California drought puts Chinook salmon in danger of | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water, Wildlife

Water woes come to a head in Sonoma County

W. Blake Gray, WINE-SEARCHER.COM

Even before the Russian River killed a dog 10 days ago, fighting over its water was getting ugly.

The Russian River runs through some of the best grapegrowing areas in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. Thirty years ago it was thick with salmon swimming upstream from the Pacific Ocean. The water level has declined and the fish population has dropped with it. Four years of severe drought have aggravated the situation.

Now the Russian River has an algae problem. A family took its 3-year-old golden retriever on a river visit late last month near Westside Road, where some of the country’s most expensive Pinot Noir comes from. Moments after climbing to shore, the dog went into seizures, foamed at the mouth and died. County public health officials discovered a toxin produced by blue-green algae that can also affect humans. They issued a warning just before the Labor Day weekend about the dangers of swimming in the popular recreation spot.

In July the state of California imposed water-use restrictions on residents, forbidding them from watering their lawns and limiting how often they could wash their cars. However, it did not restrict water use to Sonoma County’s 439 wineries or its 60,000 acres of vineyards. There was at least one fist fight at a meeting to explain the restrictions to residents.

There may be no connection between the algae and either the river’s recent woes, or the wine industry. According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, blue-green algae is most likely to proliferate in bodies of water with high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous when the water is hot and the weather is calm, as it has been in Sonoma County for most of this summer. It’s a common problem in the southeast United States and is found all over the world.

“I am not aware of anything that wineries or vineyards will be contributing that will encourage the growth of such algae except using the water for irrigation, which may affect the water level,” UC Davis viticulture and enology professor Dr. Anita Oberholster told Wine-Searcher.

But the dog may become a symbol for an environmental movement that has grown over the years from a quiet rumbling to an outright roar, most of it directed at the growth of the wine industry.

In August, activists in four counties formed a group called Wine and Water Watch to try to concentrate their efforts. The new state regulations announced in July that exempted wineries and vineyards were a big motivating factor.

Read more at: Water Woes Come to a Head in Sonoma | Wine News & Features

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Water, Wildlife

Coho vs. Pinot: On the Russian River, grape growing and fish don’t aways mix

Will Parrish, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

As California lurches through its fourth year of an unprecedented drought, it is no surprise that long-simmering Russian River water conflicts have come to the forefront. At the center of this struggle are salmon and trout, whose epic life journeys play out on a scale akin to Homer’s Odysseus.

In July, roughly 1,000 rural Sonoma County residents overflowed classrooms and small meeting chambers at five informational sessions convened by the State Water Resources Control Board. It would be hard to exaggerate many attendees’ outrage. At one meeting, two men got in a fistfight over whether to be “respectful” to the state and federal officials on hand.

The immediate source of their frustration is a drought-related “emergency order” in portions of four Russian River tributaries: Mill Creek, Mark West Creek, Green Valley Creek and Dutch Bill Creek. Its stated aim is to protect endangered coho salmon and threatened steelhead trout. Among other things, the 270-day regulation forbids the watering of lawns. It places limits on car washing and watering residential gardens. It does not, however, restrict water use of the main contemporary cause of these watersheds’ decline: the wine industry.

“The State Water Resources Control Board is regulating lawns? I challenge you to find ornamental lawns in the Dutch Bill, Green Valley and Atascadero Creek watersheds,” said Occidental resident Ann Maurice in a statement to the water board, summing up many residents’ sentiments. “It is not grass that is causing the problem. It is irrigated vineyards.”

In what many see as a response to public pressure, the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission, an industry trade group, announced last week that 68 of the 130 vineyards in the four watersheds have committed to a voluntary 25 percent reduction in water use relative to 2013 levels. According to commission president Karissa Kruse, these 68 properties include about 2,000 acres of land.

Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore, whose district encompasses more Russian River stream miles than that of any other county supervisor, has been strongly involved in developing the county’s response to the water board regulations and was the only supervisor to attend any of the state’s so-called community meetings.

“I applaud the winegrowers for stepping up,” Gore says in an interview. “I think they saw the writing on the wall. They knew they weren’t going to continue to be exempt from this sort of regulation for long, and there are also winegrowers already doing good things in those watersheds who wanted to tell their stories.”

Initially, state and federal officials who crafted the regulation said they preferred cutting off “superfluous” uses as a first step. “Our target is not irrigation that provides an economic benefit,” says State Water Resources Control Board member Dorene D’Adamo of Stanislaus. D’Adamo has been the five-member board’s point person for developing the regulations and was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown as its “agricultural representative.

“Many residents argue that there is no way of monitoring the vineyards’ compliance with the voluntary cutback because their water use has never been metered. Moreover, these residents’ passionate response to the regulation did not emerge in a vacuum. Rather, it tapped a deep well of resentment regarding the long-standing preferential treatment they say state, county and even federal officials have accorded the powerful, multibillion dollar regional wine industry.

As longtime Mark West Creek area resident Laura Waldbaum notes, her voice sharpening into an insistent tone, “The problem in Mark West Creek did not start with the drought.”

Read much more at: Coho vs. Pinot | Features | North Bay Bohemian

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

Napa County eyes tighter winery permit oversight 

Jeff Quackenbush, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL

Acknowledging public sentiment to tighten up enforcement of permits for wine production in Napa County, the Board of Supervisors on Aug. 11 got their first look at new tools for doing so, including reviewing compliance annually, attaching violation notices to property records and making those operating flagrantly outside their limits have a one year or longer “timeout” in seeking permission for permit changes.

This discussion on major changes to the way the county keeps tabs on what wineries are doing comes amid growing public concern about wine production and hospitality operations in rural areas of Napa and Sonoma counties. And some involved in planning policy in Sonoma County have been looking at the current Napa County winery audit as a potential model for measuring and regulating wine-related visitation and facility scaling in rural areas.

Full public hearings on such measures are set to come in September and November, so the board was giving staff direction on get-tougher recommendations coming from planning and building staff as well as an advisory committee of agriculture and environmental protection representatives and the most recent Napa County Grand Jury.

Read more at: Napa County eyes tighter winery permit oversight | North Bay Business Journal

Filed under Land Use

Napa County strings together a ‘living’ river

Amber Manfree, CALIFORNIA WATER BLOG

In the historic heart of Napa Valley, a moderate climate and the alluvial soils deposited by the Napa River create perfect conditions for world-class cabernets. An acre of vines here sells for around $300,000, or 25 times the state average for irrigated cropland.

Yet a group of landowners have ripped out 20 acres of these prized vineyards to make room for river restoration, with levee setbacks, terraced banks and native plants.

The project runs the length of Rutherford Reach, a 4.5-mile stretch of the Napa River between St. Helena and Oakville. Landowners say the changes will bring economic benefits over the long term by reducing crop losses from floods and plant disease. Most of all, they feel good about giving back to the river that has brought them so much.

Rutherford Reach is one several sites undergoing major habitat and flood control improvements on the Napa River. Some projects started more than 40 years ago. Others are just getting off the ground.

Far from postage-stamp restorations, these efforts are steadily transforming a huge swath of wetlands in a very lived-in area, re-establishing geomorphic function at the landscape scale.

Innovative funding, inclusive planning and adaptive management power these projects and offer lessons for river restoration elsewhere.

With the completion of ongoing projects, tens of thousands of acres and about 60 percent of the Napa River’s length will have been rejuvenated with improved habitat, intact geomorphic function and reconnected floodplains. Map by Amber Manfree/UC Davis

Here’s a closer look at three major flood control and river rejuvenation projects on the Napa: Rutherford Reach, downtown Napa and the lower Napa River:

Read more at: Napa County strings together a ‘living’ river

 

Filed under Land Use, Water

Sonoma County winegrowers’ proposed bill seen as ‘water grab’

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Environmentalists are mobilizing in protest of a would-be bill backed by the local wine industry that would create an irrigation district intended to protect the water rights of about 1,000 grape growers in the Russian River region.

Noting that Sonoma County is facing “urgent water supply” problems unique to the Russian River watershed, the legislation — proposed by the United Winegrowers of Sonoma County — would create a segmented district covering five viticultural areas in Alexander, Knights, Dry Creek, Russian River and Bennett valleys, which produce the county’s priciest wine grapes.

The move comes in fourth year of California’s historic drought, when competing claims for dwindling supplies and state moves to safeguard stream flows have set some rural landowners under mandatory cutbacks against grape growers who have so far faced no such restrictions.

Activists involved in the escalating debate over winery expansion and vineyards’ unlimited use of water were alarmed by a published report last month that said state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, was “quietly sponsoring” the bill, and they intend to protest at McGuire’s annual town hall meeting Thursday night at the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors chambers.

McGuire said he had received a copy of the proposed bill from Bob Anderson, executive director of the United Winegrowers for Sonoma County, who handles the local wine industry’s political affairs. In response, McGuire said he advised the wine industry and environmental factions that all sides need to agree on a “collaborative solution” before he would consider carrying any legislation.

“There is no bill,” he said, noting that the deadline for filing legislation this year has passed.

Read more at: Activists see Sonoma County winegrowers’ proposed bill as | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water

Wine industry water grab? 

Will Parrish, ANDERSON VALLEY ADVERTISER

The “discussion draft” of the Russian River Irrigation bill has not been released publicly. So, as a public service, the AVA will offer a copy of the bill on its website.

California’s slow-mo adoption of groundwater regulations is prompting all sorts of legal maneuvers by the state’s irrigation elite, who are striving for the fewest restrictions on their pumps possible. In the Russian River watershed, from where I write this dispatch, arguably the irrigation elite’s elitist elites are the grape growers of northern Sonoma County.

Their lawyers are not resting.

State Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) is quietly sponsoring legislation to create a new independent special district called the Russian River Irrigation District, which would be operated of, by, and for the growers and their affiliated wineries, tasting rooms, and event centers.

The district would encompass much of the Russian River watershed in northern Sonoma County, and possibly a small portion of southern Mendocino County. The legislation specifically names its purview as being the Alexander Valley, Knights Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and “the territory within the portion of the Russian River Valley American Viticultural Area” and “the portion of the Russian River Valley American Viticultural Area south of River Road and Mark West Creek Road.”

Senator McGuire (of “Marijauna Watershed Protection Act” fame) has yet to introduce the legislation in bill form. Rather, his staff has circulated a “discussion draft” of the proposed legislation to — and I’m intentionally using the in-fashion political jargon here — “interested parties.”

Reportedly, grape growers met on July 27th to discuss the bill and they are not unanimously in favor of it. They still need to iron out a lot of kinks. For that reason, McGuire (who is from Healdsburg, and thus to no small degree a political creature of the wine industry) has yet to bring the bill before the State Legislature.

The main function of irrigation districts generally is to allow agricultural water users the option of controlling their own water rights, rather than be subject to state administrative control or popular eleciton. They have the power to tax all the property in a designated area for the construction and maintenance of dams and canals. Water rights belong to the water district rather than to individual water users.

Read more at: Wine Industry Water Grab? | Anderson Valley Advertiser

Filed under Water

A solution for California’s water woes

Will Parrish, EAST BAY EXPRESS

In a decision bursting with symbolism, the California State Water Resources Control Board recently announced its intention to draw down the main water supply reservoir for a half-million people to only 12 percent of capacity by September 30. Lake Folsom on the American River — the main water source for Roseville, Folsom, and other Sacramento suburbs — will plummet to 120,000 acre feet by that date, according to a forecast by the water board, which announced the plan at an unusually lively Sacramento workshop on June 24.

The artificial lake will therefore be only months away from turning into a dreaded “dead pool,” a state in which a reservoir becomes so low it cannot drain by gravity through the dam’s outlet. Such an outcome would leave area residents scrambling for water — if recent predictions of an El Niño weather pattern fizzle and rain fails to appear later in 2015. If that were to happen, then Folsom could be a harbinger for the rest of California.

Indeed, as the American West lurches through its fourth summer of an historic drought, numerous major reservoirs are at or near historic lows relative to the time of year. New Melones Reservoir on the Stanislaus River in Calaveras and Tuolumne counties, which was only 16 percent full as of last week, appears likely to meet the same fate as Folsom this year. A study by UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 2008, three years before the current drought began, warned that the nation’s largest reservoir, Nevada’s Lake Mead (which supplies much of Southern California), has a fifty-fifty chance of running dry by 2021.

State and federal water management officials have contended that the current state of emergency has come to pass due to a natural disaster beyond their control. Water board member Steven Moore has called the drought “our Hurricane Sandy.” In April, after Jerry Brown stood on a Sierra summit barren of snow and announced the state’s first-ever mandatory water restrictions, an official press release from the governor’s office asserted that for “more than two years, the state’s experts have been managing water resources to ensure that the state survives this drought and is better prepared for the next one.”

But according to critics, the opposite is true. One of the main reasons that California’s reservoirs have plummeted to nearly cataclysmic lows, they say, is that federal and state water managers sent enormous quantities of water in recent years to senior water rights holders, especially water districts that supply agribusinesses in the dry San Joaquin Valley. ”

Much the way Congress and federal regulators gave Wall Street a huge legal pass and billions in bailout money for crashing the US and global economies last decade, so does the State Water Resources Control Board coddle state and federal water projects and their thirsty contractors for managing their water supplies to the point that the systems on which they depend are themselves circling the drain,” said Tim Stroshane, a water policy analyst for the conservation advocacy group Restore the Delta.

Read more at: A Solution for California’s Water Woes | East Bay Express

Filed under Sustainable Living, Water

Rural residents question exemption of ag from water restrictions at Occidental meeting 

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A feisty crowd of west county residents peppered state regulators Monday night with questions about why new water conservation rules aimed at saving endangered coho salmon do not apply to vineyards.

The rules, which took effect Monday, apply to the owners of about 3,750 parcels that rely primarily on private wells in four watersheds, including the areas around Dutch Bill and Green Valley creeks in west county.

“It’s so obvious who’s sucking the water out of the ground,” shouted one man in an audience of about 100 residents, asserting that there are dozens of vineyards in the Green Valley watershed.

Another man said the rural water-conservation measures approved by the state Water Resources Control Board last month are “doomed to fail because the main culprits are not included.”

“We’re dealing with the low-hanging fruit here,” a woman called out, referring to prohibitions on watering lawns and washing vehicles with no limits on irrigation of commercial agriculture.

The meeting at Salmon Creek School near Occidental was the first of five public sessions scheduled by the water board after it officially adopted the emergency regulations on June 17.

State officials said the drought has reduced summer flows in four coho-rearing creeks — including Mark West Creek north of Santa Rosa and Mill Creek west of Healdsburg — by 90 percent or more from 2010 levels.

Read more at: Rural residents decry water restrictions at Occidental meeting | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water, Wildlife