Tag Archives: drought

Worst salmon season in eight years projected in California 

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

California fishermen are bracing for the worst salmon season in eight years, one so grim that many will likely sit the season out completely.

Years of drought and unfavorably warm ocean conditions that existed when this year’s potential crop of king salmon was young have reduced the adult population to the lowest level forecast since 2009, when projections were so pathetic both sport and commercial salmon seasons were canceled.

Some hope that abundant winter rainfall and last year’s welcome spring rains will help restore next year’s salmon fishery to something approximating full strength. But until then, “we have one more bad drought hangover year to work through,” said John McManus, executive director of the Golden Gate Salmon Association.

“It looks horrible,” said Bodega Bay fisherman Lorne Edwards, who may skip what would be his third season in a row.

The recreational salmon fishery opens to California sport fisherman on April 1 every year and would normally open to the commercial fleet May 1.

But it will be several weeks yet before the season schedule is set, based on complex modeling and statistical projections aimed at estimating the number of adult salmon waiting in the ocean for the signal to swim upstream and spawn throughout the intensively managed West Coast fishery off California, Oregon and Washington states.

Analysts weigh a host of factors, including the previous year’s landings, the number of adult salmon found dead after spawning and the number of fish set aside for Native American tribes to catch. State and federal biologists consider each distinct natural and hatchery salmon population and their historic distribution in the ocean to determine where and when sport fishers and trollers are allowed to drop their lines in a given year.

Read more at: Worst salmon season in eight years projected in California | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sonoma Coast, Wildlife

San Joaquin Valley continues to sink because of groundwater pumping, NASA says

Joseph Serna, LOS ANGELES TIMES

California’s San Joaquin Valley continues to sink at an alarming rate because of groundwater pumping and irrigation, according to a new study by NASA. Ground levels in some areas have dropped 1 to 2 feet in the last two years, creating deeper and wider “bowls” that continue to threaten the vital network of channels that transport water across Southern California, researchers say.

The findings underscore the fact that even as record rain and snow have brought much of California out of severe drought, some parts of the state will probably struggle with water problems for years to come.

Despite a new series of storms that battered California this week, state water regulators decided Wednesday to maintain drought restrictions for at least a few more months as they continue to assess recovery.

Researchers said subsidence has long been a problem in parts of California. “But the current rates jeopardize infrastructure serving millions of people,” said William Croyle, acting director of the state Department of Water Resources. “Groundwater pumping now puts at risk the very system that brings water to the San Joaquin Valley.”

Subsidence occurs when water is removed from underground aquifers and the surrounding soil collapses on itself. Even if the underground water is replenished, subsided basins can’t hold as much water as they did previously.

Read more at: San Joaquin Valley continues to sink because of groundwater pumping, NASA says – LA Times

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Water

Drought recedes as North Coast rivers, reservoirs swell from storms 

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A historic drought that parched the landscape and turned water conservation into a civic duty already seemed a distant memory on the North Coast when a series of powerful storms slammed into California over the weekend, dumping enough moisture to swamp lake- and streamside buildings that stood high and dry at the peak of the drought.

With local reservoirs now filled past capacity for this time of year and the Russian River still swollen with runoff, the U.S. Drought Monitor said Thursday that more than 41 percent of California — including the whole northern part of the state — is officially drought-free, a marked and gratifying shift from the weeks and months leading up to the new year, when even seasonally wet winter weather was not yet enough to declare the drought over.

Sonoma County Water Agency spokesman Brad Sherwood said Thursday that’s all changed.

“We always said that if we got above-average rainfall in consecutive years that we’d be sitting good,” Sherwood said, “and this series of storms definitely put the drought out, without a doubt.”

Read more at: Drought recedes as North Coast rivers, reservoirs swell from storms | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water

Op Ed: California salmon on the brink of disaster

Brian Geagan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sen. Dianne Feinstein just handed the future of California salmon and our fishing economy over to the Trump administration.

During the closing hours of this year’s session, Feinstein worked with congressmen representing big growers in the Central Valley to stick a knife in one of Sen. Barbara Boxer’s greatest accomplishments and also into California’s salmon and coastal communities.

Over the past two years, Boxer painstakingly crafted a bipartisan bill to fund water projects nationwide, a rarity in the age of a gridlocked Congress. That bill included restoration projects for Lake Tahoe and the Great Lakes, funding for the lead contamination disaster in Flint, Michigan and other worthy provisions.

At the last minute, Feinstein, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Central Valley growers conspired to stick an anti-salmon rider on that bipartisan bill. That’s right. Feinstein forced Congress to decide whether to help Michigan children suffering from lead poisoning or California salmon and coastal communities.

Because of this double-dealing, Boxer was forced to lobby — unsuccessfully — against her own bill. This was the last thing she did before leaving the Senate after 24 effective years in office. We should all thank Boxer for her passionate work for California.

Feinstein’s bill gives the incoming administration authority to waive protections for San Francisco Bay and Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta salmon that federal judges and biologists have found to be based on the best information available today. Under President Donald Trump, those weakened rules could result in a disaster for salmon and the jobs that rely on healthy salmon runs.

If you have any doubt about where Trump stands on California’s environment and fishing industry, last June — after the driest four years in state history — he said that there is “no drought” in California. He’s already promised to gut protections for California’s keystone salmon runs to deliver more water to the Central Valley grower who supported him.

Trump and Feinstein appear not to know, or care, that the rivers that flow into the delta and bay support the most important salmon runs south of the Columbia River. Sonoma County is doing a great deal to protect local salmon, but most of the salmon caught off the California and Oregon coasts come from the bay and the delta. Feinstein’s legislation allows Trump to devastate those salmon runs.

Read more at: Close to Home: California salmon on the brink of disaster | The Press Democrat   Brian Geagan is a recreational fisherman and Healdsburg resident.

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living, Water, Wildlife

California environmental leaders, lawmakers gird for fight against President Trump 

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Restoring salmon in the Russian River and protecting the North Coast from oil rigs — two long-standing campaigns with broad public support — are among the goals likely to be challenged if not stifled by the sharp right turn of Donald Trump’s administration, environmental advocates and Democratic lawmakers said.

More broadly, the environmental camp fears that landmark legislation, including laws that protect endangered species, clean air and water, are imperiled by Republican control of the House and Senate with an avid deregulation partner in the White House.

The harbingers, they say, include Trump’s trail of tweets and speeches asserting that climate change is a hoax and his post-election appointments of a California water district lobbyist and a prominent climate change denier to head his transition teams at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department, respectively.

Even if Republicans and their allies can’t roll back environmental laws they have long targeted — asserting they harm economic development — the GOP will have nearly unlimited control of national policy and can weaken environmental programs by turning off the cash spigot.

The Sonoma County Water Agency, for example, has received more than $15 million in federal grants in the last four years for a host of water-quality and Russian River watershed projects, including salmon habitat restoration on Dry Creek near Healdsburg, as well as operation of the fish hatchery at nearby Warm Springs Dam on Lake Sonoma.

Under President Trump, such programs may not favor as well in budget allocations, local lawmakers and others fear.

Read more at: California environmental leaders, lawmakers gird for fight against President Trump | The Press Democrat

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

California plans to log its drought-killed trees: may not reduce fire risk 

 Jane Braxton Little, HIGH COUNTRY NEWS

…at the heart of the logging debate is the question of whether dead trees are a fire hazard.  The conventional assumption is that insect outbreaks increase wildfire risk because dead trees are more flammable than green ones. That is a conclusion most scientists have long disputed.

Looking north from Blue Canyon near Shaver Lake, copper-colored forests blanket mountain slopes that stretch ridge after ridge to the horizon. The patches of fading green that dappled these hillsides last fall have merged into an unbroken cover of rust-needled pines.  At dusk, when the winds die down, an eerie stillness gives way to the muffled sound of munching as beetles chomp through one tree after another, thousands after thousands.

This is the look — and the sound — of drought.

Four consecutive winters with little to no snowpack, followed by four dry summers, have devastated California’s southern Sierra Nevada. At least 66 million trees are already dead statewide, and millions more are expected to die as the drought persists into a fifth summer.

On the Sierra National Forest, up to 90 percent of the mid-elevation ponderosa pines are dead.  Weakened by drought, oaks are succumbing to sudden oak death along the central and northern coast, and the disease has moved into the Central Valley. Pines gray as ghosts haunt coastal, Cascade and Sierra foothills. The epidemic is spreading across choice vistas owned by millionaires as well as remote landscapes rarely entered by humans.

And the bark beetles that caused this desolation? They’re reproducing at triple the normal rate. Forest ecologists used to consider them a natural part of the forest dynamic — and they are. Stressed by drought and decades of air pollution in overcrowded stands, however, the natural chemicals trees pitch out in self-defense can’t keep up with the onslaught of bugs.  No one is calling what’s happening here natural anymore.

“Nobody imagined this would come on as fast as it has, or be as lethal,” says Craig Thomas, conservation director for Sierra Forest Legacy, a coalition focused on Sierra Nevada national forest issues. “And nobody really knows what the hell to do.”

Overwhelmed by the die-off, forest management agencies are resorting to a century-old strategy: removing dead trees to minimize future wildfires, which they predict will be inevitable and cataclysmic. Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in October, citing a public safety hazard from falling trees and worsening wildfire risks. The tree mortality task force he convened has marshaled a small army to log over 6 million acres.

Read more at: California plans to log its drought-killed trees (Forest fatalities) — High Country News

Filed under Forests

State Water Board adopts ‘stress test’ approach to water conservation regulation

MAVEN’S NOTEBOOK

The State Water Resources Control Board today adopted a statewide water conservation approach that replaces the prior percentage reduction-based water conservation standard with a localized “stress test” approach that mandates urban water suppliers act now to ensure at least a three year supply of water to their customers under drought conditions.

Recognizing persistent yet less severe drought conditions throughout California, the newly adopted emergency regulation will replace the Feb. 2 emergency water conservation regulation that set specific water conservation benchmarks at the state level for each urban water supplier. Today’s adopted regulation, which will be in effect through January 2017, requires locally developed conservation standards based upon each agency’s specific circumstances.

These standards require local water agencies to ensure a three-year supply assuming three more dry years like the ones the state experienced from 2012 to 2015.  Water agencies that would face shortages under three additional dry years will be required to meet a conservation standard equal to the amount of shortage. For example, if a water agency projects it would have a 10 percent supply shortfall, their mandatory conservation standard would be 10 percent.

Read more at: MAVEN’S NOTEBOOK – Water news

Filed under Sustainable Living, Water

Storm fills North Bay reservoirs, easing region’s drought 

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

With two Russian River reservoirs brimful of runoff from a prolonged storm, the North Bay region is nearing an end to its multi-year drought, a water management official said Friday.

“It looks like a March miracle,” said Brad Sherwood, spokesman for the Sonoma County Water Agency, which supplies water to 600,000 customers in Sonoma and Marin counties. “Our water supply system hasn’t looked this good in more than three years.”

Lake Sonoma west of Healdsburg, the region’s largest reservoir, was at 107 percent of capacity for this time of year, and Lake Mendocino, the far smaller reservoir near Ukiah, was at 117 percent, with both lakes the fullest they have been in early March since 2012.

The atmospheric river that delivered the latest rainfall offered not only significant drought relief, but also relented Friday afternoon, offsetting flood forecasts and giving the ground a chance to absorb water, Sherwood said.

The Russian River water system is independent from the network of major reservoirs and canals that serve most of California, which remains under mandatory water conservation measures.

Read more at: Storm fills North Bay reservoirs, easing region’s drought | Sonoma Index-Tribune | Sonoma, CA

Filed under Water

Californians falling shy of water conservation goal

Jonathan Lloyd, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Californians are falling short of the state’s mandated water-saving target for the drought.

State water officials announced Thursday that urban water users overall have managed to use 24.8 percent less water since mandatory conservation began last year. That just misses the 25 percent goal for statewide water cuts ordered by Gov. Jerry Brown.

California is now in the fifth year of drought. Water officials blamed warmer weather in January for urban users’ slipping in conservation efforts, which have included cutting back on watering lawns and stricter enforcement for wasteful users.

The latest numbers mark the first time since June that Californians have missed the overall mandatory water-conservation target. Monthly figures show water customers reduced their use by 17.1 percent statewide in January, compared to the same month in 2013.

Read more at: Californians Falling Just Shy of Water Conservation Goal | NBC Southern California

Filed under Water

Sonoma County coalition awarded $8 million grant for water conservation work

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Supplemented by local funding, the venture aims to boost stream flows and groundwater and clean up the Russian River and its tributaries.

A coalition of Sonoma County resource agencies has been awarded $8 million in federal funds to advance an ambitious series of conservation projects intended to improve water supply and quality and enhance wildlife habitat on local agricultural lands.

The efforts will take in vineyards and farmland and aim to reduce erosion, boost stream flows and groundwater and clean up the Russian River and its tributaries while restoring habitat for imperiled fish and wildlife species.Sonoma County’s Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District is the lead agency and will contribute $14 million of the $15.8 million local match for the U.S. Department of Agriculture grant.

Most of the funding will go toward the purchase of conservation easements on farmland along key stream corridors and in areas where flood plains and groundwater basins can benefit.

One objective is to fortify the water supply for growers and wildlife in the face of drought and amid the uncertainty posed by climate change.

Read more at: Sonoma County coalition awarded $8 million grant for water conservation work

Filed under Land Use, Local Organizations, Water