Tag Archives: urban water

Dams be damned: California rebuilds the salmon habitat it destroyed

Monica Heger, YES! Magazine, for TRUTHOUT

A consequence of the creek being confined to its channel is that, over years, the water has dug away at the creek bed — or substrate — making it deeper and narrower, and increasing the speed at which water flows. This has decreased the chances that water will spill over the banks. The larger substrate materials that made the creek bed stable — boulders, gravel, and logs — have been washed out, but are not being replaced. Instead, the creek bed is becoming ever finer and more prone to being further incised. In this environment, salmon eggs are more likely to be washed away.

Wander out the back door of the tasting room at Truett Hurst Winery in Sonoma County, California, and follow the dirt path to the red Adirondack chairs next to Dry Creek. Look just downstream to the side channel that splits off the main waterway. You will see sets of interwoven logs and overturned trees with roots that splay along the banks. These aren’t the result of a particularly rough storm — they are there by design. As Dry Creek rushes by, these logs and root beds point the way to a newly excavated side channel — prime habitat for spawning and juvenile salmon.

In freshwater waterways along the coast from Marin to Mendocino counties, agencies are restoring salmonid streams to create habitat diversity, areas that provide deep pooling, predator protection, and side channels of slower-moving water. California salmon are in dire straits. Decades of dam building and development have destroyed or altered salmon habitat, eliminating the diversity of habitat these fish need.

As a result, salmon populations have plummeted. The number of coho salmon that return to the California waterways from the Pacific Ocean each year has dropped from around 350,000 in the 1940s to less than 500 in 2009. Although they’ve rebounded slightly, numbers are still 90 percent to 99 percent below historic levels, and many scientists are worried that California’s historic five-year drought followed by an exceptionally rainy winter could wreak further havoc.

Salmon provide enormous environmental and economic benefits. They are an integral component of marine and freshwater foodwebs and play a role in transporting nutrients from the ocean into rivers. In California, salmon are the backbone of a $1.5 billion commercial and recreational fishing industry.

The Warm Springs Dam, which crosses Dry Creek, is one of two drinking water sources for around 600,000 customers in Sonoma County, but the year-round flows it produces are a problem for salmon.

“Dry Creek is a tremendous misnomer,” says David Manning, environmental resources manager at the Sonoma County Water Agency. “It flows so quickly that it doesn’t provide habitat for steelhead and coho,” and young fish are often washed downstream. To combat this, Manning and others are building “off-ramps” that will allow salmon to exit the Dry Creek freeway.

Read more at: Dams Be Damned: California Rebuilds the Salmon Habitat It Destroyed

Filed under Habitats, Water, Wildlife

Fluoride back on the ballot in Healdsburg 

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Two years after overwhelmingly supporting fluoridation of their city water, Healdsburg voters will again weigh in on the issue. But the ballot language approved by the City Council appears headed toward a court challenge.

The question approved by the City Council Monday on a 4-1 vote is straightforward: “Shall the City of Healdsburg stop fluoridating its water supply?”

But to fluoride opponents it oversimplifies and ignores what their initiative petition asked of voters: whether a moratorium should be instituted on fluoridation until the manufacturer of the additive provides detailed chemical reports and a written statement verifying its safety for ingestion.

Read more at: Healdsburg fluoridation struggle continues | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water

Mandatory water savings may soon be over for most Sonoma County residents

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa will maintain the other aspects of its water conservation program, including rebates for water-saving devices, and will “continue to ask our customers to keep up their efficient water use behavior,” Burke said.

For most Sonoma County residents, the days of strict water savings mandates could be over by summer, a result of brimful reservoirs and a dramatic shift this week in state water conservation rules.

Santa Rosa and five other Sonoma County water providers should be excused from state-ordered water-saving standards as soon as next month under California’s updated conservation campaign, tailored for the first time to match regulations to the reality of regional water supplies, officials said Friday.

With the region’s two major reservoirs nearly full from above-average rainfall, six local agencies that serve more than 340,000 customers meet the new requirement for demonstrating a sufficient water supply over a three-year period under drought conditions.

“It’s good news,” said Brad Sherwood of the Sonoma County Water Agency, the water wholesaler that serves the local agencies. “Our Russian River water supply system is not in a drought condition.”

The water agency released calculations this week showing that the local water suppliers can balance water demand and supply over three more dry years, thereby gaining exemptions from the conservation standards imposed 10 months ago by the State Water Resources Control Board. In addition to Santa Rosa, the affected municipal systems include Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Windsor, Sonoma and Valley of the Moon Water District.

Local water suppliers that cannot meet demand will be assigned water-savings targets equal to their shortfall, according to the revised conservation program adopted by the water board on Wednesday.

“It does appear we have an adequate water supply for the next three years,” said Jennifer Burke, deputy director of water resources for Santa Rosa.

Read more at: Mandatory water savings may soon be over for most Sonoma County residents | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sustainable Living, Water

California’s drought spurring gray-water recycling at home 

Ellen Knickmeyer, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Showering during California’s drought is a guilt-free experience for homeowners Catarina Negrin and Noah Friedman.

The Berkeley couple — she runs a pre-school, he’s an architect — are early adopters of a home plumbing do-over that’s becoming more popular during California’s record four-year dry stretch.

California, like many states, long required all water used in homes to be piped out with the sewage, fearing health risks if water recycling is done clumsily.

Since 2010, however, the increasingly dry state has come around, and now even encourages the reuse of so-called gray water, which typically includes the gently-used runoff from bathroom sinks, showers, bathtubs and washing machines.

As mandatory conservation kicked in statewide this month, forcing many of California’s 38 million people to face giving up on greenery, these recycling systems have become attractive options in new homes, right along with granite countertops. California Building Industry Association executive Robert Raymer rattles off the drought-conscious top builders that now routinely offer in-home water recycling.

And California’s building codes are catching up as well, allowing owners of existing homes to create the simplest systems for the safest gray water without a permit.

So while others think about hauling buckets to catch stray drips from their sinks and tubs, Negrin and Friedman can relax: Each gallon they use in the shower means another for the butterflies that duck and bob over their vegetable garden, for the lemon tree shading the yard, and for two strutting backyard chickens busily investigating it all.

“I love a lush garden, and so it seems like why not, right? I could have a lush garden if it doesn’t go into the sewer system,” Negrin said. “So, yes, “I’m going to take a shower.”

Because pathogens swimming in untreated gray water can transmit disease if humans ingest them, most modern health and building codes have long made recycling it impractical. Many families did it anyway, without official oversight or permits. Greywater Action, a group that promotes household water recycling and trains families and installers on the do’s and don’ts, estimates that more than a million Californians had illegal systems before plumbing codes were updated.

But interest in doing it the right way has soared since April 1, when Gov. Jerry Brown ordered a 25-percent cut in water use by cities and towns. Palo Alto gray-water system installer Sassan Golafshan saw his website crash within a day from the surge in traffic.

Read more at: California’s Drought Spurring Water Recycling at Home | Sci-Tech Today

Filed under Sustainable Living, Water

Op-Ed: Does Sonoma County really have water for new development?

Brenda Adelman, RUSSIAN RIVER WATERSHED PROTECTION COMMITTEE

Anyone regularly reading the Press Democrat knows they have been running many articles on both water issues and the need for new housing lately while hardly ever putting the two together for a meaningful analysis of the issues.

Conservation and drought have been leading issues for the Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) for several years now, and reading the Press Democrat on May 9, 2015 indicated that the general manager’s view of conditions appeared to depend on the audience to whom he was speaking.   The lead article that day (page 1 of A Section), was titled “Housing Squeeze: At summit, a call for new construction” written by Robert Digitale, and reported a conference for North Bay business leaders held Friday May 8th, where some presenters called for new development of as many as 7500 new units a year.

Press Democrat investor, Doug Bosco, also a former Congressman, told the 250 conference participants that, “The effort to build more housing must resemble the years long campaigns to build Warm Springs Dam…” he said, and “Until now….the housing issue often has suffered from a lack of community focus.”  There were about 15 speakers at the conference discussing housing deficits and what can be done about it. (Anyone regularly reading the Press Democrat knows they have been running many articles on both water issues and the need for new housing lately while hardly ever putting the two together for a meaningful analysis of the issues.)

Conference attendees were assured by Grant Davis, general manager of Sonoma County Water Agency and one of the speakers, that in spite of four years of drought, “….we’ll have enough water, so that’s not an excuse to say we can’t build affordable housing.” (And what if there are way MORE than four years of drought to come?)  At one point, Doug Bosco called for establishment of a housing czar to be responsible for building 1000 units. Now, while these statements were a projection of future outcomes, which anyone is free to make, in terms of water supply, they appeared to be based on nothing.

Water Agency contractors (Santa Rosa, Windsor, Cotati, Rohnert Park, Petaluma, Sonoma, Valley of the Moon, North Marin Water District, Marin Municipal Water District) have been basing development projects of water availability on paper water for years that had been promised by SCWA long before the drought. And seldom do they consider environmental impacts on lower river water quality caused by their actions. The power behind the Temporary Urgency Change Orders is that, while they require river monitoring, CEQA can be suspended and public review of projects is avoided.

But the coup de grace was in another PD article that same day (page B1) entitled “Water supply worries over remote lake….As Lake Pillsbury drops to less than 55% of capacity, affected agencies strategize” by Guy Kovner.  Much of the water filling Lake Mendocino comes from Lake Pillsbury after having been released into the East Fork of the Russian River north of Ukiah.  (Lake Mendocino’s water supply pool is only about 58% now, which is very low for this time of year.)  Because of the need for repairs at the Potter Valley Project, PG&E will be requesting further decreases of flow to allow for this work that would cut normal releases of 75 cfs to 30 cfs, with half of that serving Potter Valley.

Grant Davis said that this is an “unprecedented situation” at a different meeting with agency heads the same day as the conference noted above.  While we agree that this may be an unprecedented situation, we feel that under the circumstances his comments at the housing conference should have been much more circumspect.

While it is true we have many citizens in need of affordable housing, it is also true that our water supply shortages probably won’t end any time soon, if climate change has any credibility. It would also be great if we could rely on the promise of affordability if we do get more new housing.  There was a third story in that same edition of the Press Democrat (p.A4) about San Francisco demonstrations going on now because low income people are being given five day notices to move from their homes so owners can greatly increase rents, and dwellers have no where affordable to go.  Can it be that the affordable factor is merely a ruse to justify more development? And how would the term be defined? Affordable for whom?

We also are concerned that up to now, agriculture has not adequately controlled their water use; required monitoring of ground water use is still fiercely opposed; cities have not yet instituted strict mandatory conservation requirements nor shrunk their general plan projections to address what appears to be repeated water shortages; and inadequate measures are in place to assure that irrigation with wastewater does not become regular discharge into streams. Rather, housing shortages have stimulated the call for a lot more growth at a time when water supplies are greatly diminished.

Russian River Watershed Protection Committee
P.O. Box 501
Guerneville, CA 95446
Email:  rrwpc@comcast.net
RRWPC Website:  www.rrwpc.org

Filed under Land Use, Water, Wildlife

Court rules tiered water rates violate state constitution

Staff and Wire reports, SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS

In a ruling with major implications for California’s water conservation efforts during the historic drought, a state appeals court on Monday ruled that a tiered water rate structure used by the city of San Juan Capistrano to encourage saving was unconstitutional.

The Orange County city used a rate structure that charged customers who used small amounts of water a lower rate than customers who used larger amounts.

But the 4th District Court of Appeal struck down San Juan Capistrano’s fee plan, saying it violated voter-approved Proposition 218, which prohibits government agencies from charging more for a service than it costs to provide it.

Piedmont Middle School Green Team members Chloe Hood, 13, from left, Marta Symkowick, 13, and Lani Shea, 14, finish up spraying some drought tolerant plants with recycled water, Tuesday, March 31, 2015, in Piedmont, Calif. The program, taught by John White and Stella Kennedy, was recently honored by the Piedmont City Council for analyzing the city’s water use. (D. Ross Cameron/Bay Area News Group) ( D. ROSS CAMERON )

The stakes are high because at least two-thirds of California water providers, including many in the Bay Area, use some form of the tiered rate system.

Gov. Jerry Brown immediately lashed out at the decision, saying it puts "a straitjacket on local government at a time when maximum flexibility is needed. My policy is and will continue to be: Employ every method possible to ensure water is conserved across California."

Brown added state lawyers are now reviewing the decision.

Read more via California drought: Court rules tiered water rates violate state constitution – San Jose Mercury News.

Filed under Water

Santa Rosa comes out ahead of revised water cuts

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa residents have already satisfied the state’s water conservation requirement and simply “need to keep it up” as the weather warms and the urge to water lawns resumes, a city official said Monday.

“We’re asking our customers to keep implementing the water-saving habits they have picked up,” said Jennifer Burke, deputy director of water and engineering services.

Santa Rosa was the only one of 11 North Bay cities and water agencies that came out ahead of the revised conservation standards issued Saturday by the State Water Board, which is implementing Gov. Jerry Brown’s demand for a statewide 25 percent cut in water consumption this year.

State regulators have focused on watering lawns and landscaping, which consumes about 1 million acre feet of water a year, enough to fill Lake Sonoma, the North Bay’s largest reservoir, four times.

Two weeks ago, the water board announced draft conservation targets for more than 400 urban water suppliers, giving Santa Rosa a 20 percent goal, just 2 percent higher than the 18 percent water savings achieved since 2013. The goals were revised after water providers complained that draft ones failed to give enough weight to previous conservation efforts. New tiers were established based on usage data from the months of July, August and September instead of just September. The revised standards cut the city’s target to 16 percent, 2 percent lower than the current conservation rate.

Burke said it was “good to see the state has taken into account the conservation efforts of previous years.”

Rohnert Park, Windsor and the Sweetwater Springs Water District also qualified for the 16 percent target, replacing the 20 percent standard but still larger than their water savings to date: 11 percent for Rohnert Park and 15 percent for Windsor and Sweetwater Springs, which serves the lower Russian River area.

Sonoma and Healdsburg took hits from the revised standards, bumped up to 28 percent from 25 percent.

Sonoma faces the largest challenge, a 13 percent gap between the revised target and the 15 percent conservation it has achieved since 2013. Healdsburg, credited with 17 percent water savings to date, faces an 11 percent gap.

Read more via Santa Rosa comes out ahead of revised water | The Press Democrat.

Filed under Sustainable Living, Water

Governor issues mandatory water cuts as California snowpack hits record low

Matt Weiser & David Siders, THE SACRAMENTO BEE

Standing in a dry brown meadow that typically would be buried in snow this time of year, Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday ordered the first mandatory water cutbacks in California history, a directive that will affect cities and towns statewide.

With new measurements showing the state’s mountain snowpack at a record low, officials said California’s drought is entering uncharted territory and certain to extend into a fourth straight year. As a result, Brown issued sweeping new directives to reduce water consumption by state residents, including a mandatory 25 percent cut in urban water use.

On Wednesday, Brown attended a routine snow survey at 6,800 feet in the Sierra Nevada, near Echo Summit on Highway 50 along the road to Lake Tahoe. The April 1 survey is an annual ritual, marking the end of the winter season, in which automated sensors and technicians in the field strive to measure how much water the state’s farms and cities will receive from snowmelt.

The measurements showed the snowpack at just 5 percent of average for April 1, well below the previous record low of 25 percent, which was reached last year and in 1977.

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article17115506.html#storylink=cpy

Read more via Governor issues mandatory water cuts as California snowpack hits record low | The Sacramento Bee The Sacramento Bee.

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable Living, Water