Tag Archives: water diversion

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

Sonoma County Winegrowers says its wines can be ‘100% Sustainable’ by 2019. What does this mean? 

Larrissa Zimberoff, CIVIL EATS

The world-famous wine-producing county has a five-year goal of certifying all its vineyards as sustainable—but with pesticides including Roundup allowed under the program, their definition of sustainable is controversial.

Wine is usually a fun topic, but in the Golden State, the fourth-largest wine-producing region in the world, it’s also big business: 85 percent of domestic wine comes from over 600,000 acres of grapes grown in California. Operating at this scale means the wine business must also consider land stewardship.

Two of the state’s biggest and best-known wine counties—the neighboring communities of Napa, which has more vintners, and Sonoma, which has more growers—are both working toward achieving goals of 100 percent sustainability within the next few years.

What does it mean if a vineyard claims its grapes are “sustainably certified”? Definitions of the term are wide-ranging, and, unlike the concrete rules of USDA Organic certification, few farming products are expressly banned, and there isn’t one comprehensive list of standards.

Both counties have been lauded for their progress—after Sonoma County Winegrowers (SCW) in 2014 launched a goal to reach 100 percent certified sustainable, the county has reached 60 percent certified, while Napa County is at 50 percent. But if you peel back the label, you’ll find controversy brewing.

SCW uses three defining principles to determine sustainability: Is it environmentally sound, is it economically feasible, and is it socially equitable? The topics covered under those principles are vast––water quality and conservation, energy efficiency, material handling, pest, soil and waste management, ecosystem, community relations, and human resources.

Despite the goal of having every grape grower in the county earn the certification, SCW is facing resistance from farmers who don’t want to be told how to operate, as well as growers and winemakers using organic practices who oppose the fact that others in their field can still claim they’re “sustainable” while also using the controversial weed killer Roundup (a.k.a. glyphosate) and other synthetic pesticides.

Of Sonoma County’s million-plus acres, 6 percent of available land—58,000 acres—is planted with grapes. Between 1,400 and 1,500 growers farm that 6 percent of land; 85 percent of those growers are family-owned and operated, and 40 percent are operations of 20 acres or less.

This means that if you grow grapes in Sonoma, you know your neighbors, you’ve probably been in the business for a few generations, and you pay dues to the SCW based on tons of grapes sold. Grape growers vote to assess their grape sales every five years, and the resulting money––currently about $1.1 million a year––goes to operating the commission. If you don’t sell grapes, or your winery uses its own grapes, you don’t pay.

In 2013, Karissa Kruse, the president of SCW, received an email from Duff Bevill, both a Sonoma grape grower and a 1,000-plus acre vineyard manager. “Karissa,” he wrote, “what would it take to get Governor Jerry Brown to recognize Sonoma County grape growers as sustainable, and to recognize us as leaders?” While Sonoma was an early adopter of sustainability, county assessments were all over the map, so Bevill’s question was apt. Kruse, who also owns a vineyard, thought, “Holy crap. How do I respond?”

Kruse first brought up the goal of 100-percent sustainability at an SCW board retreat. Dale Petersen, a grower from a multi-generational Sonoma family and the vineyard manager of Silver Oak Cellars, recalled: “She pitched it to a group of farmers and we looked at her and we looked at each other.

”The reception was lukewarm at best. No farmer relished being told what to do. Eventually the board of directors approved it, and officially declared the goal at the January 2014 annual meeting, which typically sees around 500 growers in attendance. Despite the overarching decree, countywide sustainability is still a voluntary commitment.

Read more at: Sonoma County Says its Wines Can Be ‘100% Sustainable’ By 2019. Is That Enough? | Civil Eats

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Sustainable Living

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

SF Bay ecosystem collapsing as rivers diverted, scientists report

Carolyn Lochhead, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

Evidence of what scientists are calling the planet’s Sixth Mass Extinction is appearing in San Francisco Bay and its estuary, the largest on the Pacific Coast of North and South America, according to a major new study.

Inflow to SF Bay from delta. Unimpaired flow is what would occur if no water was diverted from rivers upstream. (Bay Institute 2016.)

So little water is flowing from the rivers that feed the estuary, which includes the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, Suisun Marsh and the bay, that its ecosystem is collapsing, scientists who conducted the study say.

Human extraction of water from the rivers is not only pushing the delta smelt toward extinction, they say, but also threatening dozens more fish species and many birds and marine mammals, including orca whales, that depend on the estuary’s complex food web.

The findings by scientists at the Bay Institute, an environmental group, underline conclusions already reached by state regulators and are intended to buttress the environmental case for potentially drastic water restrictions in San Francisco and other parts of the Bay Area, and among farmers in the northern San Joaquin Valley.

The State Water Resources Control Board moved last month to require that Californians leave far more water — 40 percent of what would naturally flow during spring — in the San Joaquin River and its three main tributaries, the Tuolumne, Merced and Stanislaus rivers, in an effort to save fish species.

That would double the amount of water protected from human use in most years, according to the board. Last year, only 10 percent of the San Joaquin River, the second-largest in the state, reached the delta, as the rest was diverted or stored upstream. The Tuolumne, which is San Francisco’s main water supply, is one of the state’s most over-tapped rivers, with about 80 percent of its normal flow directed to human uses.

Jon Rosenfield, the lead scientist on the Bay Institute report, said people take so much water from the rivers that the estuary’s entire ecosystem is in collapse.

“Our estuary is being choked” by a lack of fresh water, Rosenfield said. Over the past four decades, he said, urban users and farmers have diverted so much water from the rivers that in all but the wettest years, severe drought has become a permanent condition for wildlife.

UC Davis fish biologist Peter Moyle, who is not connected with the study and had not viewed its results, confirmed in a telephone interview that native fish species in the estuary face dire conditions.

Read more at: SF Bay ecosystem collapsing as rivers diverted, scientists report – San Francisco Chronicle

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

The booming marijuana industry has a major environmental footprint

Judith Lewis Mernit, CAPITAL & MAIN

A study on water demand from marijuana growing shows that 25% to 100% of the water in the study watersheds may be diverted during low-flow periods.

Another study estimates that indoor marijuana cultivation uses 3% of California’s total electricity.

In his sunny office on the edge of town in Arcata, California, Scott Greacen pulls up a slideshow on his large high-resolution monitor. As wildflowers sway in the wind outside a window, a woodsy guitar solo starts to play along with the pictures. Greacen mutes it; he wants to focus on destruction. Aerial images of clear-cut plots within the coastal forest, bounded by dusty roads and dotted with trucks, show the intrusion of industrial marijuana cultivation into redwood groves and hillsides. Some plots are small, barely detectable. Others cover hundreds of acres with row upon row of oblong structures covered with white tarps, blighting the landscape like giant predatory maggots.

“Look,” Greacen says, pointing to the screen. “Eleven greenhouses on the top of a ridge. Where does the water come from?”

Greacen, who has the genial appearance of a scholarly mountain man — neatly trimmed beard, wire-rimmed glasses, long hair parted in the middle and tied back — is the executive director of Friends of the Eel River, a nonprofit founded in 1994 to promote the restoration of California’s third-largest watershed. The 200-mile long Eel runs south to north from Mendocino County to the Pacific Ocean below the central Humboldt County city of Eureka. It has been hammered by industry for more than a century, dammed and drained to serve municipal water demand in Mendocino and Sonoma counties. Timber companies, too, have done their share of damage, stripping slide-prone land of stabilizing vegetation and causing sediment to clog the river’s already diminished flows.

“Our coast range has a seismic uplift equivalent to the Himalayas,” Greacen says. “If it weren’t for erosion, we’d have a Mount Everest.”

Mountains lifted out of the ancient seabed typically shed a certain amount of fine sediment into the Eel, but at a rate the river’s flow can handle. The accelerated spalling caused by roads, traffic and grading, sifts in much more. Anadromous salmon travel hundreds of miles from the ocean inland to spawn in the river bed’s oxygenated gravel. If that gravel is clogged with sediment, the eggs will suffocate before they hatch.

The Eel, its forks and many smaller tributaries had only recently begun to recover from timber’s assaults when, in the 1990s, a relatively benign, back-to-the-land cannabis movement exploded in Humboldt’s mountains. The Compassionate Use Act of 1996, passed by voters as Proposition 215, legalized marijuana for medical use, opening a whole new market for weed. Growing operations multiplied on public and private land in California, particularly in the forested reaches of Mendocino, Trinity and Humboldt counties, a region so full of cannabis crops it’s known as the “Emerald Triangle.”

Read more at: High Times: Marijuana Growing and the Environment – Capital & Main

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Forests, Habitats, Land Use, Sustainable Living, Water, Wildlife

Secret marijuana gardens target of eradication campaign on North Coast

Julie Johnson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

This was far from the cocktail-hour networking meetings for cannabis companies, worlds away from sterile laboratories measuring THC levels and the marketing teams channeling a great entrepreneurial push fueled by California’s recent embrace of the medical marijuana industry.

This was the Lake County wilderness, where an orange peel, a crushed Coca-Cola can and a cairn of rocks marked a footpath leading into the chaparral-covered hills southwest of Kelseyville.

A sheriff’s detective in camouflage gear pushed through a dense thicket until the underbrush lightened between manzanita trunks. He stepped into a clearing and onto a line of black quarter-inch hose, something that’s become as ubiquitous in North Coast backcountry areas as poison oak.

Nearby, two men sleeping on cots under low-slung tarps were startled awake by the sound of deputies sneaking into their camp. They bolted, running through the woods wearing only underwear as the two officers chased after them, weighted down in vests and gear belts.

“When we hike in, almost every time we run into someone,” Lake County Detective Frank Walsh said standing in the abandoned campsite several hours later. “They split up, heading somewhere toward Kelsey Creek. There are too many places for them to run to.”

Three years after the state cut funding for its now-defunct marijuana eradication program, local law enforcement agencies backed by federal dollars continue to battle against clandestine marijuana farms that proliferate in the region’s rugged hillsides.

Read more at: Secret marijuana gardens target of eradication campaign on North Coast | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use

A chaotic mess: State Water Board suspends delta tunnels deadlines

Dan Bacher, DAILY KOS

Water Board documents

The State Water Resources Control Board announced on March 29 that they are suspending the upcoming deadlines for the California Water Fix/Delta Tunnels water rights change petition in response to a request by the state and federal water agencies to extend dates and deadlines for the scheduled hearing, along with a number of other requests either to dismiss or delay the petition.

On March 28, 2016, the Water Board hearing officers for the California WaterFix  water right change petition hearing received a letter from the Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation requesting a 60-day continuance of all dates and deadlines associated with the hearing.

On the same day,  the hearing officers also received a request from several parties to dismiss the petition. Then on March 29,  the State Water Board received additional requests to delay and stay the hearing, pending resolution of several matters, according to a letter from Tam M. Doduc and Felicia Marcus, State Water Board WaterFix Co-Hearing Officers.

In their March 29 letter, ten representatives of environmental, fishing and farming groups called on Doduc and Marcus to dismiss the petition, stating, “We believe there are much better uses of everyone’s time, such as spending the necessary time to update the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan to adequately protect current beneficial uses.”  (fishsniffer.com/..). In response to the various requests, the upcoming deadlines are suspended.  “A ruling will be issued in the near future formally addressing the requests and providing additional information about the hearing schedule,” said Doduc and Marcus.

Read more at: A Chaotic Mess: State Water Board Suspends Delta Tunnels Deadlines

Filed under Sustainable Living, Water, Wildlife

California to impose environmental rules on North Coast marijuana farmers

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

North Coast water quality officials are poised to adopt first-of-their-kind regulations governing waste disposal, erosion, chemical use, riparian management and other water-related impacts of widespread cannabis cultivation.

The new rules, set for a vote Thursday by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board at a meeting in Santa Rosa, result from growing concern about environmental damage related to the booming marijuana industry, particularly fragile stream systems and wildlife habitats already degraded by drought.

But it also represents a grand experiment in bringing pot growers out of the dark and into the open, obliging them to operate under a regulatory framework that requires they report their activities and submit to site inspections.

“It’s a milestone,” said Matt St. John, the board’s executive officer. “It’s one of the top priorities for me as the executive officer and for my board members.”

Even Colorado and Washington, which have legalized the recreational use of marijuana and adopted rules for cultivation and consumption, do not have environmental regulations in place, he said.

The new rules include provisions designed to safeguard privacy and make the process more palatable to those who might have an ingrained distrust of public authority, including an allowance for many farmers to register through approved nongovernmental third-party organizations. Board staff have fielded inquiries from individuals and organizations interested in participating as third parties in the program.

Read more at: California to impose environmental rules on North Coast | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Water, Wildlife

Massive floodplain logging plan for lower Gualala River threatens wetlands, rare plants & endangered wildlife

Peter Baye, FRIENDS OF THE GUALALA RIVER

Gualala River floodplain

The moist ground layer of the Gualala River redwood forests is rich in ferns and wildflowers. Peter Baye

The lower Gualala River has a wide meandering floodplain rich in wetlands, mature productive riparian redwood forests and highly diverse riparian habitats supporting many special-status plant, fish, and wildlife species. “Flood prone” redwood forests are supposed to be protected by avoidance of logging disturbances under special salmonid protection rules under the Forest Practices Act.

Despite the special protected status of floodplain redwood forests, Gualala Redwood Timber LLC (GRT; formerly Gualala Redwoods Inc., purchased in 2015 by Redwood Empire, owned by the Roger Burch family) proposes in the new “Dogwood” timber harvest plan (THP) to log 320 acres along 5 miles of the lower Gualala River’s redwood floodplain forest, taking 90 to 100 year old redwoods almost to the edge of Gualala Point Regional Park, and adjacent to the river’s sensitive estuary. Gualala Point Regional Park is one of the only public recreation areas in the entire watershed. The “Dogwood” THP, however, concluded with that the logging would have no effect on recreation, but with no analysis of the potential impacts of next-door logging of “Unit 1” on the regional park, and offered no mitigation.

To add to the impacts of logging hundreds of acres of floodplain redwood forest, the “Dogwood” and adjacent “Apple” THPs also propose to guzzle an incredible 25,000 gallons per day of Gualala River water during the dry season (April to November) over the 5 year timber harvest permit period. Not only does this conflict with Forest Protection Act “Anadromous Salmonid Protection” rules requiring avoidance of water drafting in forested “flood prone areas”, but the THP’s incredible determination that it would have “no effect” on flows was based on an outdated 2010 hydrology report (prepared before the current historic drought) with no consideration of the drought impacts on Gualala River’s deficient minimum summer flows, and Gualala’s municipal water supply. In addition, no analysis of the THP’s major water diversion during drought on listed salmonids was prepared. Yet the responsible agencies and affected downstream public water users have raised no red flags about the massive diversion of river water during the drought.

Aggressive logging plans previously proposed by Gualala Redwoods Inc. (GRI) have either been denied permits, or have been forced to withdraw them due to strenuous objections by resource agencies over impacts to endangered fish and wildlife species of the river and its wide riparian zone. One of the last failed efforts to log the floodplain was the GRI “Iris” timber harvest plan of 2004.

Read much more at: Massive floodplain logging plan for lower Gualala River threatens wetlands, rare plants & endangered wildlife – Friends of Gualala River

Filed under Forests, Sonoma Coast, Water, Wildlife

Op Ed: Is Big Wine the Big Oil of Sonoma County?

Ernie Carpenter, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Sonoma County wine industry is starting to look like big oil. Its leaders crow about preserving the environment when they have created an unmitigated environmental disaster. They recently received $374,000 of taxpayer money to implement “sustainability” in Sonoma County. A good thought. Suspicions arise when the first thing they did with their taxpayer grant was buy a full page ad and label themselves “sustainable.”

The history of the local wine industry is “Paint it green and buy the supervisors.” The industry is just too big to be told what to do by mere citizens or politicians. It just throws some more money at redefining the problem until it expires.

You be the judge. Sustainability is a stool with three legs: the environment, the economy and social justice. The wine industry will cut water use, cut chemicals and do lots of advertising telling us what a good job it did. It will come with a sack full of facts and figures to show it is in the right, but it will not change, if the past is to be judge.

The wine industry will not join the chorus in support of raising minimum wages, an essential part of sustainability. They want cheap workers. The industry will not provide housing. They never have beyond a few “floor show” units. They fail on the social justice aspect and must add a housing component and higher wage if they want to be sustainability advocates.

Are you up for it industry?

Environmentally, grape farming is predicated on killing all organisms and keeping them that way — dead. Poison nematodes, poison weeds, poison birds, poison critters. They clear-cut zones around the vineyard. The topsoil leaves Sonoma County vineyards to our waterways by the tons. Why no sheet mulching?

They continue to plant in riparian and wetland areas. Go to Mill Station Road near Atascadero Creek to see this sustainable approach. And, support for limiting wineries in “mapped water scarce areas” to protect neighbors, not a chance.

Read more at: Close to Home: Is Big Wine the Big | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use