Tag Archives: water pollution

California should take lead on wetlands protections

Op-Ed: SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

When the president made good on a key campaign promise Tuesday to roll back federal environmental rules on wetlands, cheers went up across farmlands. The acronym meant little to city dwellers, but the promise to “repeal WOTUS” — a staple at Trump rallies — had secured much of the rural vote for Trump. Fearing rollbacks would weaken environmental protections for a state that has led the nation in environmental protections, Democratic legislators in Sacramento preemptively introduced a suite of legislation to “preserve” California.

WOTUS, or “waters of the U.S.,” refers to a rule intended to clarify the scope of the 1972 federal Clean Water Act, which tries to keep pollutants out of drinking water and wetlands wet. The rule was developed after years of public comment and a lawsuit that went to the Supreme Court. In 2015, the Obama administration finalized the rule, which defined the extent of federal jurisdiction over small streams and tributaries.

The rule is particularly tricky to interpret in California because many streams and wetlands are ephemeral — they flow or are wet only immediately after it rains. Think arroyos in Southern California and vernal pools — seasonal ponds in small depressions with distinct plant and animal life — that dot the Central Valley.

Farmers and ranchers, of course, are not against clean water. But they object to rules that they say are impossible to interpret and that interfere with agricultural practices. The California Farm Bureau stepped in and has led the charge to roll back the rule.

The rhetoric on both sides has been escalating since long before the final rule was issued, particularly on the opposed side, after San Joaquin Valley farmer John Duarte was accused in 2012 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of damaging vernal pools when he plowed to plant wheat.

To fight the promised Trump rollback, California Democrats borrowed a move straight from the playbook of Scott Pruitt, who had sued the U.S. EPA 13 times and called for its destruction before Trump named him EPA administrator. State Senate Democratic leader Kevin de León of Los Angeles has introduced Senate Bill 49, which would use existing federal environmental law as the baseline for state law “so we can preserve the state we know and love, regardless of what happens in Washington.

”The California Farm Bureau welcomed the president’s executive order Wednesday as a rollback of confusing federal rules.

The chest bumping is good political theater, but California has the power to exert its authority over wetlands. The state already uses federal environmental law as a template for state law. And federal law largely leaves authority to the state.

The state needs to invest in institutional muscle at the State Water Resources Control Board to enforce rules that protect the environment from those who would fill wetlands and dump pollutants into streams or seasonal streambeds.

Californians know the value of wetlands in flood control and wildlife habitat. We all want clean water. If these are the priority state leaders say they are, the state should step up.

Source: California should take lead on wetlands protections – San Francisco Chronicle

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

Bucolic Valley Ford faces water problems linked to dairies

Paul Payne, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Restaurants in bucolic Valley Ford serve up local seafood and farm-raised beef. But don’t ask for local water.

Anything that makes it to the table in one of this town’s several eateries is trucked in from Petaluma because water from Valley Ford’s main well has been deemed unfit to drink.

That could soon change. Officials in the town of about 125 people near the Sonoma Coast hope to complete a multiyear effort this fall to pipe in clean water from a new well. It will put an end to mounting transportation costs and delivery problems connected to winter storms.

“It’s a bummer to have to truck in water,” said Geoff Diamond, manager of Estero Café on Highway 1, as he tended a small breakfast crowd Thursday morning. “It would certainly be an asset to the rest of the town to have clean water coming through.

”Some in Valley Ford — a longtime dairy town with a cluster of tourist-friendly businesses including the iconic Dinucci’s Italian restaurant — say the change can’t come soon enough. Restaurants are barred from serving well water but residents still get it when they turn on the tap.

Warnings of high nitrate levels associated with surrounding dairy ranches have prompted many to drink, cook and even bathe with bottled water. The State Water Resources Control Board issued a warning last month that pregnant women and infants younger than 6 months should not consume the well water. Additionally, the warning cautioned against boiling, freezing or filtering the water.

Read more at: Bucolic Valley Ford faces water problems linked to dairies | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Water

Two-thirds of Clear Lake fish recently tested above acceptable mercury levels 

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

On a weekday morning, Johnnie Heal caught four largemouth bass from a pier in Clearlake Oaks, but tossed three back in the water.

“I don’t eat anything out of this lake,” said Heal, 32, who likes fishing for sport. “They say you can eat so many a month. But if you have to put a limit on it, I’m not going eat it.”

But the fourth bass he gave to an elderly woman who wanted it for her meal.

Because of high mercury levels in Clear Lake fish, women older than 45 and all men should eat only one serving per week of largemouth bass, according to guidelines issued by California’s Office of Environmental Assessment.

Warnings and guidelines, which are posted at public boat ramps, are less restrictive for other species such as carp, crappie, bluegill and catfish, allowing for several servings per week.

But women of child-bearing age and children are advised not to eat any largemouth bass at all out of Clear Lake and to limit consumption of other fish to only one serving per week.

There are similar warnings for many of the state’s other lakes and streams.

Read more at: Two-thirds of Clear Lake fish recently tested above acceptable mercury levels | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water, Wildlife

Mercury contamination in Clear Lake a legacy of mining

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Standing on a bluff overlooking Clear Lake, it’s possible for Elem Indian Colony elder Jim Brown III to envision a time more than 10,000 years ago, when humans first arrived and settled the area.

“We are the oldest tribe classified as Pomo ever created,” the tribal historian said, explaining there were large geysers and hot springs close to the lake “where our people did our sweats. Thousands traveled to the place.”

But what was once an area of spiritual significance is today a toxic dump. For more than a century, an abandoned mine named Sulphur Bank has leached tons of mercury into Clear Lake and poisoned not only the food chain and the fish the tribe traditionally relied on, but possibly the people, too.

Fifteen years and several cleanup operations after it was made a high priority by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Sulphur Bank still defies efforts to stop the contamination.

This spring, the EPA expects to complete a feasibility study describing its latest evaluation and possible cleanup method that will be available for public review and comment.

Clear Lake is a poster child for mercury contamination, but is not unique. The state has identified roughly 150 “mercury impaired” reservoirs including Lake Sonoma, Lake Mendocino, Lake Berryessa and Lake Pillsbury. Even Spring Lake in Santa Rosa is on the list for future study, due to concerns about mercury levels in fish.

Read more at: Mercury contamination in Clear Lake a legacy of mining | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water, Wildlife

Op-Ed: Standing with the Standing Rock Sioux 

Adam Villagomez and Jenny Blaker, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

More than 500 people marched in silence through Santa Rosa on Dec. 4 in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux water protectors who have been putting their lives on the line at the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The vigil was timed to coincide with 2,000 veterans arriving at Standing Rock to act as nonviolent “human shields” for the water protectors, who had suffered a violent onslaught at the hands of the fossil fuel industry, with dogs, pepper spray, rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons in sub-zero temperatures and militarized police from six states. There has been a massive groundswell of support for the water protectors in Sonoma County and around the world.

The tribe’s fundamental human rights and rights as a sovereign nation have been violated. As with so many other Native American tribes, they have been swindled, cheated and lied to for years with repeatedly broken treaties and forced displacement. In an egregious example of environmental racism, the pipeline was rerouted away from Bismarck, the capital of North Dakota, through Sioux lands, after Bismarck’s mainly white residents rejected it as a threat to their water supply.

A leak from the 1,200-mile pipeline, slated to pass under the Missouri River, would threaten the lives of millions of people downstream and thousands of acres of farming, ranch lands and wildlife habitat. For the Standing Rock Sioux, the Earth is their mother, and protecting her is a spiritual responsibility. The water is her blood and the streams and rivers are her veins. We and the generations to come cannot live without water, the water of life.

The unprecedented convergence of more than 100 tribes, with indigenous people and their allies from all over the world, unites the struggle for indigenous rights and sovereignty with the movement for environmental justice, the protection of the right to clean water and growing concern about climate change and the role of the fossil fuel industry.

Greenhouse gas emissions are escalating, and average world temperatures have been hitting record highs every year. According to climate scientists, using all the oil already available, even without exploiting new reserves, will start a cascade of repercussions that will threaten our survival. The oil needs to stay in the ground.

As protestors gathered outside Citibank in Santa Rosa, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied to Energy Transfer Partners the easement that would allow it to complete the pipeline. An environmental impact assessment will be required, with full public input and analysis. Cheers erupted, while in North Dakota veterans put down their helmets and riot shields to dance in celebration with their hosts.

In an unprecedented historic moment, veterans asked forgiveness of the tribal elders for the damage done to them throughout history.

But this is far from the end of the story. Energy Transfer Partners’ CEO Kelcy Warren and President-elect Donald Trump, who, until recently, held considerable assets in the $3.8 billion pipeline, are adamant that it will go ahead. The day after the Army Corps of Engineers made its announcement, Energy Transfer Partners began legal action to overturn it.

However, delays have already cost the company $450 million. The largest bank in Norway has withdrawn its assets. The Dakota Access Pipeline is contractually obligated to complete by Jan. 1, and if it does not, contractors could pull out, incurring further losses.

According to Lakota prophecy, a black snake will come to destroy the world. In the seventh generation, the youth will rise up to fight it. The pipeline is the black snake, and the youth are rising with extraordinary courage and determination.Now the black snake is wounded, but it is not yet dead and the fight to come may get even harder.

Adam Villagomez, a member of the Dakota Sioux/Chippewa, lives in Sonoma County and works at the Sonoma County Indian Health Project. He is part of a local group that took food and medical supplies to Standing Rock during Indigenous People’s Day. Jenny Blaker, a Cotati resident, is a member of Solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux of Sonoma County.

Source: Close to Home: Standing with the Standing Rock Sioux | The Press Democrat

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Land Use, Water

PG&E to pay $120,000 for Paulin Creek spill

Paul Payne, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

PG&E has been ordered to pay $120,000 to settle claims that it allowed oil from an underground transformer to contaminate a Santa Rosa creek, prosecutors said Thursday.

A complaint filed in Sonoma County Superior Court alleges the spill into Paulin Creek happened during intense storms in February 2015.Crews were repairing a failed transformer at Sleepy Hollow Drive when oil leaked into a storm drain and flowed into the creek, prosecutors alleged.

PG&E failed to “immediately notify proper authorities of the discharge,” according to a statement from District Attorney Jill Ravitch.

Under the terms of the settlement approved by Judge Allan Hardcastle, PG&E will pay $80,000 in civil penalties and $40,000 in investigative and enforcement costs.

Source: PG&E to pay $120,000 for Santa Rosa creek spill | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water

Groups ask judge to halt Point Reyes National Seashore farm leases 

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Three environmental groups have asked a federal judge in Oakland for an order to halt the process of granting long-term leases to the cattle ranches operating on government-owned land at Point Reyes National Seashore.

The Resource Renewal Institute in Mill Valley, Oakland-based Center for Biological Diversity and the Idaho-based Western Watershed Project contend the National Park Service is moving to grant 20-year leases to the ranches without completing an assessment of their impact on the 71,000-acre national seashore, a popular wilderness destination visited by 2.5 million people a year.

The original lawsuit, filed in February, rattled ranchers whose families have been working on the windswept peninsula for generations.In the request for a court order filed last week, the groups said the Park Service intends to “short circuit” the case by completing a ranch management plan and issuing the leases, thereby denying the groups “any chance at meaningful relief.”

“The Park Service cannot simply predetermine that ranching should continue long-term at the national seashore without any public input or environmental study,” Jeff Miller of the Center for Biological Diversity said in a press release.

The park is currently operating under an “antiquated plan” prepared 36 years ago with no environmental impact statement, the release said.

The environmental groups contend that decades of cattle grazing have trampled the seashore’s landscape and polluted its waterways. Huey Johnson, a former California secretary of resources who now heads the Resource Renewal Institute, has called the Park Service’s management of the ranches a travesty.

The Park Service, ranchers and their allies contend the agriculture and wildlands can coexist side by side. When the seashore was established in 1962, preserving the peninsula from development, it specifically included the historic ranches, marked by signs along the seashore roads.

Read more at: Groups ask judge to halt Point Reyes National Seashore farm leases | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use

New compost site scrapped at Sonoma County’s Central Landfill 

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

After nine years and $1 million of study, Sonoma County waste officials say they’re abandoning plans to build a new composting facility at the county landfill west of Cotati.

The Sonoma County Waste Management Agency announced Monday that as part of a legal settlement with landfill neighbors, it would no longer pursue the green waste project, pegged at up to $55 million.

“This is not, I think, government’s proudest moment,” said Don Schwartz, Rohnert Park assistant city manager and an agency board member. “On the other hand, it’s better to spend $1 million than $50 million and not have a good solution.”

Under terms of the settlement, the neighbors will dismiss their lawsuit if the agency votes next month to rescind certification of the environmental report for the project and other documents related to the Central Landfill site.

The decision, which won’t be finalized until an agency board meeting next month, marks the second time in a year that neighbors have successfully blocked a composting operation at the Mecham Road landfill.

Read more at: New compost site scrapped at Sonoma County’s Central Landfill | The Press Democrat

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

Sonoma County vineyard manager fined for landslide near Dry Creek

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A prominent Sonoma County vineyard manager has agreed to pay $50,000 in penalties and other costs arising from a civil complaint related to a wintertime landslide on a replanting job outside Healdsburg.

Ulises Valdez, whose family business farms more than 1,000 acres, and Cloverdale engineer Kurt Kelder both were fined under a settlement announced this week for violations that officials say resulted in a stream of soil running into drainage for Dry Creek, a Russian River tributary that carries much of the North Bay’s drinking water and provides important fish and wildlife habitat.

Kelder is to pay $24,500, the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office said.

Kelder’s lawyer, James DeMartini, said his client agreed to the settlement without admitting fault, and said that while Kelder designed an erosion control plan for the property, it was Valdez who was responsible for installing it and he did not complete the job.

Read more at: Sonoma County vineyard manager fined for landslide near | The Press Democrat

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

Contaminated water found in Rohnert Park subdivision 

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Blaise Turek looked forward to taking a hot shower after he and his wife returned home from vacation in mid-December. But when he turned the faucet on, brownish water with a putrid stench flowed out.

“The smell was off the charts,” he said.

Almost a month later, the Tureks and more than a dozen other property owners in the Canon Manor West neighborhood just east of Rohnert Park are still dealing with fallout from contamination in their water wells.

County health officials this week revealed that 17 of 31 residential wells tested in the development south of Sonoma State University are ridden with potentially harmful bacteria, including E. coli in seven of the contaminated water sources. Besides ordering residents to discontinue using the wells, officials will be sending letters to every property owner in the 257-acre development warning them of the problem and urging precautions.

“I think it’s an urgency,” said Karen Holbrook, the county’s deputy health officer. “People should be aware that they are potentially drinking water that’s not safe.”

More than a public health concern, the well contamination in Canon Manor West highlights longstanding disputes in several Sonoma County neighborhoods over water rights and responsibility for ensuring that the water is safe.

Holbrook on Wednesday said the consensus among county officials and those from the city of Rohnert Park — which maintains a sewer line in Canon Manor West — is that failing septic systems and surface water contamination are to blame for the well problems.

Several residents, however, accuse the county of using the current crisis as an excuse to enforce an ordinance requiring Canon Manor West residents to hook up to public water and sewer lines, abandon and destroy septic systems and to discontinue well use for domestic purposes.

Read more at: Contaminated water found in Rohnert Park subdivision | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water