Tag Archives: water pollution

In Sonoma County toxic debris removal, officials in a race against rains

Christi Warren, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Don McEnhill, Russian Riverkeeper: “I am very concerned, but there’s only so much you can do. You cannot prevent 100 percent of the toxins and things from going in (the watershed), but I feel like with the meetings that have been held this week, people have been very proactive about threats to the watershed, and that does give me hope that we’re going to do everything we possibly can before we have the rains come in.”

With ash now blanketing much of Sonoma County, environmentalists are turning their efforts to debris removal in a race against the oncoming rainy season. Their primary concern: protecting the watershed from toxic runoff.

As the fire roared through Santa Rosa, car batteries, insulation, couches, industrial facilities, carpets, plastics — all things that shouldn’t burn — did.

In response, Cal Fire officials created the Watershed Emergency Response Team. A coalition of state and federal agencies, as well as local environmental nonprofits, it’s dedicated to keeping as much debris as possible out of the county’s waterways.

Their next step will be to evaluate the fire areas and identify which of those are at the most risk for watershed emergencies, prioritizing debris removal and runoff mitigation that way, said Johnny Miller, a public information officer for Cal Fire.

Once identified, sandbags, barriers and straw wattles will be placed to protect against any erosion that could result from winter rains. While Sonoma County is expected to get rain tonight and Friday morning, the .25 inches that could fall is not enough to cause officials much concern.

This winter could be another story. With the North Bay facing a La Niña, it’s hard to tell just how much rain might fall, said Steve Anderson, a forecaster with the National Weather Service.

“Typically that means wetter than normal in the Pacific Northwest and dry in the desert Southwest,” he said.

But in the North Bay, “There are equal chances of above and below normal. … We’ll just have to see what kind of weather patterns set up.”

Read more at: In Sonoma County toxic debris removal, officials in a race against rains | The Press Democrat –

Filed under Water

Toxic pollution problems in Roseland will shift from County to Santa Rosa in annexation

Kevin McCallum,THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

If Santa Rosa annexes Roseland, a long-planned move it could advance this week, the city will inherit a vibrant neighborhood with a high Latino population, an acute shortage of parkland and a long list of needed infrastructure upgrades.

It also will bring into its borders some seriously contaminated properties.

Roseland has one of the highest concentrations in the city of industrial and commercial properties with soil and groundwater contaminated by toxic substances such as gasoline, diesel and chemical solvents.

Leaking underground gas station tanks, motor oil from salvage yards, and chemicals dumped down the drain by dry cleaning businesses have all made Roseland a hot spot for environmental clean-up efforts over recent decades. In 1982, gasoline fumes seeped into Roseland Elementary School, forcing its closure. A few years later, an underground diesel fuel leak threatened the well water supplies of 2,200 residents.

And in 1992, Sam’s For Play Cafe had to be evacuated because gas fumes backed up through the sewer — the consequence of a rising water table pushing the petroleum products upward. Concentration levels got so high in some places that officials, fearing explosions, declared a state of emergency.

The issue was so serious that the Sebastopol Road and McMinn Avenue area was listed as a Superfund site until 1994.

Read more at: Toxic pollution in Roseland a big concern for Santa Rosa in annexation | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living

Russian River beach still closed; officials search for cause of high bacteria levels 

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Inquiries and inspections have been made about septic tanks, porta-potty operations and homeless encampments as well, in an effort to narrow down the cause, ….

Updates on the status of the beach are available at sonomacounty.ca.gov/Health/Environmental-Health/Water-Quality/Fresh-Water-Quality/.

Monte Rio Beach will remain closed to swimming for at least one more day as public officials continue to pursue the reason for elevated lab tests that indicate contamination of the water with harmful bacteria, the Sonoma County Department of Health Services reported Monday.

The decision to keep beach-goers out of that stretch of the Russian River through at least Tuesday extends the ongoing beach closure to a fifth day, though officials have yet to confirm or pinpoint any specific hazard or source of pollution.

But state guidelines governing water quality required the closure last week because of test results above the state-allowed threshold for two indicator bacteria considered markers for possible fecal contamination. The beach status is now considered day-to-day.

The latest round of testing put total coliform bacteria at 11,199 organisms per 100 milliliters of sampled water collected off the beach Sunday, Deputy County Health Officer Karen Holbrook said. The state standard is 10,000 organisms per 100 ml.E. coli was measured at 149 organisms per 100 milliliters in samples taken Sunday. The state standard is 235 per 100 ml.E. coli levels dropped below the safety threshold July 6 and appear to have stayed there, though they remain above the two-digit numbers typical of routine testing at 10 Russian River beaches conducted by the county.

The highest test result in the past week put the E. coli level at 833 organisms per 100 ml. or almost four times the state standard, possibly as a result of huge crowds at the beach over the July Fourth weekend.

Read more at: Russian River beach still closed; officials search for cause of high bacteria levels | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water

Here’s how big wine gets to avoid environmental rules in Napa

Alastair Bland, KCET

According to Anderson, vineyard managers frequently install drainage systems incorrectly, fail to plant required cover crops to control erosion, incorrectly place deer fences in a way that prevents free passage of smaller wildlife, and use pesticides illegally. She says erosion control measures often fail to work, causing loose sediment to wash into creeks. There it can smother gravel beds used by spawning salmon and steelhead, which have almost vanished from North Bay watersheds. Many biologists have pointed to vineyards as a leading cause of the fish declines.

In 2006, Napa County officials issued a permit for The Caves at Soda Canyon, a new winery in the hills east of the city of Napa. As most such project permits do, the document set strict limits on how the developer could build his winery.

But The Caves’ owner Ryan Waugh allegedly ignored some of these limitations. Waugh dug an unpermitted cave into a mountain, and hosted guests at unapproved ridgetop tasting patios. After county officials became aware of the violations, they ordered Waugh in 2014 to block off (but not fill in) the illegal cave, stop the unauthorized wine tastings and muffle a noisy generator.

Neighbors had complained about the generator’s din, claiming that Waugh had promised years earlier to connect his facility to silent power lines. They’re primarily concerned, however, about the winery’s impacts on local traffic and congestion.

County documents report that Waugh followed through on all orders to correct the violations (something neighbors, who say they can still hear the generator, dispute). Then, Waugh submitted a request for a modification to his permit, and in April, the Napa County Planning Commission voted to approve it. The new permit brings the unauthorized components of his operation into full legal compliance while also increasing The Cave’s annual production limit from 30,000 gallons of wine to 60,000. The decision is a win for Waugh, who has reportedly put his winery on the market for $12.5 million.

Neighbors say that laws don’t apply to people invested in Napa County’s influential wine industry.

“You can just drill an unpermitted cave and have unpermitted tastings, and just get retroactive approval from the county, and get more allowed production than you initially had,” says Anthony Arger, who lives nearby. Arger is concerned that The Caves’ enhanced use permits will lead to a dangerous increase in vehicle use on Soda Canyon Road.

The county’s decision to clear Waugh’s record while allowing him to enlarge his business illuminates what Arger and other community activists say is part of a countywide problem. They argue that Napa County officials, especially those in the Planning, Building and Environmental Services department, collude with the wine industry, ignoring violations of local rules, to increase wine production and tourist visits at the expense of the environment and local residents’ health and safety.

Read more at: Here’s How Big Wine Gets To Avoid Environmental Rules in Napa | KCET

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, 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

Assembly bill carries renewed hope of improvements for Clear Lake

Glenda Anderson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Cloud-shrouded mountains towered above the glistening waters of Clear Lake on a recent April day as pelicans dove for fish and pairs of grebes dashed side by side across the water in a mating ritual. But not all is pristine on the lake, which suffers from chronic problems with algae overgrowth and mercury contamination from old mining operations, issues that have plagued the ancient lake for decades.

Local, state and federal officials over the years have launched numerous efforts to address the problems and avoid potential new ones like invasive mussels, with limited success. The efforts have included three failed county tax measures since 2012 aimed at improving lake quality, an ongoing federal cleanup of a mercury mine and a long-awaited wetlands restoration project.

Now, a bill sponsored by Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters, is offering new hope for lake improvements. AB 707 doesn’t currently include funding, but local and state officials say it could make such financing easier to obtain by getting multiple agencies and groups to work together on a common goal.

“This is a big deal,” said Lake County Supervisor Jim Steele, a former Fish and Wildlife scientist and manager.

AB 707 would create a “blue ribbon” committee that would bring together a battery of scientists, elected officials, tribal members, environmentalists and others to study the problems and come up with potential solutions.

Read more at: Assembly bill carries renewed hope of improvements for Clear Lake | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Water

Op-Ed: Marching for science on Earth Day

Don McEnhill, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Please join us today at noon at Julliard Park in Santa Rosa for a rally to hear five local scientists and the western U.S. director of the Union of Concerned Scientists and then join us for the March for Science.

On Earth Day 2016, 174 countries and the European Union signed the Paris Climate Agreement, with the United States, China and other nations pledging to sign. It was a jubilant day for the Earth. It marked a high point in turning around our Earth’s future from the bleak projections of our climate scientists to a brighter future of a cooler planet. The world’s governments led by the United States clearly agreed with scientists and signed the agreement to save our earth and the human population from devastating effects of climate change.

Today’s Earth Day celebrations find scientists under attack by the new administration in Washington, while President Donald Trump actively ignores science and puts your health and children’s future at risk. Earth Day 2017 couldn’t be a more polar opposite to 2016, as the environmental protections for clean water and clean air are being gutted, and we’re en route to backing out of the Paris agreement.

The election of Trump installed a president who stated in 2015, “Environmental protection, what they do is such a disgrace; every week they come out with new regulations,” and he vowed to “abolish” the Environmental Protection Agency. Trump’s actions to date are a laundry list of anti-regulatory actions that CEOs have been clamoring for because they supposedly hold back U.S. businesses from “getting America back to work.”

A closer look at Trump’s environmental rollbacks to date tells a different tale. It’s not about jobs or helping blue-collar workers. It’s really about increasing corporate profits. The economics of pollution are simple. Every dollar spent controlling pollution is one dollar less in profits. It is very lucrative to pass the costs of doing business on to the public, which is left to breathe dirtier air and drink more polluted water. So are people really winning with these rollbacks based on attacks on well-accepted science? Only if you own a lot of stock in a polluting corporation. Then you can cash in.

The proposed rollbacks on clean water are stunning. HR 465, the Water Quality Improvement Act of 2017, allows polluters to claim that the costs of cleaning up dirty water are too high and relieves polluters of regulations allowing more dirty water into rivers like the Russian River. HR 953, the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2017, removes all regulations over the use of pesticides near rivers like the Russian River, despite the fact that the chemicals pollute our drinking water and kill our fish. HR 1430, the HONEST and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act of 2017, actually prevents the Environmental Protection Agency from using scientific evidence in the decision-making process.

These attacks on the environment and ultimately our health are just the tip of the iceberg. Trump can only get away with it if we ignore science. We need to remind the people back in Washington that we demand the best available science be used to make decisions and reject the anti-science rhetoric. We need to support scientists who have spent years in school and who work on the world’s toughest problems for everyone’s benefit.

For Riverkeeper, this wasn’t an Earth Day to plant trees by our river but to organize the Santa Rosa March for Science in support of the scientists and their work that we depend on every day to protect and regenerate our river.

Please join us today at noon at Julliard Park in Santa Rosa for a rally to hear five local scientists and the western U.S. director of the Union of Concerned Scientists and then join us for the March for Science. A number of organizations will have ideas for actions you can take to resist the war on science and to strengthen our environmental protections — for our health and our environment.

Don McEnhill is executive director of Russian Riverkeeper.

Source: Close to Home: Marching for science on Earth Day to protect your health | The Press Democrat

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Water

Russian River’s future draws diverse crowd to conference

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The supervisor’s goal in drawing together diverse interests from the public, private and nonprofit sectors is to “drive toward creating a one-watershed plan,” he said.

Environmentalists, bureaucrats, public officials, Native Americans and a patron of the arts gathered Friday to plot a future for the Russian River, the waterway they all consider a foundation for communities throughout the North Bay.

The river, which snakes 110 miles from the Mendocino County highlands near Willits to the Pacific Ocean at Jenner in Sonoma County, is a magnet for boaters, bird-watchers, swimmers and anglers, a water supply for 600,000 North Bay residents and the main artery of a 1,500-square-mile watershed.

It also faces a host of challenges over poor water quality and competing demands to support endangered fish, tourism, water storage, flood control and human needs ranging from raw thirst to pure inspiration.

Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore convened the Russian River Confluence, which drew about 220 people Friday to Santa Rosa Junior College’s Shone Farm, located about 2 miles east of the river in the Forestville area.

Read more at: Russian River’s future draws diverse crowd to conference | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water

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