Tag Archives: water pollution

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

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