Tag Archives: water use

Get to know your groundwater source in Sonoma County

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

For information on the Sonoma County’s Sustainable Groundwater Management program, click here.

The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, the first law in state history to regulate pumping subsurface water, applies to about 9,000 wells in three groundwater basins in Sonoma County.

Reports by the county Water Agency in 2015 described conditions in the three basins, which essentially cover the county’s flatlands, also its biggest population and farming centers.

Santa Rosa Plain: Covers 78,720 acres from Rohnert Park and Cotati north to Windsor, including Santa Rosa and the east edge of Sebastopol. It has an estimated 6,000 wells.

Groundwater levels in the southern part of the plain declined in the late 1970s through the early 1990s, followed by recovery in the early 2000s. Water quality is generally high, with naturally occurring elements such as iron, manganese, boron and arsenic problematic in some areas and increasing chloride in southern parts of the plain.

Petaluma Valley: Covers 46,000 acres from Penngrove down to San Pablo Bay. It has an estimated 1,000 wells.

Sonoma Valley: Covers 44,700 acres from Kenwood to San Pablo Bay. It has an estimated 2,000 wells.

Groundwater levels in deep aquifers, primarily in southeastern and southwestern Sonoma Valley, have been declining for a decade or more. Water levels in many wells in these areas are dropping several feet a year and have fallen below sea level. Groundwater quality is generally good, except for brackish water affecting wells in southernmost Sonoma Valley and representing a threat if groundwater levels continue to drop.

Read more at: Get to know your groundwater source in Sonoma County | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water

Can marijuana ever be environmentally friendly?

Natasha Geiling, THINK PROGRESS (from April 20, 2016)

Another big issue that the burgeoning cannabis industry will have to confront as legalization becomes increasingly widespread is the industry’s massive environmental footprint. Cannabis is the country’s most energy-intensive crop, largely because around a third of cannabis cultivation in the United States currently takes place in indoor warehouses, a process that requires huge amounts of lighting, ventilation, cooling, and dehumidifying. According to a 2016 report released by New Frontier Financials, cannabis cultivation annually consumes one percent of the United States’ total electrical output, which for a single industry growing a single crop, is a lot — roughly the equivalent of the electricity used by 1.7 million homes. If energy consumption continues at current levels, the electricity used by indoor cannabis operations in the Northwest alone will double in the next 20 years.

One of the first things that Tyson Haworth does when we meet on his farm in rural Oregon is spread his palms out, up toward the April sunshine, and apologize. “I just applied some predatory fungus in the greenhouse,” he says, splaying his fingers and inspecting his hands. He doesn’t use any synthetic pesticides on his farm, he explains, preferring predatory bugs and bacteria and fungi instead, and before he can show me around, he excuses himself to wash his hands in his house adjacent to the farm. Between the farm and the house, on the other side of the gravel driveway that leads visitors from the winding back roads onto Haworth’s property, is a wooden play structure — a sign of Haworth’s two kids, who are the reason he moved from Portland, about thirty miles north, to Canby.

Them, and because it was getting hard to keep growing his cannabis in a garage.

Haworth started cultivating cannabis in 2007, after his wife had to undergo a second back operation. The first time around, she took opiates to manage the pain, but she didn’t want to do that again. So Haworth — who grew up around his father’s wholesale produce company and worked as a manager of a wholesale organic distribution company himself — started growing cannabis, medically, both for his wife and for Oregon’s decades-old medical market. For years, Haworth cultivated cannabis on the side, not able to make enough profits from the medical market to become a full-time cannabis grower. Then, in 2013, Oregon’s medical marijuana market shifted, allowing, for the first time, a legitimate retail component.

And so Haworth put his organic produce job on hold and jumped feet first into cannabis cultivation, moving SoFresh Farms to Canby in 2014. But he didn’t want to completely eschew the decades of knowledge he had gained working in the organic produce industry. And so Haworth decided to do something that not many cannabis farmers were doing at the time: create an organic, sustainable cannabis farm, a place without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, a place that sequesters carbon and helps repopulate native flora. A place that grows cannabis and leaves the environment better for it.

“It’s not enough to not be bad,” Haworth said. “We want to be good. It’s not enough to not be part of the problem, we want to be part of the solution.”

Read more at: Can Marijuana Ever Be Environmentally Friendly?

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

Fight looms over location of medical marijuana farms in Sonoma County

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County is putting out a welcome mat for the medical marijuana industry, but it may not be as big as the industry would like as it emerges from the legal shadows.

Under California’s new medical marijuana law, cities and counties are allowed to regulate the location of pot-growing sites and other cannabis-related businesses, which may not obtain a state license until they have secured a local land use permit.

“We’re all here this morning because we believe there’s a bright future for cannabis in our community,” county Supervisor Efren Carrillo told a crowd of about 300 cannabis industry members at a conference Friday at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek in Santa Rosa.

The county’s first draft of its Medical Cannabis Land Use Ordinance, scheduled for public review next week, would focus cultivation and other pot businesses into the county’s agricultural and commercial/industrial areas, Carrillo said.

But Tawnie Logan, executive director of the Sonoma County Growers Alliance, said the proposal was too narrow. Rural residential lands and the county’s Resources and Rural Development District, which covers 30 percent of the county, should be considered for cultivation, she said.

“I think it’s an appropriate place,” she said in an interview, referring to the vast RRD district that covers mostly hilly, sparsely populated parts of the county.

Carrillo said he has heard conflicting messages from rural residents: They don’t want marijuana grown near them, but there already are numerous gardens in the county’s unincorporated area.

“That is going to be one of the areas where we are challenged the most,” said Carrillo, who sits on the county’s ad hoc medical cannabis committee with Supervisor Susan Gorin.

Read more at: Fight looms over location of medical marijuana farms in Sonoma County | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use

Of water and wine 

Stett Holbrook, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

In the winter of 2015, a Hong Kong real estate conglomerate purchased the Calistoga Hills Resort, at the northern end of the Napa Valley, for nearly $80 million. Today, mature oaks and conifers cover the 88-acre property, which flanks the eastern slope of the Mayacamas Mountains.

But soon, 8,000 trees will be cut, making way for 110 hotel rooms, 20 luxury homes, 13 estate lots, and a restaurant. Room rates will reportedly start at about $1,000 a night, and the grounds will include amenities like a pool, spas, outdoor showers and individual plunge pools outside select guest rooms.

Following the sale, one of the most expensive in the nation based on the number of rooms planned, commercial broker James Escarzega told a Bay Area real estate journal that the project “will be a game changer for the luxury hotel market in Napa Valley.” That may well be true, but it’s likely not the kind of game changer that many locals want to see.

While the Napa Valley conjures images of idyllic winery estates and luxurious lifestyles, all is not well in wine country. A growing number of residents decry the region’s proliferation of upscale hotels, the wineries that double as event centers and the strain on Napa Valley’s water resources. In the wake of California’s unprecedented drought, the city of Calistoga—like others—has been under mandatory water rationing. “We’re told not to flush our toilets,” says Christina Aranguren, a vocal critic of the proposed resort, whose guests will be under no such restrictions. “I want to know where the water will come from.”

Other new developments will further strain local infrastructure. The 22-acre Silver Rose Resort, across town from the Calistoga Hills Resort, will feature an 84-room hotel and spa, 21 homes, a restaurant, a winery and a six-acre vineyard. Last year, Calistoga’s Indian Springs Resort underwent a $23 million expansion and added 75 new guest rooms to bring its total to 115.

Read more at: Of Water and Wine | Features | North Bay Bohemian

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

Santa Rosa water restrictions end for city residents 

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa residents are out from under local water-saving mandates imposed two years ago in the grip of a nagging drought, thanks to an abundant water supply behind Warm Springs Dam at Lake Sonoma, officials said Wednesday.

Based on assurances that the reservoir behind the taxpayer-funded, $360 million dam west of Healdsburg can sustain 600,000 Sonoma and Marin county residents for three more potentially dry years, the City Council rescinded, effective immediately, the mandatory curbs on outdoor water use adopted in August 2014.

The council’s action followed last month’s ruling by the State Water Resources Control Board that local agencies with a three-year water supply could be exempted from state water conservation targets. Santa Rosa and five other Sonoma County water providers met that requirement, the Sonoma County Water Agency said at the time.

On Wednesday, the water agency confirmed in a forecast to the state water board that Lake Sonoma would hold a healthy 178,398 acre feet of water at the end of September in 2019, after three rain-poor years comparable to 2013 through 2015.

Brad Sherwood, the water agency’s spokesman, said the report “illustrates our region’s ability to meet water supply demands” over a three-year drought.

Read more at: Santa Rosa water restrictions end for city residents | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water

Critical index finds smelt nearly extinct in Sacramento Delta

Ryan Sabalow, SACRAMENTO BEE

Delta smelt have hovered close to extinction for years, but biologists say they’ve never seen anything like this spring.

“There’s nothing between them and extinction, as far as I can tell,” said Peter Moyle, a UC Davis biologist who has studied smelt and other Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta fish species for nearly four decades.

Delta smelt abundance graphLast week, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife released the results of spring trawling surveys that track adult Delta smelt. The surveys found just handfuls of fish across the huge area where they are known to spawn. The low catches were a marked drop from even the record low numbers of Delta smelt tallied in 2015’s trawls.

Steve Martarano, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the index is used in part to help biologists estimate the entire population of the fish in the Delta.

Since the surveys began in 2002, the highest the Delta smelt population has ever been is about 600,000. Last year, the federal government estimated there were around 112,000. This year, biologists say there are likely just 13,000 fish, Martarano said.

“That’s alarmingly small for a fish that only lives for a year in a body of water as large as the Bay Delta,” he said.

Moyle said he remembers when he first started doing fish research in the Delta nearly four decades ago, and the smelt were among the most numerous fish species, numbering in the millions. He said that the low numbers now mean any sudden change to the smelt’s habitat – such as a sudden shift in water quality from a small pesticide spill – could kill off the entire population.

“It’s the indication that we’ve totally failed in our ability to manage Delta smelt to keep them from extinction,” Moyle said.

The Delta smelt, widely viewed as a bellwether species indicative of the estuary’s overall health, are an ongoing flashpoint in California’s water wars. In recent weeks, the fish has also taken on symbolic importance in the national political debate.

Read more at: Critical index finds smelt nearly extinct in Sacramento Delta

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

Lytton Rancheria development outside Windsor stokes big land-use dispute

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A tribe’s plan to build housing for its members on the outskirts of Windsor while also potentially adding a 200-room hotel and a large winery has generated one of the biggest land-use disputes in the young town’s history.

The 270-member Lytton Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians wants to establish a home base, something it has not had since the tribe’s 50-acre rancheria north of Healdsburg was illegally terminated by the federal government in 1958. In the past dozen years, it has used revenues from its East Bay casino to buy up an ever-larger swath of land southwest of Windsor, off Windsor River, Starr and Eastside roads.

That’s where the tribe could build more than 360 homes and a community center on just over 500 acres it hopes to take into federal trust through legislation carried by Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael. It would add the hotel and a 200,000-case winery if given approval under a future federal environmental review.

A separate deal negotiated with Sonoma County would prohibit a new casino on the land while allowing for the prospect of the tribe’s more than doubling the amount of property it holds in trust — to roughly 1,300 acres — making an even bigger part of Windsor’s outskirts exempt from local land-use restrictions.

Lytton tribal officials say their intent is to create a community for themselves and expand their economic ventures beyond gambling.

Creation of a homeland will allow the tribe to continue to govern itself and “to provide for tribal generations to come,” Tribal Chair Marjie Mejia testified in a congressional subcommittee hearing in June.

But project opponents have decried the increasing scope and potential impact of the development plans, which they note would require the destruction of 1,500 trees. The additional commercial development could deplete local water supplies and bring a huge influx of people and cars to the rural area, opponents say.

Read more at: Lytton Rancheria development outside Windsor stokes big land-use | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Water

Joseph Wagner shifts focus from Meiomi to Dairyman winery project

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Fresh off selling his Meiomi brand for $315 million to Constellation Brands Inc., Joe Wagner is planning his next steps as the 33-year-old wine entrepreneur has emerged as one of the of biggest players to watch in the North Coast wine industry.

At the top of his list is a desire to complete the controversial Dairyman winery project near Sebastopol, which has run into opposition from community activists. Critics contend the plan, which would turn the 68-acre property into a large-scale winery, will snarl traffic along the Highway 12 corridor, degrade their quality of life and use up scarce water during a drought.

“We’re having this (conducted) as a very thorough process that doesn’t leave any stone unturned. We feel pretty confident. I like the project, still,” Wagner said Wednesday after speaking at a conference sponsored by the industry publication Wines & Vines. “People see it for the positives. Obviously, some people think it’s not the right place and the right size or anything.”

Wagner has agreed to submit the project — which calls for a facility that can produce up to 500,000 cases of wine and 250,000 gallons of distilled spirits annually, an administration building and hospitality center — for a full environmental impact report to assuage local concerns.

The biggest hurdle, Wagner contends, will be finding a way for vehicles to enter the proposed winery from Highway 12 through an access road that would cross the popular Joe Rodota Trail, used by bicyclists and runners. A tunnel might be one option, he said.

Read more at: Joseph Wagner shifts focus from Meiomi to Dairyman | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use

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

Rep. Jared Huffman introduces bill to take land into trust for Lytton Rancheria

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Rep. Jared Huffman introduced a bill this week to take land near Windsor into federal trust for housing and other purposes — but not a casino — as part of the Lytton Rancheria reservation.

The bill, introduced Thursday, would allow the Pomo tribe to return to a communal homeland about 10 miles from their original reservation north of Healdsburg. No gaming will be conducted on the lands to be taken into trust by the federal government, according to Huffman’s office.

In an interview Friday, he said the legislation will give the tribe, the county, and the town of Windsor a measure of certainty over what can be built and how the housing impacts will be offset. He said it also provides a guarantee that a casino will not be developed on the property, an outcome that would not be certain if the tribe sought the alternate route of getting the land into trust through the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

“An Act of Congress has advantages. It gives everyone control over the outcome,” Huffman said.

The Lytton Rancheria lost its homeland north of Healdsburg in 1958 when it was terminated by the federal government. That termination was later found to be unlawful, and in 1991 the tribe was restored to federally recognized status.

A decade later, through legislation sponsored by former East Bay Congressman George Miller, the Lyttons took over an old cardroom and began operating the San Pablo Casino, generating profits that allowed the tribe to buy up land around Windsor for an intended homeland for its 270 members.

The Lyttons want to build 147 homes on 124 acres south of Windsor River Road, along with a community center, roundhouse and retreat.

Initial strong opposition from the county and Windsor officials, along with skepticism that the tribe might be pursuing another casino, eventually softened with a consensus that the tribe was likely to get approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Read more at: Rep. Jared Huffman introduces bill to take land | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use