Tag Archives: wetlands

Calif. court rules against appeal filed by Sierra Club, others over vineyard permit 

John Sammon, LEGAL NEWSLINE

Two Sonoma County vintners received a judgment in favor of their proposed wine making operation when an appeal by the Sierra Club was turned back by the state’s 1st Appellate District Court of Appeals.

The court found in favor of the defendants Ronald and Ernest Ohlson, operators of the Ohlson Ranch, who applied for a permit to turn grazing land on their property into a grape vineyard. The Agricultural Commissioner of Sonoma County (commissioner) issued the permit after making a determination the issuance was a “ministerial” act, and therefore exempt from California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) standards.

The commissioner’s decision was challenged by the Sierra Club, Friends of Gualala River and the Center for Biological Diversity, who asked for a writ of mandate, a court order to an agency or court to follow the law by correcting a previous action (issuing the permit).

Before the year 2000, grape growers in Sonoma County could plant vineyards without government review or permission.. Since then, new directives have been added, including submitting plans to address erosion controls, proper grading, drainage and other safeguards.

The Ohlsons filed an application in 2013 to turn 108 acres out of 132 acres of range land into a vineyard. The property included wetlands and marshy depressions but no trees or streams. Erosion was to be controlled by the use of anchoring grass, mulch, filter strips and cover crops.

Read more at: Calif. court rules against appeal filed by Sierra Club, others over vineyard permit | Legal Newsline

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

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

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

Sonoma County to spearhead plan to restore Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

After living along the Laguna de Santa Rosa for decades, Joe Aggio and his family have grown accustomed to having their land swamped with water, as has been the case this year, the waterway swollen to its greatest extent in more than a decade.

But the floodplain around their dairy farm also has become much more of a nuisance over the years.

Aggio, 32, said the wetland around his farm between Occidental Road and Guerneville Road used to be manageable and clean, flooding in the winter before draining off so his family could grow crops to feed their cows. But the waterway has become increasingly plugged with sediment, invasive Ludwigia plants, garbage and other discarded items like shopping carts and couches, he said.

“It no longer flows. It no longer drains. It’s just a stagnant mess,” Aggio said. “We’ve lost crops because of it. We haven’t gotten crops in because of it … It’s become increasingly difficult to farm the land.”

So Aggio’s hopes were raised recently when Sonoma County Water Agency officials secured a grant to move forward with plans that could eventually help alleviate the challenges faced by his farm and other landowners along the 22-mile waterway.

With funds from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Water Agency and environmental groups are embarking on a massive planning effort to revitalize the watershed that stretches from Cotati north to Windsor and takes in rural areas east and west of Santa Rosa.

The watershed, which includes Mark West and Santa Rosa creeks and many other smaller streams and wetlands, has been altered significantly over generations by agricultural and urban development.

One result of its transformation is the Laguna now fills with more sediment than it once did, at times hampering its ability to drain floodwaters into the Russian River.

“If this happens over a very long period of time — we’re talking hundreds of years — that eventually will get to a point where it could back up drainage back into Santa Rosa, Cotati and Rohnert Park,” said Mike Thompson, assistant general manager of the county Water Agency. “This is well beyond our lifetimes, but if it keeps filling up like that, the storage and flood protection of the Laguna that naturally occurs is being taken away.”

Armed with $517,000 in state grant funds, the Water Agency and other groups expect to spend the next three years developing a comprehensive restoration plan for the watershed. Project partners include the San Francisco Estuary Institute and the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation.

Read more at: Sonoma County to spearhead plan to restore Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed | The Press Democrat

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

Op-Ed: Trump’s Congress speech left unsaid his continued assault on our environment

Rhea Suh, THE HILL

“What kind of a country,” he asked, “will we leave our children?”

In his address to Congress and the nation on Tuesday, President Trump made sparse mention of a leading focus of his first six weeks in office — his unmitigated assault on the nation’s environment and public health.

True, Trump boasted of having worked with congressional Republicans to set mining companies free to pollute mountain streams and destroy forests, by killing the Stream Protection Rule, leaving hard hit coal communities to pay the price.

He highlighted his call to do away with two existing regulations for every new safeguard put in place, an irrational and unlawful approach that short changes the government’s ability to respond to emerging threats in a complex and changing world.

He celebrated his order to revive the Keystone XL dirty tar sands pipeline bragging that he had “cleared the way” for some of the dirtiest oil on the planet to be shipped through the breadbasket of America to be refined on our Gulf coast and shipped, mostly, overseas.

And he took pride in noting his order to sweep aside the voices of the Standing Rock Sioux and force the Dakota Access pipeline across their water sources and sacred lands.

Not great, any of that.

Trump made a fleeting plea “to promote clean air and clear water,” but he never mentioned the order he signed, just hours before, to “eliminate” the Clean Water Rule that provides needed protections for wetlands and streams that feed drinking water sources for 117 million Americans.

He steered clear of reports that he plans crippling budget cuts for the Environmental Protection Agency and to open more public land to the ravages of coal mining.

And he said nothing about his pledge to eviscerate the Clean Power Plan – the single most important measure the government has taken to fight rising seas, widening deserts, blistering heat, raging fires, withering drought and other hallmarks of climate change.

And who could blame him?

Nobody voted in November for dirty water or to put our children’s future at needless risk. Why would Trump tout an extremist agenda for which there’s little public support?

Read more at: Trump’s Congress speech left unsaid his continued assault on our environment

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Water

Caltrans moving ahead with Gleason Beach project

Amie West, SONOMA COUNTY TIMES & NEWS

Proposed roadway. (Caltrans)

The public is invited to a meeting Thursday to discuss the state’s Gleason Beach project, a Highway 1 realignment that would shift the roadway inland and away from ocean erosion of cliffs about five miles north of Bodega Bay.

The meeting will be at the Bodega Bay Marine Lab lecture hall, 2099 Westshore Road in Bodega Bay from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Attendees will be able to view and provide input on the latest roadway and bridge project designs.

The purpose of the project is to provide a safe coastside transportation that avoids erosion undermining the coastal highway. Late last year, Caltrans issued an emergency work order to temporarily stabilize Highway 1 near Gleason Beach after damage from multiple erosive forces made the roadway vulnerable, especially in storms and extreme weather. According to Caltrans, at the current rate of coastal retreat, the roadway at Gleason Beach abutting the coastal bluffs is expected to be undermined within the five years.

The project would construct a 3,700-foot, two-lane roadway and 850-foot long bridge span over Scotty Creek, shifting the entire roadway to the east, away from the eroding cliff side. The road and bridge would be 49 feet wide and include 6-to-8-foot shoulders and a 6-foot wide sidewalk in the southbound direction for pedestrians and bicyclists.

The project also includes improving three access roads to Highway 1, plus additional improvements to vehicle turnouts and adding a dedicated parking area.

The realignment project has already conducted and received a certified Final Environmental Impact/Environmental Assessment under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The EIR states that no significant impact is expected from the project, though Caltrans states the bridge structure will change the visual character of the coastal landscaping looking inland from Gleason Beach.

Caltrans has plans to help mitigate impacts to coastal wetlands, the Scotty Creek floodplain, water quality, federally listed threatened and endangered species, including the Myrtle’s silverspot butterfly, and the rural character of the coastal Sonoma County landscape.  Caltrans expects the project will improve the environmental baseline of the Scotty Creek floodplain because the bridge will span the floodplain and remove a culvert currently spanning the creek that creates a potential barrier to migrating salmonids.

Read more at: Caltrans moving ahead with Gleason Beach project | News | sonomawest.com

Filed under Sonoma Coast, Transportation

Caltrans announces Highway 37 emergency construction 

Julie Johnson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

State highway officials are rushing to stabilize low-lying Highway 37 in northern Marin County on an emergency basis to prepare for another strong storm forecast to hit the region Thursday.

The highway has been inundated with flooding water from a series of January and February storms, causing road closures and traffic headaches for commuters dependent on the major Sonoma and Marin county thoroughfare.

A three-mile stretch of Highway 37 between Highway 101 and Atherton Avenue has been closed since Feb. 9. CHP officials Monday said they expected it to remain closed until at least Thursday while road crews work around the clock to raise it.

Caltrans has hired Santa Rosa-based Ghilotti Construction Co. to do the work, according to the CHP. A company representative couldn’t be reached Monday. A Caltrans spokesman didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.One of the lowest lying state roads in California, Highway 37 crosses marshlands, rivers and creeks along the San Pablo Bay.

Read more at: Caltrans announces Highway 37 construction | The Press Democrat

Filed under Transportation

In demand but increasingly swamped, Highway 37 has no easy fixes

Peter Fimrite, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

“This is something we foresaw because there are several low spots along these berms and levees,” said [Fraser] Shilling, whose report, Rising Above the Tide, says sea levels have already risen 8 inches along the California coast.

Persistently swamped Highway 37 — historically a sore spot for motorists — is rapidly becoming one of the Bay Area’s most pressing issues as heavy storms keep rolling through this winter, forcing repeated closures of a crucial transportation link.

The peculiar highway, which looks more like a rural farm road in places, connects the North Bay to the East Bay by cutting through wetlands and hay fields along the northern shore of San Pablo Bay. Wine Country day-trippers use it, as do drivers headed to Sonoma Raceway and Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo.

The increasingly popular artery, which was shut down for much of last week, has been closed for about three weeks this winter because of flooding.

The soggy blockages have raised aggravation levels among tens of thousands of commuters who use Highway 37 each day, and are providing a disturbing glimpse into what ecologists say is a wetter future, in which floodwaters powered by climate change could permanently drown the roadway.

“It is definitely the most problematic area in the Bay Area from the point of view of shoreline flooding and threats to communities and infrastructure,” said Fraser Shilling, co-director of the Road Ecology Center at UC Davis and author of a 2016 report analyzing the future of the highway.

Read more at: In demand but increasingly swamped, Highway 37 has no easy fixes – San Francisco Chronicle

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Transportation

History of Sonoma Baylands, the ‘big sky country’

Arthur Dawson,  THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Editor’s Note: To the south, Sonoma and Napa counties melt into San Pablo Bay, a coastline of many marshy miles. When healthy, those wetlands function like natural sponges, filtering toxins and absorbing water from tidal surges and rising sea levels. Since 1996, the Sonoma Land Trust has been working to restore portions of that marshland, often breaching levees built by farmers to keep the water out. Here, historical ecologist Arthur Dawson explains the land’s history and its valuable environmental attributes.

The Sonoma Baylands have been nicknamed “big sky country,” and they are. Standing by the edge of the bay, there is a delicious sense of solitude. Millions of people live nearby, but you may not see a single one of them, even though the horizon stretches all the way to Mount Diablo and Tamalpais.

It wasn’t always this way. Fifteen thousand years ago you would have seen a wide valley, greened by countless creeks and dotted with the villages of the First Peoples. Across that valley flowed an enormous river, carrying half the runoff of California. A tremendous roar filled the Golden Gate, as all that water poured over a steep cascade on its way to the ocean, which lay beyond the hills that would become the Farallon Islands.

As the last ice age ended, the sea slowly rose and that valley was transformed into San Francisco Bay. Vast tidal marshes formed as pickleweed, tules and other salt-tolerant plants colonized the water’s advancing edge. This rich habitat attracted myriads of fish and birds. By necessity, the First Peoples periodically moved their villages to higher ground, but stayed close to the marsh because it was such a good place to hunt and fish.

With such abundant resources, the Bay Area was more densely populated than almost anywhere else in the Americas when the Spanish arrived in the 18th century. Groups along the marsh edge soon began losing their people to the missions. Some were taken forcibly, others chose to leave. Introduced diseases, against which they had no immunity, also took a heavy toll.

Read more at: Sonoma Baylands, the ‘big sky country’

Filed under Habitats, Land Use, Wildlife

Highway 37 commute corridor will be underwater in 40 to 100 years due to sea-level rise

Jay Gamel, THE KENWOOD PRESS

Highway 37 is already deteriorating due to water levels that were eight inches higher in 2014-2015 than predicted by the U.C. Davis studies just a few years ago. The central segment is basically an elevated berm, or dirt mound, roughly 10 feet higher than the bay water level. In storm and high tide conditions, water can be at the nine-foot level.

Sonoma County Supervisors listened intently to plans to address State Highway 37 congestion and rising ocean levels that are likely to submerge portions of the North Bay’s major traffic conduit. Highway 37 connects Solano, Sonoma, and Marin counties along San Pablo Bay. Napa is intrinsically affected by what happens to the highway as well.

The issues driving Highway 37 congestion work the same for Highway 12 through the Valley of the Moon – rising housing costs in Sonoma and Marin are driving more of their workforce to Solano and other East Bay counties in search of affordable housing.

The transportation departments of all four counties are working to find the best solutions to replacing or rebuilding the 21-mile corridor, which isn’t easy in the current fiscal landscape.

“There is no money for transportation projects,” Sonoma County Transportation Authority Director Suzanne Smith told the county supervisors on Aug. 9. “There are no Measure M bond funds, no North Bay tax measures, and very little likelihood of state action this year.”

In May of this year, United Bridge Partners, a private group, offered to rebuild the two-lane segment and finance it with tolls. California has very few privately funded roads, toll or otherwise, and special legislation would be necessary to make this work. That proposal will be considered, Smith said, along with every other type of possible funding.

Read more at: The Kenwood Press – Saving Highway 37 from flooding will be an expensive, long-term project

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Transportation