Posted on Categories Water, WildlifeTags , ,

Sonoma Valley wastewater spill totals 2 million gallons

Guy Kovner, PRESS DEMOCRAT

A faulty valve caused the accidental release of about 2 million gallons of untreated wastewater into a slough in Sonoma Valley, a county water official said Saturday.

The valve on a pipeline in the Sonoma Valley County Sanitation District failed to fully close and was leaking wastewater for about 24 hours into Schell Slough, said Ann DuBay, a Sonoma Water spokeswoman. The flow was stopped at 10:45 a.m. Saturday, she said.

State and regional authorities were notified, and specialists sent to the spill site did not notice any dead or distressed fish or other species, DuBay said.

The valve is part of a system that collects wastewater from the equivalent of about 17,000 Sonoma Valley homes. The wastewater is treated at a plant on Eighth Street East, near the city of Sonoma.

Source: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9166172-181/sonoma-valley-wastewater-spill-totals?sba=AAS

Posted on Categories Water, WildlifeTags , , ,

Endangered coho returning to North Bay to spawn in streams, with mixed results

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Standing on a stone bridge overlooking Lagunitas Creek in west Marin County, giddy onlookers observed a male coho salmon swimming upstream toward a nesting area guarded by a female.

Naturalist Catie Clune explained that male coho have a mere 20 seconds to fertilize hundreds of eggs laid by females. It’s a delicate, acutely time-sensitive task crucial for the survival of one of Northern California’s iconic species — and one most people have never witnessed.

Yes, you read that right, 20 seconds.

“This is amazing,” said Larry Martin, a retired food and wine professional from Forestville. “I’ve pretty much lived here my whole life and never seen a salmon spawning in a creek.”

This year’s salmon spawning season so far appears to be a mixed bag, with some locations, such as Lagunitas Creek, showing robust activity, and others, including the Russian River in Sonoma County, falling short of expectations.

Officials with the Sonoma County Water Agency observed about 1,200 to 1,500 chinook salmon in the Russian River this winter, roughly half the historical average of 3,200, according to Gregg Horton, a principal environmental specialist for the organization.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/lifestyle/9145531-181/endangered-coho-returning-to-north

 

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , , ,

Oceans are warming even faster than previously thought

Kendra Pierre-Louis, THE NEW YORK TIMES

Scientists say the world’s oceans are warming far more quickly than previously thought, a finding with dire implications for climate change because almost all the excess heat absorbed by the planet ends up stored in their waters.

A new analysis, published Thursday in the journal Science, found that the oceans are heating up 40 percent faster on average than a United Nations panel estimated five years ago. The researchers also concluded that ocean temperatures have broken records for several straight years.

“2018 is going to be the warmest year on record for the Earth’s oceans,” said Zeke Hausfather, an energy systems analyst at the independent climate research group Berkeley Earth and an author of the study. “As 2017 was the warmest year, and 2016 was the warmest year.”

As the planet has warmed, the oceans have provided a critical buffer. They have slowed the effects of climate change by absorbing 93 percent of the heat trapped by the greenhouse gases humans pump into the atmosphere.

“If the ocean wasn’t absorbing as much heat, the surface of the land would heat up much faster than it is right now,” said Malin L. Pinsky, an associate professor in the department of ecology, evolution and natural resources at Rutgers University. “In fact, the ocean is saving us from massive warming right now.”

But the surging water temperatures are already killing off marine ecosystems, raising sea levels and making hurricanes more destructive.

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/10/climate/ocean-warming-climate-change.html

Posted on Categories Sustainable LivingTags , ,

The era of easy recycling may be coming to an end

Maggie Koerth-Baker, FiveThirtyEight

For those of us who spent most of our lives painstakingly separating plastic, glass, paper and metal, single-stream recycling is easy to love. No longer must we labor. Gone is the struggle to store two, three, four or even five different bags under the kitchen sink. Just throw everything into one dumpster, season liberally with hopes and dreams, and serve it up to your local trash collector. What better way to save the planet?

But you can see where this is headed.

Americans love convenient recycling, but convenient recycling increasingly does not love us. Waste experts call the system of dumping all the recyclables into one bin “single-stream recycling.” It’s popular. But the cost-benefit math of it has changed. The benefit — more participation and thus more material put forward for recycling — may have been overtaken by the cost — unrecyclable recyclables. On average, about 25 percent of the stuff we try to recycle is too contaminated to go anywhere but the landfill, according to the National Waste and Recycling Association, a trade group. Just a decade ago, the contamination rate was closer to 7 percent, according to the association. And that problem has only compounded in the last year, as China stopped importing “dirty” recyclable material that, in many cases, has found no other buyer.

Most recycling programs in the United States are now single stream. Between 2005 and 2014, these programs went from covering 29 percent of American communities to 80 percent, according to a survey conducted by the American Forest and Paper Association. The popularity makes sense given that single-stream is convenient and a full 66 percent of people surveyed by Harris Poll last October said that they wouldn’t recycle at all if it wasn’t easy to do.

Some experts have credited single stream with large increases in the amount of material recycled. Studies have shown that people choose to put more stuff out on the curb for recycling when they have a single-sort system. And the growth of single-stream recycling tracks with the growth of recycling overall in this country.

But it also pretty closely tracks with skyrocketing contamination rates.

Read more at https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-era-of-easy-recycling-may-be-coming-to-an-end/

Posted on Categories Habitats, Land Use, WildlifeTags ,

California monarch butterfly population down 86 percent in one year

Tiffany Camhi, THE CALIFORNIA REPORT, KQED

“We think that it has to do with habitat loss, the increasing high use of pesticides and the loss of the milkweed populations, which is the plant the monarch needs to lay its eggs on,” Monroe said.

California’s coast, from Bolinas to Pismo Beach, is a popular overwintering site for the western population of monarch butterflies. Historically, you could find millions of the orange and black winged invertebrates around this time of year, using coastal eucalyptus trees as shelter.

But there’s been a troubling trend over the past few decades. Each year, fewer monarchs have been showing up to overwinter on the state’s coast, according to preliminary numbers from the Xerces Society, an environmental conservation nonprofit. The group’s annual Thanksgiving count found the 2018 population of these butterflies is down to 20,456 compared to 2017’s 148,000. That’s a one year, 86 percent decline.

“It’s been hard for me, as I remember the millions of monarchs of the 1980s,” said Mia Monroe, a Bay Area-based Xerces Society member who helps lead California’s monarch population count. “We only have less than one percent of the monarchs that we once historically had.”

Read more at https://www.kqed.org/news/11715197/california-monarch-butterfly-population-down-86-percent-in-one-year

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable Living, TransportationTags , , ,

Carpool decals set to expire for hundreds of thousands of California drivers with clean-air vehicles

Alexandria Bordas, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Clarence Dold has been a proud owner of a used Nissan Leaf electric car since 2016. Back when he was commuting to San Mateo from his home in Santa Rosa, being able to slide into the carpool lane and cruise past cars sitting idly in traffic was an added bonus to the smaller climate footprint of his electric vehicle. But as of Jan. 1, Dold and nearly 215,000 zero- and low-emission car owners in the state of California are set to lose their clean-air carpool status. That group is composed of electric and hybrid vehicles.

The state Legislature last year passed a measure that will no longer recognize the white and green carpool decals on clean-air vehicles purchased before 2017. Only vehicles purchased since then will qualify for the new passes, which are red. Those qualifying owners will have to apply to the state for the new passes.

Dold, who learned of the new law only weeks ago, said he felt the change unfairly treats drivers who have long invested in low-emission vehicles.

“What upsets me is that I thought I was going to get to use the decal for three years, and had I waited even just a few months, I would have qualified for the extension,” Dold said.

The new law is an attempt to address the overcrowding of carpool lanes — a result partly of California’s bid to spur the wider adoption of cleaner-burning vehicles 13 years ago by first offering owners of hybrid cars unrestricted access to carpool lanes. Caltrans documented the problem two years ago, pointing partly to increased carpool traffic stemming from clean-air decals.

California has the largest share of low- and zero-emission vehicles in the nation by far.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9089030-181/carpool-decals-set-to-expire?sba=AAS

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Habitats, Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , , ,

Wildland development escalates California fire costs

Bay City News, NPR

The sky above Ron Beeny turned black.

The 71-year-old was stuck in traffic as he evacuated from his home in Paradise on the morning of Nov. 8.

Trees and brush lined both sides of the two-lane road. In the darkness, Beeny had no idea where the fire was. A former firefighter, he knew that getting trapped between walls of fuel could be deadly.

“[When] daytime turns to night, the fire is burning extremely intense,” he said.

For more than an hour Beeny inched forward in his red Toyota pickup, heading west toward Chico. His home of 41 years was incinerated by the Camp Fire. The blaze that destroyed Beeny’s home is just the latest mega-fire in California — and the cost of fighting such fires has risen dramatically.

California dwarfs other states in fire-suppression costs, an analysis by a Stanford journalism class has found. The Stanford class analyzed daily reports from the most expensive fires in every state from 2014 to 2017, and found that dense development at the border of wildlands — in communities like Paradise, Cobb, and Santa Rosa — helps explain California fires’ exceptional damage and expense to put out.

A 2015 federal audit showed that fire suppression costs vastly more in these transition zones between wild and developed areas — Wildland Urban Interface areas, or WUIs, for short.

The Stanford analysis of fire costs found that, among the states that spend the most on suppression, California fires overlapped far more with the WUI: More than 30 percent of the 2015 Butte Fire, for example, burned on WUI lands, destroying almost 1,000 buildings. Much of the state’s WUI is made up of chaparral — dry shrubland — that burns fast and hot.

Read more at https://www.kqed.org/news/11713393/wildland-development-escalates-california-fire-costs

Posted on Categories WaterTags , , ,

Sonoma County explores fees to pay for new groundwater management plan

Hannah Beausang, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Thousands of Sonoma County residents who rely on groundwater will likely see new fees on their property tax bill next fall, helping pay for a legally required groundwater regulatory plan.

Local agencies governing groundwater resources were created in 2017 following the passage of a landmark California law intended to safeguard the previously unregulated water supply. Those new agencies in the Santa Rosa Plain, the Sonoma Valley and the Petaluma Valley were given until 2022 to craft plans that take stock of the amount of groundwater in each basin and establish measures ensuring sustainability for the next 20 years.

The agencies have each received $1 million in state grant funding, but officials say more money is needed to complete the framework. The groundwater agency in the Santa Rosa Plain has opted to levy fees on users to bridge its $1 million gap, while the Petaluma Valley and Sonoma Valley agencies will pay their own respective costs, said Ann DuBay, a Sonoma County Water Agency spokeswoman.

The board of directors of the Santa Rosa Plain agency held a study session Thursday to hone in on fees and ways to create a program to register wells in the basin. It covers 78,720 acres from Rohnert Park and Cotati north to Windsor, including Santa Rosa and the east edge of Sebastopol.

Potential fees, which vary by type of use, would be levied on cities, water districts, farmers, businesses and residents with wells over the course of three years. About 13,000 parcels could be impacted by new fees, DuBay said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9064333-181/sonoma-county-explores-fees-to

Posted on Categories WaterTags , ,

Trump administration moves to slash federal protection for waterways

Steven Mufson, THE WASHINGTON POST

The Trump administration on Tuesday proposed to sharply limit the federal government’s authority to regulate the pollution of wetlands and tributaries that run into the nation’s largest rivers, a major win for builders, farmers and frackers.

The administration said it would introduce a “new construct” limiting regulation to streams that hold water in a “typical year,” as determined by precipitation over the past 30 years.

“This will be a significant retreat from how jurisdiction has been defined for decades,” said Ann Navaro, a natural resources lawyer in Washington who previously worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “This will significantly reduce the regulatory burden on landowners, developers and industry.”

The scaling back of the regulation was one of President Trump’s top priorities when he took office, and he issued an executive order in February 2017 directing the Environmental Protection Agency to carry out “the elimination of this very destructive and horrible rule.”

The Obama administration, under the Waters of the United States rule issued in 2015, had asserted federal oversight of a variety of ditches, storm-water controls, lakes, streams and wetlands that feed into larger waterways that are clearly protected under the Clean Water Act of 1972. Many experts believed that the 1972 law already gave the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers control over smaller U.S. waterways and tributaries, but a series of court rulings had left the extent of that regulatory power ambiguous.

Read more at https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/trump-administration-moves-to-slash-federal-protection-for-waterways/2018/12/11/eee0056a-fc98-11e8-862a-b6a6f3ce8199_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.01268fd7849c

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Habitats, WildlifeTags , , ,

California extends ban on abalone fishing until 2021

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

California fish and game commissioners on Wednesday extended the ban on recreational abalone fishing another two years to give the ailing species more time to recover from a near-total collapse on the North Coast.

The vote continued until April 2021 an existing closure approved a year ago in the wake of a sharp, multi-year decline in the popular fishery, with no signs of a rebound, a key state official said Tuesday.

“There’s no positive news,” said Sonke Mastrup, environmental program manager for the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the lead expert on abalone matters. “We’re still seeing starving abalone this last season during the surveys. We’re still seeing fresh empty shells.”

The closure had been expected but is nonetheless a painful reminder of the uncertain future of a cherished tradition that brings friends and family together and is often passed down from one generation to the next. It could be years before abalone hunting on the level seen in recent decades along the Sonoma and Mendocino coasts, the prime destination, is allowed again, Mastrup said.

Read more at om/news/9058818-181/california-extends-ban-on-abalone?ref=related