Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , , , ,

In bid to clean Russian River, water regulators adopt strict plan for Sonoma County septic systems

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

North Coast water quality regulators have signed off on a sweeping new plan that aims to curb the threat of human waste entering the Russian River by phasing out failing and substandard septic systems, viewed for decades as a prime source of pollution in the sprawling watershed.

Years in the making, the regulations affect a vast swath of Sonoma County — properties without sewer service from Cloverdale to Cotati and from Santa Rosa to Jenner. For the first time, affected landowners will be subject to compulsory inspections and mandatory repair or replacement of septic systems found to be faulty or outdated, at an estimated cost of up to $114 million, according to county officials.

The new rules take effect next year and will apply to an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 parcels without sewer service. Once the rules kick in, landowners will have 15 years to comply.

he highest concentration of affected property owners exist in the river’s lower reaches, where contamination from fecal bacteria has long been an open issue, but where officials worry that poorer communities will face the heaviest burden complying with the measures. Upgrades to an individual septic system can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and no pot of money currently exists to help defray landowner costs.

Local representatives, while not standing in the way of the measures, said outside financial support for the overhaul will be needed. North Coast water quality officials pledged to work with Sonoma County to pursue state, federal and private funding to bolster the cleanup effort.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9903962-181/in-bid-to-clean-russian

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, ForestsTags , , ,

Op-Ed: Don’t burn trees to fight climate change—let them grow

Bill McKibben, THE NEW YORKER

f all the solutions to climate change, ones that involve trees make people the happiest. Earlier this year, when a Swiss study announced that planting 1.2 trillion trees might cancel out a decade’s worth of carbon emissions, people swooned (at least on Twitter). And last month, when Ethiopian officials announced that twenty-three million of their citizens had planted three hundred and fifty million trees in a single day, the swooning intensified. Someone tweeted, “This should be like the ice bucket challenge thing.”

So it may surprise you to learn that, at the moment, the main way in which the world employs trees to fight climate change is by cutting them down and burning them. Across much of Europe, countries and utilities are meeting their carbon-reduction targets by importing wood pellets from the southeastern United States and burning them in place of coal: giant ships keep up a steady flow of wood across the Atlantic. “Biomass makes up fifty per cent of the renewables mix in the E.U.,” Rita Frost, a campaigner for the Dogwood Alliance, a nonprofit organization based in Asheville, North Carolina, told me. And the practice could be on the rise in the United States, where new renewable-energy targets proposed by some Democrats and Republicans in Congress, as well as by the E.P.A., treat “biomass”—fuels derived from plants—as “carbon-neutral,” much to the pleasure of the forestry industry. “Big logging groups are up on Capitol Hill working hard,” Alexandra Wisner, the associate director of the Rachel Carson Council, told me, when I spoke with her recently.

The story of how this happened begins with good intentions. As concern about climate change rose during the nineteen-nineties, back when solar power, for instance, cost ten times what it does now, people casting about for alternatives to fossil fuels looked to trees. Trees, of course, are carbon—when you burn them you release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. But the logic went like this: if you cut down a tree, another will grow in its place. And, as that tree grows, it will suck up carbon from the atmosphere—so, in carbon terms, it should be a wash. In 2009, Middlebury College, where I teach, was lauded for replacing its oil-fired boilers with a small biomass plant; I remember how proud the students who first presented the idea to the board of trustees were.

Read more at https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/dont-burn-trees-to-fight-climate-changelet-them-grow

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Forests, Land Use, WaterTags , , , , ,

Sonoma County wine executive’s vineyard business firm accused of water quality violations

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Prominent Sonoma County wine executive Hugh Reimers, who last month abruptly left as president of Foley Family Wines, faces allegations that his grape growing company has violated regional, state and federal water quality laws for improperly clearing land near Cloverdale to build a vineyard.

The North Coast Regional Water Quality Board accused his Santa Rosa vineyard management company, Krasilsa Pacific Farms, of violations of the water board’s local water rules, the California Water Code and the federal Clean Water Act for clearing and grading 140 acres. The water quality board concluded the work on a section of Krasilsa Pacific’s more than 2,000-acre property was done without applying or obtaining the necessary permits required by the county to operate a vineyard.

The board filed a notice of its violations on June 6 to Reimers, as manager of Krasilsa, listing 28 different locations on the property three miles east of Cloverdale where infractions were found by investigators with the board and Sonoma County Department of Agriculture. Many of those spots had multiple violations within the cleared land: a steep, grassy ridge featuring oak woodland between the Russian River and Big Sulfur Creek.

The water quality agency’s findings have not been linked to Reimers’ sudden resignation from Foley’s Santa Rosa wine company he joined in 2017 and he led as president since January 2018.

The water agency is in the process of determining what sanctions to levy against Krasilsa, said Josh Curtis, assistant executive for the agency. The penalties could range from a cleanup of the property in an attempt to return it as close as possible to its condition before Krasilsa’s work started in late 2017 or early 2018, to the assessment of fines.

Investigators with the water board and county ag department have forwarded their report and underlying findings regarding the Krasilsa land to the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office. The case is under review by the district attorney’s environmental and consumer law division, office spokeswoman Joan Croft said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/9886319-181/notable-sonoma-county-wine-executives

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Forests, Habitats, Land UseTags , , , , ,

Land use policy key to reining in global warming, U.N. report warns

Julia Rosen and Anna M. Phillips, THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE

Slashing greenhouse gas emissions from cars and power plants won’t be enough to avoid the worst effects of climate change. To meet the goals of the Paris climate accord, experts say, humanity also needs a new approach to managing the land beneath its feet.

A sweeping new report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change highlights the myriad ways that rising temperatures have impacted agriculture, wildfire risk, soil health and biodiversity. The report also examines how land and its uses can exacerbate the effects of global warming — or help mitigate them.

“It tells us that land is already doing a lot of service for us, but also that we can do a lot with land,” said Louis Verchot, a forester at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Palmira, Colombia.

A summary of the IPCC’s assessment was released Thursday after a marathon overnight negotiating session in Geneva. It will inform United Nations climate negotiations in Santiago, Chile, later this year, when countries will revisit their pledges to reduce emissions.

One of the report’s major themes is that forests play an important role in absorbing the carbon dioxide generated by human activities, and protecting them is crucial to reining in warming.

The report also emphasizes the need for a new approach to agriculture that would feed a growing population while using natural resources more sustainably.

“Limiting global warming to 1.5 or even 2 degrees [Celsius] will involve removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and land has a critical role to play,” said Jim Skea , co-chair of the climate change mitigation working group.

Read more at https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/environment/story/2019-08-08/ipcc-land-use-global-warming?_amp=true

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Habitats, Land Use, WildlifeTags , ,

Point Reyes management plan calls for shooting elk, preserving ranches

Guy Kovner and Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

How To Get Involved
To comment on the plan through Sept. 23, go to parkplanning.nps.gov/poregmpa
Two informational meetings are planned on the proposal:
When: Aug. 27, 5-7 p.m.
Where: West Marin School Gym, Point Reyes Station
When: Aug. 28, 5-7 p.m.
Where: Bay Model Visitor Center, Sausalito

Tule elk in the Point Reyes National Seashore could be shot to control their swelling numbers, and cattle ranchers would be assured a lengthy future and latitude to expand their farming operations under a proposed management plan aimed at bridging a sharp divide over the presence of commercial agriculture in the 71,000-acre national park.

The plan, which cost nearly $1 million to develop and won’t be implemented until next year, was released Thursday by the National Park Service, which manages the sprawling seashore on the Marin County coast.

Reviving a controversy that dates back to the agency’s decision in 2012 to evict an oyster farm from a Pacific Ocean inlet in the seashore, the plan — described as “shockingly anti-wildlife” by one conservationist — could also send environmentalists and the federal government back into court over the conflict between farming for profit and land preservation.

The proposal has been identified by the National Seashore staff as the “preferred alternative” of six variations developed over the past two years. The public now has 45 days to review and comment on the document.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9858446-181/point-reyes-seashore-plan-balances

Posted on Categories TransportationTags , ,

SMART says it faces multimillion-dollar deficits without sales-tax renewal

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The North Bay’s commuter rail system could face crippling multimillion-dollar deficits within three years if voters in Sonoma and Marin counties don’t pass a proposed sales-tax extension in March, SMART officials revealed for the first time Wednesday.

Starting in 2022, Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit would need to slash at least $9 million annually — about a seventh of its operating expenses — resulting in cuts to service and SMART’s workforce if the 12-member board opts not to seek early renewal of the tax next year, or if the extension is put to voters and they reject it, officials said.

The agency’s financial forecast showed operating expenses climbing from $58 million this fiscal year to about $63 million two years from now, with tax and fare revenues not expected to keep pace. The rise is driven mostly by escalating payments on debt accrued in SMART’s buildout, as well as rising labor, fuel and maintenance costs.

“We just need to call a spade a spade as we see it today,” Farhad Mansourian, SMART’s general manager, told the board. “Doing nothing is not an option and pretty bad for everybody. We’re being straightforward. We don’t want to mislead the members of the public. We want to tell them what the pains are, what the chokeholds are and what our options are.”

The newly unveiled forecast marked the first public acknowledgment by SMART officials that the 2-year-old line already faces a potentially deepening near-term shortfall in its budget. The projections did not account for the possibility of a recession, which would carve an even larger hole into the system’s budget. More than 70% of SMART’s spending on operations is supported by the quarter-cent sales tax.

It isn’t set to expire for another decade, but SMART officials say early renewal would allow them to restructure and reduce debt payments, which are now set to rise to $16 million next year and $18 million by 2022.

Without the tax renewal and financial adjustments it would support, SMART would be forced to cut commuter service in half, according to the agency’s finance chief, effectively sidelining 18 of the 36 train trips. Dozens of jobs could be also eliminated from the workforce of about 200, officials signaled.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9874597-181/smart-says-it-faces-multimillion

Posted on Categories Climate Change & EnergyTags , , , ,

Open letter from a distressed climate scientist

Javier Hernández, Director of the Climate Research Center, Sonoma State University

I am addressing this open letter to the Sonoma County government government officials, the California governor, and to all policymakers in the world, especially to those in areas where climate change-related phenomena (extreme heat, droughts, wildfires, heavy rainfall, floods, hurricanes, sea-level rise, storm surge, tornadoes) and other geophysical processes exacerbated by climate change like earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, etc. are already causing ample biophysical, social and economic devastation.

More recently, scientists like myself, are confirming that climate change-related processes are happening much earlier than expected and that urgent and massive emergency action must be undertaken.

Climate change accentuated phenomena are impacting us now and their frequency and intensity are set to increase even if all anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions are stopped today. For this reason, even though stopping anthropogenic GHG emissions and drawing down existing carbon in the atmosphere at maximum speed is still very important to mitigate climate change, it is paramount to deploy deep climate adaptation strategies in order to better cope with our present and future climate reality. Deep climate adaptation means to undertake all the necessary economic, structural, organizational, societal, etc., transformations to minimize the impact of climate change vulnerabilities particular to each region.

This open letter is not intended to convince anyone on whether climate change is happening or not, or whether is occurring because of natural forces, mostly human activities or a combination of both factors. The aim of this open letter is to discuss the most important problem related to climate change, the issue of living in a world where climate change enhanced phenomena are impacting us now and will become the norm in our very near future.

I’m a very distressed climate scientist that has done research on extreme weather and its relations to climate variability and change. I’ve experienced firsthand the devastating impacts of climate change accentuated phenomena, with more powerful Hurricanes impacting my homeland of Puerto Rico and more frequent and larger wildfires in California where I currently live. I am in the front lines of the climate change apocalypse.

The Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC) Report of October 2018 presented a dire state of the climate which, in reality, understated the true, even more disastrous, state of the climate. The Report claimed that with global CO2 emissions reductions of 45% below 2010 levels by 2030 and zero emissions by 2050, the average global temperature increase above pre-industrial times would likely stay below 1.5º C. The exclusion of the self-reinforcing climate change amplifying feedbacks (f.i. ice sheet disintegration, loss of albedo effect, heat storage by the oceans and release of methane from melting permafrost) in their climate change models, makes those suggestions irrelevant and misleading. The Report suggests that there is still a “carbon budget” that safely allows for more GHG emissions, which is not supported by the more realistic models that include the amplifying feedbacks, and by the now almost constant extreme and usually “unprecedented” climate change-related events happening around the world. There is no safe carbon budget left.

Because of those amplifying feedbacks alone, the increase of 1.5ºC is going to be surpassed significantly sooner than 2030, even if all anthropogenic GHG emissions are stopped immediately. The current global average temperature increase is close to 1.2º C and many areas of the Earth are already beyond a 1.5º C increase. For instance, Canada is at about 2 times the global average temperature increase and the Arctic Region (including Northern Canada) is at about 3 times the average.

The already major activation of the self-reinforcing climate change amplifying feedbacks, as a consequence of anthropogenic GHG emissions, makes the existing climate change mostly irreversible and leaves a short, but difficult to quantify, time for humans to mitigate further climate change aggravation by stopping all GHG emissions and removing GHG from the atmosphere, before a runaway climate change gets established.

As a scientist and as a being of this world I argue that we must stop debating whether we act or not on climate change. My position on the issue is clear, we must take bold climate action to prepare our societies for a more extreme world at the brink of societal collapse. We must embrace the fact that more devastating climate change effects will occur in the near future, so we must quickly begin our deep adaptation process to live in this new more climate extreme world.

If we don’t want to witness the end of organized civilization as we know it, we must act now. For that reason, I urge local, state and federal/national policymakers to accept the scientific consensus and the empirical reality that climate change is impacting us now and that it will continue to impact us in the immediate and long term future. After acknowledging our climate reality, I ask policymakers at all levels to issue official climate disaster state of emergency executive orders to make all resources available to deal with the climate change crisis which, ultimately, has the potential for the extinction of humanity.

I urge our governments to develop emergency measures that would allow us to prepare all of the infrastructure (roads, dams, buildings, parks, bridges, emergency-response infrastructure) and essential sustaining systems like farming, water supply, and health care, in our communities to the impacts of climate change. If we take bold action now, we can employ every able person in our communities in the 100% renewable energy transformation, infrastructure resiliency efforts and environmental restoration measures that would allow us to be better prepared to cope with climate change impacts now and in the very near future.

The impacts of climate change will not stop in the near future, even if we dropped all of our GHG emissions to zero. For that reason, I urge policymakers to focus on developing a more just and resilient local, national and global society that would allow all of its members to have a dignified life under our current and future climate reality.

In order for all of this to happen, policymakers need to accept one very important fact, we cannot continue with our current unsustainable economic activities that view the Earth as merely a collection of resources to be exploited in eternity for the sake of never-ending economic growth and wealth accumulation. Our voracious economic growth since the industrial revolution, almost exclusively dependent on fossil fuels, is what brought us here and it needs to stop if we want to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

If we want to avoid the worst of the very likely climate apocalypse in our horizon, we must act now and work together to build a more just and resilient world for us, our children and all of humanity. It is impossible to put a brake on all of the climate change impacts that will threaten us now and in the very near future, but we can still mitigate Climate Change, build more resilient communities, restore key ecosystems and relinquish old unsustainable practices that would allow us to live a dignified life in a more climate extreme world.

Sincerely,

José Javier Hernández Ayala, PhD
Assistant Professor and Director
Climate Research Center
Geography, Environment and Planning Dept.
Sonoma State University
jose.hernandezayala@sonoma.edu

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Land UseTags , ,

Vision for housing and hotel development in northern Healdsburg challenged in court

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Healdsburg has begun its review of a developer’s proposal to build what would be the city’s largest housing project, a plan on the north end of town that has restoked the fiery debate in this Wine Country destination over the pace of residential growth and hotel development.

Already, the proposal by Southern California-based Comstock Homes has drawn a legal challenge against the city, with opponents asserting the expansive development would run afoul of state environmental regulations.

The project, on a vacant former lumber yard bounded by Healdsburg Avenue and Highway 101 north of Simi Winery, currently calls for more than 350 units of housing and a 120-room hotel.

The housing would be split between 132 income-restricted rental units for the local workforce and a 220-unit senior living community. Plans also call for 20,000 square feet of retail space.

“We have a vision to provide something sorely needed in the community,” said Debra Geiler, Comstock’s director of entitlements. “The mix of housing units and the hotel and all of it is sort of the economic balance. If we succeed, what we will be able to provide to Healdsburg is a paradigm shift in community design and creating neighborhoods.”

But Sebastopol-based California River Watch has filed suit contending that Healdsburg failed to lawfully account for the greenhouse gas emissions the luxury hotel would generate. The lawsuit is a key piece of the group’s goal to force local governments to more closely account for the climate impacts of commercial growth and the region’s tourism economy.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9850091-181/vision-for-housing-and-hotel

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Land UseTags , , , , ,

We must transform food production to save the world, says leaked report

Robin KcKie, THE GUARDIAN

Attempts to solve the climate crisis by cutting carbon emissions from only cars, factories and power plants are doomed to failure, scientists will warn this week.

A leaked draft of a report on climate change and land use, which is now being debated in Geneva by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), states that it will be impossible to keep global temperatures at safe levels unless there is also a transformation in the way the world produces food and manages land.

Humans now exploit 72% of the planet’s ice-free surface to feed, clothe and support Earth’s growing population, the report warns. At the same time, agriculture, forestry and other land use produces almost a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, about half of all emissions of methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases, come from cattle and rice fields, while deforestation and the removal of peat lands cause further significant levels of carbon emissions. The impact of intensive agriculture – which has helped the world’s population soar from 1.9 billion a century ago to 7.7 billion – has also increased soil erosion and reduced amounts of organic material in the ground.

In future these problems are likely to get worse. “Climate change exacerbates land degradation through increases in rainfall intensity, flooding, drought frequency and severity, heat stress, wind, sea-level rise and wave action,” the report states.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/03/ipcc-land-use-food-production-key-to-climate-crisis-leaked-report

Posted on Categories Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , ,

Why toxic algae is especially dangerous for California sea lions this year

Carrie Schuman, SAN LUIS OBISPO TRIBUNE

A 2012 overview of trends in toxic algae along the West Coast — published in the journal Harmful Algae — notes a body of evidence suggesting toxic blooms off of California have been worsening in the past 10 to 15 years. A 2018 study published in the same journal further identifies Southern California as a domoic acid hotspot.

On a beautiful Friday in July, a dehydrated young sea lion was rescued from the Harford Pier by the Marine Mammal Center’s San Luis Obispo County rescue team.

Pier visitors noticed the curious sea lion had been lounging on a floating dock for a suspiciously long time.

This California sea lion, later dubbed “Landing,” represents one of the hundreds the center cares for every year, including a large number suffering poisoning from an algal toxin called domoic acid.

Dr. Cara Field, one of the center’s veterinarians, said this year is especially alarming because the algal blooms responsible for producing domoic acid have started earlier than usual — just in time to target “adult female sea lions making their way to the Channel Islands to give birth” and “a whole second generation” of unborn sea lion pups.

The source of domoic acid — a potent neurotoxin — is a microscopic plant-like organism called phytoplankton.

When one particular species called Pseudo-nitzschia finds just the right sweet spot of conditions, it can rapidly reproduce and form a “ bloom.”

People unfortunate enough to be exposed to domoic acid by eating tainted shellfish can develop amnesic shellfish poisoning. Severe cases of the condition, as described by the California Poison Control Network website, includes “short-term memory loss, seizures, coma or shock” — although these cases are rare thanks to precautions taken by the state Department of Public Health.

Marine mammals are also susceptible to poisoning but don’t have a warning system in place like we do.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9845544-181/why-toxic-algae-is-especially?sba=AAS