Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land UseTags ,

County’s cannabis update may be headed for a detour

Rollie Atkinson, SONOMA WEST TIMES & NEWS

Narrow planning commissioners vote calls for a more comprehensive environmental impact study

Plans of the Sonoma County’s Board of Supervisors to streamline the permitting process for commercial cannabis cultivation may be headed for a detour following a close Sonoma County Planning Commission vote held last week that is recommending a “more comprehensive update” in conjunction with a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR.) If approved by the supervisors, the EIR process could take more than a year to complete, several attendees of the April 15 commission session predicted.

New cannabis permits can still be filed under current rules included in the older 2018 ordinance while the supervisors consider their next steps, but there is already a large backlog of pending applications.

Last week’s planning commission action follows two years of county staff work and monitoring by a supervisor’s cannabis ad hoc committee (led by Supervisors James Gore and Lynda Hopkins) seeking to replace lengthy public review and planning commission hearings with a “ministerial” process led by the county’s agricultural commissioner’s office.

That goal was also stymied when the planning commission voted 3-2 to not classify cannabis operations as “agriculture” and “agricultural use” and to vacate earlier recommendations to include a broader General Plan update. Defining cannabis as a crop would better support the streamlined permitting process sought by the ad hoc committee and others.

A public hearing in front of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on the updated ordinance is tentatively scheduled for May 18. The April 15 commission resolution was introduced by commissioner Cam Mauritson and supported by Lawrence Reed and Gina Belforte. It was opposed by chair Greg Carr and member Pam Davis. Reed said he favored the motion to “try to get relief to small growers” while a new EIR process proceeds. Davis said she was “not totally comfortable” with the proposals and favored designating cannabis as an “ag activity.”

Read more at https://www.sonomawest.com/sonoma_west_times_and_news/news/county-s-cannabis-update-may-be-headed-for-a-detour/

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Uncharted waters for the Russian River this summer

Russian Riverkeeper, RUSSIANRIVERKEEPER.ORG

This past Sunday, while out on the River, we observed the clearest waters we can remember seeing in over 50 years. With 25+ feet of visibility, we could see the bottom of some of the deepest pools—from Geyserville to Healdsburg at Diggers Bend and Warnecke Ranch—it was incredible! Normally, we would be lucky to have 4-5 ft of visibility.

Sadly, this is not going to last for long. The incredible clarity right now is due to an increased amount of groundwater seepage which brings cold, clean water into the river system. These cold, clean waters are in stark contrast to Lake Mendocino releases or tributary flows that often have more sediment and higher temperatures this time of year. Unfortunately, as temperatures go up and water use increases for vineyards and lawns, this moment of beautiful clarity will soon end.

As we paddled downriver we saw many lower Alexander Valley vineyard pumps already on, signaling the start of the irrigation season. This means that we will soon be losing about 50% of flow between Ukiah and Healdsburg to irrigation. Two weeks ago we observed a semi-truck unloading pallets of new sod in Healdsburg so that even more water-sucking lawns could be planted. As a city that already uses more water per person than all others in the watershed, this seems counterintuitive to the current drought situation we find ourselves in. Seems like not much has changed as far as water-use patterns go.
Continue reading “Uncharted waters for the Russian River this summer”

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Habitats, Sonoma CoastTags , , , , , , , , ,

Scientists grappling with persistent and alarming collapse of North Coast’s bull kelp forests

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Five years after marine scientists first sounded the alarm about a sudden collapse of the bull kelp forest off the Northern California coast, the state of the ocean offers little prospect of recovery any time soon.

Where lush stands of leafy kelp once swayed amid the waves, providing cover to young finfish and forage for abalones and other creatures on the ocean floor, a stark new world has materialized — one dominated by millions of voracious purple sea urchins that have stripped the ocean floor down to rock in some places. Were a tender frond of new kelp to sprout, it wouldn’t stand a chance of surviving long.

The barrens left behind are a stark and alarming contrast to what is typically one of the most thriving marine environments — seasonal kelp forests that support a rich ecosystem with life stretching from the sea floor to the surface, and up the food chain, supporting recreational and commercial fisheries and home to some of the North Coast’s most iconic wildlife, including abalone and sea otters.

The kelp forests also are a key barometer for the wider health of the world’s oceans, and without some recovery, their future as biodiverse stores for marine life and people hangs in the balance.

Laura Rogers-Bennett, a veteran biologist who works out of the UC Davis-Bodega Marine Lab, likened the kelp forest to a great floating woodlands stretching hundreds of miles along the coast.

“To lose 95% of your forest in a year and a half, that’s a catastrophe, an ecological disaster, and it’s had so much socioeconomic impacts, as well,” she said.

Read more at: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/scientists-grappling-with-persistent-and-alarming-collapse-of-north-coasts/

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California unveils sweeping wildfire prevention plan amid record fire losses and drought

John Myers, LOS ANGELES TIMES

California Wildfire and Resilience Action Plan

After the worst fire season in California history and as drought conditions raise fears of what’s to come, Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders unveiled a $536-million proposal Thursday to boost efforts at firefighting and a variety of prevention measures, including vegetation management and the construction of fire-resistant structures across the state.

The proposal, which the Legislature could send to the governor’s desk as soon as Monday, marks an early agreement by the governor and lawmakers to spend more than half of the $1 billion in wildfire funding Newsom called for in his state budget proposal in January. The gravity of the issue became clear last week after state officials reported the water content in the Sierra Nevada snowpack stood at 59% of the average for early spring.

“The science is clear: Warming winter temperatures and warming summer temperatures across the American West are creating more challenging and dangerous wildfire conditions,” said Wade Crowfoot, the governor’s secretary of natural resources.

According to an outline provided by legislative staff, more than $350 million will be spent on fire prevention and suppression efforts, including prescribed fires and other projects designed to reduce the vegetation growth that has fueled California’s most devastating fires. The package also includes $25 million for fortifying older homes that weren’t built using fire-resistance methods required during construction over the last decade.

Read more at https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-04-08/california-wildfire-prevention-536-million-newsom-lawmakers

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Forests, Sustainable LivingTags , , ,

Los Angeles Superior Court ruling signals officials must consider California wildfire risks

Press Release, CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY

In a major victory against a destructive development larger than Griffith Park, a judge has issued a ruling blocking Tejon Ranchcorp’s Centennial. The project would have put 57,000 residents on remote, fire-prone wildlands 65 miles north of downtown Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff found that the development’s environmental review failed to account for the increased wildfire risk the 12,000-acre project would pose to surrounding wildlands. The ruling sends a clear signal that elected officials across the state must consider the serious risks of building on wildfire-prone land.

Between 1964 and 2015, 31 wildfires larger than 100 acres occurred within five miles of the site, including four within the proposed project’s boundaries. Nearly all contemporary wildfires in California are caused by human sources such as power lines and electrical equipment, and development increases that threat.

“The court’s rejection of the Tejon development highlights the danger of building in high fire-risk areas,” said J.P. Rose, a staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The science is clear that developments like Centennial will literally be built to burn, and our elected officials can’t continue to downplay these risks through inaccurate environmental reviews. This is a wake-up call for policymakers across California.”

The ruling found that the environmental review’s conclusion that “wildfire risk impacts outside of the project site will be reduced to less than significant is not supported by any analysis.” The court’s decision on Tuesday follows a recent Center report showing how construction in high fire-risk wildlands puts more people in harm’s way and contributes to dramatic increases in fire suppression costs. The California Attorney General recently challenged several developments in fire-prone areas, including one in Guenoc Valley, where a proposed project’s footprint includes portions of the recent LNU Complex Fire.

Read more at https://biologicaldiversity.org/w/news/press-releases/judge-blocks-massive-tejon-ranchcorp-development-in-la-county-2021-04-08/

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

Point Reyes dairies targeted over water quality concerns

Tyler Silvy, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

A regional water quality board has launched an investigation into the management practices of three Point Reyes dairies after testing sponsored by environmental advocates uncovered polluted waterways near the more than century-old operations.

The Kehoe Dairy, McClure Dairy and M&J McClelland Dairy have been targeted for on-site inspections by the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, officials confirmed this week, a move that could lead to greater monitoring.

The dairies, located in the northern half of the 70,000-acre Point Reyes National Seashore, each drain to the Pacific Ocean, either via Kehoe Beach to the north or Abbotts Lagoon – popular destinations for hikers and beachgoers.

Water samples collected in late January at multiple locations near the dairies showed elevated levels of bacteria, including coliform bacteria, a key indicator for the presence of fecal matter, according to a civil engineer’s report that was later reviewed by the water quality agency.

Read more at: https://www.petaluma360.com/article/news/point-reyes-dairies-targeted-over-water-quality-concerns/?sba=AAS

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Sonoma CoastTags , ,

Underwater meadows of California seagrass found to reverse symptom of climate change

Tara Duggan, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

Eelgrass, a plant that grows in “underwater meadows” along the California coast and emerges like a floating carpet at low tide, is already known to be an important habitat for fish, birds and baby Dungeness crabs. It turns out it can also reduce seawater’s acidity back to preindustrial levels, creating refuges for animals who can’t tolerate that byproduct of climate change.

That’s the conclusion of a six-year study published recently by the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory. It showed eelgrass meadows in seven California locations decreased ocean acidity by up to 30%. Because acidification, the result of the ocean absorbing increasing amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, has increased by 30% due to climate change, the plant has the ability to reverse the effects in its habitat.

The report, published in the journal Global Change Biology, is the most extensive study to show seagrass’ long-term ability to ameliorate ocean acidification. Its authors say it shows the importance of protecting seagrass meadows, which have shrunk in number and size globally because of pollution and development, so they may support wildlife as well as the production of farmed oysters, mussels and abalone.

“Because these systems are on the decline in many areas around the world, I would like this research to support many seagrass restoration efforts,” said lead author Aurora M. Ricart of the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in Maine, who was doing postdoctoral research at the Bodega Marine Lab during the study.

Read more at https://www.sfchronicle.com/local/environment/article/Underwater-meadows-of-California-seagrass-found-16065560.php

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North Bay braces for water cuts with reservoirs at record lows after second dry winter

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Anyone paying attention to the season’s paltry rainfall has seen it coming for some time, but recent pronouncements about the state of the region’s water supply make it plain: hard times lie ahead.

Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino are both at their lowest levels ever for this time of year — after two consecutive years in which the combined rainfall totals barely measure up to a single average year.

State water regulators have issued letters notifying more than 700 vineyards, domestic suppliers, farmers and other entities with water rights for the Russian River that their diversions may be curtailed.

Dairy farmers in southern Sonoma County already are trucking thousands of gallons a day to their parched lands, and more than a billion gallons of recycled wastewater normally delivered each year to other agricultural users is simply unavailable, owing to low rainfall and diminished production.

And though it’s only the beginning of April, with months still to go before summer even starts, officials say the overall picture suggests mandated conservation measures aren’t so much a matter of if, but when.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/north-bay-braces-for-water-cuts-with-reservoirs-at-record-lows-after-second/

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Drought is back. But Southern California faces less pain than Northern California

Bettina Boxall, LOS ANGELES TIMES

Drought is returning to California as a second, consecutive parched winter draws to a close in the usually wet north, leaving the state’s major reservoirs half empty.

But this latest period of prolonged dryness will probably play out very differently across this vast state.

In Northern California, areas dependent on local supplies, such as Sonoma County, could be the hardest-hit. Central Valley growers have been told of steep cuts to upcoming water deliveries. Environmentalists too are warning of grave harm to native fish.

Yet, hundreds of miles to the south, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California reports record amounts of reserves — enough to carry the state’s most populous region through this year and even next.

Memories of unprecedented water-use restrictions in cities and towns, dry country wells and shriveled croplands linger from California’s punishing 2012-16 drought.

Officials say the lessons of those withering years have left the state in a somewhat better position to deal with its inevitable dry periods, and Gov. Gavin Newsom is not expected to declare a statewide drought emergency this year.

“We don’t see ourselves in that position in terms of supply,” said Department of Water Resources Director Karla Nemeth. “If it’s dry next year, then maybe it’s a different story.”

Southern California is a case in point.

Read more at: https://www.latimes.com/environment/story/2021-04-02/drought-conditions-hit-northern-california-harder-than-in-the-south

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable LivingTags , ,

School Garden Network bringing virtual Earth Day event to local students

Heather Bailey, HEALDSBURG TRIBUNE

This Earth Day, April 22, from 5 to 6 p.m. the School Garden Network will host a live and silent auction, a cooking demonstration with Handline chef Natalie Goble as well as a storytelling event.

The live virtual fundraiser hosted by Clark Wolf, a Sonoma County radio personality, will weave together colorful stories of the many school gardens here in Sonoma County, the people who care for them and the children they serve.

In between, exciting vacation getaways, wine, art and gardening gifts will be auctioned off in real time, and chef/owner Natalie Goble from Handline will offer up a cooking demo that is both accessible and delicious.

The silent auction will begin on April 12 and run through the event.

Tickets are $10 per household. You can also be a sustaining supporter of the event by purchasing a ticket at $50 or $100. Every additional dollar will help set children up for success when they’re back in the classroom by giving them the opportunity to have practical outdoor experiences after a year of virtual learning.

The first 25 people to buy $100 tickets will receive a bottle of wine from local wine producers, The Hobo Wine Company. For more information and to purchase tickets go to: https://springbloom2021.eventbrite.com.

The funds raised will help support programs like Healthy Roots Grow Kits, which includes plants, seeds, training modules for teachers, compost tea kits and more. It is hoped these kits will jump-start school garden programs this fall. Funds will also support schoolyard habitat designs and installations, the teen apprentice program that trains high school youth to sustain garden spaces, and professional development opportunities for educators to use the garden in STEM and in other cross-curricular ways.

Source: https://www.sonomawest.com/the_healdsburg_tribune/news/school-garden-network-bringing-virtual-earth-day-event-to-local-students/article_702806f4-933c-11eb-9127-c3409d0b8455.html