Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, WaterTags , ,

Thieves are stealing California’s scarce water. Where’s it going? Illegal marijuana farms

Julie Cart, CALMATTERS

In Mendocino County, the thefts from rivers and streams are compromising already depleted Russian River waterways. In one water district there, thefts from hydrants could compromise a limited water supply for fighting fires, which is why they have put locks on hydrants.

One day last spring, water pressure in pipelines suddenly crashed In the Antelope Valley, setting off alarms. Demand had inexplicably spiked, swelling to three and half times normal. Water mains broke open, and storage tanks were drawn down to dangerous levels.

The emergency was so dire in the water-stressed desert area of Hi Vista, between Los Angeles and Mojave, that county health officials considered ordering residents to boil their tap water before drinking it.

“We said, ‘Holy cow, what’s happening?’” said Anish Saraiya, public works deputy for Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger.

It took a while for officials to figure out where all that water was going: Water thieves — likely working for illicit marijuana operations — had pulled water from remote filling stations and tapped into fire hydrants, improperly shutting off valves and triggering a chain reaction that threatened the water supply of nearly 300 homes.

Read more at https://calmatters.org/environment/2021/07/illegal-marijuana-growers-steal-california-water/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, WildlifeTags , , , ,

Death by design: National Park Service vs tule elk

Peter Byrne, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

Instagram users love the captive tule elk hoofing Tomales Point at the northern tip of Point Reyes National Seashore.

The sleek, befurred mammals seem to commune with tourists who stroll a well-traveled trail in the preserve. Tule elk are Yoda-like, with big, brown eyes. They trumpet, munch flowers and make love in harems.

According to a 1998 National Park Service brochure, “Given the mild climate and lush habitat of Tomales Point, the elk live in a virtual paradise.”

Let’s take a closer look. Using the fact-focusing lens of science, we learn that hundreds of tule elk inside the preserve are dying in agony from starvation and thirst and eating poisonous plants. They are trapped in an ecological hellscape operated by a bureaucracy that fences the animals away from forage and water for political reasons.

Read more at https://bohemian.com/death-by-design-how-the-national-park-service-experiments-on-tule-elk/

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

Russian River on the brink: Lifeblood of North Coast imperiled by deepening drought

Mary Callahan, PRESS DEMOCRAT

Two winters ago, the Russian River was a swollen, chocolate-brown mass, full from bank to bank as it surged toward the Pacific Ocean, gathering runoff from sodden hillsides and frothing creeks amid torrential rains.

The floods of late February 2019 were the worst in two decades. They sent roiling water into communities along the river’s lower reaches in Sonoma County. Thousands of residents were displaced, restaurants were damaged and inns shuttered mere months before the summer tourist season. The losses would amount to tens of millions of dollars.

Now, shriveled by another historic drought, the same river cuts a languid, narrow path through a parched landscape — a slender ribbon of water stretching from inland Mendocino County to Healdsburg, where it is widened with a shot of cool reservoir water from Dry Creek before winding west to the sea.

The lifeblood of Sonoma, Mendocino and northern Marin counties, the river provides drinking water for more than 600,000 people. It is a refuge for imperiled fish and supports a thriving recreational economy. Much of the region’s $12-plus billion wine industry wouldn’t be here without it.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/russian-river-on-the-brink-lifeblood-of-north-coast-imperiled-by-deepening/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, WaterTags , ,

Sonoma County apple growers find their crop holds up well despite drought

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

As he walks the rows of his apple orchard in the hills west of Sebastopol, Stan Devoto can’t help picking fruit off the branch. The thinning will allow the remaining fruit to better thrive in a year that has now been classified locally as exceptional drought.

The apples need to be spaced between 4 to 8 inches on the branch so they can grow into flavorful varieties such as Honeycrisp, Pink Lady and more bitter ones that are used in hard cider. More than 100 different types of apples are harvested within Devoto’s 25-acre orchard. Because of the drought, the apples will be smaller when harvest kicks off in late July, which means the overall tonnage for the crop will be down in the county this year.

“We are thinning further apart this year and keeping our fingers crossed,” said Devoto, who has been farming on the land since 1976. That was right before the last time when there was such an extreme drought in the area.

“We got through it (the 1970s drought). But it is so dry here that weeds won’t even grow. It’s really crazy,” Devoto said.

Even with the difficult circumstances, apples are one of the best drought-resistant crops within the county along with olive trees whose fruit is used for making olive oil, said Agriculture Commissioner Andrew Smith.

“The standard apple trees have a much larger root system, and they go much larger into the soil profile. They are able to find that available soil moisture to use for growth,” Smith said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/north-bay/sonoma-county-apple-growers-find-their-crop-holds-up-well-despite-drought/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Water, WildlifeTags , , ,

State water regulators to consider emergency limits on as many as 2,400 Russian River users

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

State regulators are considering sweeping drought emergency rules that would let them suspend the diversion of water from the Russian River by as many as 2,400 homes, businesses, municipal agencies and other users. The proposal, which would cover both the upper and lower parts of the watershed, could greatly extend the list of more than 900 water suppliers, agricultural producers and property owners already notified there has been too little rainfall for them to exercise their water rights this year.

The draft regulation goes before the state water board next Tuesday and could account for substantial monthly savings, depending when diversions are limited, Erik Ekdahl, deputy director of the state water board’s Division of Water Rights, said during a virtual Sonoma County Town Hall on the drought last week.

Those affected would include residents of both Sonoma and Mendocino counties, a region singled out by Gov. Gavin Newsom in April for being at particular risk of water shortage after two dry years because of its dependence on a reservoir system subject to rapid depletion in the absence of regular rainfall.

With storage in Lake Mendocino, the smaller of the reservoirs, diminishing by the day, state regulators are hoping they can slow its consumption by reserving withdrawals for those with the oldest, most senior water claims and, potentially, curtailing even them.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/state-water-regulators-to-consider-emergency-limits-on-at-least-1600-russi/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable LivingTags , , , , ,

After 27 years in western Marin County, Straus moves to cutting-edge creamery in Rohnert Park

Austin Murphy, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

In his dungarees and rubber boots, Albert Straus looked every bit the dairy farmer that he is. On this particular morning, however, the 66-year-old founder and CEO of Straus Family Creamery was some 25 miles from his family farm.

Straus stood on the floor of a processing plant, amid gleaming silver tanks and conveyor belts that would soon begin moving hundreds of the company’s iconic glass bottles of milk with cream on top.

While those bottles were familiar, the building was not. After 27 years making its highly regarded organic dairy products at a facility in Marshall, the company recently moved its production plant from Marin to Sonoma County, to this brand new, $20 million, 50,000-square foot facility in Rohnert Park. Where the old creamery was surrounded by ranchland, its new neighbors include the Graton Resort and Casino, and a Costco.

“After 27 years in Marshall,” said Straus, gesturing to the machinery around him, “this will give us a road map for the next 30 years.”

While the old plant could process up to 20,000 gallons of milk a day, the new one will be capable of doubling that output — “and do it much more efficiently,” noted Straus. The upgraded plant also features new technologies that allow it to capture and reuse large amounts of water and heat.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/after-27-years-in-western-marin-county-straus-moves-to-cutting-edge-creame/?

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , , , , , ,

Negotiations for new Sonoma County composting site ended over financing issues

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A four-year effort to bring green waste recycling back to Sonoma County has collapsed, scuttling hopes of restoring any time soon a high-volume, locally based compost operation to supply farmers, landscapers and backyard gardeners.

The breakdown came late last month after the company chosen to work with the county waste agency withdrew from negotiations after it failed to secure financing.

The company, Renewable Sonoma, and its principal, Will Bakx, terminated negotiations with the county agency and the city of Santa Rosa after 2½ years of trying to shore up plans for a high-tech composting facility that would convert food scraps and yard waste into valuable agricultural products. The project, estimated to cost $52 million, also was to produce biogas to help power treatment equipment on land leased at the city’s Laguna Wastewater Treatment Plant on Llano Road.

Bakx, whose proposal ranked first among nine pitches considered by the county in 2018 for siting and construction of a modern compost facility, said he had to pull the plug on negotiations because he couldn’t put together funding after talking with a variety of investors. He said he was not at liberty to disclose details.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/negotiations-for-new-sonoma-county-composting-site-ended-over-financing-iss/

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

Press Release: Sonoma County Planning Commission to hear draft winery events ordinance

Bradley Dunn, PERMIT SONOMA

Permit Sonoma has published Sonoma County’s first draft Winery Events Ordinance, which would set new standards for winery events like parking requirements, food service, event coordination, traffic management, and noise standards to address the impact of winery visitor-serving uses on agricultural land.

“The wine industry plays a critical role in Sonoma’s economy,” said Tennis Wick, Director of Permit Sonoma. “We are proud to work with the industry and neighbors to develop regulations which balance winery needs while protecting our rural communities and agriculture.”

The standards will provide a baseline for how the County balances preservation of agricultural areas with sustainable development of wine industry events when evaluating individual projects and their impacts. Permit Sonoma will utilize these standards when considering new and modified use permit applications for winery visitor-serving uses. The draft Ordinance provides consistency and clarity to the use permit evaluation process, reduces impacts to surrounding properties, protects agricultural lands, and preserves rural character.

Staff will present the draft to the Planning Commission at a virtual public hearing on June 3 at 1:50 p.m. The Planning Commission public hearing will be conducted via videoconference. Members of the public may watch, listen and participate in the hearing through Zoom or by phone. Additionally, written comments can be submitted through May 28, by 5 p.m. via email at PRMD-WineryEvents@sonoma-county.org.

After the Planning Commission Hearing, staff expects to present a final draft Winery Events Ordinance to the Board of Supervisors for approval on Aug. 17.

The draft Ordinance is posted on the Winery Events website.

The agenda for the virtual Planning Commission hearing and project staff report will be posted one week before the hearing on the Planning Commission calendar. https://sonomacounty.ca.gov/Planning-Commission/Calendar/Planning-Commission-Meeting-May-20-2021/

For more information about the public hearing, to submit comments, or to review project files digitally, members of the public can send an email to PRMD-WineryEvents@sonoma-county.org, call (707) 565-1900, option 5, or visit the project website: www.sonomacounty.ca.gov/WineryEvents

Read more at https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/sonoma-county-planning-commission-to-hear-draft-winery-events-ordinance/

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/

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