Bill Swindell, PRESS DEMOCRAT
But the oversight comes as academic research is showing that less water is better for the grape crop, which was valued at $357 million in 2020 in Sonoma County. It can even improve grape quality. A UC Davis study released earlier this month found that grape growers in our region can use less water on vines without affecting crop yields or quality.
As local farmers well know, Mother Nature can be cruel in administering her gifts.
That was the case on the night of Sept. 11 when the crew over at Emeritus Vineyards in Sebastopol felt raindrops as they picked the pinot noir grapes to go into the winery’s premium wine.
While any rain is appreciated during an exceptional regional drought, the precipitation came an inopportune time for the winery that would wrap up its harvest just a week later, said Riggs Lokka, assistant vineyard manager.
“All of the sudden at 1:15 in the morning, it just dumped,” Lokka recalled.
The episode underscored the conditions vineyard managers are operating under: their industry is facing a prolonged era of water scarcity in which growers don’t want to put one more drop of water on their vines than needed.
Local agriculture’s water usage has come under increasing scrutiny. Three of Sonoma County’s 14 groundwater basins are subject to increased monitoring and regulation. Those areas are mandated to be sustainable within 20 years, which means to have no significant drop in water tables on a year-over-year basis. In addition, state regulators so far this year have ordered more than 1,800 water right holders in the Russian River watershed to stop water diversions unless they obtain waivers.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/business/new-study-confirms-less-water-usage-in-vineyard-can-result-in-better-grapes/
George Wuerthner, THE WILDLIFE NEWS
The final Record of Decision (ROD) on livestock operations management at Point Reyes National Seashore was released this week. Unfortunately, and as feared, it not only maintains the ongoing degradation of this national park unit by privately owned domestic livestock, but it expands the opportunities for a handful of ranchers to do even more damage to the public’s landscape with additional lands opened for grazing, as well as the planting of row crops.
As in the draft document, the final management plan proposes to kill the native Tule elk if their populations grow beyond what the ranchers believe (as the NPS jumps to) is undesirable. The public submitted some 50,000 comments opposed to continued ranching and the killing of rare native Tule elk. Point Reyes Seashore is the only national park where Tule elk exist.
Among the impacts caused by the ongoing livestock operations is the pollution of the park’s waterways, increased soil erosion, the spread of exotic weeds, the transfer of park vegetation from wildlife use to consumption by domestic livestock, the use of public facilities j(the ranch buildings, etc. are all owned by the U.S. citizens but are used just as if they were private property, hindering public access to its lands.
Read more at http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2021/09/14/point-reyes-national-seashore-capitulates-to-ranchers/
Emily C. Dooley, UCDAVIS.EDU
Study finds using less doesn’t compromise quality
- Study sheds new light on how to mitigate drought effects
- California coastal grape growers could cut irrigation water by half without affecting yield or quality
- Replacing 50% of the water lost to evapotranspiration is most beneficial to grapes’ profile and yield
California grape growers in coastal areas can use less water during times of drought and cut irrigation levels without affecting crop yields or quality, according to a new study out of the University of California, Davis.
The findings, published today (Sept. 1) in the journal Frontiers in Plant Science, show that vineyards can use 50% of the irrigation water normally used by grape crops without compromising flavor, color and sugar content.
It sheds new light on how vineyards can mitigate drought effects at a time when California is experiencing a severe water shortage and facing more extreme weather brought on by climate change, according to lead author Kaan Kurtural, professor of viticulture and enology and an extension specialist at UC Davis.
“It is a significant finding,” Kurtural said. “We don’t necessarily have to increase the amount of water supplied to grape vines.”
Read more at https://www.ucdavis.edu/news/coastal-grape-growers-can-use-less-water-during-drought
Rollie Atkinson, SOCONEWS
Four days of virtual vision sessions set beginning of three-year EIR and update process
After pulling the plug earlier this year on comprehensive updates to commercial cannabis cultivation ordinances and rules, Sonoma County planners and consultants are launching their self-proclaimed reboot next week with a series of virtual visioning sessions to gather public input on an eventual environmental impact report and proposed ordinance.
The reboot is the first step of a projected timeline of public workshops, draft ordinance work, draft environmental impact report (EIR) completion, planning commission hearings and culminating in the summer of 2024 with Sonoma County Board of Supervisors public hearings.
No one said writing rules to regulate a potential billion-dollar crop of commercial cannabis would be easy. The previous sessions of draft proposals, virtual town hall workshops, planning commission votes and the supervisor’s ultimate call for a “reboot” involved well over a thousand citizen comments and the specter of potential lawsuits.
The public virtual sessions will be held each day from Aug. 9 to Aug. 12, with duplicate sessions held each morning (11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.) and repeated in the evening (5:30 to 7:30 p.m.) Public comments will be taken by written responses only in a “chat board” format on a Zoom platform.
Read more at https://soconews.org/scn_county/county-set-to-hit-the-cannabis-ordinance-reset-button-next-week/article_d106b014-f652-11eb-be8d-8bf4d6bce2e1.html?
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A day long dreaded by hundreds of ranchers, grape growers, farmers, water providers and towns arrived Monday as the state ordered them to stop diverting water from the Russian River watershed or be fined $1,000 a day.
State regulators issued orders effective Tuesday prohibiting about 1,500 water rights holders in the upper river — including the cities of Cloverdale and Healdsburg — from diverting water in an effort to preserve rapidly diminishing supplies in Lake Mendocino.
The State Water Resources Control Board also announced plans to curtail another 310 claims in the lower river watershed as early as Aug. 9 to try to slow the drawdown of Lake Sonoma. Another 500 or so rights in the lower river region between Healdsburg and Jenner remain subject to curtailment as conditions deteriorate.
The order is enforceable by fines up to $1,000 a day or $2,500 for each acre foot diverted. Violations also could draw cease-and-desist demands that could result in fines of up to $10,000 per day, according to the State Water Board.
The restrictions are part of a sweeping, unprecedented attempt to confront a historic drought that water managers fear could extend into a third dry winter.
That would leave the region to struggle through another year using only the water already captured in the two reservoirs. That water is not just for basic human health and safety. It also must be used to keep the river flowing for fish and other wildlife and provide for water rights holders along the way.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/state-taking-unprecedented-action-to-conserve-water-in-upper-russian-river/
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/
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/
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/
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/
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/