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

California is about to witness its biggest change to trash since the ’80s. Hint: It’s all about composting

Chase DeFeliciantonio, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

Dawn has just broken over Recology’s vast Blossom Valley Organics composting facility, about 70 miles east of San Francisco in Vernalis (San Joaquin County). The cold fall air hits like a slap to the face as orange light creeps over the horizon.

As the sun rises over the site, one of six the company operates statewide, a fine grit rides on the air, which is thick with the smell of earthy decomposition.

Operations Supervisor Clifford Reposa casts a wary eye on a 25-ton trailer of organic waste as it is hoisted on a hydraulic lift almost vertically against the pale and reddening sky.

“Not good. Lots of plastic bags,” Reposa mutters, his arms crossed as he watches a flood of pumpkins, apple cores, bits of wood and piles of leaves trucked in from San Francisco tumble out, adding to the towering piles of refuse that dwarf huge bulldozers moving it around in a deafening, mechanical dance.

This load of refuse is just a fraction of the roughly 1,500 tons of compostable material the 120-acre facility takes in every day from San Francisco and parts of the East Bay and South Bay. It comes here to be reborn as natural fertilizer used on vineyards and farms, and in varietals that are crafted specifically for different types of soil.

After those plastic bags and nonorganic materials are plucked out by men, women and gargantuan machines with names like The Titan, what remains will be placed into heaping piles that eventually break down into dark compost some farmers call “black gold.” Those heaps that stand higher than a person are spritzed with water and heated and cooled for two months to help trillions of microorganisms turn the solid waste into rich food for hungry crops.

Read more at https://www.sfchronicle.com/projects/2022/california-compost-law-climate-change-effect/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & EnergyTags , , , , ,

Straus Family Creamery puts Sonoma County dairy cows on seaweed diet to test method to fight climate change

Susan Wood, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL

Straus Family Creamery is widely known for all things food, but red seaweed isn’t one of them — until now.

This summer, ecologist-at-heart Albert Straus, who is a pioneer in organic farming, signed up his 24 cows on his Petaluma farm to help determine if feeding them red seaweed would reduce their methane emissions, mostly from belching. He mixed the ocean plant into their feed, like humans would add green onions to their scrambled eggs,

And over a 50-day trial in which the cows were tested four times a day, methane releases dropped by 52%. In some circumstances, the experiment showed the methane was cut by as much as 90%. Straus, who produces an assortment of mass-produced dairy products, believes a second trial planned in January will produce more consistent results.

“We know we can do better than that,” he told the Business Journal, referencing the lower percentage of reduction.

So far in the first trial, the equivalent of five metric tons of harmful greenhouse gases, blamed in causing the planet to heat up, was cut.

As part of a state climate initiative, California’s 2030 mandate requires a reduction of methane by 40%. It has been determined that cow burps are responsible for 35% of total U.S. on-farm greenhouse gas emissions.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/north-bay/straus-family-creamery-puts-sonoma-county-dairy-cows-on-seaweed-diet-to-tes/

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

Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office files civil case against vintner Hugh Reimers for environmental damage

Bill Swindell, PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch has sued vintner Hugh Reimers and his business over environmental damage her office says was caused by improperly clearing land near Cloverdale to build a vineyard in late 2017.

The prosecutor cited two specific causes of action in the case that was first filed in July by Deputy District Attorney Caroline Fowler against Reimers and his business, Krasilsa Pacific Farms: water pollution and stream bed alteration; and unfair business competition.

The civil complaint was the result of an investigation that was led by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Board and the Sonoma County Department of Agriculture. The water board found in 2019 that Krasilsa Pacific violated the California Water Code and the federal Clean Water Act for clearing and grading 140 acres. The board concluded that the work on a section of the farm’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 water board is in settlement negotiations with Reimers and Krasilsa over a cleanup and abatement order it issued over specific water code violations, said spokesman Josh Curtis.

“If we cannot come to mutually acceptable terms, the regional water board will consider all its enforcement tools as options in resolving this matter to the benefit of our community and the people of California,” Curtis said in an email.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/business/sonoma-county-district-attorneys-office-files-civil-case-against-vintner-r/?ref=mosthome

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food SystemTags ,

Supes say no to cannabis moratorium, recommend ‘wide net’ exploring policy options

Brandon McCapes, SOCONEWS

The county’s comprehensive update of its cannabis cultivation ordinance was back before the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Sept. 28 — and along with it came the usual controversy between cannabis farmers and anti-cannabis neighborhood groups.

After hours of presentations, discussion and public comments, the supervisors approved county staff’s recommendations that seven broad topics be explored in the context of the future ordinance and the environmental impact review (EIR), per staff recommendation.

Significantly, a moratorium on cannabis cultivation permits was not included in the list of recommendations nor supported by the board. A moratorium of all new cannabis cultivation permits until the adoption of the new cannabis ordinance is an option favored by neighborhood and environmental groups, and one the board has discussed. Earlier last month, the board passed a 45-day moratorium on new multi-tenant cannabis permits, but not on cannabis permits altogether.

On June 8, the supervisors directed county staff to complete a comprehensive update of the county’s cannabis ordinance, based on community input and an EIR. Though public outreach will continue throughout the three-year process, slated to end in 2024, this summer’s public outreach efforts were a first step toward an ordinance update, according to the board’s meeting agenda report.

Read more at https://soconews.org/scn_county/supes-say-no-to-cannabis-moratorium-recommend-wide-net-exploring-policy-options/article_a1e2bff0-2dd2-11ec-a9d9-ff30ec144a7f.html?utm_source=soconews.org&utm_campaign=%2Fnewsletters%2Fheadlines-soconews-west-county%2F%3F-dc%3D1634320840&utm_medium=email&utm_content=headline

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food SystemTags , , ,

New study confirms less water usage in vineyard can result in better grapes

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/

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

Point Reyes National Seashore capitulates to ranchers

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/

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

Coastal grape growers can use less water during drought

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

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land UseTags ,

County set to hit the cannabis ordinance reset button next week

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?

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

State cuts off hundreds of Russian River growers, ranchers and others in drastic bid to save water

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/

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/