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Blazing speed: UGB's come up for a vote and post-fire rebuild plans come into focus

It would be inaccurate to say that the fire-limiting qualities of so-called urban growth boundaries and community separators were vindicated in the North Bay fires.
After all, as Teri Shore notes, the catastrophic Tubbs fire swept through the Fountaingrove neighborhood, crossed the community separator there, jumped into Santa Rosa’s urban growth boundary (UGB) and then burned it up.
Shore, regional director at the Greenbelt Alliance, has embraced UGBs and community separators. Urban growth boundaries took root decades ago in places like San Jose, Boulder, Colo., and Sonoma County as part of a new urbanism vernacular of “livable cities,” “walkable cities,” “resilient cities” and other sobriquets to indicate a civic emphasis on high-density development in order to keep the surrounding lands pristine in their agricultural and biodiverse glory—as they set out to reduce sprawl, not for fire protection per se, but to save farms and communities and local cultures. The community separators indicate the area between developed areas which comprise the urban growth boundary.
It would be a “huge leap to say that the community separator or urban growth boundary could have prevented [the fires],” Shore says. “On the other hand, it could have been worse if we had built more outside of the city boundaries.”
In other words, the regional UGBs may have played a role in the fires akin to the “chicken soup rule” when you’re sick: in the event of a catastrophic fire, UGBs can’t hurt, and they might even help limit the damage to property.
“We’re thinking through it,” says Shore of the relationship between preventing fires and the rebuilding path forward, and the role of greenbelts in the rebuild.
“I don’t know if there’s a correlation,” she says, “but clearly keeping our growth within the town and cities, instead of sprawling out, potentially reduces the impact from wildfires.”
Read more at: Blazing Speed | News | North Bay Bohemian

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Russian River "Low Flow E.I.R." 

In 2003 Riverkeeper engaged residents and activists in the Lower Russian River when the public learned about plans to drop the summer flows in the river by up to 80%.
In 2008, the Russian River Biological Opinion (RRBO) was approved by NOAA Fisheries in order to mitigate negative impacts from the operation of the two Army Corps dams, water supply operations and flood control activities. The RRBO section titled “reasonable and prudent alternatives” stated that salmon would benefit if we cut summer flows by 70% in an attempt to improve estuary conditions for juvenile salmon by maintaining a closed estuary. The rationale was that lower flows would help maintain a closed estuary but over the last several years it is clear that goal will be difficult to meet due to natural ocean conditions.
At that time, Riverkeeper stated that cutting flows would increase nutrient concentrations and end up harming juvenile salmon in the estuary by growing too much algae, which affects dissolved oxygen levels. Fast forward to last summer and we had flows in the 70 cubic feet per second range that is close to the proposed 70% reduction and we had our first ever toxic algae outbreak that killed at least two dogs.
At the same time, our understanding of fish population dynamics supported by many fishery biologists is that food production in the river above the estuary would be negatively affected by cutting flows by up to 70%.
The Draft EIR was released from the Sonoma County Water Agency in mid-August. Read the EIR here.
Russian Riverkeeper is concerned with likely water quality problems if flows are allowed to stay below 100cfs throughout the summer months. One of our goals is to ensure water saved from reduced flows is not put up for sale but reserved to mitigate potential water quality impacts.
The comment period for this Draft EIR ended on Friday, March 10.  The Sonoma County Water Agency now will read all the comments and questions, and will reply to all of them.  They hope to have the Final EIR done by the end of 2017.  Then it goes to the State Water Resources Control Board for final approval.
Click here to read Russian Riverkeeper’s protest letter to the State Water Resources Control Board:   RussianRiverKeeper Protest Pet12497a 9Mar17
Source: Russian River “Low Flow E.I.R.” | Russian Riverkeeper

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Sonoma County winery development at issue in debate about events 


Tuesday: 2 p.m. Board of Supervisors study session on winery events.

By winter: Supervisors expect to have a draft ordinance on potential new regulations on winery development and events ready for review by the county Planning Commission.

Next spring: Supervisors are expected to take up potential ordinance on new regulations for the wine industry.

Sonoma County has approved more than 300 new wineries and tasting rooms in the past 16 years — a nearly 360 percent increase over the previous three decades — and many of those wineries have decided in recent years to boost business by offering an array of events, from wine-tasting dinners to weddings and harvest parties.
Representatives of the county’s multibillion-dollar wine industry say such events are vital for local vintners to sell their wines and stay competitive.
But the industry’s growth has sparked strong blowback from many rural residents, who say unruly crowds, loud noise and traffic on narrow, winding roads is detracting from the peace and quiet of their neighborhoods.
The expansion has fueled an intense standoff between wine industry supporters and critics over the extent of commercial activity in rural pockets of the county, on properties zoned for agriculture.
Read more at: Sonoma County winery development at issue in debate about events | The Press Democrat

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North Coast beaches get ‘A’ grade for water quality in annual Heal the Bay report 

Click here for full report
Surfers, divers and hardy swimmers who venture into the Sonoma Coast’s chilly waters can do so knowing it received straight A’s on the latest grading by a water watchdog organization.
Seven beaches got top marks, based on low levels of bacteria in the surf zone, in Heal the Bay’s 26th annual Beach Report Card issued Thursday by the Santa Monica-based environmental advocacy nonprofit.
Read more at: North Coast beaches get ‘A’ grade for water quality in annual Heal the Bay report | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Forests, UncategorizedTags , Leave a comment on NASA: A year in the life of Earth's CO2

NASA: A year in the life of Earth's CO2

NASA Press Release
An ultra-high-resolution NASA computer model has given scientists a stunning new look at how carbon dioxide in the atmosphere travels around the globe.
Plumes of carbon dioxide in the simulation swirl and shift as winds disperse the greenhouse gas away from its sources. The simulation also illustrates differences in carbon dioxide levels in the northern and southern hemispheres and distinct swings in global carbon dioxide concentrations as the growth cycle of plants and trees changes with the seasons.

The carbon dioxide visualization was produced by a computer model called GEOS-5, created by scientists at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Global Modeling and Assimilation Office.
The visualization is a product of a simulation called a “Nature Run.” The Nature Run ingests real data on atmospheric conditions and the emission of greenhouse gases and both natural and man-made particulates. The model is then left to run on its own and simulate the natural behavior of the Earth’s atmosphere. This Nature Run simulates January 2006 through December 2006.
While Goddard scientists worked with a “beta” version of the Nature Run internally for several years, they released this updated, improved version to the scientific community for the first time in the fall of 2014.
This video is public domain and can be downloaded at:

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, UncategorizedTags , , , Leave a comment on New California law moves crop authority from county to state

New California law moves crop authority from county to state

EUREKA. A California law that will go into effect on Jan. 1 will transfer the authority to regulate seed and plant laws from counties to the state and has the potential to affect the ability of individual counties to ban GMOs.
The details on how the law would affect local ordinances that seek to regulate GMOs haven’t been evaluated yet, said Steve Lyle, the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s public affairs director.
Signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in August, California Seed Law — Assembly Bill 2470 — amends state Food and Agricultural Code sections relating to seeds.
The bill authorizes the California Department of Food and Agriculture secretary to adopt a list of plants and crops that the secretary finds are or may be grown in the state, according to the legislative counsel’s digest of the bill.
“The bill would also prohibit a city, county, or district, including a charter city or county, from adopting or enforcing an ordinance on or after January 1, 2015, that regulates plants, crops, or seeds without the consent of the secretary,” according to the digest.
Preexisting ordinances that restrict GMO crops — such as one in Arcata and Measure P, if it is passed by Humboldt County voters on Tuesday — would be grandfathered in and not affected by the law, Lyle said.
Counties looking to pass a GMO ban in the future could potentially be affected, he said.
“We would evaluate that on a case-by-case basis,” he said.
Measure P spokesman Bill Schaser said the California Seed Law makes it even more crucial for Humboldt County to pass the ballot initiative at this time.
via New Calif. law moves crop authority from county to state – Times-Standard Online.

Posted on Categories UncategorizedLeave a comment on Water in the West program offers new way to view groundwater resources

Water in the West program offers new way to view groundwater resources


Because groundwater is hidden beneath the earth’s surface, for many Californians it’s a matter of "out of sight, out of mind."

Residents often take it for granted and do not realize that it is a critical resource, providing 40 percent of the state’s water supply during normal years and as much as 60 percent during dry times – like now.

Today, Stanford researchers with Water in the West announced a new project to help Californians understand the importance of groundwater in the state, the problems caused by groundwater overdraft and potential solutions. Their website, "Understanding California’s Groundwater," offers new research findings, interactive graphics and a synthesis of existing knowledge on groundwater in California, all designed to advance public understanding of this critical issue.

via Stanford's Water in the West program offers new way to view groundwater resources.

Posted on Categories UncategorizedLeave a comment on Assembly votes to undermine local clean energy

Assembly votes to undermine local clean energy

Woody Hastings, Sierra Club California and Climate Protection Campaign
Press Release: Sacramento, May 29, 2014 – A broad and diverse coalition of business, local government, community and environmental organizations today decried the California Assembly’s passage yesterday of AB 2145. Labeling the bill the ‘Utility Monopoly Power Grab of 2014,’ they stated that if eventually passed by the California Senate and signed into law, AB 2145 would dangerously undermine California’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to create thousands of local clean energy jobs. In the past few weeks, over one hundred local governments, government agencies, businesses and business associations, public officials, and grassroots and consumer organizations have registered strong opposition to AB 2145.
Authored by Steven Bradford, a former corporate utility executive, AB 2145 would halt the continued launch of California’s not-for-profit community-based energy programs under California’s Community Choice law (AB 117), enacted in 2002. Over a dozen such programs are in the works, poised to compete with the big utilities by offering cleaner and lower priced electricity to customers. Two counties, Marin and Sonoma, are already doing so.
Current Community Choice law enables customers in a city or county to group together at the launch of their program in order to gain the joint buying power needed to offer energy prices that can compete with the big utilities. Bradford’s bill would prohibit such grouped customer start-ups, making Community Choice programs impossible to launch.
Continue reading “Assembly votes to undermine local clean energy”

Posted on Categories UncategorizedLeave a comment on Spring wildflower hikes around Sonoma County

Spring wildflower hikes around Sonoma County


From the Sonoma County Regional Parks, it’s time for one of their spring traditions – wildflower hikes. I’ve been on a few of these over the years, and they are terrific.


The details:
Discover the spring beauty of your Regional Parks by joining our wildflower walks on Saturdays from March 22-May 3. These walks are free and led by volunteer Phil Dean, a Master Gardner who will identify native plants, discuss the drought’s impact on this year’s flower displays, and share stories specific to the flora of each park. Most walks start at 10 a.m., last about two hours and proceed at an easy pace. The exception is the Hood Mountain outing, which starts at 8 a.m., lasts about four hours, and is a strenuous walk due to the elevation gain. We’ll hike in light rain, but heavy rain cancels. Parking $7 or free for Regional Parks members.
Mar. 22 – Sonoma Valley Regional Park – “Native magic”
Mar. 29 – Steelhead Beach – “Death, spirits, alcohol and other strange plants and tales”
Apr. 5 – Crane Creek Regional Park – “Native magic and cures”
Apr. 12 – Foothill Regional Park – “Fields of color”
Apr. 19 – Riverfront Regional Park – “Alcohol, spirits and fatal beauties”
Apr. 26 – Shiloh Regional Park – “Magical color and ingredients”
May 3 – Hood Mountain Regional Park (Los Alamos Road entrance at 8 a.m.) – “Rare and unusual”
via Spring wildflower hikes around Sonoma County | Trailhead.

Posted on Categories Land Use, Uncategorized, WildlifeTags , , , Leave a comment on Lawmakers join fight for Sonoma Developmental Center

Lawmakers join fight for Sonoma Developmental Center


Deer, mountain lion, coyote, bobcat and rare species that include steelhead trout, northern spotted owl and California red-legged frog live on or frequent the site. Sonoma Creek, which runs through the center’s property for about three quarters of a mile, is one of the county’s most significant streams for steelhead.

Map of a potential east-west habitat corridor which includes the Sonoma Developmental Center. Sonoma Ecology Center

A coalition of Sonoma County government agencies and environmental groups is ramping up its fight to protect the Sonoma Developmental Center from development and to maintain residential care for an unspecified number of severely disabled clients.
About 500 people reside at the Eldridge facility, which also is Sonoma Valley’s largest employer. But the site’s future is in doubt after a state task force in December recommended that California’s four remaining developmental centers be downsized.
Concerns the state could abandon the nearly 1,000-acre Sonoma Valley site have galvanized the local community and caught the attention of the North Coast’s legislative delegation. The group’s demands include that the center’s open spaces be protected and for public recreational facilities to be expanded, in addition to maintaining some level of services for the disabled.
via Lawmakers join fight for Sonoma Developmental Center | The Press Democrat.