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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”

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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 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

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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

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Sonoma County: Dry year water supply update

SONOMA WATER E-NEWS – April 2021 Special Edition

Water Supply Reservoirs Reach Historic Lows

The Russian River basin is experiencing a second consecutive year of severely below-average rainfall. As a result, water supply levels at Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma are at historic lows. While state officials have yet to officially declare a drought, hydrologic conditions are more severe than the drought years of 2013 through 2014.

Last week the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) issued early warning notices to approximately 40,000 water rights holders statewide, urging them to plan for potential shortages by reducing water use and adopting practical conservation measures. These notices indicate the seriousness of the situation for water users throughout the Russian River watershed. We anticipate voluntary water conservation measures to be adopted by our Water Contractors and the potential for mandatory measures as well.

Sonoma Water is very concerned about water levels in Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma. Lake Mendocino is at 46% of the target supply curve and Lake Sonoma is at 63% of water supply capacity. Both reservoirs are at the lowest storage level for this time of year since they filled. Hydrologic modelling by Sonoma Water engineering staff indicates that without timely measures to reduce diversions from the Russian River, Lake Mendocino could reach levels too low to support releases for water supply and fish migration by fall of 2021.

What We Are Doing
Since the summer of 2020, Sonoma Water has been working closely with staff at the SWRCB to develop a plan to manage reservoir releases, minimum instream flows and diversions by Russian River water users to prevent both Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma from reaching severely low storage levels. Currently, Lake Mendocino is being operated in accordance with a second consecutive Temporary Urgency Change Order issued to Sonoma Water by the SWRCB that reduces minimum in-stream flows in the upper Russian River (above confluence of Dry Creek) to preserve water supply storage in Lake Mendocino. An option under consideration is the filing of a new Temporary Urgency Change (TUC) Petition. This would replace the current TUC Order that expires July 28, 2021 and could include reduced minimum in-stream flows in the lower river (below Dry Creek) and a proposal for Sonoma Water to voluntarily reduce diversions from the Russian River.
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Gualala River logging project clears hurdle in state court as federal case ramps up

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A legal battle over plans to log in the lower Gualala River flood plain is heading into a fifth year, despite a recent victory in state appeals court by Gualala Redwood Timber and Cal Fire which first approved the project back in 2016.

The fight over the 342-acre timber project in the northwest corner of Sonoma County adjacent Gualala Point Regional Park is now shifting to a new case gearing up in federal court.

But the bottom line is still the same. Gualala Redwood Timber and its owner, Roger Burch of Healdsburg, want to cut timber from the watershed to feed local sawmills that Burch also owns.

Friends of the Gualala River, a 30-year-old grassroots nonprofit organization supported by like-minded groups around the region, is seeking to block the harvest, which is targeting stands of second-growth forest including some century-old redwoods.

At issue is what’s described in the group’s federal suit as “one of California’s last remaining mature riparian redwood forest.”

Charles Ivor, president of Friends of the Gualala River characterized the forest as having evolved over thousands of years to provide a rich and balanced ecosystem only to be nearly wiped out by the log production that helped build San Francisco and much of the North Coast.

Gualala Redwood Timber agents have consistently maintained their plan adheres to state forest practice rules and restrictions developed specifically to protect imperiled steelhead trout and salmon runs in the Gualala River.

Read more at: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/gualala-river-logging-project-clears-hurdle-in-state-court-as-federal-case/?

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Park Service pushes back on ‘Apocalypse Cow’

Staff, THE NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

The Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS) responded last week to an investigative report published in the North Bay Bohemian and Pacific Sun in early December.

On Tuesday, Feb. 9, PRNS staff sent out an email newsletter titled “Corrections to Media Coverage on the General Management Plan Amendment” to an unknown number of recipients. The agency posted the same text to a Frequently Asked Questions page of its website under the subtitle “Corrections regarding misinformation published in the press.”

The newsletter presents itself as an effort to correct alleged “factual inaccuracies” in “Apocalypse Cow: The Future of Life at Point Reyes National Park,” an investigative article by Peter Byrne published in the Bohemian and Pacific Sun on Dec. 9, 2020. However, PRNS management’s statements about the facts presented in the article are demonstrably inaccurate.

Two month’s prior to the seashore park’s posting of these public facing messages, on Dec.15, PRNS’s Melanie Gunn emailed the Pacific Sun’s editors contesting the accuracy of several facts as reported in “Apocalypse Cow.”

The editors reviewed Gunn’s allegations and decided that the article was accurate. In a Dec. 21 email, news editor Will Carruthers informed Gunn that the article was factually correct and offered to participate in an electronic meeting with Gunn and Byrne to discuss the documentation of the facts.

Read more at: https://bohemian.com/park-service-pushes-back-on-apocalypse-cow/

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High-tech forecasting model scores scientific win at Lake Mendocino, showing promise for western reservoirs

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sandbars are spreading across rain-starved Lake Mendocino, the reservoir near Ukiah that is 35 feet lower than it was a year ago, a grim wintertime sight for the second major source of water for more than 655,000 people in Sonoma, Mendocino and Marin counties.

But the situation would be considerably worse without the payoff from a six-year, $50 million project applying high-tech weather forecasting to management of the reservoir behind Coyote Valley Dam built on the East Fork of the Russian River in 1958.

Thanks to the project, which replaces an inflexible dam operations manual with meteorological science unknown six decades ago, there is 20% more water — nearly 12,000 acre feet — now in Lake Mendocino as the North Bay teeters on the brink of drought.

“Imagine what would have been without this,” said Grant Davis, head of Sonoma Water, the agency that supplies water to 600,000 Sonoma and Marin county residents and another 55,000 people from Mendocino County’s Redwood Valley to Healdsburg.

A 141-page report released Thursday by Sonoma Water and seven partners provides “proof of concept” for Lake Mendocino’s Forecast Informed Reservoir Operations program, known as FIRO, Davis said.

The program’s success comes as climate change is “exacerbating the feast-or-famine nature of precipitation,” according to Sonoma Water, complicating work in its field and imperiling the supplies that go to tens of millions of residents and agricultural users across the water-scarce western United States.
Continue reading “High-tech forecasting model scores scientific win at Lake Mendocino, showing promise for western reservoirs”

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California to impose first statewide rules for winery wastewater, marking new era

Tyler Silvy, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Hundreds of California wineries will for the first time be governed by statewide wastewater processing rules, a change from the long-held, regional approach that could increase production costs for wineries and protections for waterways while providing consistency for vintners across the state.

The move toward a statewide regulatory framework, a five-year effort championed by industry leaders, was finalized this week by the State Water Resources Control Board, which approved an order setting up guidelines for wastewater processing at most of the more than 3,600 bonded wineries in the state.

The new order promises to bring at least 1,500 of those wineries into a regulatory framework for wastewater disposal for the first time, leading to extra compliance costs. But it also provides flexibility for how, and when, those wineries will be subject to rules meant to safeguard waterways and groundwater from harmful contaminants, including excess nitrogen, salinity and other compounds that deplete oxygen levels.

“I think it was the perfect example of a compromise,” said Don McEnhill, head of the Sonoma County-based group Russian Riverkeeper.

Read more at: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/california-to-impose-first-statewide-rules-for-winery-wastewater-marking-n/