Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , , , ,

In bid to clean Russian River, water regulators adopt strict plan for Sonoma County septic systems

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

North Coast water quality regulators have signed off on a sweeping new plan that aims to curb the threat of human waste entering the Russian River by phasing out failing and substandard septic systems, viewed for decades as a prime source of pollution in the sprawling watershed.

Years in the making, the regulations affect a vast swath of Sonoma County — properties without sewer service from Cloverdale to Cotati and from Santa Rosa to Jenner. For the first time, affected landowners will be subject to compulsory inspections and mandatory repair or replacement of septic systems found to be faulty or outdated, at an estimated cost of up to $114 million, according to county officials.

The new rules take effect next year and will apply to an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 parcels without sewer service. Once the rules kick in, landowners will have 15 years to comply.

he highest concentration of affected property owners exist in the river’s lower reaches, where contamination from fecal bacteria has long been an open issue, but where officials worry that poorer communities will face the heaviest burden complying with the measures. Upgrades to an individual septic system can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and no pot of money currently exists to help defray landowner costs.

Local representatives, while not standing in the way of the measures, said outside financial support for the overhaul will be needed. North Coast water quality officials pledged to work with Sonoma County to pursue state, federal and private funding to bolster the cleanup effort.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9903962-181/in-bid-to-clean-russian

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

Sonoma County wine executive’s vineyard business firm accused of water quality violations

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Prominent Sonoma County wine executive Hugh Reimers, who last month abruptly left as president of Foley Family Wines, faces allegations that his grape growing company has violated regional, state and federal water quality laws for improperly clearing land near Cloverdale to build a vineyard.

The North Coast Regional Water Quality Board accused his Santa Rosa vineyard management company, Krasilsa Pacific Farms, of violations of the water board’s local water rules, the California Water Code and the federal Clean Water Act for clearing and grading 140 acres. The water quality board concluded the work on a section of Krasilsa Pacific’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 board filed a notice of its violations on June 6 to Reimers, as manager of Krasilsa, listing 28 different locations on the property three miles east of Cloverdale where infractions were found by investigators with the board and Sonoma County Department of Agriculture. Many of those spots had multiple violations within the cleared land: a steep, grassy ridge featuring oak woodland between the Russian River and Big Sulfur Creek.

The water quality agency’s findings have not been linked to Reimers’ sudden resignation from Foley’s Santa Rosa wine company he joined in 2017 and he led as president since January 2018.

The water agency is in the process of determining what sanctions to levy against Krasilsa, said Josh Curtis, assistant executive for the agency. The penalties could range from a cleanup of the property in an attempt to return it as close as possible to its condition before Krasilsa’s work started in late 2017 or early 2018, to the assessment of fines.

Investigators with the water board and county ag department have forwarded their report and underlying findings regarding the Krasilsa land to the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office. The case is under review by the district attorney’s environmental and consumer law division, office spokeswoman Joan Croft said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/9886319-181/notable-sonoma-county-wine-executives

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Op-Ed: Preserve nature for future generations

Charlie Schneider & Eric Leland, Trout Unlimited, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Northern California offers some of the best trout fishing in the world. Why? Because California’s diverse climate, geography and ecology provide some of the best habitat for fish and wildlife anywhere. Much of this habitat is found on public lands.

Sportsmen and women in California have free or low-cost access to millions of acres of land and water that has been conserved and managed for their natural, recreational and resource values. This isn’t the case in much of the world or even on the East Coast of the United States.

Within a three-hour drive of Sonoma County, one can fish for steelhead on the Eel or Trinity rivers or for trophy trout in the upper Sacramento River or Putah Creek. All on public land.

But California’s public lands are under siege from a variety of threats. Exceptionally severe wildfire, sustained drought, a warming climate and ill-advised political gambits grounded more in ideology than science are primary ingredients in the witches’ brew of influences that are drying up, burning up, using up or otherwise degrading or eliminating habitat in this state.

Trout Unlimited is committed to tackling the challenge of conserving our public lands in the face of these threats and keeping alive the unique sporting legacy these lands and waters have made possible. It’s encouraging to see that some leaders in Congress are committed to this same goal.

Our representative in the House, Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, is one. We salute Huffman and Sen. Kamala Harris for their recent introduction of the Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation and Working Forests Act, which would better protect and restore lands and streams vital for water supply, salmon and steelhead and the growing outdoor recreation economy in this region.

This legislation would conserve the landscapes and waters that make this area so special through a combination of forest restoration, new river and upland habitat protection measures, wildfire prevention treatments, rehabilitation of illegal trespass marijuana grow sites and new trails and other infrastructure to promote and expand recreational use. The type of inclusive lawmaking that developed this legislation is laudable.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/9729411-181/close-to-home-preserve-nature

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

A time of reckoning in the Central Valley

Mark Schapiro, BAY NATURE

Inside a climate-controlled laboratory at the Duarte Nursery outside Modesto, an experiment is taking place that could help determine what food we will eat for decades to come. Rows of steel racks contain numerous tiny almond, apple, walnut, pomegranate, pecan, avocado, fig, and pistachio trees in small translucent plastic cylinders. The saplings, planted in a high-nutrient agar mix that accelerates growth, are no more than two inches high and a few weeks old. Each is being subjected to versions of the stresses experienced just outside these walls in fields across the Central Valley: declining levels of water, escalating levels of salt. The big overarching, if unmentionable, force driving these experiments is climate change, which is beginning to roil the Central Valley.

Duarte, one of the largest commercial nurseries in the world, specializes in tree nuts and fruits, which have boomed across the valley in recent decades. Founded four decades ago, the nursery grew rapidly as water piped into the valley from the Sierras gave birth to the most bounteous center for agriculture in North America. The nursery now sprawls over 200 acres in the town of Hughson, just outside Modesto. Things began to change about a decade ago, according to John Duarte, the nursery’s president.

When I first met Duarte back in 2012, he resisted calling the shifts he was seeing climate change: “Whether it’s carbon built up in the atmosphere or just friggin’ bad luck,” he said then, “the conditions are straining us.” Today, he still avoids the climate change label. (“You should meet my daughter; I think she agrees with you on the climate business,” he told me recently.) But even seven years ago, Duarte was on the forefront of researching tree varieties suited to a hotter, drier, saltier future.

Trees present a particular challenge: Conditions shift, but the trees can’t move. A fruit or nut tree planted today may, depending on the species, be ill-suited to climatic conditions by the time it begins bearing fruit in five or ten years. So the question Duarte is trying to answer, the one bedeviling farmers across the valley, is, what to plant today that can thrive and bear fruit over the next quarter century or more?

“Everyone,” Duarte said, “is thinking about the impacts of warm winters and not enough water.” Valley temperatures are predicted to rise between 3.5 and 6 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, while periods of extreme heat are expected to lengthen. Even now, it’s often not cold enough in winter to permit trees’ metabolism to slow down, a process critical to the spring flowering that produces fruits and nuts later in the season. Irrigation water is becoming saltier, too. Desperate farmers drilling ever-deeper wells are pumping up saltier water. And a new state law, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, will likely serve as a catalyst of change. Starting in 2020, it will regulate how much water farmers can withdraw from the Central Valley aquifer. The law promises to shake up the methods and business of valley agriculture.

The lessons learned here, or not learned, have implications for agricultural regions elsewhere, from the American Midwest to North Africa, southern Europe and southwest China. These breadbaskets are already experiencing similar extremes of heat, drought, and flood, and new pests and diseases.

Climate change is revealing the vulnerabilities of an industrial agriculture system that relies on predictability. And it’s shining a light on alternative growing practices that are potentially more resilient to these environmental shifts.

“When I drive to the Central Valley, I get goose bumps; I feel the urgency,” says Amélie Gaudin, an agronomist at UC Davis who works with many Central Valley growers on improving soil quality. “I see an agriculture that is basically hydroponics. It’s like a person being fed/kept alive by an IV.”

Read more at https://baynature.org/article/a-time-of-reckoning-in-the-central-valley/

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Polluted gravel pit breached in Russian River flood

Riverkeeper, RUSSIANRIVERKEEPER.ORG

Our worst fears were realized in the Feb 28th flood event. The largest gravel pit mine, Syar’s Basalt Pit, had a complete levee failure on a section that had failed in previous floods. The image at left shows the breach in center of picture, with river on the left and Syar Basalt Pit on right. Over 30 years of mining waste containing extremely high levels of toxic metals as well as Healdsburg’s treated wastewater discharges are now connected to our river – our drinking water supply.

Syar’s own testing in 2006 showed the mining waste contained mercury, iron and aluminum at 200-800% of safe levels and phosphorous at nearly 500 times higher than levels that can trigger toxic algae. Those pollutants are all conservative – meaning they are still present, do not degrade over time and pose a threat to the river’s health and our health.

When we filed lawsuits against the County in the 80’s and 90’s to stop the gravel mining, one of our biggest reasons was the fear of the gravel pits being captured by the river in floods. Sadly our predictions were correct, again. This occurred during the El Nino events in the late 90’s which resulted in a Clean Water Act lawsuit by Friends of the Russian River, RRK’s predecessor.

As of this date, three months after the flood, we’re still waiting for action plans to protect the river this summer from Healdsburg’s wastewater and the mining waste – both have very high levels of nutrients, mainly phosphorous, that could trigger toxic algae blooms. We’re also very concerned that in six months it’ll be raining again and if we do not take action we will see major erosion of downstream properties.

At this time, Permit Sonoma has convened two meetings with resource protection agencies and are developing a tentative plan. Permit Sonoma plans to hold a public meeting to collect comments on concerns regarding this issue and give you an opportunity to voice your opinion on how the County should respond to this major threat to the River’s health. We’ll keep you posted when the public meetings are scheduled, stay tuned!

Source: https://russianriverkeeper.org/2019/06/05/polluted-gravel-pit-breached-during-flood/

Posted on Categories Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , , , ,

New plan to safeguard Russian River targets contamination from human and animal waste

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

An on-again, off-again effort by state regulators to better protect the Russian River and its tributaries against failing septic systems, livestock waste and other potential sources of bacterial contamination is in its final stages, with hopes that an action plan for the entire watershed will be approved this August and go into effect next year.

The move, controversial and closely watched in years past, could impose stricter regulations and mandatory septic system upgrades on thousands of landowners with properties near the river or its connected waterways.

Opportunities still exist for residents to weigh in on the complicated, far-reaching strategy designed to safeguard the region’s recreational hub and main source of drinking water, with bacterial threats ranging from everyday pet waste to rain-swollen sewage holding ponds and homeless encampments.

Now in its third iteration since 2015, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board’s new draft action plan is out for public review and comment through 5 p.m. June 24.

The board’s staff will host a public workshop at its Santa Rosa offices on Thursday afternoon, and a public hearing will be held during the board’s regular meeting Aug. 14 and 15, when it considers adopting the plan.

The water quality control program is required under the federal Clean Water Act as well as state regulations designed to ensure that people swimming, wading, fishing or otherwise recreating in the river and tributary creeks aren’t exposed to bacteria from human or animal waste — a problem in waterways around California, state officials say.

Key concerns include aging, under-equipped and potentially faulty septic systems and cesspools installed decades ago on steep slopes with too little soil to provide adequate percolation. Testing also shows livestock grazing in close proximity to waterways is a problem in many areas.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9693049-181/new-plan-to-safeguard-russian

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Occidental has a big wastewater dilemma to resolve

Tom Gogola, THE BOHEMIAN

New rate increases for the Occidental Sanitation District underscore an old problem: the West County outpost is a small and underfunded district that has no wastewater disposal system of its own.

The Sonoma County Water Agency recently announced that it had approved routine rate increases for eight districts and zones that provide sewer service to more than 18,000 properties throughout the county. In a release, it says the increases will pay for maintenance and operations, and for $50 million in capital improvements to sewer collection and treatment centers in the affected districts.

None of the capital improvements are coming to Occidental, however, which has faced a wastewater-removal conundrum for two decades.

Among the proposed uses of the new revenue coming from consumers and businesses: The Geyserville district will get new aerators at its wastewater treatment facility; there’s proposed funding for a flood resiliency project in Penngrove; sewer-main projects are planned for Sonoma Valley and the Airport/Larkfield/Wikiup zone; and other improvements are afoot in the Russian River and South Park districts.

The districts’ rates are being increased from between 3.5 and 5 percent which, in and of itself, is neither controversial nor widely opposed by the impacted ratepayers, says SCWA principal programs specialist Barry Dugan. California’s Proposition 218 requires public notification and explanations behind proposed rate hikes such as the ones approved by the SCWA board last week. If more than 50 percent of respondents reject the new rate, it doesn’t pass. Fewer than 2 percent of 18,0000 impacted citizens wrote in to protest the new rate.

A review of the breakout of opponents doesn’t show any one district or another having outsized levels of opposition to the new rates. Indeed, as Dugan points out in an interview, there’s almost exactly the same number of opponents to this year’s increase (217) to last year’s (216).

If there’s any controversy it’s with Occidental’s chronic wastewater conundrum and what to do about it. A handful of Occidental resident disapproved of the rate increases, in a town that’s in a uniquely tough spot when it comes to wastewater removal: It’s a very small district with only 100 ratepayers that’s been underfunded for years, says Dugan, and that pays among the highest sanitation rates of any district in the state—if not the highest rate, suggests Dugan.

Read more at https://www.bohemian.com/northbay/occidentals-discharge/Content?oid=8829378

Posted on Categories Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , ,

Sonoma County considering taking over Eel River water-power project

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County supervisors agreed Tuesday to study the possibility of applying for a license to operate a remote Mendocino County hydropower project, marking the first move to maintain a long-standing water transfer deemed critical to residents and ranchers in both counties.

A coalition of five Mendocino County agencies and California Trout, a 50-year-old environmental nonprofit, are collaborating with Sonoma County’s water agency in the consideration of taking over the federal license for the Potter Valley Project, which delivers 20 billion gallons of water a year from the Eel River into the Russian River basin.

Each of the three partners is putting $100,000 into the study, an amount dwarfed by the potential cost of establishing free passage for the Eel River’s protected salmon and steelhead — likely a requisite step to extend the project’s life.

PG&E, the state’s largest utility now in bankruptcy, surrendered the project in January, upending the license renewal process, and no entity has responded to a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) call for a new operator.

The utility, which had owned the project since 1930, said it was no longer economical to operate a plant that generated less than 1 percent of its power.

But the water flowing through the powerhouse is virtually invaluable to the towns and ranches along the upper Russian River from Potter Valley to Healdsburg and is a critical source for Sonoma Water, which delivers water to 600,000 Sonoma and Marin county customers.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9598819-181/sonoma-county-supervisors-eye-future

Posted on Categories Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , , ,

Fight against plastic pollution targets a hidden source: Our clothes

Denise Chow, NBC NEWS

The plastic bottles, straws and grocery bags that wash ashore on beaches are some of the most visible signs that society’s intoxication with plastic is taking a toll on the environment. But scientists say there is another source of plastic pollution that is just as pervasive and even more difficult to clean up — and it’s hiding in our clothes.

Most clothing contains synthetic fabrics such as polyester or nylon that are essentially constructed from thin plastic fibers. These fabrics have become fixtures in closets around the world because they are durable and cheap to make. Stretchy, sweat-wicking workout clothes, water-resistant rainwear and fleece sweaters are all made of synthetics — not to mention many T-shirts, dresses and jeans that contain a cotton-synthetic blend.

These tiny bits of plastic pose a daunting environmental challenge. As so-called microfibers shed off clothing, they eventually end up in the ocean, where they can be ingested by fish and other seafood that humans eat.

“This is the microplastic pollution that we don’t talk about as much because it’s unseen, but these microfibers are everywhere,” said Sarah-Jeanne Royer, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California. “We’ve sampled them at the North Pole, in Antarctica, at the top of mountains and even at the bottom of the Mariana Trench — everywhere in the world.”

Most microfiber pollution occurs when people wash their clothes. A 2016 study by researchers at the University of Plymouth in the U.K. estimated that up to 700,000 microfibers could be released in a single load of laundry, roughly equivalent to the surface area of a pack of gum.

Read more at https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/science/fight-against-plastic-pollution-targets-hidden-source-our-clothes-ncna1000961

Posted on Categories Water, WildlifeTags , ,

California governor makes big change to giant Delta water project

Kathleen Ronayne, ASSOCIATED PRESS

California Gov. Gavin Newsom scrapped a $16 billion plan Thursday to build two giant water tunnels to reroute the state’s water system and instead directed state agencies to restart planning for a single tunnel.

The move came after $240 million has already been spent on the project championed by former Gov. Jerry Brown to divert water from the north to the state’s drier south.

Newsom had signaled the move in his February State of the State address. He made the change official when he asked state agencies to withdraw existing permit applications and start over.

“I do not support the twin tunnels. But we can build on the important work that’s already been done,” he has said.

Brown wanted to build two, 35-mile-long (55-kilometer-long) tunnels to divert water from the Sacramento River, the state’s largest river, to the San Francisco Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California. Local water agencies were expected to foot the roughly $16 billion bill.

A single tunnel is expected to cost less, but officials haven’t yet set a price tag, said Erin Mellon, spokeswoman for the state Department of Water Resources. Nor has the state determined how much water would flow through a single tunnel.

Read more at https://www.apnews.com/42964ecbd904409392551d8fdd67ca58