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

Wine moguls destroy land and pay small fines as cost of business, say activists

Alastair Bland, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO

After California wine industry mogul Hugh Reimers illegally destroyed at least 140 acres of forest, meadow and stream in part to make way for new vineyards sometime last winter, according to a report from state investigators, state officials ordered the Krasilsa Pacific Farms manager to repair and mitigate the damage where possible. Sonoma County officials also suggested a $131,060 fine.

But for environmental activists watching the investigation, fines and restoration attempts aren’t going to cut it; they want Reimers — an experienced captain of industry whom they say knew better — to face a criminal prosecution, which could lead to a jail sentence.

“We want him to be an example of what you can’t do here,” says Anna Ransome, founder of a small organization called Friends of Atascadero Wetlands. In August, the group sent a letter to Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravich, asking that she prosecute Reimers.

“If winemakers can figure into their budget paying fines and doing minimal restoration work, then what’s to stop the next guy from doing the same thing?” Ransome says.

The D.A.’s office did not return requests for comment. Multiple efforts to reach Reimers for comment were unsuccessful. On Nov. 13, a sign posted outside of an address listed for him that appears to be a residence read “Media Keep Out.”

The Sonoma County Winegrowers, an industry organization that promotes sustainability, also declined to comment.

Ransome’s concerns have been echoed by other environmental and community activists in Northern California who decry a pattern of winemakers violating environmental laws, paying relatively meager fines for their actions, and eventually proceeding with their projects.

For example, high-society winemaker Paul Hobbs now grows grapes on at least one small Sonoma County parcel that he cleared of trees in 2011 without proper permits. Though his actions on several locations where he removed trees caused community uproar, officials fined Hobbs $100,000 and allowed him to carry on with his business. Paul Hobbs Winery is listed by the Sonoma County Winegrowers website as certified sustainable.

Read more at https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2019/11/18/774859696/wine-moguls-destroy-land-and-pay-small-fines-as-cost-of-business-say-activists

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

Sonoma County drills wells to study groundwater sustainability

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The shallow wells Sonoma County’s water agency is drilling near 11 waterways have nothing to do with delivering water to 600,000 residents of Sonoma and Marin counties.

Instead, the 21 wells will serve as measuring sticks to determine whether pumping groundwater in the county’s three basins — the Santa Rosa Plain, Petaluma Valley and Sonoma Valley — is curbing the flow in creeks inhabited by federally protected fish and other species.

The $300,000 project is the latest consequence of a state law, enacted during California’s five-year drought, requiring long-term sustainability of underground water supplies that were heavily tapped during the prolonged dry spell.

And that means assessing the connection between surface water and groundwater and possibly, for the first time in state history, setting limits on use of well water by residents, ranchers, businesses and public water systems.

“We can’t see what’s beneath the surface, so these monitoring wells will act like underground telescopes. They can help us see how much and when water is available,” county Supervisor Susan Gorin said in a statement.

Gorin is chairwoman of the Sonoma Valley Groundwater Sustainability Agency, which covers the basin seen as most susceptible to depletion. Local agencies were formed in 2017 in each of the county’s basins to implement mandates of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act that became law in 2015 amid the state’s historic drought.

Farming interests generally have taken a dim view of the increased monitoring and prospect of pumping limits. During the recent drought, when stream flows were greatly diminished statewide, Central Valley farmers especially drew heavily on groundwater at rates that officials said were unsustainable, risking a whole host of related environmental impacts — on drinking water, soil and wildlife.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10275251-181/sonoma-county-drills-wells-to

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Waste deep: Petaluma River awash in bacteria

Will Carruthers, THE BOHEMIAN

The river winding through downtown Petaluma might be the city’s single most defining feature. The city’s annual Rivertown Revival Festival features views of the river and, farther south, recreationists use the water for entertainment and exercise every day.

Yet, since 1975, the state has designated the water a contaminated water body due to excessive levels of bacteria tied to fecal matter. The river has also been included on the list for excessive amounts of pesticides, trash and sediment at other times.

Now, a state water oversight board may pass a plan laying out the steps to lower the levels of bacteria in the river and its watershed.

At a Wednesday, Nov. 13 meeting in Oakland, the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board will consider approving an amendment to the board’s water quality control plan for the region, a document known as a basin plan. The proposed amendment will set a cap on the amount of fecal indicator bacteria in the river’s watershed—the TMDL—and identify actions required to reach that goal.

The federal Clean Water Act requires the state to create the cap and cleanup plan, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load [TMDL].

Staff members working for the water board, one of nine similar regional bodies tasked with setting water quality rules in California, have been assembling the Petaluma River plan for several years, according to Farhad Ghodrati, an environmental scientist with the San Francisco Bay board.

Although there are over 100 potentially dangerous bacteria related to fecal matter, scientists generally only test for a few varieties. These “fecal indicator bacteria,” including E. Coli, are a sign that animal waste has contaminated the water body. If those levels are above the bar set by the water quality control board, they add the water body to a list of “impaired” waterways.

Read more at https://www.bohemian.com/northbay/waste-deep/Content?oid=9360941

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Will overhauling Scott Dam save native fish?

Alastair Bland, THE BOHEMIAN

Salmon three feet long seem to clog the water as the chrome-colored fish, fresh from the ocean, begin their journey upriver toward the high-elevation gravel riffles where they were born. Here, in the remotest tendrils of the watershed, they will lay and fertilize the eggs that ensure the next generation of salmon.

At least that’s how it once was early each autumn on the Eel River. But nature’s security system for fish survival is only as good as the health of a river. In the case of the Eel, a local power company built a dam on the Eel’s main fork in 1920. As a result, Chinook salmon lost access to about 100 miles of spawning habitat.

Steelhead, which swam farther upstream into smaller tributaries, suffered even greater impacts. Intensive in-river commercial fishing, water diversions, logging and other land degradation took their toll, too. Today, annual salmon runs in Eel River that once may have totaled a million or so adults consist of a few thousand. Lamprey eels, too, have dwindled.

Now, there is serious talk of removing Scott Dam, owned by PG&E since 1930.

For fishery proponents, such a river makeover is the optimal way to revive the Eel’s salmon runs.

“We want to see volitional passage, both ways,” says Curtis Knight, executive director of the conservation group California Trout.

Volitional, in this context, means the salmon are able to make their historic migration on their own—downstream as newly born juveniles and, later, upstream as sexually mature adults—all without the assistance of human hands.

“We think dam removal is one possibility here,” Knight says.

California Trout is one of several local groups and agencies now formally considering taking over the operation of Scott Dam from PG&E. As a hydroelectric facility, Scott Dam is not very productive, and with PG&E’s operating license scheduled to expire in 2022, the utility giant recently stepped away from the project. PG&E even briefly put the Potter Valley Project up for auction, though the offer attracted no takers.

Read more at https://www.bohemian.com/northbay/saving-salmon/Content?oid=9360901

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Delta tunnel: MWD weighs moving intakes 20-30 miles north for sea level rise

Dierdre Des Jardins, CALIFORNIA WATER RESEARCH

On Wednesday, August 28, 2019, the Sacramento Press Club hosted a panel discussion, “Droughts, tunnels & clean water.” The panel included Wade Crowfoot, Secretary of Natural Resources, Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager and CEO of Metropolitan Water District, and Jennifer Pierre, general manager of the State Water Contractors. Stuart Leavenworth from the LA Times moderated the panel.

The Newsom administration has committed to modernizing Delta Conveyance to protect water supplies from earthquakes and sea level rise. In a July 8 update to the Metropolitan Water District’s Water Planning and Stewardship Committee, Crowfoot stated, “if you are a state agency and you are building infrastructure that you want to exist and be operating in 2100, you need to plan for between 5 and 10 feet of sea level rise.” Crowfoot emphasized that sea level rise was one of the reasons the Newsom administration supported the Delta tunnel, stating, “when we’re talking about really protecting our water supply against sea level rise and saltwater intrusion, the underground conveyance or the tunnel becomes quite important.”

The Newsom administration has relied on assertions by the Department of Water Resources that the North Delta is 15 feet above sea level. But as explained in California Water Research’s August 12 blog post, this assertion is misleading. In the North Delta, only the top of the Sacramento River levee is 15 feet above sea level. Elevations at Courtland and Hood range from -1 to 8 feet above sea level, and the bottom of the Sacramento River is over 20 feet below sea level. California Water Research has recommended that new modeling be done of the performance of the North Delta intakes with high sea level rise.

During the Q&A period at the Sacramento Press Club luncheon,Deirdre Des Jardins advised the attendees of these facts. She asked Kightlinger and Pierre if they would commit to modeling the performance of the North Delta intakes with 10 feet of sea level rise and widespread levee failure. In response, Kightlinger stated that MWD is looking at moving the Delta tunnel intakes 20-30 miles north to accommodate sea level rise. Kightlinger stated that MWD is evaluating the increased costs of a longer tunnel, versus the benefits of extending the lifetime of the project.

It is unclear what intake locations Kightlinger was referring to. But in 2010, the Department of Water Resources evaluated two sets of locations north of Freeport, which would resist salinity intrusion with 10+ feet of sea level rise. The first set includes two locations on the west bank of the Sacramento River in South Sacramento, the second set, two locations upstream of the American River confluence. A third set of alternative locations was downstream of the confluence with Steamboat Slough. (see below.) These would benefit salmon but have less resistance to salinity intrusion.

These alternative locations were considered and rejected in 2010, partly on the basis of modeling by Resource Management Associates (RMA) which was interpreted to show no impacts from salinity intrusion at any of the proposed intake locations. But as explained in California Water Research’s August 6 blog, the 2010 RMA modeling is obsolete and has major limitations. The 2010 RMA modeling assumed 55 inches of sea level rise, and no failure of North Delta levees. The California Ocean Protection Council’s current estimate of maximal sea level rise by 2100 is 10 feet or 120 inches. This is over twice the 2010 estimate.

As part of “assessment of efforts to modernize Delta Conveyance,” California Water Research has recommended that the Newsom administration document that the WaterFix intake locations need to be reassessed for performance with 10 feet of sea level rise and widespread levee failure.

Source: https://cah2oresearch.com/2019/09/02/delta-tunnel-mwd-weighs-moving-intakes-20-30-miles-north-for-sea-level-rise/

Posted on Categories Sustainable Living, Water, WildlifeTags , , , ,

Clean storm drains seen as key to safeguarding Russian River

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Most people pass by storm drains day in and day out, giving little thought to them as conduits to local waterways — and ultimately, the Russian River in much of Sonoma County.

An alliance of local cities, special districts and the county wants to change that.

The coalition has launched a regional campaign to raise public awareness about the link between surface streets and local creeks in hopes people will think again about allowing litter, pet waste and other pollutants to escape down the drain and into the Russian River watershed, home to salmon and steelhead trout and a wide range other aquatic and terrestrial wildlife.

The $60,000 Streets to Creek campaign is intended to promote the fact that storm drains are basically extensions of creeks and streams. Anything left on or in the street — dripped motor oil, pesticide residue, discarded trash or cigarette butts — is basically left to be washed into the river.

“There is surprisingly little awareness about where storm drains actually flow to,” said Andy Rodgers, executive director of the Russian River Watershed Association, a stewardship group formed in 2003 by Sonoma and Mendocino counties, eight cities and the Sonoma County Water Agency. “There’s a number of folks who have the impression that all water goes to the wastewater treatment plants. Other people don’t really think about where it goes.”

Case in point: On Aug. 10, three people living in a motorhome were caught by a neighbor emptying a 50-gallon tank of raw sewage into a storm drain in Santa Rosa’s Junior College neighborhood.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9934996-181/russian-river-watershed-protection-campaign

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/