Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Habitats, Water, WildlifeTags , , , ,

Trump delivers on pledge for wealthy California farmers

Ellen Knickmeyer & Adam Beam, WSLS.com

Hoisting the spoils of victories in California’s hard-fought water wars, President Donald Trump is directing more of the state’s precious water to wealthy farmers and other agriculture interests when he visits their Republican Central Valley stronghold Wednesday.

Changes by the Trump administration are altering how federal authorities decide who gets water, and how much, in California, the U.S. state with the biggest population and economy and most lucrative farm output. Climate change promises to only worsen the state’s droughts and water shortages, raising the stakes.

Campaigning in the Central Valley farm hub of Fresno in 2016, Trump pledged then he’d be “opening up the water” for farmers. Candidate Trump denounced “insane” environmental rules meant to ensure that enough fresh water stayed in rivers and the San Francisco Bay to sustain more than a dozen endangered fish and other native species, which are struggling as agriculture and development diverts more water and land from wildlife.

Visiting Bakersfield in the Central Valley on Wednesday, Trump is expected to ceremoniously sign his administration’s reworking of those environmental rules. Environmental advocates and the state say the changes will allow federal authorities to pump more water from California’s wetter north southward to its biggest cities and farms.

The Trump administration, Republican lawmakers, and farm and water agencies say the changes will allow for more flexibility in water deliveries. In California’s heavily engineered water system, giant state and federal water projects made up of hundreds of miles of pipes, canals, pumps and dams, carry runoff from rain and Sierra Nevada snow melt from north to south — and serve as field of battle for lawsuits and regional political fights over competing demands for water.

Environmental groups say the changes will speed the disappearance of endangered winter-run salmon and other native fish, and make life tougher for whales and other creatures in the San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean.

After an initial study by federal scientists found the rule changes would harm salmon and whales, the Trump administration ordered a new round of review, California news organizations reported last year.

Read more at https://www.wsls.com/news/politics/2020/02/18/trump-delivers-on-pledge-for-wealthy-california-farmers/

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$9.7 million in federal funds arrives for long-awaited Petaluma River dredging

Yousef Baig, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Petaluma River, a tidal waterway that has seen boat traffic decline as silt piled up, will be dredged this year for the first time since 2003, rejuvenating a natural resource that for generations was the lifeblood of the community.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will be allocating roughly $9.7 million this year to pay for the project, U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, announced Monday. An additional $1.3 million was set aside for preliminary work to eventually dredge the San Rafael Canal.

The Army Corps is supposed to maintain the 18-mile river every four years but has fallen way behind on that commitment.

“I’m just very happy for the people of Petaluma,” Huffman, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Commitee, said in an interview. “They’ve waited a long time.”

With the money now in place, the dredging work could begin as early as June 1 depending on the migration of protected species like steelhead trout that naturally spawn in the watershed, said Jason Beatty, director of Petaluma Public Works and Utilities.

The city council last month approved nearly $2 million for an emergency dredge of the river turning basin and Petaluma Marina in case the Army Corps again passed on doing the work. With the project now covered, the city will use that money on the marina, where the number of vessels leasing space is now less than 40% of capacity, or about half the Bay Area average, Beatty said.

Members of the local boating community were elated by Monday’s news. Leland Fishman, commodore of the Petaluma Yacht Club, said the project could start a “rebirth of our river.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10693943-181/97-million-in-federal-funds

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Russian Riverkeeper works to protect, restore Russian River

Stephen Nett, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Rivers are vital. Like life-giving arteries, they deliver water for drinking and irrigation and fertile soil for vineyards and farms. They support watersheds teeming with life.

But humans are hard on rivers. We crowd their banks, dump waste in them and take out water, fish and other resources. In the process, waterways often end up reduced to narrow, dirty channels, shadows of their former selves.

When that happens, who speaks for the river?

For our longest local river, that voice has often been the nonprofit Russian Riverkeeper. The Healdsburg-based organization has spent decades working to protect, celebrate and restore the Russian River, from its headwaters above Ukiah to its final plunge into the Pacific at Jenner, 110 miles below.

On a recent winter day, Don McEnhill stopped his mud-spattered pickup on a narrow dirt levee high above the river. The spot is at an old mining site, the Hanson gravel pits near Windsor. With staff and a hydrological engineer, Riverkeeper’s chief executive was laying 80 feet of cable through dense brush down a steep bank to set up a water measurement sensor.

Below him was a chain of four wide lakes, the largest as big as a football stadium. The lakes, McEnhill explained, aren’t what they appear to be. They’re actually 30- to 40-foot-deep holes, left when the river gravel deposits were dug out and hauled away.

For a century and a half, gravel has been mined up and down the river and shipped south, to build much of the Bay Area. It’s even in the base of the Golden Gate bridge towers.

The old gravel pits are now filled with water and sediments, including toxic mercury from native ore upstream and runoff nutrients like phosphorus. The Russian River watershed once had dozens of mercury mines, McEnhill said.

Riverkeeper has been working for more than a decade to restore the Hanson property, which is just downriver from the giant wellheads that supply water to Windsor. Tall levees and barriers built to keep the river out of the aging pits are badly eroding, and in some places have been breached altogether.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/specialsections/sonomagives/10591318-181/russian-riverkeeper-works-to-protect

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Up to 96,000 gallons of wine spills at Rodney Strong Vineyards, most leaks into Russian River

Yousef Baig & Chantelle Lee, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Russian River flowed with a cherry red tint Wednesday after tens of thousands of gallons of fresh cabernet sauvignon wine poured into the largest tributary in Sonoma County.

The wine — enough to fill more than 500,000 bottles — spilled from a Rodney Strong Vineyards’ storage tank at the Healdsburg winery, made its way into Reiman Creek running through the property and drained into the river.

It’s likely the biggest wine spill in county history, but certainly in the past 20 years, said Don McEnhill, executive director of nonprofit Russian Riverkeeper, noting he couldn’t recall gallons of this magnitude reaching the river.

A roughly two-foot oval door near the bottom of a 100,000-gallon Rodney Strong blending tank somehow popped open about 1:30 p.m. Wednesday and spilled from 46,000 to 96,000 gallons of wine, officials with the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services said Thursday.

Local and state water quality and fish and wildlife officials are investigating to determine any negative effects to the river ecosystem and whether the winery violated water quality rules. Investigators with the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board and California Department of Fish and Wildlife were on-site Thursday to determine the extent of environmental damage.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10622264-181/pd-default-story-headline-xy?ref=moststory

Posted on Categories Land Use, WaterTags , , , , ,

Montage Healdsburg resort developer recommended for $4.9 million fine for environmental violations

Mary Callahan & Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The developer of a luxury Healdsburg resort faces a record $4.9 million fine for egregious environmental violations after allowing an estimated 6.6 million gallons of sediment-laden runoff to leave the construction site during heavy rainfall last winter, threatening already imperiled fish species in tributaries of the Russian River.

Staffers for the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board documented 38 violations of the federal Clean Water Act between October 2018 and May 2019 by developer Robert Green Jr., the owner of Montage Healdsburg, previously known as Saggio Hills.

The violations — hundreds of examples of them — were observed during repeat inspections, despite warnings to the developer of inadequate efforts to control erosion and runoff at the 258-acre site, according to regulatory documents.

Board personnel twice suspended construction through work stoppage orders, yet deficiencies still were abundant once crews were given permission to resume work, regulators said.

Even though there were points at which improvements were made, erosion control measures such as straw wattles and coverings for bare, exposed ground were not maintained, said Claudia Villacorta, the water quality control board’s prosecution team assistant executive officer.

Eventually, the controls were removed while wet weather still lay ahead so that a storm that came through in mid-May rained on the landscape without anti-erosion measures in place, she said.

“We felt like the conduct was, frankly, grossly negligent,” Villacorta said by phone. “They repeatedly failed to take action, implement effective practices, and I think that’s the reason why the penalty — the proposed fine — was significant.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10619065-181/montage-healdsburg-resort-developer-recommended

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Trump removes pollution controls on streams and wetlands

Coral Davenport, THE NEW YORK TIMES

The Trump administration on Thursday finalized a rule to strip away environmental protections for streams, wetlands and groundwater, handing a victory to farmers, fossil fuel producers and real estate developers who said Obama-era rules had shackled them with onerous and unnecessary burdens.

From Day 1 of his administration, President Trump vowed to repeal President Barack Obama’s “Waters of the United States” regulation, which had frustrated rural landowners. His new rule, which will be implemented in about 60 days, is the latest step in the Trump administration’s push to repeal or weaken nearly 100 environmental rules and laws, loosening or eliminating rules on climate change, clean air, chemical pollution, coal mining, oil drilling and endangered species protections.

Although Mr. Trump frequently speaks of his desire for the United States to have “crystal-clean water,” he has called his predecessor’s signature clean-water regulation “horrible,” “destructive” and “one of the worst examples of federal” overreach.

“I terminated one of the most ridiculous regulations of all: the last administration’s disastrous Waters of the United States rule,” he told the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual convention in Texas on Sunday, to rousing applause.

“That was a rule that basically took your property away from you,” added Mr. Trump, whose real estate holdings include more than a dozen golf courses. (Golf course developers were among the key opponents of the Obama rule and key backers of the new one.)

His administration had completed the first step of its demise in September with the rule’s repeal.

Mr. Trump’s replacement, called the “Navigable Waters Protection Rule,” finishes the process. It not only rolls back key portions of the 2015 rule that had guaranteed protections under the 1972 Clean Water Act to certain wetlands and streams that run intermittently or run temporarily underground, but also relieves landowners of the need to seek permits that the Environmental Protection Agency had considered on a case-by-case basis before the Obama rule.

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/22/climate/trump-environment-water.html?searchResultPosition=2

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Op-Ed: Newsom is being played by Big Ag on Delta water

Editorial Board, SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS

Governor must use best available science to protect California’s fresh water supply

He won’t admit it, but Gavin Newsom is being played by Big Ag interests as he tries fruitlessly to negotiate a truce in California’s water wars.

The governor’s apparent willingness to play into the hands of monied, agri-business players at the expense of the health of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta remains the biggest mystery of his short tenure. It also threatens to trash his reputation as a strong protector of California’s environment.

The Delta supplies water for 25 million Californians, including about one-third of Bay Area residents. Scientists agree that allowing more, not less, water to flow through the Delta and west toward San Francisco Bay is essential for protecting fish life and providing a clean supply of drinking water for current and future generations. That means restricting pumping of water out the south end of the Delta into Central Valley farmland.

The governor has been trying for months to get the major urban and ag players to reach a voluntary agreement on water flows from the Delta. His stated goal has been to avoid the lengthy lawsuits that follow a state mandate. But on Dec. 10, the Fresno-based Westlands Water District, the largest agricultural district in the nation, threatened to pull out of the talks. Westlands General Manager Tom Birmingham said “it would be impossible to reach a voluntary agreement” if Newsom followed through on his November pledge to sue the Trump administration over the federal government’s plan to pump more water south to Central Valley farmers.

It’s the same strategy Westlands used in September to pressure the governor to veto SB 1. The bill would have established as state standards the federal environmental protections that existed before Trump became president.

SB 1 offered Newsom the tool needed to thwart the Trump administration. It might have also given the governor leverage to bring environmentalists and farming interests to the table to reach a voluntary agreement on Delta water flows. But the governor caved to Big Ag interests in hopes that they would work cooperatively on a negotiated deal. We see how well that strategy worked.

The question now is whether Newsom will capitulate again to agriculture interests by backing down on his promise of a lawsuit to block the federal government’s planned increase of Delta water diversions.

The governor has repeatedly made clear that he “will rely on the best available science to protect our environment.” That science is unequivocal.

In the same week that Newsom vowed to sue the Trump administration, the state released a draft environmental impact report based on “a decade of science and a quantitative analysis of best-available data on flows, modeling, habitat and climate change impacts.” The report made clear that the operating rules proposed by the Trump administration “are not scientifically adequate and fall short of protecting species and the state’s interests.”

The scientists in charge of the drafting the federal government’s environmental impact plan said much the same. That is, until the Trump administration got wind of the conclusions and promptly replaced the scientists. In short order, a new report emerged saying pumping an additional 500,000 acre-feet (one acre foot of water is enough to supply two households for a year) to the Central Valley wouldn’t hurt the Delta’s health.

The ball is in Newsom’s court. The governor should follow through on his lawsuit against the Trump administration and act on the best available science to secure California’s fresh water supply.

Source: https://www.mercurynews.com/2019/12/29/editorial-newsom-is-being-played-by-big-ag-on-delta-water/

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, WaterTags , , , , , ,

Santa Rosa wastewater quandary linked to Kincade fire could get worse as rainy season ramps up

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Nearly two months after the Kincade fire was fully contained in northeastern Sonoma County, Santa Rosa is struggling with an after-effect of the massive blaze: its wastewater disposal pipeline at The Geysers was disabled for six weeks, backing up the Sebastopol-area plant with about 400 million gallons of treated wastewater.

As a result, by February city water officials anticipate nearing maximum capacity at the plant’s storage ponds, forcing them to release treated effluent into the nearby Laguna de Santa Rosa, a step that would put customers on the hook for an estimated $400,000 in environmental charges.

The wastewater quandary is one of the lingering repercussions of the county’s largest ever wildfire, which scorched about 77,000 acres and more than 170 homes after igniting near a faulty PG&E transmission line in late October.

A clearer picture of its impact on The Geysers geothermal field — the complex of power plants near where the fire erupted — and the city’s wastewater system, which sends most of its recycled daily output to The Geysers, emerged over the past several weeks in public records and in interviews with city water staff and representatives of PG&E and Calpine, which operates most of the power plants.

PG&E has restored power to most of the lines that went down due to the Kincade fire, but it is still weeks away from reactivating the transmission line where equipment broke shortly before the start of the wildfire, a PG&E spokeswoman said.

That same high-voltage line previously powered the city-owned pumps that deliver water about 40 miles from Santa Rosa’s Laguna Wastewater Plant to The Geysers as part of the city’s wastewater disposal system, in operation since 2003.

Without electricity from that line, Santa Rosa found itself sidelined for six weeks — without the ability to pump the 15 million gallons of wastewater it regularly sends per day on average to help sustain steam power at The Geysers, said Joe Schwall, the city’s deputy director of water reuse operations. The Laguna Road plant is one of the largest sewer operations in the North Bay, serving more than 200,000  people not just in Santa Rosa but in Rohnert Park, Cotati, Sebastopol and parts of Sonoma County.

Read more at: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10513689-181/santa-rosa-wastewater-quandary-linked

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, WaterTags , , , ,

Big atmospheric rivers are getting worse and do a lot of damage — especially in Northern California

Kurtis Alexander, THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

During the first week of January 1995, a powerful storm lashed Northern California, pushing the Russian River over its banks for seven straight days and damaging more than 4,000 properties, what scientists now say is the costliest atmospheric river the West has seen.

A first-ever economic analysis of atmospheric rivers, released Wednesday as another series of these potent weather systems emerged over the Pacific, finds that such events have caused an average of $1.1 billion of flood damage annually over 40 years. The hardest-hit place, across 11 Western states with losses, was Sonoma County.

The 1995 atmospheric river alone resulted in $3.7 billion of damage, according to the study, from a storm that had mudslides covering roads, winds toppling trees and swollen creeks inundating homes. The event, which made landfall in Southern California and moved north, contributed to the total $5.2 billion of losses that Sonoma County has sustained from atmospheric rivers during the study period — 1978 through 2017.

The authors of the report, with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, warned that atmospheric rivers will intensify as oceans warm with climate change and that the losses will only grow. They called for more study of these systems so they can be better anticipated and their effects blunted.

Read more at https://www.sfchronicle.com/environment/article/Big-atmospheric-rivers-do-a-lot-of-damage-14881960.php

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

Bay plastic infests Petaluma River

Janet Perry, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

There are plastic particulates in San Francisco Bay, trillions of them. Some come from car tires — those tend to sink to the bottom — and there are tiny fragments floating, many coming from fancy polar fleece jackets and other clothing after the first few washings.

There’s other stuff in there too, like single use plastic container particles, pieces of plastic stir sticks and plastic bags, and it has caught the attention of scientists.

The San Francisco Estuary Institute and the 5 Gyres Institute carried out a study of plastic in the bay.

The Petaluma River flows into the bay and was mentioned in the study, although researchers did not collect data from the river itself. Carolynn Boxx, 5 Gyres science programs director, explained that samples were collected where the Petaluma River flows into the bay but because of the limited number of samples collected, individual sections of the bay were not analyzed separately.

“The project identified recommendations to work towards solutions, with supporting policy that eliminates single use plastic items being one of the top recommendations,” Boxx said. “We encourage Bay Area cities to look to Berkeley’s comprehensive ordinance on disposable plastic food ware as a model ordinance. Maybe Petaluma will be next?”

The Petaluma City Council recently passed a ban on Styrofoam and has considered expanding it to plastic food ware.

Clothing is a big plastic culprit too. The first washing of fleece and other plastics-based fibers can have a big impact, as the particulates tend to be dispersed more during those first washings. Lots of clothing today contain man-made plastics fibers.

Some companies, like Patagonia, are trying to find solutions and encourage the purchase of well-made items that will last longer.

Read more at: https://www.petaluma360.com/news/10353280-181/bay-plastic-infests-petaluma-river?sba=AAS