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

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/

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Habitats, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , ,

A struggling California marsh gets an overhaul to prepare for rising seas

Alastair Bland, AUDUBON MAGAZINE

The restoration of the Sonoma Creek in the San Francisco Bay Area not only corrects problems of the past, but also looks to the future.

The sun shines meekly through a veil of morning fog and wildfire smoke while several figures in orange vests, hard hats, and face masks move slowly through a marsh on the north shore of San Francisco Bay. Wielding brooms, they jab lightly at the vegetation, ruffling the tufts of native pickleweed. As biological monitors, their job is to flush out small animals—especially the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse—and usher them from the path of a rumbling excavator, which is about to dig a deep groove in the slick mud.

It’s early October at the mouth of Sonoma Creek, where an unusual conservation project that broke ground five years ago is nearing the finish line. Audubon California and partner agencies are turning what was once a 400-acre stagnant backwater into a thriving wetland ecosystem that will serve as a refuge from rising seas for decades to come.

This revitalization of Sonoma Creek marsh is more a story of creation than one of restoration. The place is a product of the Gold Rush era, when torrents of unearthed sediment choked the Sacramento River system and later settled downstream. While hawks, grebes, and plovers made use of the area, which is managed today as part of the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge, the marsh wasn’t exactly a haven. The unnatural mud buildup was too rapid, preventing the formation of the channel systems that typically run through wetlands like arteries and allow a healthy water exchange with adjacent bays and estuaries. “If this was a natural marsh, it would look like a lung—it would breathe,” says Andrea Jones, director of bird conservation at Audubon California.
Continue reading “A struggling California marsh gets an overhaul to prepare for rising seas”

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2021: Is this the year that wild delta smelt become extinct?

Peter Moyle, Karrigan Börk, John Durand, T-C Hung, and Andrew L. Rypel, CALIFORNIA WATER BLOG

2020 was a bad year for delta smelt. No smelt were found in the standard fish sampling programs (fall midwater trawl, summer townet survey). Surveys designed specifically to catch smelt (Spring Kodiak Trawl, Enhanced Delta Smelt Monitoring Program) caught just two of them despite many long hours of sampling. The program to net adult delta smelt for captive brood stock caught just one smelt in over 151 tries. All signs point to the Delta smelt as disappearing from the wild this year, or, perhaps, 2022. In case you had forgotten, the Delta smelt is an attractive, translucent little fish that eats plankton, has a one-year life cycle, and smells like cucumbers. It was listed as a threatened species in 1993 and has continued to decline since then. Former President Trump made it notorious when he called it a “certain little tiny fish” that was costing farmers millions of gallons of water (not true, of course).
Delta smelt, photo by Matt Young.

As part of the permitting process for Delta water infrastructure, the USFWS issued a Biological Opinion (BO), written by biologists, that found that increased export of water from the big pumps of the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project would further endanger the smelt. The BO was then revised by non-biologists to conclude that increased pumping would not hurt the smelt. The reason given was that large-scale habitat improvement efforts, plus the development of a facility for spawning and rearing of domesticated smelt, would save the species. We have written a short, fairly readable, article for a law journal that describes why the revised BO will not save the smelt. We will not write further about the paper in this blog but encourage readers to give the full article a read (it is a free download).

So, is this the year the smelt becomes extinct in the wild? Frankly, we are impressed by its resilience (see previous California WaterBlogs on smelt status) but small populations of endangered pelagic fish in large habitats tend to disappear, no matter what we do, partly the result of random events.

Source: https://californiawaterblog.com/2021/01/10/2021-is-this-the-year-that-wild-delta-smelt-become-extinct/

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Russian River, backed up at coastal mouth, threatens flooding in Jenner

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

High waves and heavy surf that have battered the Sonoma Coast for days and sealed the Russian River mouth with a great mound of sand have raised the water high enough to threaten flooding in the town of Jenner over the next few days.

Water already surrounded the Jenner Visitor Center at the river’s edge by Thursday afternoon, rising over the back deck and flooding into the parking lot adjacent to the post office and Highway 1. Farther inland, the river’s surface swelled to a height of 10 feet at the Highway 1 bridge.

But because of continued wave action on the beach, it has not been safe for Sonoma Water, the county water agency, to send out a heavy equipment operator to breach the beach dam by digging a channel through from the river estuary to the ocean. And though there has been some recent rain, the river flow remains low enough that it’s not exerting sufficient pressure to break through the sand on its own.

That combination of factors has allowed the mouth to close a “crazy” number of times this winter, said Suki Waters, who grew up in the area and owns Water Treks EcoTours in town, running boat rentals and guided kayak tours in the estuary.

“There’s not enough pressure in the river, not enough current to keep the river open during these high waves, high sand-pushing events,” she said.

At various times, the waves have been high enough to wash over the sand berm, adding even more water to the estuary, Sonoma Water said.

This is the fifth time in two months that the mouth has closed, in large part due to a dearth of rainfall that this year is sitting at around 30% of normal in most of the North Bay and wider Bay Area, National Weather Service meteorologist Matt Mehle said. Santa Rosa, as of Thursday, had received 5.3 inches of rain since Oct. 1, compared to 15.5 inches in an average year, Mehle said.

The outlook is for dryer than normal weather through the end of the month, as well, Mehle said, and another high-surf advisory taking effect at 6 a.m. Friday, with waves up to 25 feet in the most exposed coastal areas.

Sonoma Water, the region’s drinking water supplier, and charged with managing conditions at the river mouth, normally would consider mechanical breaching of the sandbar once the water reaches between 7 and 9 feet high, said Barry Dugan, a community and government affairs specialist. It already has done so on three occasions over the past two months — Nov. 19, Dec. 10 and Dec. 30. One other time this winter, the mouth closed but the river breached on its own Dec. 24.

At more than 10 feet, the river “is pretty high,” said Waters, whose boats were moored near the visitor center, formerly the town’s boat house, and being monitored.

“Normally, it either breaks or, if the county can open the river mouth, it usually happens before it gets to 10 feet,” Waters said. “This is a rare event.”

The river usually runs at a rate of several thousand cubic feet per second at this point in the season, but even with the rainfall early this week, it flowed only at 459 cfs by 4 p.m. Thursday at the Hacienda Bridge in Forestville.

That’s at least high enough to allow sport fishing once again in the main stem, where between Oct. 1 and April 30 angling is shut down at 300 cfs under a 2015 regulation designed to reduce stress for imperiled fish species already challenged by drought.

Though the river rose to 300 cfs briefly Dec. 18 and again between Dec. 26-28, the river was not opened until Wednesday, when it peaked at 559 cfs before beginning to drop.

“Last year, it opened right before Thanksgiving. The year before that it opened in late October, closed, and then opened again in mid-November,” said Scott Heemstra, a longtime fishing guide and manager at King’s Sport & Tackle in Guerneville. “So this is pretty late for opening.”

With the river mouth closed, only smaller steelhead trout that came in early were available to be caught, however, and once the mouth is opened, the river flow could be too low to fish.

Whether the water in Jenner rises high enough in the meantime to mimic December 2015, when people were canoeing and kayaking through riverside parking lots, remains to be seen.

Dugan said the visitor center floods when the water reaches around 10.3 feet and the southbound lane of Highway 1 at 12.3 feet.

He said the CHP, Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office and public safety and park agencies had been notified of the situation.

But he said it remained difficult to predict what might happen.

“All I can say with any certainty is there continues to be the potential for localized flooding,” Dugan said.

Source: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/russian-river-backed-up-at-coastal-mouth-threatens-flooding-in-jenner/

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

Montage Healdsburg resort developer fined record $6.4 million for water violations

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

State water quality regulators have fined the developer of Montage Healdsburg, the ultra-luxury resort set to open Saturday, more than $6.4 million for environmental violations tied to hotel construction during the stormy winter months of late 2018 and early 2019.

The fine — the largest environmental penalty of its kind on the North Coast — was approved Friday by the Santa Rosa-based North Coast Water Quality Control Board following a nearly eight-hour virtual hearing.

The board’s 5-0 vote affirmed a fine recommended by agency prosecutors as part of a two-year enforcement action against Sonoma Luxury Resort, a subsidiary of Encinitas-based developer the Robert Green Co.

“Today, the prosecution team proved that there were widespread, persistent stormwater violations at the discharger’s construction project,” Dan Kippen, prosecuting attorney for the State Water Resources Control Board, told the regional body Friday. “Ordering the discharger to pay the proposed liability will send a message not only to this discharger that its conduct was unacceptable and must be avoided for its future projects, but will also send a message to all future developers that they flout the (construction general permit) and other water laws at their own peril.”

The 38 violations put forward by regulators included woefully and repeatedly inadequate erosion control measures documented over several months by water quality investigators at the 258-acre resort property at Healdsburg’s northeastern edge, last estimated to cost $310 million. Prosecutors said nearly 9.4 million gallons of prohibited runoff and sediment-filled stormwater escaped the heavily sloped construction site and into streams of the Russian River watershed, leading to two forced work stoppages. The affected tributaries included Foss Creek, a steelhead trout stream.

“I can stand here before all of you right now and tell you in my 20 years, I’ve yet to see a site this nasty,” Jeremiah Puget, senior environmental scientist with the regional board, said Friday. “If you take this case in its entirety, we believe that we went above and beyond our role — as did the city of Healdsburg — in trying to return this site into compliance.”
Continue reading “Montage Healdsburg resort developer fined record $6.4 million for water violations”

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Apocalypse cow: The future of life at Point Reyes National Park

Peter Byrne, THE BOHEMIAN

The North Bay community is divided by conflicted views on whether commercial dairy and cattle ranching should continue at Point Reyes National Seashore. This reporter has hiked the varied terrains of the 71,000-acre park for decades. Initially, I had no opinion on the ranching issue. Then, I studied historical and eco-biologic books and science journals. I read government records, including the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on Point Reyes released by the National Park Service in September. The 250-page report concludes that the ranching industry covering one third of the park should be expanded and protected for economic and cultural reasons. This, despite acknowledging that the park ranches are sources of climate-heating greenhouse gases, water pollution, species extinctions and soil degradation.

The Bohemian/Pacific Sun investigation reveals that the EIS is deeply flawed scientifically, culturally and ethically. It is politicized.

Sixty million years ago a chunk of granite located near Los Angeles began moving northwards. Propelled by the energy of earthquakes over eons, Point Reyes slid hundreds of miles along the San Andreas fault at the divide between two colliding tectonic plates.

During the last Ice Age, 30,000 years ago, much of the Earth’s waters were locked up in glaciers, and the Pacific Ocean was 400 feet lower than it is today. “The Farallon Islands were then rugged hills rising above a broad, gently sloping plain with a rocky coastline lying to the west,” according to California Prehistory—Colonization, Culture, and Complexity.

Humans migrated from Asia walking the coastal plains toward Tierra del Fuego. Then, 12,000 years ago, the climate warmed and glaciers melted. Seas rose, submerging the plains. A wave of immigrants flowed south from Asia over thawed land bridges. Their subsequent generations explored and civilized the Americas, coalescing into nations, including in West Marin and Point Reyes.

Novelist and scholar Greg Sarris is the tribal chair of the Federated Indians of the Graton Rancheria. The tribe’s ancestors are known as Southern Poma and Coast Miwok. In The Once and Future Forest, Sarris tells the story of how the first people came to be in Marin and Sonoma counties. “Coyote created the world from the top of Sonoma Mountain with the assistance of his nephew, Chicken Hawk. At that time, all of the animals and birds and plants and trees were people. … The landscape was our sacred text and we listened to what it told us. Everywhere you looked there were stories. … Everything, even a mere pebble, was thought to have power … Cutting down a tree was a violent act. … An elder prophesied that one day white people would come to us to ‘learn our ways in order to save the earth and all living things. … You young people must not forget the things us old ones is telling you.’”

Read more at: https://bohemian.com/apocalypse-cow-the-future-of-life-at-point-reyes-national-park/

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Sonoma County supervisors eye changes to rules governing vineyard development

Tyler Silvy, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL

Changes sought by grape growers to Sonoma County’s ordinance governing vineyard development are set to come before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, with proposed revisions that county leaders say will streamline permitting and encourage more environmentally friendly farming practices.

The changes are meant to update the county’s Vineyard Erosion and Sediment Control Ordinance, established in 2000. The rules have long been a source of friction between the county’s dominant industry and environmental interests.

But the changes before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, supporters say, are a common-sense approach to adapting land use that will be better for the environment.

“In my mind, not only does this not weaken (the ordinance), but this increases it,” said Supervsior James Gore. “I want to see landowners and producers changing practices to less-intensive systems. And if we can streamline this process, and reduce the costs of permitting to do that, that is the ultimate win-win.”

The revisions call for greater leeway and eased rules for growers who are seeking to replant vineyards, including incentives for those who use less invasive methods. The changes also would adjust permitting costs and timelines.

The changes came about through a series of meetings over the past two years between grape growers and Supervisors Gore and Lynda Hopkins, who together represent the Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Westside Road and the Alexander Valley.

The original ordinance stemmed from a public push to prevent damaging erosion, tree removal and water pollution problems linked to vineyard operations, which now cover more than 60,000 acres in Sonoma County. In one case, a major landslide in 1998 caused Dry Creek to run red with sediment-laden runoff. The rules have been revised at least three times since the initial ordinance.

The latest proposal emerged from discontent within the wine industry about the work of an an outside contractor the county uses to oversee the vineyard erosion rules.
Continue reading “Sonoma County supervisors eye changes to rules governing vineyard development”

Posted on Categories Forests, Local Organizations, WaterTags , , , ,

West County environmentalists recognized

Camille Escovedo, SONOMA WEST TIMES & NEWS

Sonoma County Conservation Council’s “Environmentalist of the Year” award to Rick Coates, Chris Poehlmann and Maya Khosla

The Sonoma County Conservation Council bestowed this year’s Ernestine I. Smith “Environmentalist of the Year” award upon three local luminaries of the environmental justice movement at its holiday networking and environmental awards ceremony Friday, co-hosted with the Sonoma Group of the Sierra Club.

The council named Maya Khosla, Rick Coates and Chris Poehlmann as its three “forest champions.” Khosla is a wildlife biologist, filmmaker and poet laureate of Sonoma County whose recent Legacy Project sought to address the 2017 Tubbs Fire and regeneration with poetry in open spaces, as stated by her website. Meanwhile, the careers of Coates and Poehlmann draw them deep into the West County forests and often the courtroom, maneuvering the legal system to prevent logging projects that jeopardize regional watersheds and forests.

“Not all grassroots organizers are really good at the technical bureaucracy of multi-page permits, understanding the fine details, but these two men have been really, really good at both of those, and try to do as much as possible within the regulatory framework,” according to Wendy Krupnick, council secretary and a member of the annual event’s organizing committee. “But occasionally, when that does not work, the only avenue left is a lawsuit.”

She said the Sonoma County Conservation Council (SCCC) receives nominations from the broader environmental justice community for review by a subcommittee of primarily members of the SCCC’s board of directors. The awardees receive a certification from the California state legislature honoring their contributions to environmental advocacy, Krupnick said.
Continue reading “West County environmentalists recognized”