Posted on Categories Land Use, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , , ,

Sonoma County vintner, business face $3.75 million fine for alleged environmental damage

Emily Wilder, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

State regulators are seeking to impose a $3.75 million fine on a Sonoma County wine executive and his business for allegedly causing significant damage to streams and wetlands while constructing a vineyard in 2018 near Cloverdale.

The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board has accused Hugh Reimers, an Australian vintner, and his company Krasilsa Pacific Farms LLC of improperly clearing trees, grading land and disposing of construction and earthen waste materials in a way that was detrimental to wetland waters and wildlife, according to a May 9 complaint by the North Coast Water Board’s enforcement staff.

A 2019 investigation by the water board of the 2,278-acre property, which Krasilsa Pacific purchased in September 2017, found the company violated the California Water Code and the federal Clean Water Act by removing oak woodlands and discharging sediment into Russian River tributaries.

The actions harmed streams that fed into the Little Sulphur, Big Sulphur and Crocker creeks, according to the complaint.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/sonoma-county-vintner-business-face-3-75-million-fine-for-alleged-environ/

Posted on Categories TransportationTags , ,

Op-Ed: California needs to put its money where its mouth is on public transportation

Jeff Morales, CALMATTERS

Decades of federal and state transportation policy and funding have focused primarily on the automobile — and the roads and highways needed for us to get around in them. While this focus produced many benefits, it also ignored or created significant problems, such as greenhouse gas emissions, a key driver of climate change. Today, half of all greenhouse gas emissions in California come from transportation.

Agencies and processes have been built to support this focus. Caltrans and regional transportation agencies receive federal and state funds not only to build and maintain, but also to develop highway and road improvements — doing the planning, public engagement, preliminary design, environmental and other work needed to get projects ready. It can take years for major projects to make it through the approvals required before construction can start. Significant resources are dedicated to this annually, and there are statewide structures in place to carry it out. It is necessary work in order to have a pipeline of projects ready to be implemented when funding becomes available.

No parallel system is in place for public transit and rail projects, however.

Much of this structural disconnect flows down from decades of federal policy and funding constraints. For the most part, public transit and rail improvements are a series of one-off projects, with local agencies on the hook to develop and advance them. Unless the governor and Legislature address this, California’s ambitious climate-related goals for increased public transit and rail will not be realized. If the state wants to change the outcomes, then it is vital that it change the processes and funding that produce the outcomes.

Read more at https://calmatters.org/commentary/2022/05/california-needs-to-put-its-money-where-its-mouth-is-on-public-transportation/

Posted on Categories WaterTags , , ,

More severe droughts are looming. Could Santa Rosa’s pioneering water recycling program help stave off disaster?

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Homes and businesses across central Sonoma County generated more than 5 billion gallons of wastewater last year, enough to fill more than 7,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools. That sewage flowed into Santa Rosa’s regional treatment plant south of Sebastopol, where it was cleaned up and nearly all of it put to a second use.

About 4 billion gallons of recycled water was pumped north from the Llano Road treatment plant in a 41-mile pipeline and up a steep slope into The Geysers geothermal fields southeast of Cloverdale. There it was injected into the ground to generate enough clean, renewable energy for about 100,000 North Bay households.

The system also sent 788 million gallons of recycled water to 61 farms covering 6,400 acres that produce milk, hay, grapes and vegetables, along with 386 million gallons for urban irrigation in Rohnert Park and Santa Rosa, the two largest cities in the wastewater system.

Every drop of the recycled irrigation water — safe for everything short of human consumption and sanitized to a degree that eliminates the COVID virus — replaces a drop of potable water from sources sure to be strained as California moves into its third year of worrisome drought.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/more-severe-droughts-are-looming-could-santa-rosas-pioneering-water-recyc/

Posted on Categories Climate Change & EnergyTags , , , ,

Op Ed: California can do better than carbon neutrality by 2045

Daniel Kammen, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Ten years ago, many Californians could not have imagined the climate nightmare we are living today — dark orange skies during wildfire season, heat waves in the dead of winter, mandatory water restrictions amid crippling drought.

Without urgent action, we may well look back on this moment as the calm before the storm. Over the course of the next decade, California’s biggest climate challenges — hotter summers, a shorter rainy season and more destructive wildfires — could double in intensity.

It’s against this backdrop that the California Air Resources Board last week released a draft of our state’s scoping plan, a blueprint for combating climate change that will guide California’s policy for years. Despite the stakes for Californians, and although my research indicates the state could actually become carbon negative by 2030, the draft proposal would delay reaching carbon neutral until 2045. The barriers to a target of 2030 are political, not technical.

The draft plan calls for investment in new fossil fuel electricity resources, and it relies on unproven and costly carbon capture technologies that would lock in fossil fuel pollution. Adopting this approach would be lazy, nonsensical and racially unjust. During the current 45-day period for public review of the plan, California has the chance to choose a smarter path.

Renewable energy, even when coupled with energy storage, is cheaper than fossil fuels. California’s own state laws say that renewable energy must be prioritized before building out expensive and polluting gas power plants. Instead, California must set ambitious targets that immediately cut pollution through no-regrets strategies.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/opinion/kammen-california-can-do-better-than-carbon-neutrality-by-2045/

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

Federal rail board wants to hear out mysterious coal train proposal, jeopardizing Great Redwood Trail project

Andrew Graham, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The federal body that oversees the nation’s railroad rights of way indicated this week that it will consider the proposal from a mysterious Wyoming company to reconstruct defunct rail lines and ship coal out of Humboldt Bay to Asia.

The coal export proposal, widely regarded as unrealistic, is facing staunch opposition from local and state lawmakers, the tight margins of a declining coal industry and would need up to $2 billion to restore abandoned sections of track in Mendocino and Humboldt counties, according to previous state estimates.

But the decision by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board could complicate another North Coast venture: the proposed Great Redwood Trail, a 320-mile bicycle and pedestrian recreation route along former railways stretching from Eureka to San Francisco Bay.

The trail project, championed by state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, and many other elected officials, conservationists and economic development officials, made significant strides in March with the creation of a state agency to spearhead the effort.

The coal shipping proposal surfaced in August 2021, when a newly-formed, Wyoming-based entity called the North Coast Railroad Co. filed documents with the federal rail board suggesting it could raise the funds to restore abandoned rail segments.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/federal-rail-board-wants-to-hear-out-mysterious-coal-train-proposal-jeopar/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food SystemTags , , ,

Planning commission works on new rules for Sonoma County winery events

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Sonoma County Planning Commission on Thursday made some progress to finish new rules to regulate winery events that have triggered disputes between neighborhood activists and the wine industry over past years.

The panel revisited the draft that it initially considered last June, and again in February, in its quest to find a balance between rural neighbors who have complained about traffic and noise among wine tourists, against the local industry that contends the need for visitors.

But after five hours of debate, commissioners said they realized they had more work to do and would reconvene June 7 in attempt to finish the proposal. The Board of Supervisors is slated to take up the proposal on Sept. 27.

The rules would apply to only new and modified event applications. There are more than 460 winery permits in Sonoma County and roughly 60% have visitor components, such as tasting rooms, according to county staff.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/business/planning-commission-works-on-new-rules-for-sonoma-county-winery-events/

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

Utilities need to do more to improve power grid, reduce wildfires, state audit finds

Kimberley Morales, THE MERCURY NEWS

A 91-page report by the state auditor says California utility regulators need to do more to ensure utility companies reduce the risk of wildfires.

According to the March audit, utilities led to two of the largest wildfires in the state from 1932-2021 including the Dixie Fire, caused by a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. line, which burned 963,000 acres and sits as California’s second-largest wildfire, and the Thomas Fire, which the report said was caused by Southern California Edison and burned 282,000 acres. The audit later adds that the cost of fighting fires has nearly doubled when comparing the 2016-2017 season to the 2020-2021 season from $1.9 billion to an estimated $3.5 billion.

The audit included that the state Office of Energy and Infrastructure Safety has failed to hold its standard for granting safety certifications to utilities such as PG&E despite serious deficiencies in mitigation plans.

“The office approved plans despite some utilities’ failure to demonstrate that they are appropriately prioritizing their mitigation activities, and subsequent reviews have found that some utilities failed to focus their efforts in high fire-threat areas,” wrote Michael Tilden, acting California state auditor in the public letter to the California Legislature.

Read more at https://www.mercurynews.com/2022/05/15/pge-is-not-doing-enough-to-reduce-wildfires-state-audit-finds/?

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

Endangered coho salmon battered by 3rd year of drought. Here’s why it matters

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Russian River’s once celebrated salmon populations have long been imperiled by logging, development, gravel mining and other human activities that have eliminated flood plains, channelized river and stream flows, and limited the woody debris and shade that keeps the water cool enough for young fish to survive.

More intense and frequent droughts have further eroded conditions, not just for the coho, but for steelhead and chinook salmon, both listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.

They were once abundant in the cold, clear water of North Bay creeks and streams. Now, the survival of coho salmon is being challenged like never before.

The coho has a three-year life cycle that takes it from stream to ocean and back to stream to spawn the next generation.

But the changing climate now threatens the species at every life stage, raising new questions about their recovery.

It’s not just a species at stake. At risk is the very resilience of the forest and watershed that evolved around them, fed by marine nutrients brought upstream and deposited inland by adult spawners that, after reproducing, die and decompose.

“Salmon are a keystone species, which means they perform a really important ecosystem service,” said Sarah Nossaman Pierce, a California Sea Grant fisheries biologist with the Russian River Monitoring Program. “Salmon and steelhead (trout) bring marine-based nutrients into the system and essentially feed the forest, plants, birds and wildlife.”

The challenge, she said, is “ecosystem resilience”

“People say, ‘Why do you care about the salmon?’ Unfortunately, if they can’t survive, human beings aren’t far behind,” she said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/endangered-coho-salmon-battered-by-3rd-year-of-drought-heres-why-it-matte/

Posted on Categories Climate Change & EnergyTags , , ,

Biden administration announces new funding to make homes energy-efficient

Anna Phillips, WASHINGTON POST

A decades-old home weatherization program has become central to the administration’s plans to cut Americans’ power bills and lower fossil fuel emissions

Amid surging inflation and energy price spikes, the Biden administration on Wednesday announced plans to spend roughly $3.2 billion to retrofit hundreds of thousands of homes in low-income communities with the aim of slashing Americans’ energy bills and greenhouse gas emissions.

The new funding from the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill President Biden signed into law last year provides a massive boost to a federal home weatherization program that began during the 1970s oil crisis as a way to cut people’s heating bills. It allots funding to modernize eligible homes with cost-effective upgrades, adding insulation to attics, swapping older refrigerators and other appliances for new, more efficient models, and replacing leaky windows and doors.

Biden officials said the infusion of funding — a tenfold increase compared to the program’s current budget — means it will be able to serve 450,000 households total. It currently retrofits about 38,000 homes a year.

Read more at https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-solutions/2022/03/30/biden-energy-efficiency-homes-climate/

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

Op-Ed: Expand and restore Bay wetlands to fight climate change

Carin High and Arthur Feinstein, THE MERCURY NEWS

Report must spur us to look at actions we can take to reduce emissions and prepare our communities to adapt

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from the world’s scientific community leaves no doubt that we must take urgent action on climate change while we still have a chance to prevent the most destructive impacts to the globe’s communities and ecosystems. This report must spur every one of us to look at actions we can take in our region to rapidly reduce emissions and prepare our communities to adapt.

More than issuing a wake-up call, this report offers concrete actions that we can take and emphasizes the valuable role of nature-based solutions that reduce climate change risks, while providing numerous benefits to both our communities and the planet.

One of the most effective nature-based solutions is the expansion and restoration of coastal wetlands. Wetlands not only provide valuable habitat for fish and birds, acting as the base of the marine ecosystem, but wetlands have also been shown to be one of nature’s most efficient plant communities for capturing carbon from the atmosphere, trapping organic carbon quicker and better than forests, thus reducing carbon in the atmosphere.

Coastal wetlands also help to buffer our communities from sea level rise, acting as a sponge to capture flood waters before they reach our homes and businesses. In short, wetlands, if protected, expanded and restored, are one of the most valuable ecosystem tools for reducing the impact of climate change.

Read more at https://www.mercurynews.com/2022/04/30/opinion-expand-and-restore-bay-wetlands-to-fight-climate-change/