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Sonoma County: Dry year water supply update

SONOMA WATER E-NEWS – April 2021 Special Edition

Water Supply Reservoirs Reach Historic Lows

The Russian River basin is experiencing a second consecutive year of severely below-average rainfall. As a result, water supply levels at Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma are at historic lows. While state officials have yet to officially declare a drought, hydrologic conditions are more severe than the drought years of 2013 through 2014.

Last week the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) issued early warning notices to approximately 40,000 water rights holders statewide, urging them to plan for potential shortages by reducing water use and adopting practical conservation measures. These notices indicate the seriousness of the situation for water users throughout the Russian River watershed. We anticipate voluntary water conservation measures to be adopted by our Water Contractors and the potential for mandatory measures as well.

Sonoma Water is very concerned about water levels in Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma. Lake Mendocino is at 46% of the target supply curve and Lake Sonoma is at 63% of water supply capacity. Both reservoirs are at the lowest storage level for this time of year since they filled. Hydrologic modelling by Sonoma Water engineering staff indicates that without timely measures to reduce diversions from the Russian River, Lake Mendocino could reach levels too low to support releases for water supply and fish migration by fall of 2021.

What We Are Doing
Since the summer of 2020, Sonoma Water has been working closely with staff at the SWRCB to develop a plan to manage reservoir releases, minimum instream flows and diversions by Russian River water users to prevent both Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma from reaching severely low storage levels. Currently, Lake Mendocino is being operated in accordance with a second consecutive Temporary Urgency Change Order issued to Sonoma Water by the SWRCB that reduces minimum in-stream flows in the upper Russian River (above confluence of Dry Creek) to preserve water supply storage in Lake Mendocino. An option under consideration is the filing of a new Temporary Urgency Change (TUC) Petition. This would replace the current TUC Order that expires July 28, 2021 and could include reduced minimum in-stream flows in the lower river (below Dry Creek) and a proposal for Sonoma Water to voluntarily reduce diversions from the Russian River.
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Sonoma County startup Solectrac builds electric tractors for vineyard managers, hobbyists

Susan Wood, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL

Steve Heckeroth is a natural for running a novel electric tractor business — which is believed to have environmentally created a line in the “soil” to get generations of farmers to know the dirt on noisy, unhealthy diesel engines.

The 72-year-old businessman, who moved his Solectrac operation from Mendocino County to Santa Rosa near the Charles M. Schulz–Sonoma County Airport a few weeks ago, has dedicated his life to finding alternatives to burning fossil fuels.

Through the years, he has dug deep into his imagination and will to reduce humankind’s carbon footprint by coming up with farm equipment that’s designed to heal the Earth and help the land’s stewards — known in industry circles as the ultimate environmentalists — operate more efficiently and with their own health in mind.

Read more at: https://www.northbaybusinessjournal.com/article/industrynews/sonoma-county-startup-solectrac-builds-electric-tractors-for-vineyard-manag/?ref=moststory

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Gualala River logging project clears hurdle in state court as federal case ramps up

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A legal battle over plans to log in the lower Gualala River flood plain is heading into a fifth year, despite a recent victory in state appeals court by Gualala Redwood Timber and Cal Fire which first approved the project back in 2016.

The fight over the 342-acre timber project in the northwest corner of Sonoma County adjacent Gualala Point Regional Park is now shifting to a new case gearing up in federal court.

But the bottom line is still the same. Gualala Redwood Timber and its owner, Roger Burch of Healdsburg, want to cut timber from the watershed to feed local sawmills that Burch also owns.

Friends of the Gualala River, a 30-year-old grassroots nonprofit organization supported by like-minded groups around the region, is seeking to block the harvest, which is targeting stands of second-growth forest including some century-old redwoods.

At issue is what’s described in the group’s federal suit as “one of California’s last remaining mature riparian redwood forest.”

Charles Ivor, president of Friends of the Gualala River characterized the forest as having evolved over thousands of years to provide a rich and balanced ecosystem only to be nearly wiped out by the log production that helped build San Francisco and much of the North Coast.

Gualala Redwood Timber agents have consistently maintained their plan adheres to state forest practice rules and restrictions developed specifically to protect imperiled steelhead trout and salmon runs in the Gualala River.

Read more at: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/gualala-river-logging-project-clears-hurdle-in-state-court-as-federal-case/?

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

The ‘green energy’ that might be ruining the planet

Michael Grunwald, POLITICO

Here’s a multibillion-dollar question that could help determine the fate of the global climate: If a tree falls in a forest—and then it’s driven to a mill, where it’s chopped and chipped and compressed into wood pellets, which are then driven to a port and shipped across the ocean to be burned for electricity in European power plants—does it warm the planet?

Most scientists and environmentalists say yes: By definition, clear-cutting trees and combusting their carbon emits greenhouse gases that heat up the earth. But policymakers in the U.S. Congress and governments around the world have declared that no, burning wood for power isn’t a climate threat—it’s actually a green climate solution. In Europe, “biomass power,” as it’s technically called, is now counted and subsidized as zero-emissions renewable energy. As a result, European utilities now import tons of wood from U.S. forests every year—and Europe’s supposedly eco-friendly economy now generates more energy from burning wood than from wind and solar combined.

Biomass power is a fast-growing $50 billion global industry, and it’s not clear whether the climate-conscious administration of President Joe Biden will try to accelerate it, discourage it or ignore it. It’s usually obvious which energy sources will reduce carbon emissions, even when the politics and economics are tricky; everyone agrees that solar and wind are cleaner than coal. But when it comes to power from ground-up trees, there’s still a raging substantive debate about whether it’s a forest-friendly, carbon-neutral alternative to fossil fuels, or an environmental disaster. Even within the Biden administration, senior officials have taken different sides of that debate.

Biden’s answer will be extremely important, because as odd as it sounds during a clean-tech revolution driven by modern innovations like advanced batteries and smart grids, there’s been a resurgence in the old-fashioned technique of burning wood to produce energy. The idea that setting trees on fire could be carbon-neutral sounds even odder to experts who know that biomass emits more carbon than coal at the smokestack, plus the carbon released by logging, processing logs into vitamin-sized pellets and transporting them overseas. And solar panels can produce 100 times as much power per acre as biomass.

Read more at https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2021/03/26/biomass-carbon-climate-politics-477620?ct=t(RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN)

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Do we actually need more gas stations?

Bill McKibben, THE NEW YORKER, The Climate Crisis Newsletter

If we’re really going to change, sooner or later we’ll have to actually make a change

The latest front in the fight against fossil fuels—so far, one confined to a couple of California towns—concerns what might be the most iconic element of the American commercial landscape: the gas station. Beginning in 2019, activists from the Coalition Opposing New Gas Stations have questioned whether there’s a need for big new versions of the filling station, or whether—since both California and G.M. have announced plans to end the sale of new internal-combustion vehicles in fourteen years—it might be time to decide that we have enough pumps already. Last year, they helped persuade developers to withdraw plans for two gas stations in unincorporated parts of Sonoma County, and earlier this month they helped convince the city of Petaluma to become the first in the country to ban new stations; they’ve so far lost a battle against a “mega station” that would accommodate up to twenty-eight vehicles at a time in the city of Novato, but they vow to keep fighting.

It will be a tough battle in Novato, because the opponent is not some mom-and-pop garage but Costco, the vast—and vastly successful—warehouse-store chain. Costco’s model is enormous volume allowing cheap prices. The company’s public image is sterling, because it offers employees fair wages and generous benefits (one looks forward to the day when this will not stand out enough to be a boast), but its practices are beginning to come under scrutiny: Nicholas Kristof describes in the Times precisely what practices are behind the production of a $4.99 rotisserie chicken.

Read more at https://link.newyorker.com/view/5be9d06e3f92a40469e05fc8dvqy7.cjl/1a3118b7

Posted on Categories Forests, Land UseTags , , ,

Op-Ed: It’s about time California put the brakes on new housing developments in high-fire risk areas

Editorial Board, LOS ANGELES TIMES

One of the best ways to prevent wildfire destruction and death is to stop building houses in the likely path of the flames. Yet cities and counties across the state keep doing exactly that — approving sprawling new housing developments next to wildlands and marching property and people deeper into high-fire risk areas.

We know this development pattern is dangerous. Half of the buildings destroyed by wildfire in California over the last 30 years have been in developments on the urban fringe, next to wildlands (a type of geography that planners call the “wildland-urban interface”). For years, state leaders have wrung their hands over this contradiction, but demurred from taking action because local governments have control over land-use decisions.

Now, finally, someone in power has gotten off the sidelines. Among his final acts as state attorney general before becoming secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Xavier Becerra has gone to court to try to block housing developments approved in high-fire risk areas.

In February, Becerra joined a lawsuit challenging the Guenoc Valley Project, which would put 1,400 houses, hotels, restaurants and shops on Lake County hills that have been burned by wildfires a dozen times, most recently last year. Before the project was approved, Becerra’s office had sent letters to Lake County officials warning that the project’s design would exacerbate wildfire risk and hinder evacuations during a fire.
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Every Sonoma County city has pledged action on climate change. What’s Next?

Will Carruthers, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

Rohnert Park became the last city in Sonoma County to formally pledge immediate action on climate change earlier this month, making the county the first in the nation where all jurisdictions pledged action to curtail the unfolding, worldwide crisis.

At its March 9 meeting, Rohnert Park’s City Council unanimously approved a “climate emergency resolution,” a document which acknowledges the ongoing and future damages of human-driven climate change and pledges the city to help implement a new framework recently passed by the Regional Climate Protection Agency (RCPA), a countywide agency tasked with confronting climate change.

On March 8, the RCPA board of directors approved a Sonoma Climate Mobilization Strategy which states the goal of making the county carbon-neutral by 2030. The RCPA’s new goal is more aggressive than the state’s current goal of reducing emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. The RCPA began work on the document in late 2019, after the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors passed an emergency resolution of its own.

Read more at https://bohemian.com/every-sonoma-county-city-has-pledged-action-on-climate-change-whats-next/

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Op-Ed: New priorities needed for California’s next drought

Darius Waiters and Brandon Dawson, CALMATTERS

As California faces another dry year, the state will have to decide whether to allow the violation of water quality standards in the Delta.

A series of key decisions await Gov. Gavin Newsom as the state heads back into a potential drought.

So this seems like the right moment to review what happened last time: Water was prioritized for big agriculture at the expense of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, endangered species and California communities. The State Water Board, in a review of the drought of 2014-15, found operations “not sustainable.”

We hope Newsom will prevent a repeat of that disaster by setting new priorities for a prolonged drought: Protecting the human right to water for drinking and sanitation, protecting public health for those who live adjacent to our rivers, and protecting endangered species.

Sadly, the operation plans for the State Water Project and federal Central Valley Project are starting to look like a repeat of 2014 and 2015. The projects plan to deliver 5 million acre-feet of water – 1 million from the SWP and 4 million from the CVP – from the Delta largely to corporate agribusinesses, regardless of the impacts to the Delta, people, fish and wildlife.

We are now hearing that the California Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation may petition the State Water Resources Control Board to waive water quality standards in the Delta again, as they did in 2014 and 2015.

Read more at https://calmatters.org/commentary/my-turn/2021/03/new-priorities-needed-for-californias-next-drought/

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, ForestsTags , ,

Priorities for Sonoma County’s vegetation management funds

Ted Lamm, Ethan Elkind, and Katie Segal, BERKELEY LAW

How would you spend $25 million to reduce wildfire risks? Sonoma County asked CLEE for guidance to answer this precise question. In 2017, the Sonoma Complex Fires burned hundreds of thousands of acres in the county, destroyed over 5,000 structures, and took two dozen lives. After reaching a legal settlement with Pacific Gas & Electric (whose equipment sparked the fires), Sonoma County allocated $25 million of the settlement funds to vegetation management–thinning and treatment of forests and vegetation–in order to reduce future fire risk and protect ecosystems and agriculture.

The County retained CLEE to gather expert input and prepare recommendations for how to allocate these funds most efficiently and effectively. Considering the long-term and recurring nature of vegetation management, the diversity of County landscapes and ecosystems, and the scale of the need relative to the amount of funds, a range of strategies will be required to leverage the funds into long-term investments and ensure sustainable practices. CLEE convened a group of statewide experts and a group of County stakeholders to identify spending priorities.

Our report outlines these priorities and offers specific strategies for the funds to achieve them, including:

      • Governance and coordination capacity to centralize county efforts, streamline permitting, gather data, and lead outreach initiatives, such as a new multi-agency working group with long-term dedicated staff.
      • Outreach and education capacity to spearhead communication with landowners, businesses, and residents on actions private individuals can take to reduce fire risk, including dollars specifically allocated for bilingual and equity-focused outreach.
      • Immediate vegetation management projects to increase resilience in high-risk zones in advance of the 2021 and 2022 fire seasons, with priority for shovel-ready projects, local organizations with track records of success, multi-benefit work, and other criteria.
      • Data, mapping, and planning efforts that expand on the County’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan and other key data-collection initiatives to inform smart decision-making throughout the county.
      • Long-term financial sustainability instruments to generate recurring funds for vegetation management, such as a countywide financing district, new parcel or sales tax, or resilience bond.
      • Workforce development initiatives, like local college training programs to support high-quality local jobs and grow expertise and capacity in Sonoma.

      Read the report and full list of priorities here.

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Op-Ed: New year resolution: a transparent Sonoma County Board of Supervisors

THE WINDSOR TIMES
Editor’s Note: The following was a letter sent to the Board of Supervisors by a coalition of citizens, associations and nonprofits in early January, and recently shared with us.

We are writing to you because we are gravely concerned that the Sonoma County Board of Supervisor (BoS) appears to be moving toward less transparency rather than inclusion.

To begin addressing the issue, we respectfully request:

1) The Board of Supervisors form a Transparency Committee to ensure ease of public access to county documents, information, departments and the internet. This is particularly needed in the times of the COVID-19 pandemic; the board give direction to staff that public access is not to be unduly limited due to the pandemic; the board make its processes transparent and public friendly, as is required by law.

2) That all agenda items and key issues coming before the Board be made available to all board members at the same time they are provided to the chair; that preliminary agenda topics be available and posted with accurate descriptions on the county website and, where requested, available via the U.S Postal Service.

3) That the Ad Hoc Committee work of the board be recognized and open to the public. Ad Hoc Committees should have an expiration date when established, and have their single purpose described. They cannot be perpetual committees under the Brown Act.

4) That the Local Coastal Plan update, planning ordinance updates, and any consideration of major changes in the processes of the county (e.g. changes in terms of the chair) be postponed until public meetings are allowed. There appears to be no urgency that would require a Zoom update, recognizing that public input is necessary to make informed public decisions.

Despite the pandemic, citizens deserve open, transparent government.

The Santa Rosa City Council in December voted to approve a transparent government proposal that has labored through subcommittee and council consideration for six years. The impetus was mass public demonstrations against the shooting of teenager Andy Lopez by a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy. The Council recognized that openness in government makes for a happier, more informed citizenry and better decision making.
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