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Marin’s coho salmon run off to ‘very busy’ start for season

Endangered coho salmon are riding waves of rain into Marin in numbers not seen in a decade.
Earlier this month, Marin Municipal Water District ecologists counted 140 coho and 37 new redds — egg nests — in Lagunitas Creek over the course of seven days, the highest one-week count since 2006.
And last week, the district counted 59 fish and 21 redds in Devil’s Gulch Creek and 55 coho and 20 nests in the upper half of San Geronimo Creek.
“It’s very busy, there are a lot of coho out there,” said Greg Andrew, fishery program manager for the water district. “It’s a very active time.”

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Flowing again, Russian River’s creeks open for spawning coho salmon

A three-day storm has pumped up drought-stricken creeks throughout the Russian River watershed, opening a watery door to the winter spawning run of imperiled coho salmon and serenading rural residents with the sound of rushing water.
All 22 coho spawning tributaries of the Russian River were open Monday, and eight adult coho had made it up Dry Creek to the fish hatchery at Warm Springs Dam, proof that the critical run was under way, said Eric Larson, environmental program manager for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife Bay-Delta Region.
Creeks that were cut off from the river, with a trickle of water at best between shallow pools, had fast-moving, chocolate-brown water on Monday after the storm dropped nearly 1.5 inches of rain on Santa Rosa over the weekend and rain kept falling Monday.
“We’re very excited,” Larson said, adding that scientists were also anxious to see how many coho will ultimately return to spawn in the creeks where they hatched three years ago.
This season’s run of the endangered species is critical because it is the first generation of coho born during California’s drought, which has threatened a broad effort, dating back to 2001, to bring coho salmon back from the verge of extinction.
Read more at: Flowing again, Russian River’s creeks open for spawning | The Press Democrat

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Water added to Camp Meeker's Dutch Bill Creek a 'lifesaver' for young fish

Thanks to a novel injection of cold, clear water from Camp Meeker’s water system, about 3,400 imperiled coho salmon and steelhead trout have a better chance of surviving in Dutch Bill Creek until rain sweeps them to safety in the Russian River.
Gurgling as it splashed down a narrow, rock-lined channel under towering redwoods, the gift of water to a shrinking creek was hailed last week by a group of officials from state and local agencies committed to saving the fish from the grip of California’s historic drought.
“This is incredibly exciting for me,” said David Hines of the National Marine Fisheries Service, calling the flow “literally a lifesaver” for the juvenile coho and steelhead trapped in pools along the creek that winds along Bohemian Highway to a confluence with the river at Monte Rio.
The water, delivered nonstop from a nearby Camp Meeker Recreation and Park District storage tank at 44 gallons a minute, amounts to just one-tenth of a cubic foot per second — minuscule compared with the current release of 110 cfs from Lake Sonoma’s Warm Springs Dam into the river near Healdsburg.
But it has more than doubled the volume of water in the creek, one of four primary coho-rearing waterways in Sonoma County, affording the fish a “minimum subsistence” flow for the rest of the summer, Hines said.

Read more at: Water added to Camp Meeker’s Dutch Bill Creek | The Press Democrat

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Landowners along four Russian River streams to receive state order on water use


The informational order applies to all properties, including vineyards and wineries.

Thousands of rural Sonoma County landowners will receive orders, starting this week, to provide state water regulators with details of their use of surface and well water, the latest step in an emergency effort to protect coho salmon and steelhead trout in four watersheds draining into the Russian River.
Letters from the State Water Resources Control Board will be sent to landowners in the Dutch Bill Creek watershed in west county later this week, followed by notices to landowners in the Green Valley, Mark West and Mill Creek watersheds by Sept. 4, board officials said.
At the same time, local landowners, including grape growers, announced Monday voluntary efforts to curtail water use or release more water into the four creeks.
The mandatory reporting will require landowners to submit information — including the location of their water sources and amount of water used monthly — within 30 days or face potential penalties of up to $500 a day, the water board said.
The information is needed to estimate the total demand on the four waterways and determine if additional actions are needed to protect fish imperiled by the state’s prolonged drought, said Erin Ragazzi, environmental program manager for the water board. Mandatory curtailments on water use could be imposed to safeguard juvenile fish that must survive in dwindling pools until the rainy season, officials said.
Stream flows in the four watersheds continue to decline and without more water many, and perhaps all, of the fish will likely perish, Kirsten Macintyre, a California Department of Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman, said Monday.
“We’re on the verge of losing an entire year of salmon,” said Gary Helfrich, a Camp Meeker Recreation and Park District board member.
Starting later this week, the district, which delivers drinking water to 350 Camp Meeker homes, plans to begin pumping 2,700 gallons an hour into Dutch Bill Creek, where small pools of water holding fish are growing smaller and warmer every day. Over the next three months, that water — which exceeds the district’s needs for residents — could add about 6 million gallons to the creek, he said.
Read more at: Landowners along four Russian River streams to receive | The Press Democrat

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Rules to protect Russian River salmon opposed by Farm Bureau


“If we’re not addressing agriculture, do we really think we can keep water in the streams?” asked Don McEnhill, executive director of Russian Riverkeeper, a conservation group founded in 1993.

Sweeping state action to protect imperiled salmon in dwindling local streams and limit water use by thousands of rural Sonoma County landowners has come under fire from two sides, including farmers who say the move is heavy handed and from a river advocate who says the proposed rules should not exempt farms.
The emergency regulation, scheduled for consideration by state water regulators Wednesday in Sacramento, would apply to about 13,000 landowners in about 130-square miles of ground across four watersheds: Dutch Bill and Green Valley creeks in the west county, Mark West Creek north of Santa Rosa and Mill Creek west of Healdsburg.

If the measure is approved by regulators, residents and businesses, including wineries, would be prohibited from using water drawn from the creeks or nearby wells for sprinkling lawns or washing cars. Only gray water — from bathtubs, showers and washing machines — or captured rainwater could be used for such purposes.

The action would also require landowners to provide — on request by state officials — details of their use of stream and well water, a dramatic step in a state where unlimited pumping of groundwater has historically been deemed an inherent property right.

Farmers see that requirement as burdensome and of questionable value.

Read more at: Rules to protect Russian River salmon opposed by | The Press Democrat

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Proposed emergency regulation in four Russian River tributary watersheds

State Water Resources Control Board, MAVEN’S NOTEBOOK

Coho affected areas (Source: Cal. Dept of Fish & Wildlife)

The State Water Resources Control Board has posted a proposed emergency regulation to provide a minimum amount of water in four Russian River tributaries to protect Central California Coast coho salmon and steelhead. The emergency regulation would enhance water conservation efforts in the affected region to provide the minimum amount of water needed to protect the salmon and steelhead from low oxygen levels, high water temperatures and stranded pools in the wake of the continuing severe drought conditions.
The proposed regulations would affect about 13,000 properties in the 113 square miles encompassed by the watersheds of the four tributaries: Dutch Bill, Green Valley, Mark West and Mill creeks.
The proposed emergency regulation will be considered by the State Water Board on June 17 at its June 16-17 meeting, and must also receive approval of the state Office of Administrative Law. If approved, it would become effective on or about June 29.  The proposed regulation, the text of the letter to property owners and a fact sheet on the proposal can be found here. “
Source: This just in … Proposed Emergency Regulation in Four Russian River Tributary WatershedsMAVEN’S NOTEBOOK | MAVEN’S NOTEBOOK

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Forests, Land Use, WaterTags , , , , , , , , Leave a comment on Turning water into wine

Turning water into wine


The unregulated growth of California’s wine industry in the state’s coastal regions is depleting groundwater supplies and devastating rivers and fisheries.

Along the border of Sonoma and Napa counties, roughly seven miles northeast of Santa Rosa, hydrologist and forester Jim Doerksen took me to the southeastern end of his house, where he has scrawled annual rainfall totals on his laundry room wall for more than thirty years. It was an early-spring morning, and fog had draped the redwoods and Doug firs in a ghostly gray on the north-facing slope above Doerksen’s home.
In the 2005–06 rain year, Doerksen’s gauge recorded 98 inches of precipitation. Yet, the water level that year in Mark West Creek — a tributary of the Russian River, historically known for its thrashing, silvery surges of salmon and trout — had declined by more than half.
The realization that his beloved creek was drying up, even in a wet year, remains clearly etched in Doerksen’s mind a decade later. As a former staff hydrologist for Santa Clara County, Doerksen is also keenly aware of what happened. He explained that the depletion of an underground aquifer, which feeds the creek, caused it to run dry.
“A fractured-bedrock aquifer lies beneath this part of the Mayacamas Mountain range, dispensing water through pores … in the sub-surface rock,” he said. “When the groundwater level drops below these pores, the aquifer ceases to dispense — you end up with a dry creek.”
On the northwestern edge of Doerksen’s property, a sign strung to a tree describes this problem even more succinctly and identifies the culprit: “Vineyards SUCK! Water.”
Historically, much of California’s wine industry had been centered in the Central Valley. But by the latter part of the 20th century, the notion that the distinct character of a particular vineyard is expressed through the wines produced from it had become a popular notion among American wine drinkers. Grape growers responded by touting coastal ridgetop vineyards as boasting California’s best terroir. And so corduroy-like rows of grapes marched up hillsides in California’s northern and central coastal areas.
The growth of hillside vineyards was a free-for-all. “When it comes to agriculture, there’s no statewide regulation that prevents oak woodland and chaparral fragmentation and habitat loss,” explained Adina Merenlender, a UC Berkeley Cooperative Extension specialist in Environmental Science, Policy, and Management who has studied the conversion of woodlands to vineyards in Sonoma County. “It’s discouraging.”
In upper Mark West Creek, the conversion to vineyards started with the owner of a multimillion-dollar dentistry consulting business in Marin County — named Pride — that installed eighty acres of grapes on a ridgetop where oaks had previously stood. The next person to plant a ridgetop vineyard in the area was Fred Fisher, an heir to the General Motors fortune. The coup de grace occurred when Henry Cornell, an investment banker from Goldman Sachs in New York City, purchased 120 acres and clear-cut the forests on his property to make way for a vineyard and winery.
Read more at: Turning Water into Wine | East Bay Express

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Too many straws in the Russian River

On April 21st, officials with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the State Water Resources Control Board sent joint letters to property owners in four of the Russian River’s largest tributaries imploring them to conserve water on behalf of a federally-listed endangered species: Coho salmon. Its subject header was “Urgent Voluntary Drought Initiative Request to Maintain Stream Flow for Coho Salmon in Reaches of Green Valley, Dutch Bill, Mark West, and Mill Creeks, Tributaries to the Russian River, Sonoma County.”
When forester and hydrologist Jim Doerksen returned from vacation last week and read the letter, he was – as he terms it – “insulted.” Doerksen’s property features nearly a mile of Mark West Creek frontage. As Doerksen is intimately aware, having owned his property since 1967, the creek was once known for its thrashing, silvery surges of salmon and trout. But the first of the four horsemen of fisheries collapse – habitat degradation, dams, weakening of the genetic pool through the use of hatcheries, and over-fishing – have taken an enormous toll.
The cause of the habitat loss in Mark West Creek is summed up on a sign strung to a tree on the northwestern edge of Doerksen’s property, located along St. Helena Rd.: “Vineyards SUCK! Water.” “In the meetings I have had with you and [fellow Water Board staff member] Tom Howard, I have consistently emphasized that the State Water Board has always shirked its responsibility when it comes to protecting salmonids in Mark West Creek as required by the ‘Public Trust Doctrine’ and AB 2121,” Doerksen wrote in response, in a letter addressed to State Water Board Deputy Director of Water Rights Barbara Evoy. “In the Water Rights Complaint [RPL:262 (49-15-07)] filed by Grif Okie and myself, backed up by 5,000 pages of documentation, we emphasize that Mark West Creek was being dewatered directly due to actions taken by the State Water Resources Control Board and the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, and because of the total inaction of the Calif. Department of Fish and Wildlife.”
Some history is in order. In 1967, Jim Doerksen purchased 500 acres of ranch land on St. Helena Rd., about seven miles northeast of Santa Rosa, and meticulously removed fruit orchards, exotic annual grasses, and tangles of brush where old vineyards had been, replacing them with redwood trees and Doug-firs. The land had consisted of a redwood- and fir-dominant forest prior to the arrival of Euroamericans.
The land’s response has been nearly miraculous. By the early-2000s, visitors from the American Forestry Foundation informed Doerksen that more timber per acre was growing on his land than anywhere they know of in North America. And, as Doerksen fastidiously nursed the land back to health, the watershed’s abundance also increased.
Read much more at: Too Many Straws In the Russian | Anderson Valley Advertiser

Posted on Categories Land Use, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , , , Leave a comment on Close to Home: A plea to North Coast landowners to help coho salmon

Close to Home: A plea to North Coast landowners to help coho salmon

Thomas Howard & Charlton H. Bonham, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
From the moment they hatch, coho salmon fry rearing in the tributaries of Northern California watersheds such as the Russian River face an uphill battle for survival from predators, disease and lack of food in summer months before their migration to the Pacific Ocean.
This year, they face another devastating challenge — drought conditions. The drought is impacting businesses and people living in the Russian River watershed, too. It is impacting us all. But for the coho, there’s a way landowners and water rights holders can help.
In key tributaries of the Russian River such as Green Valley, Dutch Bill, Mill and Mark West creeks, surveys counting juvenile coho salmon in 2014 showed 97 percent fewer fish than in 2013. The loss was staggering. Few of the survivors made it to the ocean to feed, grow and eventually return, keeping nature’s chain of survival tentative but unbroken.
This year it’s critically important to help a new generation of fish survive. Juvenile coho rear in pools on these tributaries, and minimum flows are required to keep oxygen high, water temperatures cool and food production thriving in these streams. When flows get too low to keep pools connected, conditions deteriorate and the juveniles die.
This week, several hundred property owners and water right holders adjacent to these tributaries are receiving a joint letter from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the state Water Resources Control Board detailing how they can help with this challenge. May to December are critical months for these endangered salmon. We are urging property owners and water rights holders to work together in a voluntary effort to take just a minimal amount of water from these tributaries this year to give the coho a greater chance of survival than they experienced in 2014.
Through the governor’s leadership and executive orders, the Department of Fish and Wildlife created a voluntary drought initiative. Last year, we negotiated 22 voluntary agreements with landowners across the state. Fish and Wildlife signed these voluntary agreements and provided the willing partners regulatory coverage under the California Endangered Species Act for a specific time period.
We’ve already seen success when we have informally asked some Russian River water users to assist. In early April, we learned that some coho were trapped in a pool in Porter Creek that had become hydrologically disconnected and was in danger of drying up. E. & J. Gallo Winery agreed to release pulse flows into Porter Creek. Following that, tracking tags indicated that several hundred of those coho furthered their journey down the Russian River and toward the ocean.
We think that we can do this together with willing landowners across this watershed. There is a long-standing and strong commitment to stewardship of natural resources in the wine industry and in this region. We have taken the unusual step of publishing this public plea for help because we want to avoid a worse situation for all of us. In the absence of a sustainable voluntary commitment to not take water, the state water board may be required to act as it did in 2014 and this year with tributaries in the Sacramento River watershed and pass emergency regulations that compel curtailments by water right holders along these tributaries.
We remain hopeful these voluntary agreements will close the gap for this season and provide the juvenile salmon the necessary flow they need — and offer one less barrier to their survival for 2015. We appreciate the time and consideration of any landowners who take action and respond to our plea for help.
Thomas Howard is executive director of the state Water Resources Control Board. Charlton H. Bonham is director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
via Close to Home: A plea to North Coast | The Press Democrat.

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Shrinking Sonoma County streams put young coho salmon in peril

About 30,000 juvenile coho salmon may be doomed by the drought as Sonoma County streams shrink and become disconnected from the Russian River, trapping the young fish in pools that will dry up or degrade over the long, hot summer, experts say.
The parched conditions have appeared earlier this year than any other in the state’s current dry spell, and they could prove the deadliest in recent record to the imperiled coho, the focus of 14-year-old restoration effort costing millions of dollars.
“It’s grim. It’s going to be a rough year for the coho,” said Mariska Obedzinski, a fish biologist who coordinates the UC Cooperative Extension’s coho monitoring program. “They can’t get where they need to go.”
At the same time, another 50,000 coho juveniles, known as smolts, are due for release from the Don Clausen Fish Hatchery below Warm Springs Dam on Lake Sonoma and scientists are considering which streams will give the endangered fish the best chance of achieving their biological goal of reaching the Pacific Ocean this spring.
Two coho spawning streams — Porter and Pena creeks — are already cut off from the river. If no more rain falls, other tributaries, including Green Valley, Dutch Bill and Mill creeks, will likely go dry in spots, Obedzinski said.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is already planning rescue operations to save the smolts and younger fish in disconnected streams.
Read more via Shrinking Sonoma County streams put young coho salmon | The Press Democrat.