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Mark West Quarry faces hefty fine for polluting salmon habitat

Will Carruthers, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

A Sonoma County mining company faces a $4.5 million fine for allegedly allowing over 10 million gallons of tainted water to flow into a creek, damaging the habitat of endangered salmon.

In a September press release, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board announced that, at a Dec. 2 meeting, the agency’s board would consider approving a $4.5 million fine against the BoDean Company, Inc. for numerous alleged violations of the Clean Water Act at the company’s Mark West Quarry several years ago. The North Coast water board is one of nine similar boards around the state charged with enforcing a variety of environmental laws.

Water Board staff first identified the problem in December 2018, when they noticed “sediment-laden stormwater” in Porter Creek downstream from the 120-acre quarry, which is used for hard-rock mining and materials processing. Over the next five months, Water Board officials visited the quarry 15 times total, documenting numerous similar incidents. All told, Water Board prosecutors estimate that 10.5 million gallons of tainted water flowed from the mountainside quarry into Porter Creek, which feeds into the Russian River.

Water Board photographs show that the investigators repeatedly discovered cloudy waters, known as “turbid” in Water Board lingo, emanating from the BoDean quarry. The creek serves as habitat for endangered California steelhead trout and Coho salmon, and the sediments flowing from the quarry could put those creatures at risk.

Read more at https://bohemian.com/bodean-water-fine/

Posted on Categories WildlifeTags ,

Seemingly headed for extinction in 2020, Western Monarchs boom back in 2021

Daniel Roman, BAY NATURE

Since 1997, volunteers organized by the conservation group Xerces Society have counted western monarchs over Thanksgiving at the butterflies’ overwintering sites around coastal California, as part of the Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count. In 2020, the count hit an all-time low — less than 2,000 monarchs; a number, Bay Nature reported last year, that “represents an astonishing continuation of the near-total collapse of the western migratory population of the species over the last few decades.” Scientists then weren’t certain if any of the butterflies would come back at all. The preliminary reports out of this year’s count, however, suggest that they did, and in a big way.

“We’re well over 100,000 butterflies at this point,” said Emma Pelton, the Xerces Society’s senior endangered species conservation biologist and western monarch lead.

Data from over 200 monitoring sites show significantly greater numbers than last year. For example, more than 10,000 monarchs were counted at overwintering sites in Pacific Grove, Pismo Beach, and Big Sur. Last year, those three sites had less than 300 butterflies total. Similar trends are being reported from sites in Santa Cruz, Ventura, and Los Angeles. “We definitely haven’t seen an increase of this magnitude before,” Pelton said. The final numbers from the count overall are expected to be reported sometime in January.

Though this rebound gives cause for hope for the struggling monarch population, it does beg the question: How did it happen?

“That’s the question of the day,” Pelton said. “I would love to know.”

There’s a couple of different theories, with some studies to back them up. One hypothesis is that this year’s boom is due to an influx of monarchs from the eastern migratory population — which typically migrates between Mexico and the United States and Canada east of the Rocky Mountains — joining western monarchs, thereby adding to the population. Another theory, based on a recent study, suggests that monarchs are spending winters breeding in backyards in the East Bay instead of sheltering as they’ve traditionally done, probably due to warmer weather. Pelton, however, said she doesn’t find these theories very compelling — especially the latter one. “I’m not totally sure why we would think brief winter breeding in a different area of the coast would lead to that increase,” she said. “We see a lot of that sort of behavior in Southern California and we have for decades. It has not helped the population.”

Read more at https://baynature.org/2021/12/08/seemingly-headed-for-extinction-in-2020-western-monarchs-boom-back-in-2021/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, WaterTags , , ,

Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office files civil case against vintner Hugh Reimers for environmental damage

Bill Swindell, PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch has sued vintner Hugh Reimers and his business over environmental damage her office says was caused by improperly clearing land near Cloverdale to build a vineyard in late 2017.

The prosecutor cited two specific causes of action in the case that was first filed in July by Deputy District Attorney Caroline Fowler against Reimers and his business, Krasilsa Pacific Farms: water pollution and stream bed alteration; and unfair business competition.

The civil complaint was the result of an investigation that was led by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Board and the Sonoma County Department of Agriculture. The water board found in 2019 that Krasilsa Pacific violated the California Water Code and the federal Clean Water Act for clearing and grading 140 acres. The board concluded that the work on a section of the farm’s more than 2,000-acre property was done without applying or obtaining the necessary permits required by the county to operate a vineyard.

The water board is in settlement negotiations with Reimers and Krasilsa over a cleanup and abatement order it issued over specific water code violations, said spokesman Josh Curtis.

“If we cannot come to mutually acceptable terms, the regional water board will consider all its enforcement tools as options in resolving this matter to the benefit of our community and the people of California,” Curtis said in an email.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/business/sonoma-county-district-attorneys-office-files-civil-case-against-vintner-r/?ref=mosthome

Posted on Categories Climate Change & EnergyTags , , , , ,

Memo shows involvement of Utah agency and 2 tribes in North Coast coal export proposal

Andrew Graham, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A Utah state official and the leaders of two federally recognized tribal nations in March discussed shipping Rocky Mountain coal by rail along the Northern California coast and exporting it out of Humboldt Bay, according to a newly revealed document that sheds additional light on parties involved in the controversial proposal.

The internal memo from a Utah port agency, first published last week by the Salt Lake Tribune, indicates coal industry players in Montana and Utah were at least initially involved in the proposal.

Amid widespread public outrage over the prospect of coal trains chugging through Northern California cities and towns and alongside rivers that are key water sources for the region, both the Utah agency and the Humboldt Bay-based Wiyot Tribe have since distanced themselves from the proposal.

And local opposition to the project appears increasingly difficult for coal advocates to surmount. This week, officials with the Humboldt Bay Harbor District, which regulates port facilities in the bay, said that body’s elected board was likely to pass its own resolution opposing coal shipments.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/memo-shows-involvement-of-utah-agency-and-2-tribes-in-north-coast-coal-expo/?

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Bay Area high school rescues 4,000 endangered salmon from the drought – they’ll grow up on campus

Tara Duggan, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

During fifth period at Petaluma’s Casa Grande High School last week, students scooped tiny, wriggling fish out of a tank.

They weren’t dealing with classroom pets. Instead, the 17-year-olds were taking care of some the state’s last remaining coho salmon at a fish hatchery right on the school’s campus. Last month, wildlife officials moved around 4,000 endangered coho to the school’s cool, indoor tanks after conditions at a hatchery in nearby Lake Sonoma became unhealthy because of the drought. The high school will receive an additional 650 endangered coho trucked in from Santa Cruz in the coming weeks.

Casa Grande students usually raise steelhead trout native to the local watershed, donated by other hatcheries as a learning experience. But this unprecedented drought year is the first time the school has ever rescued a federally endangered species with nowhere else to go.

“We have this opportunity to save coho salmon, to see that we can do it, if people put their minds to it,” said Cathryn Carlson, 17, president of a nonprofit called United Anglers of Casa Grande, which runs the hatchery. Carlson, who goes by Kate, had just put on boots and waders before hopping into one tank’s chest-deep water to scrub its windows.

In some ways, the timing couldn’t be better for students starved for in-person instruction after being away from the classroom for almost 17 months.

Read more at https://www.sfchronicle.com/california/article/Bay-Area-high-school-rescues-4-000-endangered-16486539.php#photo-21508817

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North Coast Water Board proposes $4.5 million fine against quarry operator for alleged Clean Water Act violations

NORTH COAST WATER QUALITY BOARD

A Sonoma County quarry operator is facing a $4.5 million fine for multiple violations of the Clean Water Act that threaten the survival of endangered salmon populations in tributaries of the Russian River, according to a formal complaint signed last week by staff of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.

The proposed fine is part of a legal proceeding known as an administrative civil liability that alleges the quarry operator, Dean Soiland, doing business as BoDean Co. Inc., discharged highly turbid storm water from its quarry operations into Porter Creek from September 2018 through May 2019. These discharges violate requirements of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) General Permit for Storm Water Discharges Associated with Industrial Activities.

The complaint alleges that BoDean violated other requirements of the NPDES General Permit also by failing to implement best management practices that would have reduced or prevented sediment in stormwater discharges.

Mark West Quarry is a 120-acre aggregate rock quarry next to Porter Creek, a major tributary of Mark West Creek known for its pristine waters and excellent habitat for wildlife, including endangered California steelhead trout and Coho salmon. From December 2018 through May 2019, the quarry discharged more than 10.5 million gallons of highly turbid storm water causing significant amounts of fine sediment to deposit in Porter Creek.

Abnormally high levels of sediment in surface waters can smother aquatic animals and habitats; alter or obstruct flows, resulting in flooding; and reduce water clarity, which makes it difficult for organisms to breathe, find food and refuge, and reproduce.

“Storm water runoff from quarries and other industrial operations exposed to rainfall can cause substantial impacts to water quality unless practices are in place and maintained to prevent soil erosion and sediment transport,” said Claudia E. Villacorta, North Coast
Water Board assistant executive officer. “Had the quarry operator complied with the storm water permit, impacts to water quality could have been avoided. The proposed fine reflects the extent of those impacts and the operator’s failure to implement minimum practices established in the permit.”

Industrial facilities such as the Mark West Quarry are required to control their storm water discharges using the best available technology that is economically achievable or the best conventional pollutant control technology.

A public hearing to consider the complaint and vote on whether to approve the $4.5 million fine is scheduled for Dec. 2-3 before the North Coast Water Board.

A copy of the administrative complaint will be available for review on the North Coast Water Board’s website.

Source: https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/press_room/press_releases/2021/region-1-quarry-enforcement-(ACC).pdf

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New UC Davis study finds dams are ineffective for cold-water conservation for salmon and trout

Dan Bacher, DAILY KOS

For many years, federal, state and corporate proponents of building more dams in California have touted cold water river releases provided by increased water storage behind dams as a key tool in “saving” struggling salmon and steelhead populations.

Yet a just published study by the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, Dams Ineffective for Cold-Water Conservation – 8/25/21, has found that dams are ineffective for the cold water conservation that is needed to preserved imperiled salmon, steelhead and other fish species.

”Dams poorly mimic the temperature patterns California streams require to support the state’s native salmon and trout — more than three-quarters of which risk extinction,” according to the study published in the journal PLOS ONE by the University of California, Davis. “Bold actions are needed to reverse extinction trends and protect cold-water streams that are resilient to climate warming.”

The study helps identify where high-quality, cold-water habitat remains to help managers prioritize conservation efforts.

“It is no longer a good investment to put all our cold-water conservation eggs in a dam-regulated basket,” said lead author Ann Willis, a senior staff researcher at the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences and a fellow for the John Muir Institute of the Environment. “We need to consider places where the natural processes can occur again.”

Read more at https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2021/8/26/2048396/-New-UC-Davis-Study-Finds-Dams-Are-Ineffective-for-Cold-Water-Conservation-for-Salmon-and-Trout

Posted on Categories WildlifeTags , , , , ,

Thousands of endangered coho salmon moved from Lake Sonoma hatchery amid rising water temperatures

Guy Kovner, PRESS DEMOCRAT

As Lake Sonoma plummeted to record low levels this summer, the water has warmed enough to threaten the coho salmon raised in the state hatchery at the base of its 319-foot dam northwest of Healdsburg.

With signs of disease appearing in the juvenile coho, an endangered species in the Russian River, federal biologists took an unprecedented step in the local watershed: trucking about 2,000 fish nearly 50 miles south to a student-operated hatchery at Casa Grande High School in Petaluma.

“They’re welcome here,” Dan Hubacker, a science teacher and director of the school’s 38-year-old United Anglers program, said after the final load of 92 fish arrived Tuesday afternoon. “We’re here to help.”

The remarkable strategy comes during a severe statewide drought and escalating climate change that has crimped water supplies to North Bay farms and cities and caused rural wells to run dry.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/thousands-of-endangered-coho-salmon-moved-from-lake-sonoma-hatchery-amid-ri/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, WaterTags , , , , , , , ,

State cuts off hundreds of Russian River growers, ranchers and others in drastic bid to save water

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A day long dreaded by hundreds of ranchers, grape growers, farmers, water providers and towns arrived Monday as the state ordered them to stop diverting water from the Russian River watershed or be fined $1,000 a day.

State regulators issued orders effective Tuesday prohibiting about 1,500 water rights holders in the upper river — including the cities of Cloverdale and Healdsburg — from diverting water in an effort to preserve rapidly diminishing supplies in Lake Mendocino.

The State Water Resources Control Board also announced plans to curtail another 310 claims in the lower river watershed as early as Aug. 9 to try to slow the drawdown of Lake Sonoma. Another 500 or so rights in the lower river region between Healdsburg and Jenner remain subject to curtailment as conditions deteriorate.

The order is enforceable by fines up to $1,000 a day or $2,500 for each acre foot diverted. Violations also could draw cease-and-desist demands that could result in fines of up to $10,000 per day, according to the State Water Board.

The restrictions are part of a sweeping, unprecedented attempt to confront a historic drought that water managers fear could extend into a third dry winter.

That would leave the region to struggle through another year using only the water already captured in the two reservoirs. That water is not just for basic human health and safety. It also must be used to keep the river flowing for fish and other wildlife and provide for water rights holders along the way.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/state-taking-unprecedented-action-to-conserve-water-in-upper-russian-river/

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Friends of Gualala River launch new lawsuit targeting logging on North Fork

Chris McManus, INDEPENDENT COAST OBSERVER

As part of its Salmonid and Watershed Restoration Project, Friends of Gualala River has launched a new lawsuit, this one focused on the Gualala River’s North Fork in the watershed’s northwest corner, the only hydrologic area of the watershed that is not temperature impaired.

The suit was filed last Wednesday in Alameda Superior Court against the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, the State Water Resources Control Board and Gualala Redwood Timber, LLC, seeking to stop Gualala Redwood Timber’s “Far North” timber harvest plan, No. 1-20-00150 MEN.

The new suit comes as FoGR is continuing to fight Gualala Redwood Timber’s “Dogwood III” THP. Judge James Donato on Tuesday issued a 14-day temporary restraining order on that timber harvest plan while he continues to consider a longer restraining order in the federal case brought by FoGR and the Center for Biological Diversity.

The newest lawsuit against the water boards is part of systemic reform FoGR is seeking to hold state agencies involved in the review of timber harvest plans accountable for their roles in the process. Previous lawsuits have targeted CalFire, the final reviewer and approver of timber harvest plans in California.

Read more at https://gualalariver.org/press/friends-of-gualala-river-launch-new-lawsuit-targeting-logging-on-north-fork/