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Limbo for Mendocino County water transfer clouds outlook for key Russian River source

Mary Callahan, PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Russian River’s sprawling, manmade delivery system for drinking and irrigation water has for decades relied on a share of the flow in the Eel River, miles to the north in Lake County.

In years past, up to 22 million gallons have been siphoned from the Eel through a system of pumps, pipes and reservoirs and sent south into the East Fork of the Russian River through a mile-and-a-half tunnel blasted into a mountain more than a century ago.

But the future of that cog in the Russian River machine, long seen as critical for farmers, ranchers and rural residents reliant on the river in Mendocino County and northern Sonoma County, is now in limbo.

The water transfer also has generated hydroelectricity as it passed through a small powerhouse in rural Potter Valley and on into Lake Mendocino near Ukiah.

Efforts by federal fisheries regulators to bolster declining salmon and steelhead runs in the Eel River have slashed those diversions in half since 2007. And the drought cut those diversions by another fifth this year, as water regulators seek to maintain supplies in Lake Pillsbury, formed by a dam across the Eel River.

They may be eliminated permanently in the future as a result of PG&E’s decision not to renew its license for the 113-year-old Potter Valley powerhouse when it expires next year, leaving the state of all water transfers from the Eel River uncertain.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/limbo-for-mendocino-county-water-transfer-clouds-outlook-for-key-russian-ri/

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Video: Recovery and resiliency in California salmonids

Friends of the Gualala River

Video: Friends of Gualala River (FoGR) celebrated Earth Day, Thursday, April 22, 2021, with a free webinar on salmonids presented by Dr. Jacob Katz, senior scientist with California Trout. Click on the image below to go to the FoGR website and watch the video.

California Trout is a non-profit dedicated to protecting and restoring the state’s 32 species of salmonid fish. Dr. Katz directs the organization’s Central California region where his work focuses on redesigning California’s antiquated water infrastructure to help restore habitat for declining salmonid populations.

Once, before the waters of the great Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers were dammed, impounded, pumped, and channeled into hundreds of miles of concrete canals in the state and federal water projects, millions of Chinook salmon swam upstream in spring and fall runs from the Pacific Ocean through the San Francisco Bay Delta to natal streams where they could spawn.

There, juvenile fish could hide from predators and feed off the rich supply of invertebrates found in the marshes and floodplains. Fattened and strengthened for the rigors of life in the ocean, they migrated back down the rivers and out to the Pacific for a period before returning to complete the cycle of life.

But today salmon teeter on the brink of extinction with their populations plummeting to a few thousand, their habitat severely reduced and degraded. Demands on water in the state are sky high, and water wars are protracted and unproductive.

Is the extinction of these iconic California natives inevitable? Or, could there be a possible solution in the notion of sharing water and habitat rather than fighting? Would flooded rice fields prove as rich a nursery as the marshes and floodplains of old? Would ranchers, farmers, and water districts be amenable to engineering a cooperative solution? California Trout and Dr. Katz seem to have found a way.

Here along the North Coast, the salmon and steelhead runs are also threatened and endangered. While our terrain and ecosystems differ from the Central Valley, the root problems are the same: extraction and degradation of water and natural resources are destroying the fish.

In the Gualala River watershed, there is the prospect of beginning salmonid restoration through the Redwood Coast Land Conservancy’s acquisition and management of the Mill Bend property in the estuary. State and federal regulators are interested. Intelligent stewardship means that much more will need to be done along the main stem of the river and upper portions of the watershed where the needs of fish will have to be integrated with working lands to reconnect and restore habitat.

Dr. Katz’s presentation is part of FoGR’s outreach program to educate the community about the extraordinary natural resources found within the Gualala River watershed and to increase awareness and commitment to its stewardship.

This presentation was hosted by Friends of Gualala River’s (FoGR) Education and Outreach Committee on Earth Day, April 22, 2021.

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Drought is back. But Southern California faces less pain than Northern California

Bettina Boxall, LOS ANGELES TIMES

Drought is returning to California as a second, consecutive parched winter draws to a close in the usually wet north, leaving the state’s major reservoirs half empty.

But this latest period of prolonged dryness will probably play out very differently across this vast state.

In Northern California, areas dependent on local supplies, such as Sonoma County, could be the hardest-hit. Central Valley growers have been told of steep cuts to upcoming water deliveries. Environmentalists too are warning of grave harm to native fish.

Yet, hundreds of miles to the south, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California reports record amounts of reserves — enough to carry the state’s most populous region through this year and even next.

Memories of unprecedented water-use restrictions in cities and towns, dry country wells and shriveled croplands linger from California’s punishing 2012-16 drought.

Officials say the lessons of those withering years have left the state in a somewhat better position to deal with its inevitable dry periods, and Gov. Gavin Newsom is not expected to declare a statewide drought emergency this year.

“We don’t see ourselves in that position in terms of supply,” said Department of Water Resources Director Karla Nemeth. “If it’s dry next year, then maybe it’s a different story.”

Southern California is a case in point.

Read more at: https://www.latimes.com/environment/story/2021-04-02/drought-conditions-hit-northern-california-harder-than-in-the-south

Posted on Categories Forests, WaterTags , , , , ,

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 Agriculture/Food System, Habitats, Land Use, WildlifeTags , , , , , ,

“Apocalypse Cow:” Point Reyes National Seashore launches a propaganda war targeting independent journalism

Erik Molvar, COUNTERPUNCH

Grab your popcorn: The battle over livestock destruction of natural ecosystems at Point Reyes National Seashore is heating up. For years, conservationists have pointed out the ecologically catastrophic toll that beef and dairy ranching has been having on native coastal prairies, the wildlife that depend on these places, and public health and safety. As the news media has caught on, the tide of public opinion has turned against the livestock producers, in favor of protecting the very rare tule elk population and shifting management of the National Seashore away from livestock production toward public recreation and enjoyment. Now, a National Park Service unit is launching a propaganda war in a desperate effort to control the media narrative, and to cover up decades of laissez-faire mismanagement of livestock operations leasing Park Service lands on the National Seashore.

The flap centers around an investigative journalism piece titled “Apocalypse Cow: The Future of Life at Point Reyes National Park,” which ran in The Bohemian and the Pacific Sun, two local weekly newspapers that serve the counties surrounding Point Reyes National Seashore, and subsequently in Counterpunch. The article characterizes the Park Service analysis of environmental effects of cattle ranching on Point Reyes as “deeply flawed scientifically, culturally and ethically” and “politicized.” It’s a long and in-depth article, covering the politics of Point Reyes, and highlighting the ecologically harmful confinement of elk behind a massive fence on sometimes-waterless Tomales Point, the negative impact that cattle operations are having on climate change, commercial ranching’s destructive influence on rare and protected species of fish and wildlife, water contamination by livestock manure, and the contrast between coastal Miwok stewardship of Point Reyes’ native ecosystems and today’s destruction of those ecosystems at the hands of commercial ranching. Based on responses to the article, the locals seem to appreciate the insightful reporting.

The Park Service is doing its utmost to discredit the piece. On its webpage, “Frequently Asked Questions about the General Management Plan,” the Park Service has a section called “Corrections regarding misinformation published in the press.” The Park Service alleges errors; The Bohemian checked the verity of the article and stands behind it as factual reporting.

Read more at: https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/02/22/apocalypse-cow-point-reyes-national-seashore-launches-a-propaganda-war-targeting-independent-journalism/

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/

Posted on Categories Habitats, WildlifeTags , , ,

Western Monarch population closer to extinction as the wait continues for Monarchs’ protection under the Endangered Species Act

Emma Pelton & Stephanie McKnight, XERXES.ORG

During the 24th Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count, nearly 100 volunteers donned their masks and practiced social distancing to carefully survey groves of trees on the California and Northern Baja coast for monarch butterflies. Despite the challenges of conducting field work during a pandemic, volunteers surveyed 246 sites, three more sites than last year. Unfortunately, to the surprise and dismay of many, only 1,914 monarchs were counted at all the sites. This is a shocking 99.9% decline since the 1980s.

The Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count has been done every year since 1997. It happens during the three-week period centered on Thanksgiving and is coordinated by the Xerces Society and Mia Monroe. It is the primary way that the western monarch population is assessed and has built up a body of data than demonstrates the long-term collapse of the monarch migration in western North America.

Iconic and beloved monarch overwintering sites like Pismo Beach and Natural Bridges reported only a few hundred monarchs during the count. More startling, Pacific Grove, which goes by the name “Butterfly Town, USA” because of its overwintering sites, had no monarchs at all. Each of these sites normally host thousands—in some years, tens of thousands—of butterflies during the winter months, and are locations where visitors travel to experience the marvel of glittery orange monarch clusters.

We had indications that there might be a significant decline this year. In 2017, when monarch populations were still in the hundreds of thousands, researchers used Thanksgiving Count data to develop a population viability analysis and posited that the extinction threshold for the western monarch migratory population was 30,000 butterflies. It seems that, unfortunately, this prediction was right. The 30,000-butterfly threshold was reached during the last two years (2018 and 2019), and the population has crashed further this year. We may be witnessing the collapse of the western migration of monarch butterflies. A migration of millions of monarchs reduced to two thousand in a few decades.

The decline of the monarch isn’t just happening in the West. During the spring and summer, monarchs reach towns, cities, and rural areas across the Lower 48, making it probably the country’s most widely recognized butterfly. However, sightings are not as common as they once were. The eastern migratory population has also declined by more than 80% since monitoring began in the 1990s.

Read more at: https://xerces.org/blog/western-monarch-population-closer-to-extinction-as-wait-continues-for-monarchs-protection

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

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/

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”

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

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/