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Federal judge: Russian River dam releases are violating Endangered Species Act

Andrew Graham, PRESS DEMOCRAT

A federal judge ruled Monday that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has violated the Endangered Species Act by disturbing salmon populations through flood-control releases from Coyote Valley Dam into the Russian River.

Those releases, which relieve pressure upstream from the 66-year-old dam during rainy months, kick up sediment from the bottom of Lake Mendocino, a reservoir that serves as critical water storage for Sonoma County.

The sediment increases turbidity in the river that harms and harasses coho and chinook salmon and steelhead trout in violation of the Endangered Species Act’s mandate to protect the imperiled species, U.S. District Court of Northern California Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley ruled.

Corley ruled on a lawsuit brought by Sean White, who has spent much of his career involved in the Russian River in one way or another, serving as general manager of the Russian River Flood Control and Water Conservation Improvement District before moving in 2015 to direct sewage and water services for the city of Ukiah.

White brought the lawsuit as a private citizen. The Endangered Species Act, one of the nation’s bedrock environmental laws, allows for citizens to sue governments, businesses or individuals they believe to be violating the act.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/russian-river-protected-salmon-dam-releases/

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

California’s ocean salmon fishing season closed for second year in a row

Susan Wood, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL

California’s commercial and recreational ocean salmon fishing season is set to be closed for the second consecutive year, another blow to the state’s beleaguered industry suffering from the combined fallout of drought, climate disruption and deteriorating ocean conditions.

Already, a new request is underway for yet another federal disaster declaration to help alleviate some of the wide economic damage from the closure, affecting not just the fleet but many associated businesses that depend on the fishery, one of the state’s most lucrative.

The Pacific Fisheries Management Council, which manages and monitors West Coast salmon stocks in the ocean, endorsed the option on Wednesday of a full closure through the end of the year, mirroring recommendations made to close the fisheries in 2023.

Many fishermen, already resigned to a severely limited season if any at all due to depleted stocks, had backed the full closure.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/north-bay/californias-salmon-fishing-season-closed-for-second-year-in-a-row/

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New restoration plan for Laguna de Santa Rosa

Laura Hagar Rush, SEBASTOPOL TIMES

The Laguna de Santa Rosa held an open house on Wednesday, February 21, to celebrate the release of the Laguna de Santa Rosa Restoration Plan. Funded by a grant from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife with matching funds from Sonoma Water, this document examines six potential restoration projects in the Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed.

Presented by Neil Lassettre of Sonoma Water and Scott Dusterhoff of the San Francisco Estuary Institute (SFEI), this plan was several years in the making.

“So six years ago, we were here with folks from the public, many of you here in this hall, saying ‘Well, we were going to do this restoration planning effort.’ And here we are six years later, unveiling this restoration plan to you all. So this is really an exciting time for us,” Dusterhoff said.

Dusterhoff explained the two major phases of the project this way: “The first component was developing an understanding of how the Laguna used to look and how it used to function and the habitats that it was supporting. So that’s developing an understanding of the historical ecology,” he said. “And then after we understand how the Laguna used to look and how it used to function, we can understand the landscape change—so the magnitude of change from what was to what is. So that was part number one. Part number two then was using that information to develop this long term restoration vision—this long term idea of all of the habitats we want to bring back in the Laguna. So then, we took that vision and we dove deep on a few areas, and we came up with this master restoration plan,” he said.

Read more at https://www.sebastopoltimes.com/p/new-restoration-plan-for-laguna-de?

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Press Release: Governor Newsom launches California’s ‘Salmon Strategy for a Hotter, Drier Future’

Office of Governor Gavin Newsom

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: To restore populations of salmon amidst hotter and drier weather exacerbated by climate change, Governor Newsom announced California’s first strategy to protect the iconic fish species for generations to come.

Governor Gavin Newsom today announced new actions and efforts already underway that California is taking to help restore California’s salmon populations.

Salmon Strategy for a Hotter, Drier Future

After 10 years of rapidly intensifying drought and more extreme weather, salmon are not doing well. Last year, with projections showing Chinook salmon population at historic lows, the salmon season was closed and the Newsom Administration requested a Federal Fishery Disaster to support impacted communities. Additionally, due to crashing salmon populations in 2023, some tribes canceled their religious and cultural harvests for the first time ever.

The strategy’s six priorities call for:

    1. Removing barriers and modernizing infrastructure for salmon migration
    2. Restoring habitat
    3. Protecting water flows in key rivers at the right times
    4. Modernizing hatcheries
    5. Transforming technology and management systems
    6. Strengthening partnerships

Read more at https://www.gov.ca.gov/2024/01/30/governor-newsom-launches-californias-salmon-strategy-for-a-hotter-drier-future/

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Sonoma, Mendocino county water managers propose pathway for continued Eel River diversions

Mary Callahan, PRESS DEMOCRAT

Water managers in Sonoma and Mendocino counties seek to preserve water transfer infrastructure as part of PG&E license surrender for Potter Valley power plant.

Water managers in Sonoma and Mendocino counties have submitted a conceptual proposal to PG&E to buy and maintain portions of the utility’s defunct Potter Valley power plant to enable future water transfers.

The move would be a critical step toward preserving seasonal diversions of Eel River water to supplement supplies in Lake Mendocino and the Russian River.

Working with the Mendocino County Inland Water and Power Commission and the Round Valley Indian Tribes, the Sonoma County Water Agency is seeking to preserve elements of the power plant through which water is channeled from the Eel River to the East Fork Russian River. No electricity would be generated as a part of the plan.

Pacific Gas & Electric has planned to surrender its license for the 1908 plant with the intent of decommissioning it. Without a proposal to save it, the diversion infrastructure would eventually be removed, leaving upper Russian River communities and agriculture users without sufficient water.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/sonoma-mendocino-county-water-managers-propose-pathway-for-continued-eel-r/?ref=mosthome

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

Sonoma, Mendocino County grape growers battling new rules designed to reduce sediment, pesticides in local waterways

Mary Callahan, PRESS DEMOCRAT

A new program targeting 1,500 commercial grape growers in Sonoma and Mendocino counties and designed to improve water quality in local creeks and rivers is drawing criticism from members of the agricultural community.

The draft rules include reporting requirements, annual fees, well and groundwater monitoring, ground cover requirements and restrictions on wintertime operations that growers deem excessive.

Vineyard operators and agricultural representatives say the costs and mandates are overkill for an industry that is already working to reduce sediment runoff into waterways and protect fish habitats.

Small growers are especially likely to suffer because “their margins are really small, and the proposed permit is going to create costs that are significant to them,” said Robin Bartholow, deputy executive director of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau.

But staff of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board say the soil disturbance and chemical use in many vineyards, as well as potential disruption of riparian plants needed to shade fish habitat, can degrade water quality in creeks and rivers.

Read more at: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/sonoma-mendocino-county-grape-growers-battling-new-rules-designed-to-reduc/

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Op-Ed: Eel River dam debate echoes nationally

Cameron Nielson & Sarah Bardeen, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

On paper, California’s Eel River is a prime candidate for restoration.

It’s a remote river that runs through rugged, lightly populated terrain in Northern California. As with many rivers in the region, a combination of logging, overfishing and dams decimated its once-plentiful salmon and steelhead runs. The introduction of a native predator, the pikeminnow, only made things worse.

But some of that could be put to rights: two aging dams in the Eel’s upper reaches are reaching the end of their life span — and one has been declared seismically unsafe. PG&E, which owns the dams, has chosen not to renew their licenses, setting the stage for removal if no new owner steps forward.

Eel River residents overwhelmingly support dam removal, the tribes are adamantly in favor, and a constellation of NGOs is pushing hard for it. If those dams come down, 150 square miles of cold-water habitat will open up to struggling populations of steelhead and salmon, offering needed refuge from the warming climate.

So why is it so hard to get done?

Part of the answer lies in the dam’s history. Part lies in the challenges of coping with a surfeit of aging infrastructure. And part lies in the complexities of who exactly constitutes the river’s community. Finding a solution has implications not just for the state but for the nation.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/opinion/nielsen-and-bardeen-eel-river-dam-debate-echoes-nationally/

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California’s unnatural river flows threaten aquatic life—here’s a (partial) fix

Robin Meadows, MAVEN’S NOTEBOOK

Calfifornia Fish & Wildlife Instream Flow Program

“We always act surprised when drought shows up, with ad hoc actions to try to protect species and ecosystems,” Mount says. “One place to start is to give the environment a water budget and someone to manage it, especially during drought—we should plan for it, rather than react to it.”

As a New York Times columnist once quipped, “California’s water system might have been invented by a Soviet bureaucrat on an LSD trip.” The system was engineered in the 1900s to capture winter rain and spring snowmelt in vast reservoirs and then send this water to cities and farms via thousands of miles of canals, pipelines and tunnels.

While this system suits many people, it doesn’t suit fish, frogs and other river life. Many California waterways are regulated by reservoirs that release water for supply, flood control, and hydropower, resulting in river flows that are far from natural. Now there’s a movement to reinstate the seasonal flows that native species depend on.

“The idea of mimicking a natural flow regime is not rocket science and it’s not new,” says Sarah Yarnell, a river ecosystems expert at UC Davis. Like many innovations, it’s just taken a while to start percolating into the mainstream.

Read more at https://mavensnotebook.com/2023/07/13/notebook-feature-californias-unnatural-river-flows-threaten-aquatic-life-heres-a-partial-fix/

Posted on Categories Forests, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , ,

Board hands down harsher penalty for Felta Creek timber owner’s water quality violations

Mary Callahan, PRESS DEMOCRAT

Regional regulators raised the total fines for Ken Bareilles in light of the important role of Felta Creek watershed, a last refuge for spawning coho salmon and steelhead trout.

A timber owner whose logging operations fouled the sensitive Felta Creek watershed, allowing sediment to enter the salmon-bearing waterway near Healdsburg over two successive winters, was ordered Friday to pay $276,000 in penalties.

The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board’s unanimous decision came as a severe blow to landowner Ken Bareilles, 81, who fought to deflect a proposed $251,000 fine during a 3 1/2-hour hearing only to have the board return with a harsher penalty given the importance of Felta Creek to coho salmon populations and the potential harm resulting from inadequate erosion control.

‘’The whole thing is speculative,” Bareilles argued, challenging what he considered to be weak evidence and chastising water quality personnel for failing to use sensors or gauges to measure the sediment in streams.

Staffers for the water quality board said measurements weren’t required after inspections over a year and a half continued to turn up on-the-ground evidence of absent or failed erosion-control measures that allowed silty water and mud to flow into Felta Creek and nearby tributaries to the Russian River.

“This was the sloppiest operation that I’ve seen on any active timber operation in my career,” veteran board staffer James Burke, a senior engineering geologist, said in presenting evidence against Bareilles.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/board-hands-down-harsher-penalty-for-felta-creek-timber-owners-water-quali/

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PG&E plans to remove both Potter Valley Project Dams—Mendo, Humboldt, Lake and Sonoma Fight

Sarah Reith, REDHEADED BLACKBELT

A planning group for the Russian River Water Forum, which is preparing for life after PG&E decommissions the Potter Valley Project, met for the first time yesterday in Ukiah. PG&E said in a town hall last month that its version of decommissioning means removing both dams. That’s unless an entity that is capable of running them steps forward before it submits a draft of the decommissioning plan to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC.

Tony Gigliotti, PG&E’s senior licensing project manager, laid out the timeline at a town hall about Scott Dam and Lake Pillsbury on April 27th.

“When we say decommissioning in this case, both dams will be removed as part of that, unless somebody comes forward with a proposal that PG&E looks at and accepts,” he said. “We need to ensure they can operate the dams after we give up ownership. In terms of timelines for the surrender application, there will be an initial draft November, 2023. A second draft, also available for public review, May 2024, and then the final application will be filed with FERC in January, 2025.”

Janet Walther, PG&E’s senior manager of hydro licensing, qualified that timeline a little.

“When PG&E submits our final surrender application to FERC, that would be the point of no return,” in terms of decommissioning, she said. “And really, the draft. We are looking to know, sooner than later, if there’s an entity interested in taking over the dam because that will change our surrender application and what we put in that surrender application. So I think we are looking and would like to see some initial proposals later this year, if there is interest. And we are talking with folks, as we have been since 2016, about potential interest in future ownership of Scott, and/or Cape Horn Dam.”

Read more at https://kymkemp.com/2023/05/18/pge-plans-to-remove-both-potter-valley-project-dams-mendo-humboldt-lake-and-sonoma-fight/