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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

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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/

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Op-Ed: Busting the myth of limitless groundwater

Sean Bothwell & Don McEnhill, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Facing another drought year and the reality that inadequate groundwater management is leading to a race to the bottom, on Oct. 4, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors took a critical step toward sustainable water management by placing a temporary pause on issuance of new well permits.

The supervisors deserve credit for recognizing that groundwater is not limitless, and that the health of communities, rivers and local economies depend on sustainable and equitable management. Over the next six months, while the pause is in place, the county will develop science-based rules to govern groundwater well permits to ensure impacts of pumping on neighboring streams and downstream users are accounted for and addressed.

All Sonoma County residents have a stake in improving groundwater management. This is the county’s chance to change course and ensure we are better prepared for a warmer future.

During the current drought, California is facing the long-term limits of our water resources. States, including California, are discussing how to reduce Colorado River water use to a sustainable level, and vast regions of Central and Northern California face severely overtapped groundwater supplies.

California law has long maintained a fictional distinction between regulated diversions from rivers and lakes, and unregulated groundwater pumping. The problem is that nature does not make this distinction. In much of California, groundwater pumping simply sucks water out of rivers from below, through their gravel beds. In some places, excessive groundwater pumping literally causes rivers to run dry.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/opinion/close-to-home-busting-the-myth-of-limitless-groundwater/

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Student-run United Anglers of Casa Grande gets permit to help dwindling trout population in Petaluma

Amelia Parreira, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A long-sought permit recently obtained by United Anglers of Casa Grande will allow the organization to rescue fish directly from Petaluma’s watershed, which will help save the dwindling local steelhead trout population and allow its student-run hatchery to operate year-round.

The organization, which this year celebrates 40 years of local environmental conservation and fish population restoration, was granted the federal permit this summer following a yearlong review process.

Fish rescued by United Anglers from the local watershed will be transferred to the organization’s state-of-the-art hatchery — California’s only high school-run fish rehabilitation program — before being released back to their natural habitat.

“Our focus has always been nearby Adobe Creek and the steelhead trout in this watershed,” said Dan Hubacher, who has run the organization since the retiring of its founder, Tom Furrer, in 2011. “And I remember as a student, as an alumni of the program, I remember sitting here and Mr. Furrer saying, ‘We can’t touch these fish. The permit won’t allow us.’”

Hubacher said it’s surreal to think about how far the group has come in its efforts over the years.

“If we can get multiple locations where we can find fish, we can bring them in (and) can hopefully jump start this population,” he said. “Through the last couple of years, not only are we not seeing adults, which is alarming, but we’re not seeing juveniles.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/student-run-organization-gets-permit-to-help-dwindling-trout-population/

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Sonoma County vintner, his business and DA’s Office reach $925,000 environmental damage settlement

Alana Minkler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A Sonoma County wine executive and his business have reached a $925,000 settlement with the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office following an environmental complaint that accused them of causing significant damage to streams and wetlands while constructing a vineyard in 2018 near Cloverdale, county District Attorney Jill Ravitch announced Friday.

Deeply ripping apart the terrain, tearing down trees and pushing them down streams without permits under the county’s Vineyard & Orchard Site Development Ordinance, and lacking permits for grading roads and installing culverts were among acts that Hugh Reimers and Krasilsa Pacific Farms, LLC were accused of in August 2019.

Uprooting oak woodlands and discharging sediment into Russian River tributaries caused major environmental damage, which violated the California Water Code and the federal Clean Water Act, according to a 2019 investigation by the Regional Water Control Board.

The business also did not comply with the terms of a 2019 cleanup and abatement order, which required the full restoration of the 2,278-acre property to its previous condition.

A statement in May said the impact of these actions are still evident, as they threaten the migration, spawning, reproduction and early development of cold-water fish in the Little Sulphur, Big Sulphur and Crocker creeks.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/sonoma-county-vintner-his-business-and-das-office-reach-925k-environment/

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

Landowner under fire for post-Walbridge salvage logging violations

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

To hear Ken Bareilles tell it, the worst thing to happen on his land west of Healdsburg since the 2020 Walbridge Fire was the felling of charred Douglas fir trees that now lie on the ground, dried and cracking, because there’s so little demand at the mills.

To hear his neighbors tell it, the worst thing to happen since the Walbridge Fire has been Ken Bareilles.

It’s not just the neighbors. He’s seen as a bad actor by environmental watchdogs, regulators and others who have watched his emergency timber operation unfold on 106 acres in the sensitive Felta Creek watershed. Set among lush redwoods and ferns, the creek is a last refuge for endangered coho salmon.

Bareilles, for his part, has a different take on the unauthorized creek crossing, the hillside erosion, the flowing sediment, the tractor driven into the bed of Felta Creek and the host of violations documented by three state regulatory agencies over the past year.

According to him, they are the result of bad luck, poor advice, miscommunication and the relentless griping from residents who object to him logging fire-damaged trees up the hill from their homes along a narrow, private road.

He says Cal Fire and other agencies are only trying to pacify the critics by cracking down on him, and anyway, it’s only words and paper. So far there have been no fines or interference in his logging — though he remains under investigation by at least two state agencies. His one-year emergency logging permit, initially set to expire in October 2021, was even extended a year, like everyone else’s.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/landowner-under-fire-for-post-walbridge-fire-salvage-logging-violations/?ref=moststory