Posted on Categories Forests, HabitatsTags , , , ,

Sonoma County parklands a mosaic of ash and unburned islands after Glass fire

Julie Johnson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

From a distance, wildfire ash almost looks like snow peaking out from stands of barren trees and pockets of green canopy on the ridges and slopes encompassing 8,800 acres of parkland in the Mayacamas Mountains straddling the Sonoma and Napa valleys.

The Glass fire burned through the majority of these treasured preserved lands, moving throughout all of Hood Mountain Regional Park and roughly 90% of Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, leaving pockets of green islands within the burn scars.

Stewards of these lands say the next several months will involve urgent work to prevent traumatic erosion to the land, stop large sediment deposits from clogging creeks, and tamping down invasive weeds so that native plants have a chance to grow back and thrive.

Though it could be months before the public is allowed to return to the trails and the stunning panoramic view of the valley from Gunsight Rock, the outlook is far from grim for the flora and creatures adapted to fire.

“It’s not a tragedy when a park burns,” said Melanie Parker, deputy director of Sonoma County Regional Parks.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/sonoma-county-parklands-a-mosaic-of-ash-and-unburned-islands-after-glass-fi/

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, WaterTags , , , , , ,

Santa Rosa wastewater quandary linked to Kincade fire could get worse as rainy season ramps up

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Nearly two months after the Kincade fire was fully contained in northeastern Sonoma County, Santa Rosa is struggling with an after-effect of the massive blaze: its wastewater disposal pipeline at The Geysers was disabled for six weeks, backing up the Sebastopol-area plant with about 400 million gallons of treated wastewater.

As a result, by February city water officials anticipate nearing maximum capacity at the plant’s storage ponds, forcing them to release treated effluent into the nearby Laguna de Santa Rosa, a step that would put customers on the hook for an estimated $400,000 in environmental charges.

The wastewater quandary is one of the lingering repercussions of the county’s largest ever wildfire, which scorched about 77,000 acres and more than 170 homes after igniting near a faulty PG&E transmission line in late October.

A clearer picture of its impact on The Geysers geothermal field — the complex of power plants near where the fire erupted — and the city’s wastewater system, which sends most of its recycled daily output to The Geysers, emerged over the past several weeks in public records and in interviews with city water staff and representatives of PG&E and Calpine, which operates most of the power plants.

PG&E has restored power to most of the lines that went down due to the Kincade fire, but it is still weeks away from reactivating the transmission line where equipment broke shortly before the start of the wildfire, a PG&E spokeswoman said.

That same high-voltage line previously powered the city-owned pumps that deliver water about 40 miles from Santa Rosa’s Laguna Wastewater Plant to The Geysers as part of the city’s wastewater disposal system, in operation since 2003.

Without electricity from that line, Santa Rosa found itself sidelined for six weeks — without the ability to pump the 15 million gallons of wastewater it regularly sends per day on average to help sustain steam power at The Geysers, said Joe Schwall, the city’s deputy director of water reuse operations. The Laguna Road plant is one of the largest sewer operations in the North Bay, serving more than 200,000  people not just in Santa Rosa but in Rohnert Park, Cotati, Sebastopol and parts of Sonoma County.

Read more at: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10513689-181/santa-rosa-wastewater-quandary-linked

Posted on Categories Sustainable LivingTags , ,

Kincade fire cleanup starts with county-funded hazardous waste removal

Tyler Silvy, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

As crew members with a private hazardous waste removal company loaded up pickings from one pile of ash Wednesday near Calistoga, two others made their way to another pile with specialized equipment in hand.

Wearing protective suits and respirators, the workers were testing the area for signs of radiation or toxic gases — a crucial first step before work would continue on this plot.

Before the Kincade fire roared through the area in late October, the piles of ash were buildings and homes on the LaFranchi Ranch. Wednesday’s work, which will extend to burned structures throughout the nearly 80,000-acre burn zone of Sonoma County’s largest fire, marked the start of the recovery.

“Once the fire is out, we need to figure out how to return the community to that safe and healthy environment it was previously,” Environmental Health Director Christine Sosko said.

The county-funded hazardous waste cleanup, estimated to cost $500,000-$750,000, is the first step in the recovery, Sosko said. The Kincade fire wasn’t the most destructive in county history, taking only 374  buildings, including  174 homes, compared to thousands lost just two years ago. But the toll is still extensive. Nearly everything on the LaFranchi property was lost.

When workers from Chico-based NRC Environmental Services picked through the rubble, they did so with some expertise and training, scanning the ruins for specific areas: the garage, the laundry room, places used to store cleaning products, paints, solvents, and other hazardous materials.

Anything crews picked out was transferred to plastic buckets, then carried to metal, 55-gallon drums to be hauled to an approved landfill.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10310444-181/kincade-fire-cleanup-starts-with

Posted on Categories ForestsTags , ,

Group gets $1 million for Sonoma Valley fire prevention efforts

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Protected Wildlands Map

Cal Fire has awarded more than $1.7 million for wildfire prevention in Sonoma County, with the bulk of the money going toward a coalition working to reduce fire risk on public lands in Sonoma Valley.

The Sonoma Valley Wildlands Collaborative received more than $1 million, allowing it to conduct controlled burns, clear brush and thin forests. The newly formed group of private and public agencies oversees 18,000 acres of fire-prone areas along Highway 12 that include Hood Mountain Regional Park and Sugarloaf Ridge and Trione-Annadel state parks, which were burned in the Tubbs and Nuns fires.

“The areas that we’re talking about have a long history of fire,” said Tony Nelson, longtime Sonoma Valley program manager for the Sonoma Land Trust, which is part of the collaborative. “It has burned in the past and we know it will burn again. The vegetation is not going to stop growing, so we need to not stop managing our natural systems with fire, as well as (need to) maintain safety.”

The collaborative also includes state and regional parks, the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, Audubon Canyon Ranch and the Sonoma Mountain Ranch Preservation Foundation. The group is a product of discussions predating the 2017 wildfires that raced over the Mayacamas Mountains and left behind scorched ridgelines, charred trees and ashen soil. The firestorm renewed conversations on how to prevent large-scale blazes.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9512516-181/group-gets-1-million-for?sba=AAS

Posted on Categories Land UseTags , ,

Move back or move on? Thousands with burned lots in Sonoma County are confounded by their futures

Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Lots for sale or sold:  https://www.pressdemocrat.com/multimedia/9162508-181/map-database-burnt-empty

Like other Tubbs fire survivors, Kris and Allen Sudduth initially wanted to rebuild their two-story home in Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park neighborhood.

After the October 2017 wildfire, the Sudduths met with a builder and tentatively selected a home design for their lot on Hopper Avenue. After further consideration, they concluded a contractor couldn’t rebuild the life they once had in the fire-ravaged neighborhood in the northwest section of the city.

“They would build a house, but it wouldn’t be my home,” said Kris Sudduth, a part-time nurse.

The Sudduths realized what they really wanted was a chance to start over in a different area with a home in the countryside. So in May 2018, they bought a single-story ranchette on a half-acre property west of Santa Rosa. A month earlier, they had sold their charred Coffey Park lot to an investor, who has yet to begin rebuilding a house on it.

This will be a pivotal year of decision for about 2,100 Sonoma County fire survivors — those who unlike the Sudduths have yet to commit to rebuilding or selling their burned lots. These survivors constitute about 40 percent of people who lost 5,334 homes in the 2017 wildfires, predominantly from the Tubbs fire, which ranks as the second-most destructive wildfire in California history.

 

The neighborhood between Mark West Springs Road and Pacific Heights Drive was completely destroyed by the Tubbs Fire, in Santa Rosa on Tuesday, October 10, 2017. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

What they ultimately decide to do will determine whether the pace of rebuilding on the large swath of north Santa Rosa, blackened by the infernos, accelerates this year. Only 150 of the houses destroyed in the fires have been rebuilt as of last week, according to city and county records.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/local/9060028-181/move-back-or-move-on

Posted on Categories Climate Change & EnergyTags , ,

Sonoma power broker Darius Anderson signs on as PG&E lobbyist

Tom Gogola, THE NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

As he sets out to lead the way in rebuilding the North Bay after the October wildfires, Sonoma County developer, newspaper owner and Democratic Party power broker Darius Anderson’s Platinum Advisors is also lobbying on behalf of PG&E’s post-fire interests in Sacramento.

According to the California Secretary of State (see graphic above), Platinum Advisors was hired by the utility on March 28, just as a Senate bill that’s squarely targeted at PG&E’s fire liability was scheduled to make its way through the committee process in the Senate.

Sponsored by a quartet of state senators, including North Bay pols Bill Dodd and Mike McGuire, SB 819 sets out to limit the extent to which electric utilities can pass off fees and fines to ratepayers.

According to the Legislative Counsel’s Digest, SB 819 enhances the state’s current ability to regulate rate hikes; California law already gives the state Public Utilities Commission leverage to “fix the rates and charges for every public utility and requires that those rates and charges be just and reasonable.”

The current regulations prohibit gas corporations from “recovering any fine or penalty in any rate approved by the commission,” and SB 819 extends that prohibition to gas and electric corporations such as PG&E, which is based in San Francisco, provides power to some 16 million California residents and is the dominant investor-owned utility in the state.

Read more at https://www.bohemian.com/TheFishingReport/archives/2018/04/17/sonoma-power-broker-darius-anderson-signs-on-as-pgande-lobbyist

Posted on Categories WaterTags , , , ,

More benzene found in Santa Rosa water tests after Sonoma County fires

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Benzene, the cancer-causing chemical that city officials believe was sucked into its water system in a heavily burned area of Fountaingrove, is continuing to be discovered outside the advisory area, including one place in Coffey Park, city officials acknowledged for the first time this week.

But officials insist the new findings are not an indication the problems in Fountaingrove are migrating to other parts of the city.

However, they have now found 20 locations outside the Fountaingrove advisory zone with elevated levels of benzene. Fourteen of the locations were identified in the last month after the city aggressively expanded its testing program.

All but one — a burned lot on Waring Court in Coffey Park — were located near the advisory zone in Fountaingrove.

City officials said the new problems have been easy to resolve, confirming their conclusion that the 184-acre advisory area in Fountaingrove has a unique and pervasive problem far different than any other area of the city.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8140783-181/more-benzene-found-in-santa?ref=most

Posted on Categories WaterTags , ,

Benzene found outside Fountaingrove contamination area

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa may be zeroing in on the cause of the contamination in the water supply of the devastated Fountaingrove neighborhood, but there are also troubling signs that the problem may extend beyond the immediate advisory area.

Since Jan. 24, when the city last released detailed test results, the city has found 58 additional instances of benzene in the drinking water in the Fountaingrove area. The vast majority came from the 184-acre area north and south of Fountain Grove Parkway around Fir Ridge Drive, an area once home to 350 families. Only 13 homes remain following the October wildfires.

Residents of the area have been under a strict advisory for months to not drink or boil the water while the city tries to find the source of the contamination and fix the problem, something that could cost upwards of $20 million if the area’s water system needs replacement.

But a handful of tests have recently detected benzene in areas outside the advisory zone, a new development that may complicate the 3-month-long hunt for the cause of the contamination.

In response, the city is launching a more aggressive regimen of water tests covering all the burned areas of the city, including Coffey Park, in its effort to make sure other burn zones aren’t experiencing similar problems.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8025423-181/benzene-found-outside-fountaingrove-contamination

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , ,

Owner of Journey’s End mobile home park in Santa Rosa won’t rebuild after Tubbs fire

Julie Johnson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The fire-ravaged Journey’s End mobile home park will not reopen, but its owner is seeking to partner with a developer to build an apartment complex on the north Santa Rosa property, residents learned this weekend.

The family that owns the 13.5-acre site at Mendocino Avenue and Fountaingrove Parkway is working with nonprofit Burbank Housing to explore the feasibility of redeveloping the property into a mixture of affordable and market-rate apartments, Burbank chief executive officer Larry Florin said Sunday.

“We see this as an opportunity to preserve affordable housing but also to create something more permanent,” Florin said. “There’s a housing crisis, obviously, in Sonoma County.”

The decision not to rebuild throws former residents into another bout of uncertainty, with the hope of someday returning to their economical, tight-knit community now gone.

The mobile home park, a refuge for low-income and senior residents for nearly 60 years, has remained closed since the October wildfires. The Tubbs fire destroyed nearly three quarters of the 160 coaches on the property, killed two of its residents, incinerated its electrical and gas systems and irreparably contaminated the well supplying water to the community.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/7972490-181/owner-of-journeys-end-mobile?utm_source=home

Posted on Categories WaterTags ,

Water contamination plagues surviving homes in Santa Rosa's Fountaingrove neighborhood

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Santa Rosa officials are scrambling to figure out why the drinking water in a wildfire-ravaged section of Fountaingrove is contaminated with a chemical commonly found in plastics and gasoline.
A team of local water quality officials, regulators and experts has been working for 2½ months to understand how the volatile hydrocarbon benzene is getting into the water system and how to fix the problem.
They suspect the heat of the Tubbs fire, which incinerated 1,400 homes in the area, may have damaged parts of the water delivery system, such as plastic water pipes or meters, and caused the dangerous carcinogen to leech into the neighborhood’s water supply.
But despite hundreds of water tests, detailed mapping of the results and targeted equipment replacement, the problem still persists, leaving officials confounded and a $20 million replacement of the water system a real possibility.
Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/7914293-181/water-contamination-plagues-surviving-homes?ref=most