Our worst fears were realized in the Feb 28th flood event. The largest gravel pit mine, Syar’s Basalt Pit, had a complete levee failure on a section that had failed in previous floods. The image at left shows the breach in center of picture, with river on the left and Syar Basalt Pit on right. Over 30 years of mining waste containing extremely high levels of toxic metals as well as Healdsburg’s treated wastewater discharges are now connected to our river – our drinking water supply.
Syar’s own testing in 2006 showed the mining waste contained mercury, iron and aluminum at 200-800% of safe levels and phosphorous at nearly 500 times higher than levels that can trigger toxic algae. Those pollutants are all conservative – meaning they are still present, do not degrade over time and pose a threat to the river’s health and our health.
When we filed lawsuits against the County in the 80’s and 90’s to stop the gravel mining, one of our biggest reasons was the fear of the gravel pits being captured by the river in floods. Sadly our predictions were correct, again. This occurred during the El Nino events in the late 90’s which resulted in a Clean Water Act lawsuit by Friends of the Russian River, RRK’s predecessor.
As of this date, three months after the flood, we’re still waiting for action plans to protect the river this summer from Healdsburg’s wastewater and the mining waste – both have very high levels of nutrients, mainly phosphorous, that could trigger toxic algae blooms. We’re also very concerned that in six months it’ll be raining again and if we do not take action we will see major erosion of downstream properties.
At this time, Permit Sonoma has convened two meetings with resource protection agencies and are developing a tentative plan. Permit Sonoma plans to hold a public meeting to collect comments on concerns regarding this issue and give you an opportunity to voice your opinion on how the County should respond to this major threat to the River’s health. We’ll keep you posted when the public meetings are scheduled, stay tuned!
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The February storms that swelled the Russian River to its highest level in more than two decades did $23 million in damage to Sonoma County roads, including more than 100 landslides and slipouts, leaving county crews and contractors with a Herculean repair job that will take months to complete.
The scale, severity and cost of the damage could rise, as assessments are ongoing. Some slides and slope failures remain unstable or are continuing to move, officials said.
“We have been hammered in west county,” Supervisor Lynda Hopkins said, asserting that her district sustained the most damage. “It’s been very stressful.”
In some cases, slides can’t be cleared from roads until the rain-soaked soil dries out because removing muddy earth could prompt renewed slides on steep hillsides, she said.
Six county roads remained closed and eight others were partially blocked, according to the county’s road conditions report on Friday. In late February, more than 50 roads were closed by the deluge.
Storm damage since two waves of rain in February includes 110 landslides and slipouts, said Daniel Virkstis, of the county’s Transportation and Public Works Department.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9509999-181/february-rains-inflicted-23-million
Rebecca Hersher & Robert Benincasa, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO
The federal government spends billions of dollars annually helping communities rebuild and prevent future damage. But an NPR investigation has found that across the country, white Americans and those with more wealth often receive more federal dollars after a disaster than do minorities and those with less wealth. Federal aid isn’t necessarily allocated to those who need it most; it’s allocated according to cost-benefit calculations meant to minimize taxpayer risk.
If they had known, they never would have bought the house on Bayou Glen Road. Sure, it was a beautiful lot, tucked in a bend of the creek, backyard woodsy and wild, the neighbors friendly and the street quiet. A little piece of nature just 20 minutes from downtown Houston. It was exactly what John and Heather Papadopoulos — recently married, hoping to start a family — were looking for in 2007. They didn’t think much about the creek that ran along their yard, aside from appreciating the birds it attracted to the neighborhood.
Across town, the Evans family was similarly indifferent to the wooded bayous that cut through their neighborhood. Janice Perry-Evans chose the house she rented because it was conveniently located near the local high school, which made it easy for her two boys to get to class and home from football practice. Her commute to the post office wasn’t far either. Plus, at $800 per month, the rent was affordable. By 2017, the family had lived there for four years, and didn’t have any plans to move.
And then, in August of that year, both homes were destroyed. Both families had to start over from nothing. But today, one family is financially stable. The other is facing bankruptcy.
Read more at https://www.npr.org/2019/03/05/688786177/how-federal-disaster-money-favors-the-rich
Nashelly Chavez, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The powerful storm that swept over Sonoma County last week caused an estimated $155 million in damage to homes, businesses, roads and other public infrastructure, county officials announced Saturday.
The updated assessment came at the end of a week marked by the largest flood on the lower Russian River in nearly a quarter century. Guernville and other riverside communities took the heaviest blow, but flooding elsewhere — in Sebastopol, Healdsburg and Geyserville — led to widespread damage countywide, said Tennis Wick, director of Permit Sonoma, the county’s planning and building agency.
Approximately 1,900 homes were affected, with major damage reported at 1,760, according to the county.
Flooding impacted 578 commercial buildings and businesses, including restaurants, pubs, resorts, stores and theaters.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9342974-181/flooding-causes-estimated-155-million?sba=AAS
Frank Robertson, SONOMA WEST TIMES & NEWS
The Sonoma County Water Agency has released details of the agency’s Green Valley Creek flood control plans to reduce chronic wet weather flooding of Green Valley Road near Graton.
“Last year Green Valley Road was closed for over three weeks due to flooding,” said Lynda Hopkins, who as Fifth District county supervisor also serves as a Water Agency director. “The project would make Green Valley Road safer for the communities who rely on it, as well as the fish and wildlife who rely on the creek.”
When the creek floods, high water on the roadway cuts off access to the Graton community from the west, causing disrupted traffic on Green Valley and Graton roads.
The agency’s Green Valley Creek High Flow Channel Project will remove sediment in the creek west of Graton and restore the creek banks with native vegetation. The Water Agency released a draft initial study and Negative Declaration for the project on June 22. The public is invited to comment on the project before a July 24 deadline.
(An electronic copy of the draft environmental study is available at www.scwa.ca.gov/environmental-documents. )
Read more at http://www.sonomawest.com/sonoma_west_times_and_news/news/plans-to-curb-green-valley-creek-flooding/article_02f401ba-79a8-11e8-8740-97d3a09e8cd0.html
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
In early 2014, after fewer than 8 inches of rain had fallen in the upper reaches of the Russian River the previous year, Lake Mendocino dwindled to a third of its capacity, exposing acres of bare ground, and Mendocino County supervisors declared a drought emergency.
“How many times do we have to knock ourselves on the head before we get it?” then-Supervisor John Pinches asked during the board meeting. “Folks, we’ve got to come up with another water supply.”
The irony, in retrospect, is that a major addition to the reservoir near Ukiah — boosting its capacity by 25 billion gallons — had been planned by the Army Corps of Engineers more than 50 years ago. But with California in the midst of a five-year drought, the plan was gathering dust on the shelves of the federal dam-building agency.
A coalition of local agencies, including Mendocino County and the city of Ukiah, already had paid $617,000 toward a feasibility study that would determine if the benefits of raising Coyote Valley Dam by 36 feet justified the cost of about $320 million.
But without more money, Corps officials said in 2014 the study could not move forward.
Now, with the prospect of drought and hotter weather considered California’s “new normal” due to climate change, new hopes have arisen for the relief Pinches and others have sought: More water in Lake Mendocino to quench the needs of residents, farmers and fish along 75 miles of the Russian River from Redwood Valley to Healdsburg and contribute to the Sonoma County Water Agency’s deliveries to 600,000 customers in Sonoma and Marin counties.
Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8431501-181/decades-old-project-to-raise-lake
Maya L. Kapoor, HIGH COUNTRY NEWS
[But] the root causes of these symptoms remain societal and personal choices that lead the average American to burn more than twice as much fossil fuel as the global average. As California Gov. Jerry Brown and others have demonstrated, the West also could lead the way in addressing these root causes. See the website for the We Are Still In coalition.
The complexity of climate change means it’s hard to trace simple lines from cause to effect in daily life, much less plan for the future. That’s one reason the federal government updates its National Climate Assessment every four years — to provide lawmakers, policymakers and citizens with the information they need to plan everything from urban infrastructure, to insurance programs, to disaster readiness. After the third NCA came out in 2014, the world experienced three of the warmest years on record. In the same time the United States, along with 167 other signatories, agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to keep global temperatures below a dangerous tipping point.
But after last December’s presidential election, the odds of the U.S. willingly contributing to international climate change solutions dwindled. At this year’s United Nations climate conference, the Trump administration — which previously announced plans to withdraw from the international climate agreement — says it will promote fossil fuels and nuclear energy.
All of which makes the fourth NCA seem even more urgent. After all, the U.S. emits more greenhouse gases per person each year than almost every other country in the world. Last week, the government released the first part of its 2018 assessment. Focusing on the science of climate change, the report describes how greenhouse gas emissions are affecting the U.S. already and will continue to do so in future if we continue on the current trajectory.
Here are the takeaways for the West:
Read more at: What a new report on climate science portends for the West — High Country News
Michael Mann, THE GUARDIAN
What can we say about the role of climate change in the unprecedented disaster that is unfolding in Houston with Hurricane Harvey? There are certain climate change-related factors that we can, with great confidence, say worsened the flooding. What we know so far about tropical storm Harvey Read more Sea level rise attributable to climate change – some of which is due to coastal subsidence caused by human disturbance such as oil drilling – is more than half a foot (15cm) over the past few decades (see here for a decent discussion). That means the storm surge was half a foot higher than it would have been just decades ago, meaning far more flooding and destruction.
In addition to that, sea surface temperatures in the region have risen about 0.5C (close to 1F) over the past few decades from roughly 30C (86F) to 30.5C (87F), which contributed to the very warm sea surface temperatures (30.5-31C, or 87-88F).
There is a simple thermodynamic relationship known as the Clausius-Clapeyron equation that tells us there is a roughly 3% increase in average atmospheric moisture content for each 0.5C of warming. Sea surface temperatures in the area where Harvey intensified were 0.5-1C warmer than current-day average temperatures, which translates to 1-1.5C warmer than “average” temperatures a few decades ago. That means 3-5% more moisture in the atmosphere.
That large amount of moisture creates the potential for much greater rainfalls and greater flooding. The combination of coastal flooding and heavy rainfall is responsible for the devastating flooding that Houston is experiencing.
Not only are the surface waters of the Gulf of Mexico unusually warm right now, but there is a deep layer of warm water that Harvey was able to feed upon when it intensified at near record pace as it neared the coast. Human-caused warming is penetrating down into the ocean. It’s creating deeper layers of warm water in the Gulf and elsewhere.
Read more at: It’s a fact: climate change made Hurricane Harvey more deadly | Michael E Mann | Opinion | The Guardian
Nick Rahaim, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
“There’s not a lot of information out there about how to protect habitat in watersheds,” Green said. “Many people don’t realize fast-flowing, unobstructed creeks are not how this area evolved.”
Walking along the shaded banks of Dutch Bill Creek outside Occidental, geomorphologist John Green and environmental scientist Derek Acomb are satisfied with the winter that just passed. A deluge of water swelled thirsty watersheds, and strong winds knocked down an untold number of trees throughout the Sonoma County.
“It’s been a good year for trees coming down,” said Acomb, with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “It’s all about context; it’s all about where you are.”
While falling trees are a threat to both life and property, they create healthy habitats for coho salmon and steelhead trout. As much as dams, logging, agricultural runoff and overfishing throughout the decades have contributed to the collapse of salmon and trout populations, clearing creeks and rivers of downed trees and upended roots has been a major driver, too, Acomb said.
With more than 90 percent of the county’s watershed in private hands, the onus is on landowners to protect riparian habitat on their property. Before an individual can alter downed trees, logs and other forest material in waterways on their property, they must first receive a free permit from Fish and Wildlife — unless there is an immediate threat to life and property. The Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District can also assist in the process, said Green, the lead scientist and program manager there..
There are times when property owners call Fish and Wildlife, afraid debris in a nearby stream might flood their property or their homes. While there are serious emergencies, he said, most trees don’t pose an immediate threat.
“When they call, they’re in a survival state-of-mind,” Acomb said. “Then the following day the water has subsided and they see they’re going to be OK.”
Until the late 1990s, flood protection was the primary focus when managing creeks, streams and rivers, not habitat protection, said Green, overlooking a creek flowing through Westminster Woods where he has devoted a decade of work. The faster the water flows, the more quickly it can drain water when the rivers hit flood levels.
But without the protection from pools created by debris shaping the creek beds and slowing down the flow of water, juvenile salmon and trout are vulnerable to predators like river otters, raccoons and blue herons, Green said. Pools created by fallen timber also provide a place for coho to wait out a long, dry Californian summer before they finally venture out to the ocean in the winter months, he continued.
“With a little less flood capacity you can have a huge increase in habitat,” Acomb said, standing on the mossy bank next to Green. While the two work for different agencies, they have partnered to restore habitat in west Sonoma County.
Read more at: Fallen trees in Sonoma County creeks add to salmon habitat | The Press Democrat
Julie Johnson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
State highway officials are rushing to stabilize low-lying Highway 37 in northern Marin County on an emergency basis to prepare for another strong storm forecast to hit the region Thursday.
The highway has been inundated with flooding water from a series of January and February storms, causing road closures and traffic headaches for commuters dependent on the major Sonoma and Marin county thoroughfare.
A three-mile stretch of Highway 37 between Highway 101 and Atherton Avenue has been closed since Feb. 9. CHP officials Monday said they expected it to remain closed until at least Thursday while road crews work around the clock to raise it.
Caltrans has hired Santa Rosa-based Ghilotti Construction Co. to do the work, according to the CHP. A company representative couldn’t be reached Monday. A Caltrans spokesman didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.One of the lowest lying state roads in California, Highway 37 crosses marshlands, rivers and creeks along the San Pablo Bay.
Read more at: Caltrans announces Highway 37 construction | The Press Democrat