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Trump removes pollution controls on streams and wetlands

Coral Davenport, THE NEW YORK TIMES

The Trump administration on Thursday finalized a rule to strip away environmental protections for streams, wetlands and groundwater, handing a victory to farmers, fossil fuel producers and real estate developers who said Obama-era rules had shackled them with onerous and unnecessary burdens.

From Day 1 of his administration, President Trump vowed to repeal President Barack Obama’s “Waters of the United States” regulation, which had frustrated rural landowners. His new rule, which will be implemented in about 60 days, is the latest step in the Trump administration’s push to repeal or weaken nearly 100 environmental rules and laws, loosening or eliminating rules on climate change, clean air, chemical pollution, coal mining, oil drilling and endangered species protections.

Although Mr. Trump frequently speaks of his desire for the United States to have “crystal-clean water,” he has called his predecessor’s signature clean-water regulation “horrible,” “destructive” and “one of the worst examples of federal” overreach.

“I terminated one of the most ridiculous regulations of all: the last administration’s disastrous Waters of the United States rule,” he told the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual convention in Texas on Sunday, to rousing applause.

“That was a rule that basically took your property away from you,” added Mr. Trump, whose real estate holdings include more than a dozen golf courses. (Golf course developers were among the key opponents of the Obama rule and key backers of the new one.)

His administration had completed the first step of its demise in September with the rule’s repeal.

Mr. Trump’s replacement, called the “Navigable Waters Protection Rule,” finishes the process. It not only rolls back key portions of the 2015 rule that had guaranteed protections under the 1972 Clean Water Act to certain wetlands and streams that run intermittently or run temporarily underground, but also relieves landowners of the need to seek permits that the Environmental Protection Agency had considered on a case-by-case basis before the Obama rule.

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/22/climate/trump-environment-water.html?searchResultPosition=2

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Sonoma County drills wells to study groundwater sustainability

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The shallow wells Sonoma County’s water agency is drilling near 11 waterways have nothing to do with delivering water to 600,000 residents of Sonoma and Marin counties.

Instead, the 21 wells will serve as measuring sticks to determine whether pumping groundwater in the county’s three basins — the Santa Rosa Plain, Petaluma Valley and Sonoma Valley — is curbing the flow in creeks inhabited by federally protected fish and other species.

The $300,000 project is the latest consequence of a state law, enacted during California’s five-year drought, requiring long-term sustainability of underground water supplies that were heavily tapped during the prolonged dry spell.

And that means assessing the connection between surface water and groundwater and possibly, for the first time in state history, setting limits on use of well water by residents, ranchers, businesses and public water systems.

“We can’t see what’s beneath the surface, so these monitoring wells will act like underground telescopes. They can help us see how much and when water is available,” county Supervisor Susan Gorin said in a statement.

Gorin is chairwoman of the Sonoma Valley Groundwater Sustainability Agency, which covers the basin seen as most susceptible to depletion. Local agencies were formed in 2017 in each of the county’s basins to implement mandates of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act that became law in 2015 amid the state’s historic drought.

Farming interests generally have taken a dim view of the increased monitoring and prospect of pumping limits. During the recent drought, when stream flows were greatly diminished statewide, Central Valley farmers especially drew heavily on groundwater at rates that officials said were unsustainable, risking a whole host of related environmental impacts — on drinking water, soil and wildlife.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10275251-181/sonoma-county-drills-wells-to

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A time of reckoning in the Central Valley

Mark Schapiro, BAY NATURE

Inside a climate-controlled laboratory at the Duarte Nursery outside Modesto, an experiment is taking place that could help determine what food we will eat for decades to come. Rows of steel racks contain numerous tiny almond, apple, walnut, pomegranate, pecan, avocado, fig, and pistachio trees in small translucent plastic cylinders. The saplings, planted in a high-nutrient agar mix that accelerates growth, are no more than two inches high and a few weeks old. Each is being subjected to versions of the stresses experienced just outside these walls in fields across the Central Valley: declining levels of water, escalating levels of salt. The big overarching, if unmentionable, force driving these experiments is climate change, which is beginning to roil the Central Valley.

Duarte, one of the largest commercial nurseries in the world, specializes in tree nuts and fruits, which have boomed across the valley in recent decades. Founded four decades ago, the nursery grew rapidly as water piped into the valley from the Sierras gave birth to the most bounteous center for agriculture in North America. The nursery now sprawls over 200 acres in the town of Hughson, just outside Modesto. Things began to change about a decade ago, according to John Duarte, the nursery’s president.

When I first met Duarte back in 2012, he resisted calling the shifts he was seeing climate change: “Whether it’s carbon built up in the atmosphere or just friggin’ bad luck,” he said then, “the conditions are straining us.” Today, he still avoids the climate change label. (“You should meet my daughter; I think she agrees with you on the climate business,” he told me recently.) But even seven years ago, Duarte was on the forefront of researching tree varieties suited to a hotter, drier, saltier future.

Trees present a particular challenge: Conditions shift, but the trees can’t move. A fruit or nut tree planted today may, depending on the species, be ill-suited to climatic conditions by the time it begins bearing fruit in five or ten years. So the question Duarte is trying to answer, the one bedeviling farmers across the valley, is, what to plant today that can thrive and bear fruit over the next quarter century or more?

“Everyone,” Duarte said, “is thinking about the impacts of warm winters and not enough water.” Valley temperatures are predicted to rise between 3.5 and 6 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, while periods of extreme heat are expected to lengthen. Even now, it’s often not cold enough in winter to permit trees’ metabolism to slow down, a process critical to the spring flowering that produces fruits and nuts later in the season. Irrigation water is becoming saltier, too. Desperate farmers drilling ever-deeper wells are pumping up saltier water. And a new state law, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, will likely serve as a catalyst of change. Starting in 2020, it will regulate how much water farmers can withdraw from the Central Valley aquifer. The law promises to shake up the methods and business of valley agriculture.

The lessons learned here, or not learned, have implications for agricultural regions elsewhere, from the American Midwest to North Africa, southern Europe and southwest China. These breadbaskets are already experiencing similar extremes of heat, drought, and flood, and new pests and diseases.

Climate change is revealing the vulnerabilities of an industrial agriculture system that relies on predictability. And it’s shining a light on alternative growing practices that are potentially more resilient to these environmental shifts.

“When I drive to the Central Valley, I get goose bumps; I feel the urgency,” says Amélie Gaudin, an agronomist at UC Davis who works with many Central Valley growers on improving soil quality. “I see an agriculture that is basically hydroponics. It’s like a person being fed/kept alive by an IV.”

Read more at https://baynature.org/article/a-time-of-reckoning-in-the-central-valley/

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Groundwater sustainability board backs off fees for rural well owners in Sonoma County

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Facing a wave of opposition over proposed fees for using well water, the directors of a little-known public agency backed away from a decision Thursday and agreed to consider an alternative plan that would exempt rural residents and cost other groundwater users far less overall.

Irate residents blistered the Santa Rosa Groundwater Sustainability Agency’s board of directors with complaints over the inequity and underlying principle of the plan to make residents, ranchers, businesses, towns and cities pay — for the first time — for water pumped out of the ground.

“I don’t believe the process is fair,” said Michael Hilber of Santa Rosa. The cost of the state-mandated groundwater management program, he said, was being “shifted away from industrial wine interests” and inflated for homeowners.

Orlean Koehle of Santa Rosa said the proposed fees were “ridiculous” in the wake of heavy rains and also violated the common law principle that “a well goes with a property owner (rights).”

Justin Morse complained the fees could double repeatedly in the future and with no “guarantee the funds get spent on groundwater.”

Pat Mitchell said the new regulations amounted to “more agencies with people that have to be paid for their time.”

In response, board Chairwoman Lynda Hopkins and Director Shirlee Zane, both county supervisors, introduced a “Plan B.”

The new proposal would exempt an estimated 7,300 rural well owners in the Santa Rosa Plain from all fees and include financial contributions from both the county and Sonoma Water, the agency that delivers water to 600,000 Sonoma and Mendocino county residents.

The alternative plan, to be presented in detail at the board’s next meeting in June, would also dispense with a proposed well registration program.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9489643-181/groundwater-sustainability-board-backs-off

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January 30: Community meeting for Santa Rosa Plain Groundwater Sustainability fee

Ann DuBay, WINDSOR TIMES

For more information about the Santa Rosa Plain GSA, go to www.santarosaplaingroundwater.org.

The Santa Rosa Plain Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) is hosting a community meeting on Jan. 30, to discuss a proposed groundwater sustainability fee to provide short-term funding for the new agency. Attendees will also learn about a proposed well registration program. The meeting will be held at 6 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 30, Finley Community Center, 2060 West College Ave, Santa Rosa.

The GSA was created to sustain the quality and quantity of groundwater in the Santa Rosa Plain (generally, the valley floor stretching from Cotati to Windsor and from the foot of Sonoma Mountain to Sebastopol). This state-mandated agency is nearing completion of a yearlong study to finds ways to finance day-to-day operations and groundwater planning. A groundwater sustainability fee – based on estimated groundwater use – is being considered.

“The GSA Board has worked for more than a year to develop an equitable, low-impact solution that will allow us to fund this state-mandated agency,” said Santa Rosa Plain GSA board chair Lynda Hopkins. “The meeting is an opportunity for community members to learn about the proposed fee, and to share their thoughts.”

“The GSA Board and Advisory Committee have discussed fee options in 12 public meetings, we held a community workshop to solicit creative ideas and we’ve provided monthly updates to our large email list,” said Santa Rosa Plain GSA vice-chairman Tom Schwedhelm. “We hope people can attend the January 30 meeting to learn more details.”

Read more at: http://www.sonomawest.com/the_windsor_times/news/community-meeting-for-santa-rosa-plain-groundwater-sustainability-fee/article_890441aa-1e9b-11e9-a5af-377f9b3e679c.html

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Sonoma County explores fees to pay for new groundwater management plan

Hannah Beausang, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Thousands of Sonoma County residents who rely on groundwater will likely see new fees on their property tax bill next fall, helping pay for a legally required groundwater regulatory plan.

Local agencies governing groundwater resources were created in 2017 following the passage of a landmark California law intended to safeguard the previously unregulated water supply. Those new agencies in the Santa Rosa Plain, the Sonoma Valley and the Petaluma Valley were given until 2022 to craft plans that take stock of the amount of groundwater in each basin and establish measures ensuring sustainability for the next 20 years.

The agencies have each received $1 million in state grant funding, but officials say more money is needed to complete the framework. The groundwater agency in the Santa Rosa Plain has opted to levy fees on users to bridge its $1 million gap, while the Petaluma Valley and Sonoma Valley agencies will pay their own respective costs, said Ann DuBay, a Sonoma County Water Agency spokeswoman.

The board of directors of the Santa Rosa Plain agency held a study session Thursday to hone in on fees and ways to create a program to register wells in the basin. It covers 78,720 acres from Rohnert Park and Cotati north to Windsor, including Santa Rosa and the east edge of Sebastopol.

Potential fees, which vary by type of use, would be levied on cities, water districts, farmers, businesses and residents with wells over the course of three years. About 13,000 parcels could be impacted by new fees, DuBay said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9064333-181/sonoma-county-explores-fees-to

Posted on Categories WaterTags , , , Leave a comment on New groundwater laws may be coming to California’s premier wine-growing region

New groundwater laws may be coming to California’s premier wine-growing region

Matt Weiser, PACIFIC STANDARD

California’s premier wine-growing region has been identified for more regulation under the state’s new groundwater law, likely resulting in new fees and limits on water extraction for the industry.

The state Department of Water Resources declared in May that 14 groundwater basins across the state face threats to groundwater, and thus should be reprioritized under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. Four of these are in Napa and Sonoma county wine-growing valleys.

The aquifers in question are the Sonoma Lowlands sub-basin in Napa and Solano counties, the Alexander Valley basin and Healdsburg area sub-basin in Sonoma County and the Wilson Grove Highlands basin in Sonoma and Marin counties. Each is a vital source of irrigation water for grape growing.

The department proposes to change these basins from “low” to “medium” priority under the law after reviewing new data on groundwater conditions and land use in each region. Previously, their low ranking meant these basins got a pass from complying with SGMA. If finalized in November, medium priority will require each basin to form a groundwater sustainability agency within two years, and complete a sustainability plan within five years.

Other groundwater basins in Napa and Sonoma counties are already subject to these requirements. The new additions mean virtually all of California’s top wine region now confronts costly groundwater regulations for the first time. Grape growing is the primary consumer of groundwater in each basin.

Read more at https://psmag.com/environment/groundwater-laws-are-coming-to-wine-country

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Knights Valley winery approved by Sonoma County Board of Supervisors

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A new winery proposed for Knights Valley was approved Tuesday by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, which denied an appeal from two local groups concerned about the long-planned facility’s impacts on the remote area.
With little fanfare, supervisors unanimously followed through on the intent they relayed last month during a lengthy public hearing about the Knights Bridge Winery.
Under a condition placed by county officials, the project cannot draw more groundwater than currently used at the site, which already includes about 43 acres of vineyards. The winery, which can produce up to 10,400 cases, is slated for a roughly 86-acre property off Spencer Lane.
A potential squeeze on the area’s already-scarce groundwater supplies was a primary concern among project opponents, including the Maacama Watershed Alliance and the Friends of Spencer Lane, who appealed the Board of Zoning Adjustments’ 2015 approval of the project to supervisors.
To meet the condition, the county is requiring the winery to reduce the property’s existing usage of groundwater by at least 0.5 acre feet annually, or nearly 163,000 gallons per year. Project applicant Jim Bailey initially plans to meet the requirement by dry farming three acres of vines, according to county staff.
Read more at: Knights Valley winery approved by Sonoma County Board of Supervisors | The Press Democrat –

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Sonoma County supervisors endorse Knights Valley winery over neighbors’ objections

J.D. MORRIS, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors signaled Tuesday that it would approve a new winery in Knights Valley, advancing a long-planned 10,000-case facility despite concerns from residents worried about how the project would impact the rural area, particularly its limited groundwater supplies.
After a nearly three-hour hearing, supervisors unanimously agreed to move the Knights Bridge Winery proposal forward, indicating the board intends to deny a request from residents who wanted the county to require another layer of environmental review.
The board directed county staff to bring the winery’s use permit back for a formal vote Sept. 19, incorporating several conditions proposed by Supervisor James Gore, who represents Knights Valley.
“There’s one thing everybody has in common, which is this beautiful place,” Gore said at the hearing’s outset. “It’s absolutely gorgeous and pristine, and it’s a place that deserves protection and deserves the highest level of review for projects, too.”
The most significant of Gore’s conditions would solidify a pledge made by the winery’s proponents that the project would offset any additional groundwater use, a key concern of residents opposed to the winery, slated for a roughly 86-acre site on Spencer Lane about a mile west of Highway 128. The property’s net demand on its well — half the acreage is planted in vineyards — was previously estimated at about 162,900 gallons per year.
Read more at: Sonoma County supervisors endorse Knights Valley winery over neighbors’ objections | The Press Democrat

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Why some western water agencies are writing 100-year water plans 

Jerry Redfern, NewsDeeply

The plan calls for increased water conservation through groundwater management (including recharging the aquifer beneath Albuquerque), surface-water management (including protecting current water rights and buying more in the future), watershed restoration, water recycling and reuse programs and stormwater capture and storage.

In February of this year, the largest water district in a state with little water enacted a plan that attempts to manage that increasingly fickle resource for 100 years.
The plan, Water: 2120, is the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority (ABCWUA) in New Mexico’s blueprint to direct water procurement, protection and use for the next century.
“This really came out of eight to 10 of us sitting around in a room every Wednesday morning and talking this through,” said Katherine Yuhas, water resources manager at ABCWUA and one of the lead planners on the project.
It’s common for water agencies to develop plans looking 20 to 40 years ahead, or in some cases 50 to 60 years. And ABCWUA, of course, has had planning documents in the past, the last one looking 60 years out. But “this is the first one to take into account climate change,” Yuhas said, and “it’s the first one to look out 100 years.” Plus, it covers everything from watersheds to infrastructure to household use.
Other Western water groups are also working on long-range plans. Santa Fe is looking closely at Water: 2120. Next year, Austin Water plans to unveil Water Forward, which it calls, “a water plan for the next century.”
And in Arizona, the Office of Assured and Adequate Water Supply Program at the Department of Water Resources requires new developments in certain metropolitan areas to show they have physical and legal access to water for 100 years.
Read more at: Why Some Western Water Agencies Are Writing 100-Year Water Plans — Water Deeply