Posted on Categories WaterTags , , ,

Lawsuit urges tighter regulation of well drilling

Carol Benfell, SOCONEWS

A Sacramento-based environmental group is suing to stop well drilling in the Russian River watershed until Sonoma County determines if the wells will steal underground water flows from the Russian River or its tributaries.

The lawsuit brought by California Coastkeeper says the county is failing its “public trust” duty to preserve and protect the Russian River for the common good. It asks the court to order a ban on the drilling until the county adopts the appropriate regulations.

“The county has to get squared away on how to keep water flowing in the Russian River,” said Drevet Hunt, an attorney for California Coastkeeper.

The county is taking the issue seriously, said Daniel Virkstis, a county spokesperson.

“The county is taking a hard look at the issues raised in Coastkeeper’s suit and knows they are of significant concern to the community and land owners,” Virkstis said.

There are more than 40,000 rural wells in Sonoma County. About 400 were drilled in the past two years alone, with no examination of their impact on the Russian River watershed, according to county records.

“Over-pumping groundwater has had and continues to cause significant harmful effects on the flow of the Russian River and its tributaries,” said Sean Bothwell, executive director of California Coastkeeper.

“The current drought only makes this problem worse, and restricting surface diversions alone merely drives more groundwater pumping,” Bothwell said.

Read more at https://soconews.org/scn_county/lawsuit-urges-tighter-regulation-of-well-drilling/article_baf881b4-252b-11ec-9586-b79f43109cdb.html?

Posted on Categories WaterTags , , , ,

California enacted a groundwater law 7 years ago. But wells are still drying up — and the threat is spreading

Rachel Becker, CALMATTERS

Called the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act or SGMA, the laws gave local groundwater agencies in critically overdrafted basins 26 years — until 2040 — to achieve sustainability and stop impacts of overdraft from worsening.

As drought worsens, there are few, if any, protections in place for California’s depleted groundwater. The new law gave local agencies at least 26 years — until 2040 — to stop the impacts of over-pumping.

Kelly O’Brien’s drinking water well had been in its death throes for days before its pump finally gave out over Memorial Day weekend.

It wasn’t a quiet death at O’Brien’s home in Glenn County, about 100 miles north of Sacramento.

Spigots rattled. Faucets sputtered. The drinking water turned rusty with sediment. In the end, two houses, three adults, three children, two horses, four dogs and a couple of cats on her five acres of land were all left with no water for their sinks, showers, laundry, troughs and water bowls.

As extreme drought spread across the state, O’Brien feared that the water underneath her property had sunk so low that it was out of the reach of her well.

“The whole time you’re going, ‘Oh please, let it be something else. Let it be a switch. Let it be the pump — let it be anything but being out of water,’” O’Brien said. She worried that she might have to take out a second mortgage to afford the thousands of dollars if her well had to be drilled deeper.

Soon O’Brien learned that other wells were failing around her. She heard about one neighbor to the north, another to the east. The list kept growing: She started a Facebook group for owners of dry wells to share their woes and resources, and it grew to more than 665 members.

Read more at https://calmatters.org/environment/2021/08/california-groundwater-dry/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, WaterTags , , , , ,

Russian River on the brink: Lifeblood of North Coast imperiled by deepening drought

Mary Callahan, PRESS DEMOCRAT

Two winters ago, the Russian River was a swollen, chocolate-brown mass, full from bank to bank as it surged toward the Pacific Ocean, gathering runoff from sodden hillsides and frothing creeks amid torrential rains.

The floods of late February 2019 were the worst in two decades. They sent roiling water into communities along the river’s lower reaches in Sonoma County. Thousands of residents were displaced, restaurants were damaged and inns shuttered mere months before the summer tourist season. The losses would amount to tens of millions of dollars.

Now, shriveled by another historic drought, the same river cuts a languid, narrow path through a parched landscape — a slender ribbon of water stretching from inland Mendocino County to Healdsburg, where it is widened with a shot of cool reservoir water from Dry Creek before winding west to the sea.

The lifeblood of Sonoma, Mendocino and northern Marin counties, the river provides drinking water for more than 600,000 people. It is a refuge for imperiled fish and supports a thriving recreational economy. Much of the region’s $12-plus billion wine industry wouldn’t be here without it.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/russian-river-on-the-brink-lifeblood-of-north-coast-imperiled-by-deepening/

Posted on Categories WaterTags , , , ,

How is California’s landmark groundwater law impacting Sonoma County?

Glen Martin, PRESS DEMOCRAT

The drought is intensifying efforts to conserve all of Sonoma County’s water resources, including a supply that has eluded oversight until recently: groundwater. But even as plans for groundwater monitoring and sustainable use proceed, tensions are building over its management.

The authority to evaluate and regulate groundwater comes from a 2014 law crafted in the middle of the state’s last drought. It authorized government regulation for certain groundwater basins through the establishment of local agencies, with the goal of “sustainable” management – that is, no significant drop in groundwater tables year-to-year – by 2042.

Three of Sonoma County’s 14 groundwater basins are subject to such oversight: Sonoma Valley, the Santa Rosa Plain and Petaluma Valley. The location of these basins corresponds to both high population density and major groundwater demands.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/specialsections/how-is-californias-landmark-groundwater-law-impacting-sonoma-county/?artslide=1

Posted on Categories WaterTags , , , ,

Drought is back. But Southern California faces less pain than Northern California

Bettina Boxall, LOS ANGELES TIMES

Drought is returning to California as a second, consecutive parched winter draws to a close in the usually wet north, leaving the state’s major reservoirs half empty.

But this latest period of prolonged dryness will probably play out very differently across this vast state.

In Northern California, areas dependent on local supplies, such as Sonoma County, could be the hardest-hit. Central Valley growers have been told of steep cuts to upcoming water deliveries. Environmentalists too are warning of grave harm to native fish.

Yet, hundreds of miles to the south, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California reports record amounts of reserves — enough to carry the state’s most populous region through this year and even next.

Memories of unprecedented water-use restrictions in cities and towns, dry country wells and shriveled croplands linger from California’s punishing 2012-16 drought.

Officials say the lessons of those withering years have left the state in a somewhat better position to deal with its inevitable dry periods, and Gov. Gavin Newsom is not expected to declare a statewide drought emergency this year.

“We don’t see ourselves in that position in terms of supply,” said Department of Water Resources Director Karla Nemeth. “If it’s dry next year, then maybe it’s a different story.”

Southern California is a case in point.

Read more at: https://www.latimes.com/environment/story/2021-04-02/drought-conditions-hit-northern-california-harder-than-in-the-south

Posted on Categories WaterTags , ,

MAVEN’S NOTEBOOK

“In 2014, California’s landmark Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) promised comprehensive management of California’s groundwater. The report, based on joint analysis by Stanford University’s Water in the West and The Nature Conservancy, finds that SGMA actually suffers from several major gaps in its coverage. Indeed, SGMA currently protects less than two percent of California’s groundwater. While SGMA covers those groundwater basins where the vast majority of pumping today occurs, it does not protect many other important groundwater sources, leaving that groundwater at risk of over-pumping, now and in the future, with no state oversight to safeguard rural domestic wells, sensitive habitats, and other beneficial uses of water. This report, Mind the Gaps: The Case for Truly Comprehensive Sustainable Groundwater Management, details SGMA’s gaps and their consequences and recommends several ways to remedy these gaps. The gaps largely stem from the ways in which the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) defines and prioritizes groundwater basins in Bulletin 118 (California’s Groundwater). … ” Read the report here: Mind the Gaps: The Case for Truly Comprehensive Sustainable Groundwater Management

Posted on Categories WaterTags , , , ,

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

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, WaterTags , , , , ,

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

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , , , , ,

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/

Posted on Categories WaterTags , , ,

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