Paul Payne, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Restaurants in bucolic Valley Ford serve up local seafood and farm-raised beef. But don’t ask for local water.
Anything that makes it to the table in one of this town’s several eateries is trucked in from Petaluma because water from Valley Ford’s main well has been deemed unfit to drink.
That could soon change. Officials in the town of about 125 people near the Sonoma Coast hope to complete a multiyear effort this fall to pipe in clean water from a new well. It will put an end to mounting transportation costs and delivery problems connected to winter storms.
“It’s a bummer to have to truck in water,” said Geoff Diamond, manager of Estero Café on Highway 1, as he tended a small breakfast crowd Thursday morning. “It would certainly be an asset to the rest of the town to have clean water coming through.
”Some in Valley Ford — a longtime dairy town with a cluster of tourist-friendly businesses including the iconic Dinucci’s Italian restaurant — say the change can’t come soon enough. Restaurants are barred from serving well water but residents still get it when they turn on the tap.
Warnings of high nitrate levels associated with surrounding dairy ranches have prompted many to drink, cook and even bathe with bottled water. The State Water Resources Control Board issued a warning last month that pregnant women and infants younger than 6 months should not consume the well water. Additionally, the warning cautioned against boiling, freezing or filtering the water.
Read more at: Bucolic Valley Ford faces water problems linked to dairies | The Press Democrat
Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Vintners and wine industry representatives on Tuesday pressed Sonoma County supervisors to give farming interests a greater say in how California’s new law governing groundwater is put into place on a local level.
As proposed by staff from Sonoma County Water Agency and county administrator’s office, those interests are set to hold an advisory role — but not voting power — on the agencies that will oversee the three local aquifers that fall under the state law. Environmentalists and rural residents who depend on wells for their water supply would also be represented on the advisory groups.
That arrangement, however, has riled representatives of the county’s wine industry and other agricultural interests, who see much at stake in how the new law is imposed. The governing agencies, which must be formed by June 30, will have the ability to register and monitor wells, restrict pumping and prevent drilling of new wells. Agencies would also have the ability to assess new fees and taxes.
“Nothing good for farmers in this county … can come from this monitoring,” Jim Bundschu, an owner of Gundlach Bundschu Winery in Sonoma, told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. “Agriculture needs a larger voice.”
Supervisors on Tuesday voiced support for a recommendation by the Water Agency to create three separate regulatory bodies — one each to oversee groundwater in the Santa Rosa Plain, Sonoma Valley and Petaluma Valley.
Read more at: Wine industry wants greater say in Sonoma County groundwater regulation | The Press Democrat
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Supplemented by local funding, the venture aims to boost stream flows and groundwater and clean up the Russian River and its tributaries.
A coalition of Sonoma County resource agencies has been awarded $8 million in federal funds to advance an ambitious series of conservation projects intended to improve water supply and quality and enhance wildlife habitat on local agricultural lands.
The efforts will take in vineyards and farmland and aim to reduce erosion, boost stream flows and groundwater and clean up the Russian River and its tributaries while restoring habitat for imperiled fish and wildlife species.Sonoma County’s Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District is the lead agency and will contribute $14 million of the $15.8 million local match for the U.S. Department of Agriculture grant.
Most of the funding will go toward the purchase of conservation easements on farmland along key stream corridors and in areas where flood plains and groundwater basins can benefit.
One objective is to fortify the water supply for growers and wildlife in the face of drought and amid the uncertainty posed by climate change.
Read more at: Sonoma County coalition awarded $8 million grant for water conservation work
Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) website – newsletter signup and meetings.
Sonoma County supervisors on Tuesday took their first substantive action to implement California’s landmark groundwater laws, voicing support for a three-pronged governance structure for local public entities that will have broad authority to regulate underground water supplies.
The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved forming one “sustainability agency” for each of the three basins in Sonoma County that fall under the new laws — the Santa Rosa Plain, Sonoma Valley and Petaluma Valley basins. The agencies must be in place by mid-2017.
“We need to be prepared,” said Supervisor James Gore. “The reality is that sustainability is not a choice.”
Other options included multiple agencies per basin, or one for the entire county.
Regulatory jurisdiction for the agencies could take in wells on residential and commercial properties, where officials would have authority to restrict pumping, assess fees to cover staff and infrastructure costs and fine users for depleting aquifers.
The bodies also could take proactive measures, ranging from land acquisition for water conservation projects to financing for water-saving infrastructure, including networks to distribute recycled water and catch stormwater.
Read more at: Sonoma County supervisors endorse framework for overseeing groundwater | The Press Democrat
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Environmentalists are mobilizing in protest of a would-be bill backed by the local wine industry that would create an irrigation district intended to protect the water rights of about 1,000 grape growers in the Russian River region.
Noting that Sonoma County is facing “urgent water supply” problems unique to the Russian River watershed, the legislation — proposed by the United Winegrowers of Sonoma County — would create a segmented district covering five viticultural areas in Alexander, Knights, Dry Creek, Russian River and Bennett valleys, which produce the county’s priciest wine grapes.
The move comes in fourth year of California’s historic drought, when competing claims for dwindling supplies and state moves to safeguard stream flows have set some rural landowners under mandatory cutbacks against grape growers who have so far faced no such restrictions.
Activists involved in the escalating debate over winery expansion and vineyards’ unlimited use of water were alarmed by a published report last month that said state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, was “quietly sponsoring” the bill, and they intend to protest at McGuire’s annual town hall meeting Thursday night at the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors chambers.
McGuire said he had received a copy of the proposed bill from Bob Anderson, executive director of the United Winegrowers for Sonoma County, who handles the local wine industry’s political affairs. In response, McGuire said he advised the wine industry and environmental factions that all sides need to agree on a “collaborative solution” before he would consider carrying any legislation.
“There is no bill,” he said, noting that the deadline for filing legislation this year has passed.
Read more at: Activists see Sonoma County winegrowers’ proposed bill as | The Press Democrat
Many at the hearing said they were mainly concerned that the new rules do not address water usage by rural residents or farmers, over-pumping of some of the county’s groundwater basins or the impact of the drought on sensitive plant and animal habitat in riparian areas.
Sonoma County supervisors Tuesday unanimously approved sweeping new limits on well drilling, making the most significant changes to the county’s water well ordinance in nearly 40 years.
The revised ordinance establishes well-construction standards to prevent groundwater contamination, incorporates new protective buffer zones along streams and requires new wells be equipped with monitoring devices to measure groundwater levels in the future.
The rules also prohibit drilling new wells into streams and wetlands and require that property owners pay a $150 annual fee to test water, ensuring it is safe for drinking.
The updates, made amid California’s historic drought, are meant partly to prevent new wells from sucking streams dry and diminishing connected underground supplies. The rules also are intended to shield streams from sediment and other pollution that can be unleashed during well construction.
The revised regulations, however, apply only to new wells and do not cover the estimated 40,000 wells that now exist outside of city limits. The action also does not establish a limit on the number of new wells permitted by the county or require any reductions of water usage.
Supervisors called the updates overdue, though board members said they were concerned the new rules did not sufficiently address the depletion of aquifers and streams amid the drought.
Read more at: In bid to conserve streams, aquifers, Sonoma County | The Press Democrat
Will Parrish, EAST BAY EXPRESS
In a decision bursting with symbolism, the California State Water Resources Control Board recently announced its intention to draw down the main water supply reservoir for a half-million people to only 12 percent of capacity by September 30. Lake Folsom on the American River — the main water source for Roseville, Folsom, and other Sacramento suburbs — will plummet to 120,000 acre feet by that date, according to a forecast by the water board, which announced the plan at an unusually lively Sacramento workshop on June 24.
The artificial lake will therefore be only months away from turning into a dreaded “dead pool,” a state in which a reservoir becomes so low it cannot drain by gravity through the dam’s outlet. Such an outcome would leave area residents scrambling for water — if recent predictions of an El Niño weather pattern fizzle and rain fails to appear later in 2015. If that were to happen, then Folsom could be a harbinger for the rest of California.
Indeed, as the American West lurches through its fourth summer of an historic drought, numerous major reservoirs are at or near historic lows relative to the time of year. New Melones Reservoir on the Stanislaus River in Calaveras and Tuolumne counties, which was only 16 percent full as of last week, appears likely to meet the same fate as Folsom this year. A study by UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 2008, three years before the current drought began, warned that the nation’s largest reservoir, Nevada’s Lake Mead (which supplies much of Southern California), has a fifty-fifty chance of running dry by 2021.
State and federal water management officials have contended that the current state of emergency has come to pass due to a natural disaster beyond their control. Water board member Steven Moore has called the drought “our Hurricane Sandy.” In April, after Jerry Brown stood on a Sierra summit barren of snow and announced the state’s first-ever mandatory water restrictions, an official press release from the governor’s office asserted that for “more than two years, the state’s experts have been managing water resources to ensure that the state survives this drought and is better prepared for the next one.”
But according to critics, the opposite is true. One of the main reasons that California’s reservoirs have plummeted to nearly cataclysmic lows, they say, is that federal and state water managers sent enormous quantities of water in recent years to senior water rights holders, especially water districts that supply agribusinesses in the dry San Joaquin Valley. ”
Much the way Congress and federal regulators gave Wall Street a huge legal pass and billions in bailout money for crashing the US and global economies last decade, so does the State Water Resources Control Board coddle state and federal water projects and their thirsty contractors for managing their water supplies to the point that the systems on which they depend are themselves circling the drain,” said Tim Stroshane, a water policy analyst for the conservation advocacy group Restore the Delta.
Read more at: A Solution for California’s Water Woes | East Bay Express
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
With fish perishing in drought-diminished Sonoma County streams, state regulators said Wednesday they felt pressed to approve sweeping new limits on water use affecting thousands of rural landowners.
But farm representatives attending the State Water Resources Control Board meeting said part of the measure was regulatory overreach, while some west county residents said it didn’t go far enough. Others said the whole thing was rushed.
Water board members said they appreciated some of the complaints, but voted unanimously to establish the new restrictions affecting outdoor water use, and a requirement that all landowners submit reports starting next month that detail their use of stream and well water.
“This is a very extreme situation. There are already fish dying in the streams,” Corinne Gray, a state Department of Fish and Wildlife official, told the five-member State Water Resources Control Board. All coho salmon and steelhead trout need is a “trickle of water” between pools on the four creeks to survive the summer, she said.
The emergency regulation will apply, starting July 3, to about 10,000 landowners on 130 square miles across four watersheds: Dutch Bill and Green Valley creeks in the west county, Mark West Creek north of Santa Rosa and Mill Creek west of Healdsburg. About 13,000 properties will be covered by the rules.
Residents and businesses, including wineries, will be prohibited from using water drawn from creeks or wells for sprinkling lawns or washing cars, while irrigation of other landscaping, such as trees and plants, will be limited as it is in many cities.
Irrigation for commercial agriculture is exempt from the water conservation rules, an issue that prompted harsh criticism from several county residents attending the meeting and was acknowledged by Felicia Marcus, the water board’s chairwoman.
Read more at: State regulators approve water restrictions to aid Sonoma | The Press Democrat
Will Parrish, EAST BAY EXPRESS
The unregulated growth of California’s wine industry in the state’s coastal regions is depleting groundwater supplies and devastating rivers and fisheries.
Along the border of Sonoma and Napa counties, roughly seven miles northeast of Santa Rosa, hydrologist and forester Jim Doerksen took me to the southeastern end of his house, where he has scrawled annual rainfall totals on his laundry room wall for more than thirty years. It was an early-spring morning, and fog had draped the redwoods and Doug firs in a ghostly gray on the north-facing slope above Doerksen’s home.
In the 2005–06 rain year, Doerksen’s gauge recorded 98 inches of precipitation. Yet, the water level that year in Mark West Creek — a tributary of the Russian River, historically known for its thrashing, silvery surges of salmon and trout — had declined by more than half.
The realization that his beloved creek was drying up, even in a wet year, remains clearly etched in Doerksen’s mind a decade later. As a former staff hydrologist for Santa Clara County, Doerksen is also keenly aware of what happened. He explained that the depletion of an underground aquifer, which feeds the creek, caused it to run dry.
“A fractured-bedrock aquifer lies beneath this part of the Mayacamas Mountain range, dispensing water through pores … in the sub-surface rock,” he said. “When the groundwater level drops below these pores, the aquifer ceases to dispense — you end up with a dry creek.”
On the northwestern edge of Doerksen’s property, a sign strung to a tree describes this problem even more succinctly and identifies the culprit: “Vineyards SUCK! Water.”
Historically, much of California’s wine industry had been centered in the Central Valley. But by the latter part of the 20th century, the notion that the distinct character of a particular vineyard is expressed through the wines produced from it had become a popular notion among American wine drinkers. Grape growers responded by touting coastal ridgetop vineyards as boasting California’s best terroir. And so corduroy-like rows of grapes marched up hillsides in California’s northern and central coastal areas.
The growth of hillside vineyards was a free-for-all. “When it comes to agriculture, there’s no statewide regulation that prevents oak woodland and chaparral fragmentation and habitat loss,” explained Adina Merenlender, a UC Berkeley Cooperative Extension specialist in Environmental Science, Policy, and Management who has studied the conversion of woodlands to vineyards in Sonoma County. “It’s discouraging.”
In upper Mark West Creek, the conversion to vineyards started with the owner of a multimillion-dollar dentistry consulting business in Marin County — named Pride — that installed eighty acres of grapes on a ridgetop where oaks had previously stood. The next person to plant a ridgetop vineyard in the area was Fred Fisher, an heir to the General Motors fortune. The coup de grace occurred when Henry Cornell, an investment banker from Goldman Sachs in New York City, purchased 120 acres and clear-cut the forests on his property to make way for a vineyard and winery.
Read more at: Turning Water into Wine | East Bay Express
Christian Kallen, SONOMA INDEX-TRIBUNE
May 5, 2015: A public hearing on groundwater in the Sonoma Valley, and the formation of a Groundwater Sustainability Agency, will be held at the VOMWD board meeting Room, 19039 Bay St., El Verano. The board meeting begins at 6:30 p.m., and the hearing will start at about 6:45 p.m.
If praying for more rain isn’t working, and conserving usage isn’t sufficient to provide enough water for Sonoma, maybe it’s time to look down – underground. There, however, the picture gets murkier.“
We can see an open storage reservoir, like Lake Sonoma or Lake Mendocino, how much water is in there, and how much the decline is,” said Dan Muelrath. “Groundwater is much trickier. You can’t see it.”
Larbre, (of Larbre Well Drilling) who’s been keeping records since the ‘90s, said that since that time, the water level has declined about 85 feet, most of it in the past two years.
Muelrath is the executive director of the Valley of the Moon Water District, which is holding a public hearing on the groundwater situation in Sonoma Valley next Tuesday, May 5, at the regular VOMWD board meeting in El Verano.
But well-driller Ray Larbre says he and other drillers “know what’s going on underground – but nobody asks us.” Larbre has lived all his life on the same property on Arnold Drive, carrying on his father’s well-drilling business, Larbre Well Drilling and Pump, founded in 1932.“
Everybody’s turning to groundwater to solve their irrigation problems, for landscape and around their houses,” said Larbre. “All they’re doing now by drilling these wells for residential use is creating more draw from the strata and less water for everybody else.”
The 71-year-old well-driller has seen wet years and dry, but nothing like this current drought. Recalling the drought years of 1976-78, he said, “That drought was severe but this one is more severe and long lasting – it’s really changed the landscape as far as I’m concerned.”
Concerns over the increased use of groundwater, and its depletion, prompted the state to pass the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act last year. One of its key components is the creation of Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSA), tasked with assessing conditions in local groundwater basins and adopting locally based sustainability plans.
Next week’s public hearing will discuss the formation of a local GSA to manage the resource. The VOMWD will open the floor to a public hearing on the question of which of the affected agencies should take the lead in forming the local GSA – Valley of the Moon, City of Sonoma, the Sonoma County Water Agency or the County itself.
Read more via: Wells running dry as groundwater recedes | Sonoma Index-Tribune | Sonoma News, Entertainment, Sports, Real Estate, Events, Photos, Sonoma, CA