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Work to continue on second half of Dry Creek restoration

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Overlooking water that was swiftly running through a broad channel that was mostly a patch of thick brush and trees until last year, local and federal officials and others on Monday marked the halfway point in a 13-year, $81 million fish habitat restoration project along Dry Creek.

In the past seven years, Sonoma Water and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have completed about 3 of the 6 miles of streambed they intend to rehabilitate and enhance to give endangered salmonid species that call the creek home a better chance to survive.

“This is, I think, one of the gems of our region and really a highlight project,” Army Corps Brigadier General Kimberly Colloton told those assembled.

As they toasted the conclusion of the final phase in the first round of projects at the edge of a Ferrari-Carano vineyard in Healdsburg, the two key partners approved an agreement committing to continued work on the effort.

But they have little choice. A 2008 biological opinion issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service required the two agencies to restore 6 out of 14 miles of Dry Creek. The work had to be done if they were to continue operating the Warm Springs Dam at Lake Sonoma for flood control and water deliveries to 600,000 consumers throughout Sonoma and northern Marin counties.

The order came in response to findings that water releases made since completion of the dam in 1984 were often at too high a velocity for juvenile fish to rest or feed adequately. Moreover, such fast-moving water further scoured and straightened out the streambed, exacerbating the problem.

The work they’ve been doing since is designed to spread the creek out, creating side- and cross-channels and dead-ended alcoves that slow the water down to a stop. They’ve added giant root wads, boulders, tree stumps and other woody debris to create places for small fish to hide and rest, and put in willows and other plants on the banks for shade.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9516210-181/work-to-continue-on-second

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Wet winter banishes Northern California drought, fills North Bay reservoirs

Nick Rahaim, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Rain storms this winter have swelled water in Lake Sonoma to near-record levels, submerging once-dry boat ramps, repeatedly flooding the dockside marina and banishing the bath tub rings that for years were a telltale sign of the state’s prolonged and withering drought.
Only in the El Niño winter of 1995 did the reservoir in northwestern Sonoma County — the North Bay’s largest, created behind Warm Springs Dam in 1982 — rise higher than it did early this week, when it topped 125 percent of its capacity, with enough water to cover 300,000 football fields 1-foot-deep. The bountiful supply is more than twice the volume of water held in the lake in November 2014, amid the five-year drought that forced conservation of drinking water and cut into recreational opportunities for boaters and others.
The outlook now could hardly be more different.
With torrents of runoff coming into Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino, the Russian River’s smaller reservoir to the north, dam managers are now cranking up their releases to preserve room for additional storms. Another front is expected to arrive Wednesday night.
“We’re releasing a lot of water like we’re supposed to — we need to keep space open for the next big storm,” said Mike Dillabough, chief of Operations and Readiness division for the United States Army Corps of Engineers’ San Francisco Division. “But we’re told it’s burgeoning on a record year.”
Read more at: Wet winter banishes Northern California drought, fills North Bay reservoirs | The Press Democrat

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Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino plan for stronger measures to ward off invasive mussels 

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino were ringed in recent years by the telltale signs of drought, their diminished water levels leaving exposed earth that in wetter years is well-submerged.
Winter and spring runoff helped to replenish the two reservoirs, which together supply much of the North Bay’s drinking water and provide popular destinations to cool off in the summertime.
But a big threat to the two lakes remains in the form of tiny mollusks — quagga and zebra mussels — that are invading fresh water bodies across California and the West, hitching rides from one lake or reservoir to another on boats and trailers.
The bivalve mollusks, imports from Eastern Europe, swiftly colonize large areas, clogging intake pipes, covering docks and damaging other infrastructure while upending aquatic ecosystems.
Their spread, from the Southwest and north from Southern California, has reservoir operators throughout the state on high alert. For several years, Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino have been on the front lines of that endless fight, officials say.
“Aside from the drought, the threat of invasive mussels taking hold in either of the two lakes is one of the most significant issues facing our region today,” said state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, who called the reservoirs “prime targets for infestation,” given their popularity among boaters.
The federal agency that oversees Lakes Sonoma and Mendocino is set to step up its fight against the mussels with mandatory boat inspections slated to begin over the next year.
Read more at: Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino plan for stronger measures to ward off invasive mussels | The Press Democrat

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Storm fills North Bay reservoirs, easing region’s drought 

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
With two Russian River reservoirs brimful of runoff from a prolonged storm, the North Bay region is nearing an end to its multi-year drought, a water management official said Friday.
“It looks like a March miracle,” said Brad Sherwood, spokesman for the Sonoma County Water Agency, which supplies water to 600,000 customers in Sonoma and Marin counties. “Our water supply system hasn’t looked this good in more than three years.”
Lake Sonoma west of Healdsburg, the region’s largest reservoir, was at 107 percent of capacity for this time of year, and Lake Mendocino, the far smaller reservoir near Ukiah, was at 117 percent, with both lakes the fullest they have been in early March since 2012.
The atmospheric river that delivered the latest rainfall offered not only significant drought relief, but also relented Friday afternoon, offsetting flood forecasts and giving the ground a chance to absorb water, Sherwood said.
The Russian River water system is independent from the network of major reservoirs and canals that serve most of California, which remains under mandatory water conservation measures.
Read more at: Storm fills North Bay reservoirs, easing region’s drought | Sonoma Index-Tribune | Sonoma, CA

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Lake Mendocino nears winter capacity; Lake Sonoma close behind

Glenda Anderson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Recent rainstorms have swelled Lake Mendocino, reopening the reservoir to motor boats for the first time since August, swallowing islands raised by the drought and bringing fresh hope to ranchers and water officials.
By Thursday afternoon, the lake had reached 98 percent of capacity for this time of the year, when some space is reserved in the reservoir to help with flood prevention.
Once the level hits 100 percent, dam managers must increase releases to keep it at that level, unless they are given permission to hold back additional supplies.
In March, the reservoir’s storage capacity will rise from 68,400 acre-feet to about 110,000 acre-feet, a change aimed at maintaining adequate water supplies throughout the dry season for people, fish and agriculture along the Russian River. The key to recovery from the drought is filling the reservoir to its maximum capacity in the spring.
Read more at: Lake Mendocino nears winter capacity; Lake Sonoma close | The Press Democrat

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Lake Sonoma, Lake Mendocino get runoff boost from recent storms

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Drought-weary North Bay residents are getting an early holiday present from Mother Nature as sporadic December storms have boosted the water level in the region’s largest reservoir and set the stage for bigger gains if rain continues to fall.
Lake Sonoma, the key source of water for 600,000 customers in Sonoma and Marin counties, hit 66.9 percent of water storage capacity Thursday, up two-tenths of a point since Dec. 1 — a small but significant increase that marked the reservoir’s first uptick since June 30, when it was 81.7 percent full.
Water managers call that an “inflection point,” and Jay Jasperse, the Sonoma County Water Agency’s chief engineer, said it is “good news,” with better news possibly on the way.
The storms that have dropped just over 5 inches of rain in the Santa Rosa basin since Oct. 1 have essentially saturated the near-surface soil, allowing water to run off into reservoirs, a trend that appears to be happening to California’s largest reservoirs, as well.
“Runoff hasn’t been huge,” Jasperse said, declaring he is “cautiously optimistic” that soggy soil will keep most of the upcoming rain on the surface and draining into reservoirs.
More rain is expected Friday, over the weekend and continuing next week, consulting meteorologist Jan Null said. “A wet pattern is setting up,” he said, with no downpours but “consistent rain through the end of the year.”
Read more at: Lake Sonoma, Lake Mendocino get runoff boost from | The Press Democrat

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El Niño forecast boosts hopes for wet season

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Battered by a historic drought that has fed raging wildfires, shrunk reservoirs and prompted water curtailments and conservation mandates, Californians are yearning for relief.
It can only come from the skies, and now, with winter on its way, the question on the minds of more than 38 million Golden State residents is: Can El Niño, the weather phenomenon named for the Christ child, deliver meteorological salvation across the land, from the arid south to the normally damp north?
For the North Bay, where that answer is still highly anticipated, a shortfall on the wet forecast may not portend an immediately deepening disaster, as it could for much of the rest of the state.
The region draws its water from the Russian River and local wells, independent from the Sierra Nevada snowpack — the lowest in recorded history last winter — and the state’s major reservoirs, now 70 percent to 90 percent empty.
The North Bay’s major reservoir, Lake Sonoma, with a two-to-three-year supply when full, remains at more than 70 percent of its capacity.
Just an average amount of rainfall over the next six months in Santa Rosa — about 36 inches — would go a long way toward topping off that supply and other local reservoirs, significantly easing drought in the region, if not ending it, said managers of the Sonoma County Water Agency, the primary source of water for 600,000 North Bay customers.
Read more at: El Niño forecast boosts hopes for wet season | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories WildlifeTags , , , Leave a comment on Thousands celebrate steelhead at Lake Sonoma festival: Spawning season runs from December to April

Thousands celebrate steelhead at Lake Sonoma festival: Spawning season runs from December to April

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
More than 5,000 people turned out Saturday for the Lake Sonoma Steelhead Festival, where many attendees got an up-close look at the mating habits of the threatened trout during its spawning season.
The annual event, put on by the Friends of Lake Sonoma, gives the public a chance to learn more about the fish and the efforts of various government agencies to bulk up its population at the Don Clausen Fish Hatchery at Warm Springs Dam. The nonprofit group has played a vital role since federal budget cuts affected operations at the visitor center, which is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Friends of Lake Sonoma assumed staffing for the tours last year.
Typically, most visitors to the hatchery are elementary school students, with about 4,000 children visiting the facility on annual basis.
The event, complete with food trucks, a wine tent and a karaoke singer, helps educate a broader swath of the public, said Jane Young, executive director for the group.
via Thousands celebrate steelhead at Lake Sonoma | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Land UseTags , , Leave a comment on Dry Creek tribe plans 5 MW solar power project near Lake Sonoma

Dry Creek tribe plans 5 MW solar power project near Lake Sonoma

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A huge solar array could be in place by next spring in the hills overlooking Lake Sonoma under a cooperative venture announced Monday between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Dry Creek Band of Pomo Indians.
The solar panels would generate electricity for the fish hatchery, visitors center and other buildings at the base of Warm Springs Dam northwest of Healdsburg, as well as the tribe’s River Rock Casino and its other facilities near Geyserville, according to details released by the tribe and the Army Corps.

Tribal Chairman Harvey Hopkins called it “great for the tribe, great for Sonoma County and great for the environment.”

The initial 5-megawatt system would be the largest single solar installation in Sonoma County, eclipsing a 3-megawatt facility near Cloverdale.

Army Corps Lt. Col. John Morrow said the solar development is consistent with President Barack Obama’s order for federal agencies to reduce their carbon footprint, along with the corps’ goal of having 25 percent renewable energy by 2025.

Read more via Dry Creek tribe plans large solar power project | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , Leave a comment on First phase of Dry Creek habitat makeover nears completion

First phase of Dry Creek habitat makeover nears completion

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Construction crews that have spent more than two years reconfiguring a mile-long stretch of Dry Creek outside Healdsburg are about to mark completion of the critical first leg of what, by 2020, is to be a six-mile project designed to create new habitat for threatened and endangered fish.
So far, workers have strategically placed thousands of tons of locally sourced rock and more than a thousand giant root balls and saw logs in the creek, and they’ve removed some 30,000 cubic yards of soil and gravel to create restful backwaters, some of which already are being used by fish species whose very survival is at risk, officials said.
The overall goal is to offer supportive habitat for coho and chinook salmon, as well as steelhead trout, that includes areas of slow-water refuge, plenty of places to hide from predators, adequate food supply and cool, shallow current — partly offsetting the loss of 130 square-miles of upstream habitat cut off by the construction of Warm Springs Dam to create Lake Sonoma in 1983.
The reservoir has offered the project one advantage: From the dam at its southern end comes a reliable supply of cold, clear water that’s so rare in the Russian River watershed these days, said Eric Larson, environmental program manager for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“Basically, it comes down to the recognition that due to the characteristics of Dry Creek following the construction of the Warm Springs Dam, Dry Creek offers a huge opportunity to create salmonid habitat in the Russian River watershed where it once did not exist,” at least not year-round, Larson said.
Read more via First phase of Dry Creek makeover nears completion | The Press Democrat.