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Too little (but not too late) for the Petaluma River

San Francisco Baykeeper Update

Updated: On March 17, 2020, Baykeeper further challenged the Regional Board’s flawed plan before the oversight agency, urging the State Water Board to reject the plan as inadequate. Baykeeper’s scientists maintain that the Petaluma River is currently so contaminated with bacteria that people will get sick swimming and paddling in the waters, and our lawyers contend that the plan fails to hold accountable all of the sewage polluters along the River.

In 1975, scientists found that the Petaluma River was so heavily contaminated with E. Coli and other bacteria that it was unsafe to have any contact with the water. The presumed sources of the bacteria included animal and human waste running off of ranches, stables, farmland, and out of broken waste water treatment and septic systems.

Today, little has changed. The Petaluma River remains dangerously contaminated, with high levels of bacteria showing up in every single water test taken in the river.

Despite the findings nearly 45 years ago, the agency responsible for protecting the watershed—the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board—waited until 2019 to address the Petaluma’s troubling bacteria levels.

And unfortunately, the Water Board’s new plan doesn’t take the right steps to reduce bacteria pollution in the Petaluma. The Clean Water Act mandates that agencies start by identifying the specific sources under a regulatory strategy known as a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL).

Though the Water Board is calling their new policy a TMDL, it doesn’t establish where the bacteria pollution is coming from, by how much the bacteria sources must be reduced, or how progress will be monitored and enforced.

“It’s misleading for the Water Board to call this a TMDL, and their approach is doomed to take decades to solve the problem,” says Baykeeper Staff Attorney Ben Eichenberg. “While Baykeeper appreciates the Board’s stated goal of making water quality in the Petaluma River better, the agency is failing its actual obligation to make the river truly safe for people.”

The Petaluma River feeds into creeks across the North Bay and Marin, and eventually connects with San Francisco Bay. It attracts boaters, paddle boarders, kayakers, and anglers.

If cleaned up, this beautiful waterway could become a world-class destination for water sports enthusiasts and shoreline activities of all kinds, while contributing to a healthier San Francisco Bay.

As the Petaluma River TMDL heads to the EPA for a final review, Baykeeper will continue to push for a smarter approach. We can’t let another 45 years go by before it’s safe to swim in the Petaluma.

Source: https://baykeeper.org/blog/too-little-not-too-late-petaluma-river

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Full of it: Keeping horse manure out of the Petaluma River

San Francisco Baykeeper

One of the largest horse boarding facilities in the country lies on the banks of the Petaluma River (pictured, above). For years, there’s been nothing to stop the horse manure from flowing straight into the river and downstream to San Francisco Bay.

Manure runoff contains unlawfully high levels of bacteria, nitrogen, ammonia, phosphorus, and toxins, all of which are hazardous to public health and wildlife.

“Dangerous levels of bacteria have shown up in every water sample from the Petaluma River taken by agencies since the 1970s,” says Baykeeper Staff Attorney Ben Eichenberg. “We suspected that the fouled runoff from hundreds of horses at Sonoma Horse Park had contributed to the problem.”

Last rainy season, Baykeeper scientists conducted an extensive field investigation in the area. Our water sampling confirmed that runoff from Sonoma Horse Park was indeed contaminated and flowing into the Petaluma River and nearby wetlands.

Despite the fact that the Petaluma has the potential to be an idyllic recreational resource for the community, the river has a long history of neglect from government regulators.

The pollution is particularly troublesome since the Petaluma is critical habitat for many protected species, such as steelhead trout, Chinook salmon, longfin smelt, and green sturgeon, as well as the California brown pelican. Too much phosphorous and nitrogen in the water causes algae to thrive, which drains vital oxygen and suffocates fish.

That’s why Baykeeper filed a lawsuit under the Clean Water Act. We now have a legally binding agreement with the owner of Sonoma Horse Park to stop the facility’s manure and other pollutants from flowing into the river.

Under our agreement, the facility will use a large pond to capture runoff before it enters the river, contain and cover all of its manure piles, and implement other pollution controls as needed to prevent manure from contaminating the environment. In addition, Sonoma Horse Park agreed to direct $40,000 to the Rose Foundation for Communities & the Environment to mitigate damage caused by its past pollution. The Rose Foundation will award these funds to other local nonprofits for specific projects to restore the watershed.

We’ll keep monitoring to make sure the new runoff controls at the horse park are effectively stopping pollution—to give the Petaluma River a fighting chance at being a healthy and safe waterway for local communities and wildlife.

Source: https://baykeeper.org/blog/full-it-keeping-horse-manure-out-petaluma

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$9.7 million in federal funds arrives for long-awaited Petaluma River dredging

Yousef Baig, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Petaluma River, a tidal waterway that has seen boat traffic decline as silt piled up, will be dredged this year for the first time since 2003, rejuvenating a natural resource that for generations was the lifeblood of the community.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will be allocating roughly $9.7 million this year to pay for the project, U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, announced Monday. An additional $1.3 million was set aside for preliminary work to eventually dredge the San Rafael Canal.

The Army Corps is supposed to maintain the 18-mile river every four years but has fallen way behind on that commitment.

“I’m just very happy for the people of Petaluma,” Huffman, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Commitee, said in an interview. “They’ve waited a long time.”

With the money now in place, the dredging work could begin as early as June 1 depending on the migration of protected species like steelhead trout that naturally spawn in the watershed, said Jason Beatty, director of Petaluma Public Works and Utilities.

The city council last month approved nearly $2 million for an emergency dredge of the river turning basin and Petaluma Marina in case the Army Corps again passed on doing the work. With the project now covered, the city will use that money on the marina, where the number of vessels leasing space is now less than 40% of capacity, or about half the Bay Area average, Beatty said.

Members of the local boating community were elated by Monday’s news. Leland Fishman, commodore of the Petaluma Yacht Club, said the project could start a “rebirth of our river.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10693943-181/97-million-in-federal-funds

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Bay plastic infests Petaluma River

Janet Perry, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

There are plastic particulates in San Francisco Bay, trillions of them. Some come from car tires — those tend to sink to the bottom — and there are tiny fragments floating, many coming from fancy polar fleece jackets and other clothing after the first few washings.

There’s other stuff in there too, like single use plastic container particles, pieces of plastic stir sticks and plastic bags, and it has caught the attention of scientists.

The San Francisco Estuary Institute and the 5 Gyres Institute carried out a study of plastic in the bay.

The Petaluma River flows into the bay and was mentioned in the study, although researchers did not collect data from the river itself. Carolynn Boxx, 5 Gyres science programs director, explained that samples were collected where the Petaluma River flows into the bay but because of the limited number of samples collected, individual sections of the bay were not analyzed separately.

“The project identified recommendations to work towards solutions, with supporting policy that eliminates single use plastic items being one of the top recommendations,” Boxx said. “We encourage Bay Area cities to look to Berkeley’s comprehensive ordinance on disposable plastic food ware as a model ordinance. Maybe Petaluma will be next?”

The Petaluma City Council recently passed a ban on Styrofoam and has considered expanding it to plastic food ware.

Clothing is a big plastic culprit too. The first washing of fleece and other plastics-based fibers can have a big impact, as the particulates tend to be dispersed more during those first washings. Lots of clothing today contain man-made plastics fibers.

Some companies, like Patagonia, are trying to find solutions and encourage the purchase of well-made items that will last longer.

Read more at: https://www.petaluma360.com/news/10353280-181/bay-plastic-infests-petaluma-river?sba=AAS

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Waste deep: Petaluma River awash in bacteria

Will Carruthers, THE BOHEMIAN

The river winding through downtown Petaluma might be the city’s single most defining feature. The city’s annual Rivertown Revival Festival features views of the river and, farther south, recreationists use the water for entertainment and exercise every day.

Yet, since 1975, the state has designated the water a contaminated water body due to excessive levels of bacteria tied to fecal matter. The river has also been included on the list for excessive amounts of pesticides, trash and sediment at other times.

Now, a state water oversight board may pass a plan laying out the steps to lower the levels of bacteria in the river and its watershed.

At a Wednesday, Nov. 13 meeting in Oakland, the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board will consider approving an amendment to the board’s water quality control plan for the region, a document known as a basin plan. The proposed amendment will set a cap on the amount of fecal indicator bacteria in the river’s watershed—the TMDL—and identify actions required to reach that goal.

The federal Clean Water Act requires the state to create the cap and cleanup plan, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load [TMDL].

Staff members working for the water board, one of nine similar regional bodies tasked with setting water quality rules in California, have been assembling the Petaluma River plan for several years, according to Farhad Ghodrati, an environmental scientist with the San Francisco Bay board.

Although there are over 100 potentially dangerous bacteria related to fecal matter, scientists generally only test for a few varieties. These “fecal indicator bacteria,” including E. Coli, are a sign that animal waste has contaminated the water body. If those levels are above the bar set by the water quality control board, they add the water body to a list of “impaired” waterways.

Read more at https://www.bohemian.com/northbay/waste-deep/Content?oid=9360941

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Sense of Place: Petaluma River once considered a creek

Arthur Dawson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Petaluma River flows from its headwaters on Sonoma Mountain, past the city of Petaluma and out to San Pablo Bay. With a watershed smaller than that of neighboring Sonoma Creek, it was called Petaluma Creek up until about 1960, though most of it is actually a tidal slough.

River, creek, slough … What’s the difference?

Sonoma Creek’s flow typically exceeds that of the Petaluma River, sometimes by a wide margin. During the 2006 New Year’s flood, the Petaluma River was running at 9,600 cubic feet a second while Sonoma Creek hit 20,000 cubic feet a second (the Missouri River, a hundred miles below its headwaters, only occasionally tops that). In fact, some 19th-century mapmakers labeled the stream the “Sonoma River.” During a winter storm, it easily earns the title, though in the summer it sometimes dries up in places.

In the United States, a creek is “normally smaller than and often tributary to a river.” Originally a British term for “a narrow sheltered waterway, especially an inlet in a shoreline or a channel in a marsh,” its meaning changed over time. As settlement progressed inland above saltwater and tides, the word followed and was applied to freshwater channels, too.

Around San Francisco Bay, sloughs are tidal channels where salt and freshwater mix (elsewhere they can be freshwater side channels). At low tide that brackish water flows “downstream” into the Bay, but when the tide comes in, the flow reverses and goes “upstream.” Our sloughs are similar to British “creeks.”

So how did Petaluma Creek become the Petaluma River? As Newt Dal Poggetto, a lifelong county resident described it: “It was Petaluma Creek until Clem Miller got it named a river.” After being elected to the House of Representatives in 1959, Miller “found out that if you could change the name of a creek to a river, you qualified for the Army Corps of Engineers budget. Spending money! So he got Congress to change the name, which qualified it to get federal funding for dredging and building levees.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9174338-181/sense-of-place-petaluma-river

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Petaluma Wetlands added to international conservation list

Matt Brown, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

The Mekong River Delta, the Great Barrier Reef, the Amazon Rain Forest, and now the Petaluma Wetlands, all share an important distinction. They are sites included in an international list of critical wetlands worth protecting.

Petaluma wildlife advocates received notice last month that the Petaluma Wetlands are included as Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance, a designation from the Switzerland-based International Union for Conservation of Nature. The official designation means the Petaluma Wetlands are joining the 400,000-acre San Francisco Bay Estuary, which was awarded international status in 2013.

The Ramsar designation, named after the Iranian city that held the international Convention on Wetlands in 1971, doesn’t include additional funding, but is helpful in securing grants for wildlife conservation, said Susan Kirks, president of the Madrone Audubon Society.

“This is a significant recognition for the sensitive wetlands habitat, birds and wildlife of the Petaluma Wetlands,” she said.

The Petaluma Wetlands include Alman Marsh Tidal Wetlands, Shollenberger Park Wetlands, Ellis Creek Wetlands, Gray’s Marsh Wetland and Hill Property Tidal Marsh, all environmentally sensitive spots along the Petaluma River that are home to a diversity of species, including the salt marsh harvest mouse, river otter and an array of birds.

Read more at http://www.petaluma360.com/news/8191606-181/petaluma-wetlands-added-to-international

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Water regulator to deny Dutra permit

Matt Brown, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

In its letter to the company, the water board said that Dutra did not properly study alternative sites for the asphalt plant.
“After review of the Alternatives Analysis, we have determined that the Applicant has not yet demonstrated that the proposed Project constitutes the least environmentally damaging practicable alternative,” the board wrote in the letter. “As such, the Alternatives Analysis is inadequate.”

A regional water regulator intends to deny a permit for the Dutra Group, dealing a serious setback to the company’s contentious plans to build an asphalt plant along the Petaluma River just south of the city.
The San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board sent a letter on Nov. 1 telling the company that its application is incomplete.
“We’ve told them of our intention to deny their permit,” said Fred Hetzel, an environmental scientist who is working on the Dutra permit for the water board. “(The denial) will come within the month.”
The water board permit is a key approval that the company needs before it can start construction on the long planned asphalt plant on 38 acres of land at Haystack Landing. The company also needs permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bay Area Air Quality District and California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Read more at: Water regulator to deny Dutra permit

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California Coastal Cleanup Day coming Saturday, needs volunteers in Sonoma County

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma Coast Cleanup 2017: sonomabeachcleanup.org
Laguna de Santa Rosa and Sebastopol Laguna Wetlands Preserve 2017: lagunadesantarosa.org/volunteer_lagunastewards.html
Petaluma River Cleanup 2017: friendsofthepetalumariver.org/project/conserve
Russian River Watershed Cleanup 2017: russianrivercleanup.org
Santa Rosa Creek-to-Coast Cleanup: srcity.org/2290/Creek-to-Coast-Cleanup
Mendocino County Coastal Cleanup Day: mendocinolandtrust.org/connect/coastal-cleanup-day
Sonoma Ecology Center Cleanup 2017: brownpapertickets.com/event/3042967

Do you find yourself dismayed or even tormented by images of seabirds, marine mammals, fish and other sealife with their guts full of plastic and other trash?
Here’s your chance to help, and it only takes a few hours.
Saturday marks the 33rd annual California Coastal Cleanup Day, an opportunity to rise to the defense of the ocean and its inhabitants by removing litter from local beaches and watersheds before winter rains and storm surges can sweep it out to sea.
Dozens of sites around the North Coast, both inland and at the ocean’s edge, are among more than 870 locations chosen statewide for volunteer cleanup crews to go to work on Saturday.
Locally, they include state and county beaches along the Sonoma Coast, from Jenner to Bodega Bay, as well as public beaches up and down the Mendocino Coast.But in growing recognition of the volume of discarded litter that washes coastward from rivers and streams, dozens of inland cleanups are planned, as well. Targeted waterways include the Russian River from Ukiah to Monte Rio, the Petaluma River, Santa Rosa Creek, the Laguna de Santa Rosa and several Sonoma-area parks and preserves.
“Ideally, this is the day everybody gives back to clean waterways,” Russian Riverkeeper Executive Director Don McEnhill said.
Read more at: California Coastal Cleanup Day coming Saturday, needs volunteers in Sonoma County | The Press Democrat –

Posted on Categories Sustainable Living, Water, WildlifeTags , , Leave a comment on Annual Petaluma River fall trash cleanup September 20

Annual Petaluma River fall trash cleanup September 20

SONOMA RESOURCE CONSERVATION DISTRICT
Saturday, September 20th 9am to noon
Join the Sonoma Resource Conservation District and the Friends of the Petaluma River in our Annual Petaluma River Fall Trash Cleanup starting in Downtown Historic Petaluma. The event coincides with the 30th Annual Coastal Cleanup Day, a national effort where thousands of participants gather locally to keep our coasts and inland waterways free of debris.
"Solving our water pollution problems requires everyone’s involvement" (California Coastal Commission, 2013). Our focus is to strengthen the ways in which we can help restore and protect the Petaluma River Watershed for years to come.
In 2012, Sonoma County COASTWEEKS combined cleanup’s collected approximately 10,487 pounds of garbage and 727 pounds of recyclables. The Petaluma River Cleanup in 2013, pulled a total of 1,010 pounds of trash and recyclables from the river and tributaries.
We hope to see you out on the river at this remarkable community event to enhance and protect our watershed!


9:00 a.m. – noon Trash Cleanup
Noon – 2 p.m. Enjoy food and browse informational tables from community partners
Meet at 260 H North Water Street Petaluma, CA.
For more information contact Christine at 707-569-1448 x114 or ckuehn@sonomarcd.org.
Or, see News & Events | Sonoma Resource Conservation District.