Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Apple farmer Lee Walker also has noticed more falling fruit this year. He and other farmers speculate the numerous hot days this summer may be partly to blame.
“Normally we get maybe one” hot spell per summer that hovers around 100 degrees, he said. However, this year there have been several heat waves.
The Gravenstein apple crop is a mixed bag this season for Sonoma County farmers.
As they gear up for the typically short harvest, some apple farmers said they expect a good crop of the red-and-green streaked fruit, an iconic but fairly delicate local variety and the earliest to be picked in the orchards around Sebastopol.
But others report their gravs suffered from long spring rains during bloom or from prolonged heat this summer.
Joe Dutton, an apple and grape grower outside Graton, said that this season, one block of trees in an orchard shows plenty of fruit, while another nearby block didn’t fare as well.
“The microclimates are for sure showing what they can do,” said Dutton, who farms grapes and apples at Dutton Ranch with his brother, Steve Dutton. Joe Dutton called the farm’s Gravenstein crop “spotty” and advised consumers to get fresh gravs soon because “they will not last long.”
The west county is gearing up for apple season, where for decades the Gravenstein has been a staple in juices and pies.
Apples remain one of the county’s million-dollar crops, though the value lags far behind such areas as livestock, nursery products, eggs, dairy and wine. Last year, the Gravenstein crop amounted to nearly $1.6 million, while the value of late variety apples, such as Jonathans and Golden Delicious, totaled almost $3.9 million.
Read more at: Sonoma County’s Gravenstein apple crop a mixed bag this year | The Press Democrat
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
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A historic drought that parched the landscape and turned water conservation into a civic duty already seemed a distant memory on the North Coast when a series of powerful storms slammed into California over the weekend, dumping enough moisture to swamp lake- and streamside buildings that stood high and dry at the peak of the drought.
With local reservoirs now filled past capacity for this time of year and the Russian River still swollen with runoff, the U.S. Drought Monitor said Thursday that more than 41 percent of California — including the whole northern part of the state — is officially drought-free, a marked and gratifying shift from the weeks and months leading up to the new year, when even seasonally wet winter weather was not yet enough to declare the drought over.
Sonoma County Water Agency spokesman Brad Sherwood said Thursday that’s all changed.
“We always said that if we got above-average rainfall in consecutive years that we’d be sitting good,” Sherwood said, “and this series of storms definitely put the drought out, without a doubt.”
Read more at: Drought recedes as North Coast rivers, reservoirs swell from storms | The Press Democrat
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
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
Santa Rosa is putting the finishing touches on a $200,000 wall surrounding vital sections of the Laguna wastewater treatment plant in an effort to prevent El Niño-fueled flood waters from inundating the low-lying facility.
Workers this week maneuvered into place the final few 4,000-pound concrete blocks that will make up most of a 950-foot-long wall designed to keep the waters of the Laguna de Santa Rosa at bay in the event of serious storms.
“It’s a little bit like Legos,” explained Mike Prinz, director of operations at the Llano Road plant, describing the construction process.
The location of the city’s wastewater treatment plant alongside the Laguna leaves it vulnerable to flooding. In the winter of 2005 and 2006, for example, floodwaters entered the plant and swept away an estimated 50,000 gallons of partially treated wastewater. For that and other violations, the city was fined $194,500 by the North Coast Water Quality Control Board.
So plant officials have been thinking for a few years about building a permanent flood protection wall to keep the plant safe from 100-year or even 500-year floods, Prinz said. But that project is still being studied and has yet to be funded.
Read more at: Flood wall built to protect Santa Rosa treatment plant
Paul Rogers, SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS
Don’t even think about putting that umbrella away.
El Niño conditions may have peaked in the Pacific Ocean, federal scientists said Thursday, but powerful weather systems — like a new series of storms on track to soak the greater Bay Area over the next five days — have only just begun and will likely continue at least through May.
“This is the time of year when El Niño acts the most reliably,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the climate prediction center for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in College Park, Maryland. “So we would certainly expect the impacts to continue well through the rest of the winter and into the early part of the spring.”
There is a 96 percent chance that El Niño conditions will remain through March, scientists at NOAA and Columbia University reported Thursday, and a 62 percent probability they will continue through May.
Simply put, that means the likelihood of regular storms across California and heavy snow in the Sierra Nevada will continue to be greater this year than in regular years, offering hope that 2016 may finally be the year that the state’s four-year drought — now starting its fifth year — is broken.
But, experts caution, a lot more rain and snow is needed.
Read more at: El Niño not fizzling: More storms barreling toward California – San Jose Mercury News
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A three-day storm has pumped up drought-stricken creeks throughout the Russian River watershed, opening a watery door to the winter spawning run of imperiled coho salmon and serenading rural residents with the sound of rushing water.
All 22 coho spawning tributaries of the Russian River were open Monday, and eight adult coho had made it up Dry Creek to the fish hatchery at Warm Springs Dam, proof that the critical run was under way, said Eric Larson, environmental program manager for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife Bay-Delta Region.
Creeks that were cut off from the river, with a trickle of water at best between shallow pools, had fast-moving, chocolate-brown water on Monday after the storm dropped nearly 1.5 inches of rain on Santa Rosa over the weekend and rain kept falling Monday.
“We’re very excited,” Larson said, adding that scientists were also anxious to see how many coho will ultimately return to spawn in the creeks where they hatched three years ago.
This season’s run of the endangered species is critical because it is the first generation of coho born during California’s drought, which has threatened a broad effort, dating back to 2001, to bring coho salmon back from the verge of extinction.
Read more at: Flowing again, Russian River’s creeks open for spawning | The Press Democrat
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
Bill Lindelof, THE SACRAMENTO BEE
While nobody is saying the four-year drought will soon be over, a federal report indicates that an El Niño weather pattern is gaining in strength – making the chances better that this winter will be a wet one.
“If you are a gambler, this is giving you some information in terms of what the seasonal rainfall might be,” said Tom Di Liberto, meteorologist for the federal Climate Prediction Center. “But with weather there is no guarantee. El Niño is only one of many things that could impact California’s rainy season.”
With all that said, Di Liberto said that the development of a strong El Niño is good news in terms of rainfall.A strong El Niño such as the one developing this year is usually associated with powerful winter storms, much like the very wet winter of 1997-98 when flooding and landslides occurred across broad stretches of Northern California.
In March, forecasters declared a weak El Niño had developed. On Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced El Niño is strengthening.
Specifically, forecasters believe that there is a greater than 90 percent chance that El Niño will continue through next winter in the Northern Hemisphere, and around an 80 percent chance it will last into early spring 2016.
In its report, the U.S. Climate Prediction Center noted that sea surface temperatures are warming, a sign that the El Niño weather pattern is strengthening. While El Niño is no guarantee the four-year drought will be broken, robust El Niños often bring strong winter storms.
“Often, when we have a strong El Niño, you tend to see above-average precipitation across parts of California,” Di Liberto said. “That is good. It’s been very, very dry in California over the last four years. It’s important to monitor to see whether we continue to see a strengthening El Niño.”
El Niño is a large-scale ocean-atmosphere phenomenon linked to the warming of the sea surface in the central and east central equatorial Pacific Ocean. An El Niño is detected by satellites and buoys.
“We will have to see what happens as we go forward but what we see now in the Pacific Ocean and the way the (computer) models are predicting it, we are expecting a strong (El Niño) event as we get into the late fall and winter,” Di Liberto said.
Source: Strong El Nino weather pattern spurs hope of drenching California winter | The Sacramento Bee