Posted on Categories ForestsTags , , , ,

One of California’s tallest redwoods is 2,000 years old. Inside the fight to keep it safe

Gregory Thomas, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

See Guerneville Forest Coalition “The Clar Tree” for more information.

Standing on the side of Highway 116, which winds through the dense forests of western Sonoma County, John Dunlap looked across the Russian River into a stand of tall trees and pointed out one old redwood in particular.

“It’s really a hidden gem here that’s kind of out of sight, out of mind,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean it isn’t deserving of our attention.”

Up from the riverbank near Guerneville is the county’s tallest tree, an estimated 2,000-year-old, 340-footer known as the Clar Tree. Once thought to be the highest tree in California, it carries the name of a timber family that lived in the area back when it was a logging capital. It is easily identifiable by its dead, forked crown — the result of a lightning strike some years ago.

Passersby wouldn’t be able to glean the tree’s significance at a glance — its prominence is somewhat camouflaged by its brethren — yet the Clar is at the center of an impassioned dispute over how best to care for California’s iconic, old-growth coast redwoods, the towering titans that have inspired generations of naturalists but were nearly cut to extinction during California’s frenzied development 150 years ago.

The tree stands at the edge of a 224-acre property of redwoods, firs and oaks that has been logged in pieces for decades and is considered a “high fire hazard severity zone.” The Cloverdale timber company that owns the land, Redwood Empire Sawmill, is intent on harvesting redwood there “sustainably” and as soon as possible.

Read more at https://www.sfchronicle.com/travel/article/Sonoma-redwood-tree-California-forest-17331172.php?

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California Coastkeeper Alliance lawsuit challenges the County of Sonoma to protect public trust resources

California Coastkeeper Alliance

Today, California Coastkeeper Alliance filed a lawsuit in Superior Court to compel the County of Sonoma to consider and mitigate impacts to public trust resources caused by groundwater extraction in the Russian River watershed. As the Russian River watershed faces a drought emergency, California Coastkeeper Alliance is working to hold Sonoma County accountable to protect public trust resources and prevent over pumping of its waterways. Everyone will need to do their part to ensure the Russian River maintains sufficient flows through this drought, and that includes restricting groundwater pumping as surface water pumping rights are curtailed.

“Over-pumping groundwater has had and continues to cause significant, harmful effects on the flow of the Russian River and its tributaries,” says Sean Bothwell, Executive Director of California Coastkeeper Alliance. “The current drought only makes this problem worse and restricting surface diversions alone merely drives more groundwater pumping. Groundwater connected to surface waters must also be managed, so we can endure the current drought crisis and be more resilient for future drought extremes. Responsibly regulating groundwater use protects other water users, as well as fish and wildlife”

The Russian River, its tributaries, and the aquatic life that depends on their flows, such as endangered Coho salmon, are protected by the public trust doctrine under the California state constitution. Large, self-sustaining populations of Coho salmon once occupied rivers and streams within the Russian River watershed, but insufficient streamflow has negatively affected the recovery of local salmon populations.
Continue reading “California Coastkeeper Alliance lawsuit challenges the County of Sonoma to protect public trust resources”

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Sonoma Water petitions State for critical water condition for Russian River as severe drought persists

SONOMA WATER

On May 25, 2022, Sonoma Water filed Temporary Urgency Change Petitions (TUCPs) with the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) Division of Water Rights requesting changes to establish a Critical water supply condition in the Russian River. Under critical water supply conditions, the Russian River would have minimum instream flow requirements of 25 cfs and 35 cfs in the upper and lower river, respectively.

This change will allow Sonoma Water to continue the minimum instream flows that the river is currently operating under and preserve water supply in both Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma. It will also help avoid violating the Incidental Take Statement for Dry Creek established in the Russian River Biological Opinion.

The current petitions also commit Sonoma Water and its retail customers to a (the cities of Cotati, Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa and Sonoma; the town of Windsor; and Valley of the Moon and North Marin water districts) 20-percent reduction in total diversions from the Russian River between July 1 and October 31 compared to the same time period in 2020.

“The Russian River watershed is facing severe drought conditions for the third year in a row and filing Temporary Urgency Change Petitions is essential to ensure the water supply for more than 600,000 people and the environment in Sonoma and Marin counties,” said Sonoma Water Director James Gore.

Read more at: https://myemail.constantcontact.com/Sonoma-Water-E-News—June-2022.html?soid=1126949444770&aid=hNUkAxwA6hY

Posted on Categories WaterTags , , , ,

Sonoma Water petitions state for critical water condition for Russian River as severe drought enters third consecutive year

SONOMA WATER

On Wednesday, May 25 Sonoma Water (Sonoma County Water Agency) filed Temporary Urgency Change Petitions (TUCP) with the State Water Resources Control Board to establish a Critical water supply condition for both the upper and lower Russian River as the drought continues.

Under Critical water supply conditions, the Russian River would have minimum instream flow requirements of 25 cfs and 35 cfs in the upper and lower river, respectively. If approved, this change will allow Sonoma Water to continue the minimum instream flows that the river is currently operating under and preserve water supply in both Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma.

The current petitions also commit Sonoma Water and its retail customers to a (the cities of Cotati, Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa and Sonoma; the town of Windsor; and Valley of the Moon and North Marin water districts) 20-percent reduction in total diversions from the Russian River between July 1 and October 31 compared to the same time period in 2020.

Read more at https://sonomacounty.ca.gov/sonoma-water-petitions-state-for-critical-water-condition-for-russian-river-as-severe-drought-enters-third-consecutive-year

Posted on Categories Habitats, Water, WildlifeTags , , , ,

Endangered coho salmon battered by 3rd year of drought. Here’s why it matters

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Russian River’s once celebrated salmon populations have long been imperiled by logging, development, gravel mining and other human activities that have eliminated flood plains, channelized river and stream flows, and limited the woody debris and shade that keeps the water cool enough for young fish to survive.

More intense and frequent droughts have further eroded conditions, not just for the coho, but for steelhead and chinook salmon, both listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.

They were once abundant in the cold, clear water of North Bay creeks and streams. Now, the survival of coho salmon is being challenged like never before.

The coho has a three-year life cycle that takes it from stream to ocean and back to stream to spawn the next generation.

But the changing climate now threatens the species at every life stage, raising new questions about their recovery.

It’s not just a species at stake. At risk is the very resilience of the forest and watershed that evolved around them, fed by marine nutrients brought upstream and deposited inland by adult spawners that, after reproducing, die and decompose.

“Salmon are a keystone species, which means they perform a really important ecosystem service,” said Sarah Nossaman Pierce, a California Sea Grant fisheries biologist with the Russian River Monitoring Program. “Salmon and steelhead (trout) bring marine-based nutrients into the system and essentially feed the forest, plants, birds and wildlife.”

The challenge, she said, is “ecosystem resilience”

“People say, ‘Why do you care about the salmon?’ Unfortunately, if they can’t survive, human beings aren’t far behind,” she said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/endangered-coho-salmon-battered-by-3rd-year-of-drought-heres-why-it-matte/

Posted on Categories Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , ,

Fishery groups plan to sue PG&E over Potter Valley plant and related Scott, Cape Horn dams

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A coalition of fishery groups has formally notified PG&E that it plans to file suit under the Endangered Species Act, alleging the continued injury to once abundant federally protected salmon and steelhead trout as a result of operations at the utility’s aging Potter Valley powerhouse.

The legal maneuver is part of an effort to expedite removal of Scott and Cape Horn dams, which pose a threat to vulnerable fish species in the Eel River and block access to hundreds of miles of prime habitat upstream.

The plaintiffs contend that last Thursday’s expiration of PG&E’s license for the project means the utility is no longer protected from liability and must be found in violation of the Endangered Species Act — a point the utility disputes.

A formal notice filed Friday by the coalition gives PG&E 60 days to remedy the situation or face litigation. It also echoes comments about project inadequacies made in a March 16 letter from the National Marine Fisheries Service to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in advance of the expiration of the utility’s license.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/fishery-groups-plan-to-sue-pge-over-potter-valley-plant-and-related-scott/

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Despite significant early season rainfall, Russian River watershed diversion curtailments likely to resume in April

Katherine Minkiewicz-Martine, SOCONEWS

Curtailments on Russian River watershed diversions will likely resume this April as the outlook for a “miracle March” in rainfall looks grim.

Curtailments for certain water right holders were suspended in October after Sonoma County received significant rainfall, however, flows from the October and December storms are starting to taper off, according to Sam Boland-Brien, a supervising engineer with the California State Water Resource Control Board, Division of Water Rights.

“It’s going to be a really dry summer,” Boland-Brien said.

Boland-Brien and other experts from the California Department of Water Resources, Sonoma Water, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Sonoma County Farm Bureau convened on March 10 for a virtual drought town hall to discuss water supply and drought conditions for the coming summer season.

The March 10 event was the first in a planned series of drought town halls as the county navigates through another year of dry conditions. Future town halls will focus on specific topics such as the Russian River, water quality, river recreation and groundwater conservation.

Read more at https://soconews.org/scn_county/despite-significant-early-season-rainfall-russian-river-watershed-diversion-curtailments-likely-to-resume-in-april/article_8659e4b2-a3b0-11ec-965b-cf5841671d2e.html

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , ,

Plan to acquire Mendocino County power plant unravels

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Plans to acquire an aging power plant in Mendocino County to ensure continued flows of Eel River water into Lake Mendocino and Sonoma County have unraveled.

A coalition of organizations from Sonoma, Humboldt and Mendocino counties abandoned their quest to acquire the century-old Potter Valley hydroelectric plant, saying it could not meet an April 14 deadline for submitting a federal license application.

The plant, about 80 miles north of Santa Rosa, is owned by Pacific Gas & Electric, which in 2019 announced plans to abandon it and surrender its license.

Water users downstream maintained the plant was critical because Eel River water is diverted through its turbines into Lake Mendocino and the Russian River. That, in turn, supplies users as far south as Sonoma and northern Marin counties.

Without the option of acquiring the plant, stakeholders predict years of uncertainty, quarreling and, ultimately, higher costs to water users.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/multicounty-partnership-yields-on-potter-valley-power-plant-license-scramb/

Posted on Categories Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , , , ,

Russian River flows at risk: New studies show potential path forward for Potter Valley project

Mother of All Groups (MOAG), SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

PG&E’s license to operate the Potter Valley Project expires in April of 2022. For more information until then: http://pottervalleyproject.org/

A group of studies released last month paint a clearer picture of how Sonoma and Mendocino counties can meet future water needs while reducing environmental impacts in the face of a decision by PG&E to cease operation of an aging hydroelectric power project.

The Potter Valley Project (PVP) is located approximately 15 miles north of the City of Ukiah on the Eel River. The Project’s facilities include two dams, a diversion tunnel and a hydroelectric plant located in Potter Valley in the headwaters of the Russian River. The 100-year-old project produces little electricity by modern standards and is a net money loser, but Sonoma and Mendocino County water users have grown accustomed to the water diverted by the Project which flows from the Eel River into the Russian River watershed where it is stored in Lake Mendocino – ultimately flowing down the Russian River where it benefits agricultural interests and residents.

This arrangement was put in jeopardy when PG&E announced in 2019 that it would not seek to renew its federal license to operate the Project, which expires in April 2022. In recent weeks, PG&E also notified the public that the Project’s powerhouse had suffered a transformer failure, which eliminated its ability to generate electricity and reduced water diversions into the Russian River. Given PG&E’s goal to dispense with the Project, it is unlikely the powerhouse will be repaired or that the Project will ever function as it once did.

In response to PG&E’s decision to divest from the Project, a diverse group of stakeholders called the Two-Basin Partnership was formed to develop a plan to take over and modify the Project in a way that reflects regional needs and priorities in both basins. Among these priorities are fisheries recovery in the Eel River – one of the few major rivers left in California that has the potential to support abundant, self-sustaining wild populations of salmon and steelhead – and water supply reliability for Russian River water users. The Partnership’s proposed plan included the removal of Scott Dam, restoration of the drained Lake Pillsbury footprint and modifications or the replacement of Cape Horn Dam to maintain a diversion.

Read more at https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/russian-river-flows-at-risk-new-studies-show-potential-path-forward-for-po/

Posted on Categories WaterTags , , ,

Plan targeting faulty septic systems in parts of Russian River watershed revised, finalized

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Thousands of property owners in the Russian River watershed will soon be accountable for ensuring their septic systems operate properly through five-year inspections aimed at controlling bacterial contamination from human waste.

The new requirement is part of a controversial plan approved by water quality regulators this week. It was the fourth version of the plan to be considered, and it amends sweeping two-year-old regulations intended to keep human and animal waste out of local waterways.

The plan, approved unanimously by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, affects thousands of property owners in designated priority areas along the main stem and certain tributaries.

Property owners with septic systems within 600 feet of the river or mapped streams or within 200 feet of ephemeral streams in those areas must now have their equipment inspected every five years and take corrective action, if warranted, within 15 years.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/plan-targeting-faulty-septic-systems-in-parts-of-russian-river-watershed-re/