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Sonoma County vintner, business face $3.75 million fine for alleged environmental damage

Emily Wilder, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

State regulators are seeking to impose a $3.75 million fine on a Sonoma County wine executive and his business for allegedly causing significant damage to streams and wetlands while constructing a vineyard in 2018 near Cloverdale.

The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board has accused Hugh Reimers, an Australian vintner, and his company Krasilsa Pacific Farms LLC of improperly clearing trees, grading land and disposing of construction and earthen waste materials in a way that was detrimental to wetland waters and wildlife, according to a May 9 complaint by the North Coast Water Board’s enforcement staff.

A 2019 investigation by the water board of the 2,278-acre property, which Krasilsa Pacific purchased in September 2017, found the company violated the California Water Code and the federal Clean Water Act by removing oak woodlands and discharging sediment into Russian River tributaries.

The actions harmed streams that fed into the Little Sulphur, Big Sulphur and Crocker creeks, according to the complaint.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/sonoma-county-vintner-business-face-3-75-million-fine-for-alleged-environ/

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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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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/

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New UC Davis study finds dams are ineffective for cold-water conservation for salmon and trout

Dan Bacher, DAILY KOS

For many years, federal, state and corporate proponents of building more dams in California have touted cold water river releases provided by increased water storage behind dams as a key tool in “saving” struggling salmon and steelhead populations.

Yet a just published study by the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, Dams Ineffective for Cold-Water Conservation – 8/25/21, has found that dams are ineffective for the cold water conservation that is needed to preserved imperiled salmon, steelhead and other fish species.

”Dams poorly mimic the temperature patterns California streams require to support the state’s native salmon and trout — more than three-quarters of which risk extinction,” according to the study published in the journal PLOS ONE by the University of California, Davis. “Bold actions are needed to reverse extinction trends and protect cold-water streams that are resilient to climate warming.”

The study helps identify where high-quality, cold-water habitat remains to help managers prioritize conservation efforts.

“It is no longer a good investment to put all our cold-water conservation eggs in a dam-regulated basket,” said lead author Ann Willis, a senior staff researcher at the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences and a fellow for the John Muir Institute of the Environment. “We need to consider places where the natural processes can occur again.”

Read more at https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2021/8/26/2048396/-New-UC-Davis-Study-Finds-Dams-Are-Ineffective-for-Cold-Water-Conservation-for-Salmon-and-Trout

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State water regulators to consider emergency limits on as many as 2,400 Russian River users

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

State regulators are considering sweeping drought emergency rules that would let them suspend the diversion of water from the Russian River by as many as 2,400 homes, businesses, municipal agencies and other users. The proposal, which would cover both the upper and lower parts of the watershed, could greatly extend the list of more than 900 water suppliers, agricultural producers and property owners already notified there has been too little rainfall for them to exercise their water rights this year.

The draft regulation goes before the state water board next Tuesday and could account for substantial monthly savings, depending when diversions are limited, Erik Ekdahl, deputy director of the state water board’s Division of Water Rights, said during a virtual Sonoma County Town Hall on the drought last week.

Those affected would include residents of both Sonoma and Mendocino counties, a region singled out by Gov. Gavin Newsom in April for being at particular risk of water shortage after two dry years because of its dependence on a reservoir system subject to rapid depletion in the absence of regular rainfall.

With storage in Lake Mendocino, the smaller of the reservoirs, diminishing by the day, state regulators are hoping they can slow its consumption by reserving withdrawals for those with the oldest, most senior water claims and, potentially, curtailing even them.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/state-water-regulators-to-consider-emergency-limits-on-at-least-1600-russi/

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Eel River to some, Wiya’t to the tribe that fishes it

Arthur Dawson, PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Eel River runs through Lake, Mendocino, and Trinity counties before reaching the Pacific Ocean in southern Humboldt County. Its name was given by Josiah Gregg in 1850 as he was exploring and looking for land to settle. Coming upon a group of Indigenous Wiyot fishermen, he traded a frying pan for some Pacific lampreys, which he mistook for eels.

Those Wiyot fishermen had probably been up most of the night — a good time for catching lamprey. Some of the best fishing spots were in the breaking waves at the river’s mouth. Waving redwood-splinter torches over the water, they attracted the lamprey with the flames. With quick reflexes and a carved stick, they snatched them from the water. And because lampreys are so slippery, the Wiyot twirl them over their heads before setting them on dry ground — otherwise they can slide off back into the river.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/eel-river-to-some-wiyat-to-the-tribe-that-fishes-it/

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Drought is back. But Southern California faces less pain than Northern California

Bettina Boxall, LOS ANGELES TIMES

Drought is returning to California as a second, consecutive parched winter draws to a close in the usually wet north, leaving the state’s major reservoirs half empty.

But this latest period of prolonged dryness will probably play out very differently across this vast state.

In Northern California, areas dependent on local supplies, such as Sonoma County, could be the hardest-hit. Central Valley growers have been told of steep cuts to upcoming water deliveries. Environmentalists too are warning of grave harm to native fish.

Yet, hundreds of miles to the south, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California reports record amounts of reserves — enough to carry the state’s most populous region through this year and even next.

Memories of unprecedented water-use restrictions in cities and towns, dry country wells and shriveled croplands linger from California’s punishing 2012-16 drought.

Officials say the lessons of those withering years have left the state in a somewhat better position to deal with its inevitable dry periods, and Gov. Gavin Newsom is not expected to declare a statewide drought emergency this year.

“We don’t see ourselves in that position in terms of supply,” said Department of Water Resources Director Karla Nemeth. “If it’s dry next year, then maybe it’s a different story.”

Southern California is a case in point.

Read more at: https://www.latimes.com/environment/story/2021-04-02/drought-conditions-hit-northern-california-harder-than-in-the-south

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, WildlifeTags , ,

Federal Court Declares Genetically Engineered Salmon Unlawful

EARTHJUSTICE

San Francisco, CA — Link to ruling

Today, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) violated core environmental laws in approving the genetically engineered (GE) salmon. The Court ruled that FDA ignored the serious environmental consequences of approving genetically engineered salmon and the full extent of plans to grow and commercialize the salmon in the U.S. and around the world, violating the National Environmental Policy Act.

The Court also ruled that FDA’s unilateral decision that genetically engineered salmon could have no possible effect on highly-endangered, wild Atlantic salmon was wrong, in violation of the Endangered Species Act. The Court ordered FDA to go back to the drawing board and FDA must now thoroughly analyze the environmental consequences of an escape of genetically engineered salmon into the wild.

In 2016, Center for Food Safety (CFS) and Earthjustice — representing a broad client coalition of environmental, consumer, commercial and recreational fishing organizations, and the Quinault Indian Nation — sued the FDA for approving the first-ever commercial genetically engineered animal, an Atlantic salmon engineered to grow twice as fast as its wild counterpart. The genetically engineered salmon was produced by AquaBounty Technologies, Inc. with DNA from Atlantic salmon, Pacific king salmon, and Arctic ocean eelpout. This marks the first time any government in the world has approved a commercially genetically engineered animal as food.

“This decision underscores what scientists have been telling FDA for years — that creating genetically engineered salmon poses an unacceptable risk if the fish escape and interact with our wild salmon and that FDA must understand that risk to prevent harm,” said Earthjustice managing attorney Steve Mashuda. “Our efforts should be focused on saving the wild salmon populations we already have — not manufacturing new species that pose yet another threat to their survival.”

The Court ruled that FDA failed to consider and study the environmental risks of this novel GE fish. When GE salmon escape or are accidentally released into the environment, the new species could threaten wild populations by mating with endangered salmon species, outcompeting them for scarce resources and habitat, and/or introducing new diseases. The world’s preeminent experts on GE fish and risk assessment, as well as biologists at U.S. wildlife agencies charged with protecting fish and wildlife, heavily criticized FDA’s approval for failing to evaluate the impacts of GE salmon on native salmon populations. Yet FDA ignored their concerns in the final approval.

Read more at https://earthjustice.org/news/press/2020/federal-court-declares-genetically-engineered-salmon-unlawful

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Op-Ed: PacifiCorp should move forward with historic Klamath dams agreement

Russell ‘Buster’ Attebery and Joseph L. James, OREGONLIVE

Attebery is chairman of the Karuk Tribe. James is chairman of the Yurok Tribe.

For nearly 20 years, Klamath River tribes and our allies have fought tirelessly to see the removal of four aging Klamath River dams. We have engaged in protests, attended countless meetings, commissioned technical reports, filed lawsuits and negotiated directly with dam owner PacifiCorp and dozens of other stakeholders. For us, dam removal is absolutely necessary to restore our struggling fisheries, maintain cultural practices, and provide tribal members who struggle to make ends meet access to traditional subsistence foods.

At the same time, dam removal and fisheries restoration would help our neighbors who depend on agriculture as well, resulting in fewer regulatory burdens and greater water security for them. That win-win for struggling rural communities in the Klamath Basin helped bring us together to negotiate with the dam owner, PacifiCorp. It wasn’t easy, but by building trust and respect one discussion at a time, we ­– along Oregon, California and PacifiCorp, owned by billionaire investor Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway – signed the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement in 2016.

It seemed a historic success. In exchange for supporting dam removal, PacifiCorp was assured that its financial contribution for such an effort would be capped at $200 million. In addition, the agreement called for protecting the utility from liability by transferring the license of the dams to an independent nonprofit entity before the dam removal process starts.

Unfortunately, PacifiCorp is now rethinking its commitment to that agreement, after a July ruling by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The commission, which must approve the license transfer, decided that PacifiCorp could partially transfer the dams to the Klamath River Renewal Corp., the nonprofit created to manage the dam removal and related environmental restoration activities. But the commission ruled that PacifiCorp must remain a co-licensee.
Continue reading “Op-Ed: PacifiCorp should move forward with historic Klamath dams agreement”

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Salmonid counts below replacement level in Eel River, CDFW announces

Lana Cohen, THE MENDOCINO VOICE

Many elements have contributed to the decline of these fish species, including warmer and lower water, sediment flowing into the river, invasive species, and dams as factors that have had the most devastating impact.

In order for the Chinook and steelhead, whose populations are plummeting up and down the West Coast, to rebound in the Eel River, there should be at least 26,400 fish returning from the ocean to the Eel to spawn annually, according to the State of Salmon, a salmon information sharing venue run by The Nature Conservancy.

Although the Eels fish population was larger this year than last, Fish and Wildlife’s June 1 report shows that the population fell far below the margin for species recovery. Only 8,263 made the journey, they wrote.

Due to the dwindling population of fish, Fish and Wildlife has set a two fish limit per day for recreational salmon fishing. More details can be found at the Fish and Wildlife’s Ocean Salmon Sport Regulations page.

Read more at https://mendovoice.com/2020/06/salmonid-counts-below-replacement-level-in-eel-river-cdfw-announces/