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Sonoma Creek watershed conservation grants ease vineyard erosion

Replacing three culverts on his 28-acre Sonoma Valley hillside vineyard won’t boost the yield or increase the price of his merlot, sauvignon blanc and zinfandel grapes, John MacLeod said.
“It’s hard for me as a farmer to spend money fixing this,” he said.
But with a grant from the Santa Rosa-based Sonoma Resource Conservation District footing 75 percent of a $26,000 conservation project to reduce erosion on his land, MacLeod is quick to acknowledge the nonfinancial benefit.
“It makes us better stewards of the land,” he said, standing amid the 20,000 vines planted since MacLeod’s family bought the ranch along Sonoma Creek in 1974.
MacLeod Family Vineyards is one of four Sonoma Valley vineyards that has qualified for a total of $250,000 in grants funded by the Coastal Conservancy aimed at improving water quality in Sonoma Creek. The other three are Jack London Vineyard, Wildcat Mountain Vineyard and Santo Giordano Vineyard.
The local resource district has an additional $663,850 in grant funds authorized by the State Water Resources Control Board available to vineyards in the 170-square-mile Sonoma Creek watershed that extends roughly from Kenwood to San Pablo Bay.
The watershed is a “high priority” for remedial projects because Sonoma Creek, which flows 33 miles from its headwaters in Sugarloaf Ridge State Park to the bay, is designated by the state and federal government as impaired by excess sediment, said Valerie Minton, program director at the Sonoma RCD.
Sediment washed into Sonoma Creek, an important stream for steelhead trout, settles in gravel beds, potentially suffocating eggs and filling in pools where juvenile fish must spend the summer, she said.
Read more at: Sonoma Creek watershed conservation grants ease vineyard erosion | The Press Democrat

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Sonoma County vineyard manager fined for landslide near Dry Creek

A prominent Sonoma County vineyard manager has agreed to pay $50,000 in penalties and other costs arising from a civil complaint related to a wintertime landslide on a replanting job outside Healdsburg.
Ulises Valdez, whose family business farms more than 1,000 acres, and Cloverdale engineer Kurt Kelder both were fined under a settlement announced this week for violations that officials say resulted in a stream of soil running into drainage for Dry Creek, a Russian River tributary that carries much of the North Bay’s drinking water and provides important fish and wildlife habitat.
Kelder is to pay $24,500, the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office said.
Kelder’s lawyer, James DeMartini, said his client agreed to the settlement without admitting fault, and said that while Kelder designed an erosion control plan for the property, it was Valdez who was responsible for installing it and he did not complete the job.
Read more at: Sonoma County vineyard manager fined for landslide near | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Forests, Land Use, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , ,

Op-Ed: After the grapes are gone


Our succession of boom crops in Sonoma County provides an interesting history — and a cautionary tale.

The county’s world-class wine grapes occupy more than 60,000 acres, with vineyard acreage expanding 80 percent between 1988 and 2014. Our climate, soils and location are ideal, and grapes are the current top crop, worth more than $400 million.

But, what will remain of our natural resources when markets and production shift? What will become of future generations’ inheritance of our region’s rich soils, water, forests, wildlife and fisheries?

As the past predicts the future, previously dominant crops over the past 160-plus years have been replaced with the next crops of gold. Early on, potatoes were large crops, now gone. Potato blight and erosion of coastal sandy loam soils helped destroy that crop’s viability by 1900, while adding huge sediment loads to coastal creeks and lagoons, damaging salmon and steelhead habitat.
By 1858, Sonoma County’s hops production exceeded $1 million (equivalent to $27 million in today’s dollars), producing thousands of harvest-time jobs. The industry declined rapidly during Prohibition and with changing tastes. After 1939, machine-picked hops shifted cultivation to operations outside Sonoma County. The year 1961 witnessed the last commercial crop.

By 1936, Healdsburg was labeled the “Buckle of the Prune Belt,” with plums exceeding 24,000 acres. Cherries, peaches and apples took turns as dominant regional crops. The first commercial apple orchards were planted in 1875, with Gravensteins the local favorite by 1915. At its peak in 1953, 27,000 acres produced a crop worth more than $5.5 million ($49 million today). By the 1990s, apple orchards were rapidly being replaced with grapes.

Poultry, with more than 50 million dozen eggs per year, was king for several generations until the shift to industrial production in the Central Valley. Pears, hay, dairy products (a $90 million industry), cattle, sheep and other crops have all had their eras of economic and agricultural triumph. We’ve harvested redwood, fir, salmon, eel, otters, seals, whales, murre eggs, ducks and egrets, mercury and gravel until resources were exhausted. Water is now subject to competing commercial, municipal, marijuana, wine and agricultural demands, all increasingly pitted against survival of native salmon.

European grapes were first planted in 1857. Despite phylloxera, Prohibition, economic depressions, droughts, freezes, floods and new threats of Esca fungi, demands for Sonoma wines have supported increasing acreage for premium grapes. Dry farmed rootstock has given way to higher-yield irrigated rootstock. Competition for scarce water, soils and appropriate microclimates is fierce, as the world market, investment strategies, real estate speculation, and vanity wineries have fueled development of more vineyards.

Tastes, prices, diseases, and access to processing and transportation all change. Tourists may grow tired of more winery events, while other world producers grab market share. Climate changes are impacting grape viability and suitable locations, affecting growing seasons, extreme temperatures, droughts, frosts and water reliability.

In 160 years, we’ve substantially changed Sonoma County’s landscape. What will happen in the next 50 years? As with past crops, the treasured domination of grapes may fade. When that happens, what condition will our local natural resources be in? Will the land and Russian River watershed still be healthy enough to host the next crops of gold?

Our responsibility is to assure that we preserve and restore fertile soil, clean and abundant surface and ground water, wetlands, forests and all fish and wildlife that depend on those resources — including us. Otherwise, our harvests of gold will disappear.

David Keller of Petaluma is Bay Area director of Friends of the Eel River.


Posted on Categories Forests, Sonoma Coast, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , , Leave a comment on Massive floodplain logging plan for lower Gualala River threatens wetlands, rare plants & endangered wildlife

Massive floodplain logging plan for lower Gualala River threatens wetlands, rare plants & endangered wildlife


Gualala River floodplain
The moist ground layer of the Gualala River redwood forests is rich in ferns and wildflowers. Peter Baye

The lower Gualala River has a wide meandering floodplain rich in wetlands, mature productive riparian redwood forests and highly diverse riparian habitats supporting many special-status plant, fish, and wildlife species. “Flood prone” redwood forests are supposed to be protected by avoidance of logging disturbances under special salmonid protection rules under the Forest Practices Act.
Despite the special protected status of floodplain redwood forests, Gualala Redwood Timber LLC (GRT; formerly Gualala Redwoods Inc., purchased in 2015 by Redwood Empire, owned by the Roger Burch family) proposes in the new “Dogwood” timber harvest plan (THP) to log 320 acres along 5 miles of the lower Gualala River’s redwood floodplain forest, taking 90 to 100 year old redwoods almost to the edge of Gualala Point Regional Park, and adjacent to the river’s sensitive estuary. Gualala Point Regional Park is one of the only public recreation areas in the entire watershed. The “Dogwood” THP, however, concluded with that the logging would have no effect on recreation, but with no analysis of the potential impacts of next-door logging of “Unit 1” on the regional park, and offered no mitigation.
To add to the impacts of logging hundreds of acres of floodplain redwood forest, the “Dogwood” and adjacent “Apple” THPs also propose to guzzle an incredible 25,000 gallons per day of Gualala River water during the dry season (April to November) over the 5 year timber harvest permit period. Not only does this conflict with Forest Protection Act “Anadromous Salmonid Protection” rules requiring avoidance of water drafting in forested “flood prone areas”, but the THP’s incredible determination that it would have “no effect” on flows was based on an outdated 2010 hydrology report (prepared before the current historic drought) with no consideration of the drought impacts on Gualala River’s deficient minimum summer flows, and Gualala’s municipal water supply. In addition, no analysis of the THP’s major water diversion during drought on listed salmonids was prepared. Yet the responsible agencies and affected downstream public water users have raised no red flags about the massive diversion of river water during the drought.
Aggressive logging plans previously proposed by Gualala Redwoods Inc. (GRI) have either been denied permits, or have been forced to withdraw them due to strenuous objections by resource agencies over impacts to endangered fish and wildlife species of the river and its wide riparian zone. One of the last failed efforts to log the floodplain was the GRI “Iris” timber harvest plan of 2004.
Read much more at: Massive floodplain logging plan for lower Gualala River threatens wetlands, rare plants & endangered wildlife – Friends of Gualala River

Posted on Categories WaterTags , , , Leave a comment on Sonoma County gets grant to improve Petaluma River, Sonoma Creek watersheds

Sonoma County gets grant to improve Petaluma River, Sonoma Creek watersheds

Sonoma County officials are bolstering their efforts to reduce pollutants and sediment that flow into the county’s rivers and streams during rain and storm surges with a $991,000 federal grant awarded this week.
Initiatives supported by the Environmental Protection Agency grant are aimed at improving water quality in streams and rivers in southern Sonoma County, critical habitat for imperiled fish species and other wildlife. Local efforts over the next four years will focus on combating urban and agricultural runoff. The runoff includes sediment and disease-causing pathogens that enter the creeks and tributaries of the Sonoma Creek and Petaluma River watersheds.
“This is a substantial problem,” said Tennis Wick, director of the county’s Permit and Resource Management District, which is administering the grant. “These are two environmentally important watersheds, and they don’t get as much attention (as the Russian River watershed).”
Under the grant, county planning, transportation and parks officials will work with state and federal environmental officials to more aggressively monitor and curtail pollution and sediment intrusion that can degrade sensitive habitat. Other plans include reinforcing river banks with plants to control erosion; building runoff-trapping features, such as planter strips, in new developments; and working with nonprofit environmental groups to educate the public about the environmental harms of pollution and sediment intrusion.
via Sonoma County gets grant to improve Petaluma River, | The Press Democrat.