Christi Warren, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Don McEnhill, Russian Riverkeeper: “I am very concerned, but there’s only so much you can do. You cannot prevent 100 percent of the toxins and things from going in (the watershed), but I feel like with the meetings that have been held this week, people have been very proactive about threats to the watershed, and that does give me hope that we’re going to do everything we possibly can before we have the rains come in.”
With ash now blanketing much of Sonoma County, environmentalists are turning their efforts to debris removal in a race against the oncoming rainy season. Their primary concern: protecting the watershed from toxic runoff.
As the fire roared through Santa Rosa, car batteries, insulation, couches, industrial facilities, carpets, plastics — all things that shouldn’t burn — did.
In response, Cal Fire officials created the Watershed Emergency Response Team. A coalition of state and federal agencies, as well as local environmental nonprofits, it’s dedicated to keeping as much debris as possible out of the county’s waterways.
Their next step will be to evaluate the fire areas and identify which of those are at the most risk for watershed emergencies, prioritizing debris removal and runoff mitigation that way, said Johnny Miller, a public information officer for Cal Fire.
Once identified, sandbags, barriers and straw wattles will be placed to protect against any erosion that could result from winter rains. While Sonoma County is expected to get rain tonight and Friday morning, the .25 inches that could fall is not enough to cause officials much concern.
This winter could be another story. With the North Bay facing a La Niña, it’s hard to tell just how much rain might fall, said Steve Anderson, a forecaster with the National Weather Service.
“Typically that means wetter than normal in the Pacific Northwest and dry in the desert Southwest,” he said.
But in the North Bay, “There are equal chances of above and below normal. … We’ll just have to see what kind of weather patterns set up.”
Read more at: In Sonoma County toxic debris removal, officials in a race against rains | The Press Democrat –
Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A new regulation aimed at improving the water quality of two tributaries that run into San Pablo Bay means vineyard owners in those watersheds will have to obtain new permits under more rigorous guidelines for their storm water runoff.
In approving the new rule last month, members of the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board said they were concerned that vineyards could be discharging sediment and pesticides into the watershed that would, among other things, trigger erosion and threaten fish habitat.
Under the rule, land owners in the Sonoma Creek and the Napa River watersheds will be under three different levels of monitoring, from those who are largely adhering to the best environmental practices that have been certified by a third-party organization to those that will fall under more stringent oversight because they would have to make significant changes to management of their property.
The board did not say how many vineyard owners would be affected, but the rule would cover about 40 percent of the total land in both watersheds, representing about 59,000 planted acres. Those with fewer than 5 acres of vineyards would be exempted.
The wine industry was largely rebuffed in its push for major changes from a proposed draft issued by the board last year. Vintners estimate that it could cost from $5,000 to $7,000 to develop a farm plan to obtain the new permit, and the total could significantly rise to much more if they are ordered to make changes to their properties, such as retrofitting an unpaved road or monitoring water quality.
Read more at: Some Napa and Sonoma vineyard owners under new rule for storm water runoff | Sonoma Index-Tribune | Sonoma, CA
Jerry Redfern, NewsDeeply
The plan calls for increased water conservation through groundwater management (including recharging the aquifer beneath Albuquerque), surface-water management (including protecting current water rights and buying more in the future), watershed restoration, water recycling and reuse programs and stormwater capture and storage.
In February of this year, the largest water district in a state with little water enacted a plan that attempts to manage that increasingly fickle resource for 100 years.
The plan, Water: 2120, is the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority (ABCWUA) in New Mexico’s blueprint to direct water procurement, protection and use for the next century.
“This really came out of eight to 10 of us sitting around in a room every Wednesday morning and talking this through,” said Katherine Yuhas, water resources manager at ABCWUA and one of the lead planners on the project.
It’s common for water agencies to develop plans looking 20 to 40 years ahead, or in some cases 50 to 60 years. And ABCWUA, of course, has had planning documents in the past, the last one looking 60 years out. But “this is the first one to take into account climate change,” Yuhas said, and “it’s the first one to look out 100 years.” Plus, it covers everything from watersheds to infrastructure to household use.
Other Western water groups are also working on long-range plans. Santa Fe is looking closely at Water: 2120. Next year, Austin Water plans to unveil Water Forward, which it calls, “a water plan for the next century.”
And in Arizona, the Office of Assured and Adequate Water Supply Program at the Department of Water Resources requires new developments in certain metropolitan areas to show they have physical and legal access to water for 100 years.
Read more at: Why Some Western Water Agencies Are Writing 100-Year Water Plans — Water Deeply
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Several dozen volunteers, most of whom escaped flooding themselves, joined forces Sunday to help clear away litter in the aftermath of last week’s flooding on the Russian River, contributing to ongoing recovery efforts even as another series of storms lies in wait for the region.
Armed with heavy bags, trash pickers, shovels and brooms, more than 30 people spread out around downtown collecting everything from abandoned bicycle frames to mud-soaked clothing, cigarette butts to broken glass — some of it part of a layer of slippery muck deposited by the receding river. The rest of the trash was on dry land, and gathered before it could find its way to the water some other time.
Community leaders and regular folks joined the effort, organized largely by the Clean River Alliance, a volunteer group that works year round to keep trash from entering the river and making its way to the ocean.
Russian River firefighters were there too, using a fire hose to wash down an asphalt lane at the entrance to Riverkeeper Park and helping volunteers scrape away a thick coating of muddy silt the river left behind.
A few blocks away, Vira Fauss from Friends of Fife Creek, found young native plantings beneath the mud, while others busied themselves at the creek bank, retrieving a large plastic tub and a rolling suitcase among the items taken away by the flooding.
Read more at: Volunteers do the dirty work in Russian River flood cleanup | The Press Democrat –
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Drought-weary North Bay residents are getting an early holiday present from Mother Nature as sporadic December storms have boosted the water level in the region’s largest reservoir and set the stage for bigger gains if rain continues to fall.
Lake Sonoma, the key source of water for 600,000 customers in Sonoma and Marin counties, hit 66.9 percent of water storage capacity Thursday, up two-tenths of a point since Dec. 1 — a small but significant increase that marked the reservoir’s first uptick since June 30, when it was 81.7 percent full.
Water managers call that an “inflection point,” and Jay Jasperse, the Sonoma County Water Agency’s chief engineer, said it is “good news,” with better news possibly on the way.
The storms that have dropped just over 5 inches of rain in the Santa Rosa basin since Oct. 1 have essentially saturated the near-surface soil, allowing water to run off into reservoirs, a trend that appears to be happening to California’s largest reservoirs, as well.
“Runoff hasn’t been huge,” Jasperse said, declaring he is “cautiously optimistic” that soggy soil will keep most of the upcoming rain on the surface and draining into reservoirs.
More rain is expected Friday, over the weekend and continuing next week, consulting meteorologist Jan Null said. “A wet pattern is setting up,” he said, with no downpours but “consistent rain through the end of the year.”
Read more at: Lake Sonoma, Lake Mendocino get runoff boost from | 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
Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Just as Sonoma County’s largest compost company readies to shut down its operations atop the Central Landfill on Mecham Road west of Cotati, county waste officials are ramping up plans to construct a more robust composting site — a new multimillion-dollar facility expected to alleviate environmental pollution issues that have long plagued the current operation.
The future of green waste in Sonoma County reached a turning point Wednesday, when the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency board voted unanimously to require the new facility be built at the county’s 400-acre Central Landfill, just west of the current composting site run by Sonoma Compost, a private company.
“We’re moving forward, and we want to keep our compost local,” said Supervisor Shirlee Zane, who represents the county on waste-related matters. “This is going to ensure it stays local for our farmers and gardeners.”
The county rejected an alternative site on Stage Gulch Road, concluding that the Central Landfill location had fewer negative environmental impacts.
Read more at: Sonoma County approves plans for new compost facility
Elena DuCharme, THE SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE
Water fluoridation appears to be cheap compared to more targeted alternatives. But in Sonoma County it would cost more than it saves. It would cost more for residents, cities, and the county as a whole.
Our County Health Department has adopted the oft-cited claim that that for every dollar spent on fluoridation, $38 would be saved on dental care annually for every individual – essentially a 38:1 return on investment (ROI). If this were true, it would be easy to see why it seems so appealing to local governments compared to other alternatives for preventing tooth decay.
But it’s not true, according to a new peer-reviewed article by Ko and Thiessen, published in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health (March 2015). The study examines water fluoridation’s cost-effectiveness, specifically the basis for the 38:1 ROI claim. The authors found that merely by correcting for flawed assumptions in the original calculations, the ROI dropped to 3:1. And when they factored in the cost of treating “dental fluorosis” (defective tooth enamel commonly caused by drinking fluoridated water), the cost savings of water fluoridation completely vanished.
Read more via: Cost Effective? Is Water Fluoridation Worth the Expense?
Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County’s beleaguered composting program now looks likely to shut down as legal and environmental challenges facing its operation atop the Central Landfill continue to mount.
If the closure that many now see as inevitable happens, thousands of tons of yard debris will need to be hauled to facilities outside the county, with disposal fees rising sharply to pay for the additional shipping costs.
“We’re going to have out-haul. Clearly that’s the writing on the wall,” Supervisor Shirlee Zane said. “It’s a huge disappointment, because ideally we’d like to be able to contain all of these programs and do this ourselves.”
The Sonoma County Waste Agency, a 10-member joint powers authority made up of nine cities and Sonoma County, has been struggling to contain the fallout of a federal lawsuit alleging that wastewater from the 25-acre composting operation has been polluting Stemple Creek for years.
Rainwater falls on open-air rows of compost, leaches through the piles, and is collected in what is now a 2-million gallon containment pond. During heavy rains, wastewater from the pond has spilled into the landfill’s stormwater collection system, which drains to the creek.
The lawsuit, filed by neighbors of the nearby Happy Acres subdivision, names the county, which owns the landfill, the waste agency, which leases the site, and Sonoma Compost, the private company that for more than 20 years has run the compost operation.
Read more via Sonoma County yard waste compost operation in peril | The Press Democrat.
Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A decade after its Central Landfill was closed by water-quality regulators, Sonoma County officials signed off on a series of agreements Tuesday that represent the final step in an arduous effort to permanently transfer responsibility for the 170-acre dump to a private company.
The new agreements and amendments to existing ones mean the Arizona-based garbage company Republic Services is slated to take over operations April 1 under a 25-year deal worth an estimated $650 million.
“I think this is a good and historic day for the county in terms of what we do with our solid waste going forward,” said Supervisor David Rabbitt, whose 2nd District is home to the landfill west of Cotati.
Supervisors, who voted 5-0 on the package, expressed relief and gratitude to staff that the agreements allowing the deal to move forward had finally been struck. Rabbitt said the effort to privatize operations has been “kind of a tremendous moving puzzle” because of the way the county had to get agreement on a wide range of technical and legal issues from all the cities that send their garbage to the 44-year-old landfill.
Supervisor Shirlee Zane called it a “really fabulous agreement” that brought the county, the waste management agency, Republic and eight of the cities together to reopen the landfill long-term while creating incentive for recycling.
“Our whole goal was let’s take away the financial incentive of putting trash in the hole,” and instead encourage people to reduce and recycle, Zane said. The yearslong effort involved deep research into the best waste practices around the world, she said.
“I think we have turned over just about every single stone or piece of trash in this discussion,” she said.
The handover by April 1 was considered crucial if Republic was to be able to complete a badly needed 10-acre expansion of the landfill before the fall. Failure to complete the new cell by then could force Republic to increase the amount of garbage hauled to other counties until the new work is completed.
Read more via Supervisors approve private operation of Sonoma County landfill | The Press Democrat.