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Montage Healdsburg resort developer fined record $6.4 million for water violations

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

State water quality regulators have fined the developer of Montage Healdsburg, the ultra-luxury resort set to open Saturday, more than $6.4 million for environmental violations tied to hotel construction during the stormy winter months of late 2018 and early 2019.

The fine — the largest environmental penalty of its kind on the North Coast — was approved Friday by the Santa Rosa-based North Coast Water Quality Control Board following a nearly eight-hour virtual hearing.

The board’s 5-0 vote affirmed a fine recommended by agency prosecutors as part of a two-year enforcement action against Sonoma Luxury Resort, a subsidiary of Encinitas-based developer the Robert Green Co.

“Today, the prosecution team proved that there were widespread, persistent stormwater violations at the discharger’s construction project,” Dan Kippen, prosecuting attorney for the State Water Resources Control Board, told the regional body Friday. “Ordering the discharger to pay the proposed liability will send a message not only to this discharger that its conduct was unacceptable and must be avoided for its future projects, but will also send a message to all future developers that they flout the (construction general permit) and other water laws at their own peril.”

The 38 violations put forward by regulators included woefully and repeatedly inadequate erosion control measures documented over several months by water quality investigators at the 258-acre resort property at Healdsburg’s northeastern edge, last estimated to cost $310 million. Prosecutors said nearly 9.4 million gallons of prohibited runoff and sediment-filled stormwater escaped the heavily sloped construction site and into streams of the Russian River watershed, leading to two forced work stoppages. The affected tributaries included Foss Creek, a steelhead trout stream.

“I can stand here before all of you right now and tell you in my 20 years, I’ve yet to see a site this nasty,” Jeremiah Puget, senior environmental scientist with the regional board, said Friday. “If you take this case in its entirety, we believe that we went above and beyond our role — as did the city of Healdsburg — in trying to return this site into compliance.”
Continue reading “Montage Healdsburg resort developer fined record $6.4 million for water violations”

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Santa Rosa proclaims flood emergency after 250 million gallons of treated sewage released into streams

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa officials said Tuesday that managers at the city’s wastewater plant have been forced to release at least 250 million gallons of treated sewage into two creeks and the nearby Laguna de Santa Rosa amid record inflow to the facility that began in last week’s storm.

The three-day deluge pushed more than five times the normal flow of wastewater and runoff into the city’s Laguna de Santa Rosa plant, City Manager Sean McGlynn told the City Council on Tuesday. It was the highest inflow ever recorded at the site, according to the city.

To avoid overwhelming the Llano Road facility, managers began last Wednesday releasing fully treated sewage into Santa Rosa and Colgan creeks and the rain-swollen Laguna, which overtook city blocks on the eastern edge of Sebastopol, including the upscale Barlow shopping and business district.

The emergency release is ongoing, city officials said Tuesday. All three waterways drain into the Russian River.

McGlynn’s report came as the City Council affirmed a local emergency declaration he made last week at the end of the storm. The move is meant to ensure the city has both the flexibility and legal protection to alter operations at its wastewater plant, where flows have abated but remain higher than normal.

Partially treated waste also was diverted last week into storage basins, with plans now underway to fully treat that sewage. That diversion took place from late Tuesday to Thursday afternoon and has not impacted nearby waterways, according to the city.

The plant has enough remaining storage space to handle the extra volume from this week’s rain, Santa Rosa Water officials said. They have yet to discover any damage at the plant stemming from the past storm, which dumped a one-day record of 5.66 inches of rain on Santa Rosa.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9353682-181/santa-rosa-city-council-proclaims

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Advance in storm forecasting allows Lake Mendocino to hold more winter runoff

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Dam operators are planning to store nearly 4 billion extra gallons of water this winter in Lake Mendocino, the reservoir near Ukiah that plays a critical role in providing water for residents, ranchers and fish along the upper Russian River and to communities in Sonoma and Marin counties.

Retaining that much more water — enough for about 97,000 people for a year — comes about as a four-year and $10 million program, proven in computer models but not in practice, gets its first field test.

The program, blending high-tech weather forecasting with novel computer programming, is intended to pinpoint the arrival of rain-rich atmospheric rivers that have been both a drought-busting blessing and a flood-causing curse to the Russian River region.

It evolved from a searing lesson water managers got six years ago, when they released more than a third of the reservoir’s allowed capacity in anticipation of storms that never arrived. Then the state’s prolonged drought set in.

Under the new program, called Forecast Informed Reservoir Operation, or FIRO, the Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the reservoir, will hold onto the extra water as long as no atmospheric river is imminent. Should a drenching storm loom, that water will be released, enabling Lake Mendocino to capture the new runoff and control flooding, the mission it was built to serve 60 years ago.

The goal is to head into summer with as much water in Lake Mendocino as possible. Army Corps officials, the phalanx of scientists who developed FIRO at a branch of UC San Diego and Sonoma Water, are confident it will work.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9014821-181/advance-in-storm-forecasting-allows

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Advance in storm forecasting allows Lake Mendocino to hold more winter runoff

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Dam operators are planning to store nearly 4 billion extra gallons of water this winter in Lake Mendocino, the reservoir near Ukiah that plays a critical role in providing water for residents, ranchers and fish along the upper Russian River and to communities in Sonoma and Marin counties.

Retaining that much more water — enough for about 97,000 people for a year — comes about as a four-year and $10 million program, proven in computer models but not in practice, gets its first field test.

The program, blending high-tech weather forecasting with novel computer programming, is intended to pinpoint the arrival of rain-rich atmospheric rivers that have been both a drought-busting blessing and a flood-causing curse to the Russian River region.

It evolved from a searing lesson water managers got six years ago, when they released more than a third of the reservoir’s allowed capacity in anticipation of storms that never arrived. Then the state’s prolonged drought set in.

Under the new program, called Forecast Informed Reservoir Operation, or FIRO, the Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the reservoir, will hold onto the extra water as long as no atmospheric river is imminent.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9014821-181/advance-in-storm-forecasting-allows

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Sonoma County launches first test of ‘groundwater banking’ to prep for drought

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County’s first experiment with underground drinking water storage is taking place at an unremarkable well drilled to 230 feet into the floor of Sonoma Valley.

Here, enough Russian River water to fill a large swimming pool — about 500,000 gallons — is now on deposit in a sand and gravel aquifer that lies beneath a thick lid of 8 million-year-old lava rock underlying part of the valley.

On Tuesday, crews began pumping water back out of the ground in the first round of testing under a $250,000 study of groundwater storage and recovery conducted by the Sonoma County Water Agency and the city of Sonoma.

The goal of the study, which started last month and will run through July, is to “verify and empirically determine” the feasibility of pumping plentiful wintertime surface water into the ground for extraction during dry summers, with increasingly volatile weather patterns expected as a consequence of climate change, officials said.

If the practice, known as groundwater banking, proves viable it “will make us a lot more resilient” as climate change forces the county to “ping pong between floods and drought,” said Jay Jasperse, chief engineer and director of groundwater management for the water agency.

Similar projects are underway around the state as water managers move toward integrated systems meshing surface water in lakes, rivers and behind dams with water stored in underground reservoirs, known as aquifers, he said.

Read more at http://www.northbaybusinessjournal.com/northbay/sonomacounty/8187492-181/sonoma-county-groundwater-aquifer-drought