Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , , , , Leave a comment on State seeks voluntary cut in stream diversions from Sonoma County landowners to protect coho

State seeks voluntary cut in stream diversions from Sonoma County landowners to protect coho

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
State regulators are asking about 650 landowners along Sonoma County’s four major coho salmon spawning streams to voluntarily reduce water diversions to protect the drought-imperiled fish species, which is hanging on after nearly going extinct in the Russian River two decades ago.
Letters issued jointly by the State Water Resources Control Board and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife were mailed this week to the landowners — primarily rural residents as well as some grape growers — along Dutch Bill and Green Valley creeks in the west county, Mark West Creek north of Santa Rosa and the Mill Creek system west of Healdsburg.
Survival of the coho is “at a precarious junction” in the fourth year of “the worst drought in recorded California history,” read the letter, signed by Scott Wilson, a regional manager with the wildlife agency, and Barbara Evoy, deputy director of the water board’s division of water rights.
“Every week is critical for these endangered salmon,” the letter stated, outlining steps — including use of alternative water sources, curbing lawn irrigation, installing low-flow household devices such as toilets and washing machines and releasing spare reservoir water — to maintain stream flows from May 1 through November or later.
“The fish need a minimum amount of water flow to live and these steps and cooperation are necessary for them to succeed,” the letter said.
The move amounts to the agencies’ first drought-related action this year on local stream use. It seeks voluntary commitments from 654 landowners to cut back on water drawn from coho breeding streams feeding into the Russian River. But the letter also warns that if voluntary actions are insufficient, the state could halt water diversions, a step known as curtailment that was imposed last year on the upper Russian River and other dwindling waterways on the North Coast and in the Central Valley.
Read more via State seeks voluntary cut in stream diversions from | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories Land Use, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , , , Leave a comment on Close to Home: A plea to North Coast landowners to help coho salmon

Close to Home: A plea to North Coast landowners to help coho salmon

Thomas Howard & Charlton H. Bonham, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
From the moment they hatch, coho salmon fry rearing in the tributaries of Northern California watersheds such as the Russian River face an uphill battle for survival from predators, disease and lack of food in summer months before their migration to the Pacific Ocean.
This year, they face another devastating challenge — drought conditions. The drought is impacting businesses and people living in the Russian River watershed, too. It is impacting us all. But for the coho, there’s a way landowners and water rights holders can help.
In key tributaries of the Russian River such as Green Valley, Dutch Bill, Mill and Mark West creeks, surveys counting juvenile coho salmon in 2014 showed 97 percent fewer fish than in 2013. The loss was staggering. Few of the survivors made it to the ocean to feed, grow and eventually return, keeping nature’s chain of survival tentative but unbroken.
This year it’s critically important to help a new generation of fish survive. Juvenile coho rear in pools on these tributaries, and minimum flows are required to keep oxygen high, water temperatures cool and food production thriving in these streams. When flows get too low to keep pools connected, conditions deteriorate and the juveniles die.
This week, several hundred property owners and water right holders adjacent to these tributaries are receiving a joint letter from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the state Water Resources Control Board detailing how they can help with this challenge. May to December are critical months for these endangered salmon. We are urging property owners and water rights holders to work together in a voluntary effort to take just a minimal amount of water from these tributaries this year to give the coho a greater chance of survival than they experienced in 2014.
Through the governor’s leadership and executive orders, the Department of Fish and Wildlife created a voluntary drought initiative. Last year, we negotiated 22 voluntary agreements with landowners across the state. Fish and Wildlife signed these voluntary agreements and provided the willing partners regulatory coverage under the California Endangered Species Act for a specific time period.
We’ve already seen success when we have informally asked some Russian River water users to assist. In early April, we learned that some coho were trapped in a pool in Porter Creek that had become hydrologically disconnected and was in danger of drying up. E. & J. Gallo Winery agreed to release pulse flows into Porter Creek. Following that, tracking tags indicated that several hundred of those coho furthered their journey down the Russian River and toward the ocean.
We think that we can do this together with willing landowners across this watershed. There is a long-standing and strong commitment to stewardship of natural resources in the wine industry and in this region. We have taken the unusual step of publishing this public plea for help because we want to avoid a worse situation for all of us. In the absence of a sustainable voluntary commitment to not take water, the state water board may be required to act as it did in 2014 and this year with tributaries in the Sacramento River watershed and pass emergency regulations that compel curtailments by water right holders along these tributaries.
We remain hopeful these voluntary agreements will close the gap for this season and provide the juvenile salmon the necessary flow they need — and offer one less barrier to their survival for 2015. We appreciate the time and consideration of any landowners who take action and respond to our plea for help.
Thomas Howard is executive director of the state Water Resources Control Board. Charlton H. Bonham is director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
via Close to Home: A plea to North Coast | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, WaterTags , , , , , , Leave a comment on Study shows pot is sucking the Eel River dry

Study shows pot is sucking the Eel River dry

Linda Williams, WILLITS NEWS
California Dept. of Fish & Wildlife Study
Researchers from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife published a study in March on the impacts of marijuana growing on several Eel River segments including the Little Lake Valley’s Outlet Creek.
The researchers concluded pot growing has become so prolific in this region it is literally sucking the streams dry. The study found the quantity of unregistered water abuse was many times the registered water use in the areas studied.
Unlike regulated forms of agricultural, livestock, home and municipal diversions, the clandestine nature of Emerald Triangle marijuana cultivation means that growers have been free to drain the Eel River with few controls in place to prevent it.
Water hungry marijuana plants need maximum watering just as California’s Mediterranean climate enters its dry period and normal flows in area streams drop naturally.
By regulation, the Brooktrails and Willits water reservoirs, located on tributaries of Outlet Creek, can only store water for human use during the wet season, allowing all dry weather flows to pass through the dams to benefit the fish. For much of the last 10 years it appears these water releases have gone, instead, to support marijuana operations.
Read more via Study shows pot is sucking the Eel River dry.

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , Leave a comment on Vineyard frost protection deadline nears for Sonoma County

Vineyard frost protection deadline nears for Sonoma County

Andrew Adams, WINES & VINES
The Feb. 1 deadline has been pushed back a few times because of various legal challenges, but this year growers who use water for frost protection near the Russian River in Mendocino and Sonoma counties will need to make sure they’re in compliance with a state-mandated water-use plan.
The required plan, known officially as a “water demand management plan” or WDMP, stems from an incident in 2008 when several juvenile salmon were found dead or stranded in pools of water along the banks of the river during a record-setting dry and cold period in March. Biologists with the National Marine Fisheries Services extrapolated from the number of fish that had been found that several thousand had died in total. Officials blamed a sudden drop in the height of the river to growers drawing water to protect their vines during a severe frost event.
Despite growers taking steps to minimize the risk to fish in the advent of another severe frost, the state Water Board moved forward with adopting a management plan in 2011. The plan stipulated that if growers were going to use water in the Russian River watershed for frost protection from March 15 through May 15 they’d have to do so in compliance with the new plan that required monitoring of the Russian River’s main channel flow and water level as well as its tributaries. Plan administrators are required to work with fish agencies to determine areas of particular risk to fish stranding, notify growers when rainfall and flow conditions could increase these risks as well as prepare annual risk assessment reports.
A few growers responded with lawsuits, and implementation of the new regulations stalled as the legal challenges wound their way through the courts. On Oct. 1, 2014, the California State Supreme Court ruled in favor of the State Water Board, and growers had to make plans to comply.
Read more via Vineyard Frost Protection Deadline Nears – Wines & Vines – Wine Industry News Headlines.

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, WaterTags , , , , , Leave a comment on State regulators develop water-use rules for pot

State regulators develop water-use rules for pot

Glenda Anderson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Faced with an explosion of marijuana gardens, state regulators are developing a new program designed to bring medical cannabis farmers into compliance with state laws governing water use and water quality.
The regulatory program is expected to be unveiled sometime next year, said Erin Mustain, a senior water resources control engineer with the state Water Resources Control Board’s Cannabis Enforcement Unit.
It’s aimed at halting water diversions that can suck dry small streams; unpermitted grading projects that pollute waterways with dirt; and the misuse of toxic pesticides and fertilizers that have been known to poison streams and wildlife.
Water board staff members already have been meeting with medical pot growers in an effort to educate them about responsible water use and farming practices.
“From our outreach efforts and the feedback we have received from the growing community, we anticipate that most cannabis cultivators and landowners will want to work with us,” Mustain said.
Read more via Effort afoot to develop water-use rules for pot | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , Leave a comment on North Coast growers take fight over frost rules to state high court

North Coast growers take fight over frost rules to state high court

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Local grape growers and farmers are taking their fight over controversial rules governing frost protection to the state’s highest court, escalating a legal battle over regulations meant to protect endangered fish in the Russian River and its tributaries.

In the first of two planned appeals, Redwood Valley grape grower Rudy Light on Friday asked the California Supreme Court to review an appellate court decision in June that upheld the state regulations, dealing a blow to opponents, who have described the rules as government overreach.

They were imposed in 2011 by the state Water Resources Control Board, which along with other agencies, said the new measures were needed to safeguard beleaguered salmon and steelhead trout populations in the Russian River. For the first time, the state required growers to track and report the water they draw out of the river system in spring to spray over their crops and protect them from frost.

The requirements were set to affect hundreds of growers across tens of thousands of acres in Sonoma and Mendocino counties. Opponents in both counties were quick to sue the state, winning a first round in court in 2012, when Mendocino County Judge Ann Moorman struck down the rules, calling them “constitutionally void” and “invalid.”

Light and another group of plaintiffs, the Russian River Water Users for the Environment, who plan to file their appeal Monday, want that lower court ruling to stand. They have assailed the June 16 decision by the state’s 1st District Court of Appeal reversing Moorman’s ruling.

via North Coast growers take fight over frost rules | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories Forests, Land Use, Water, WildlifeTags , Leave a comment on Cleaning up after pot growers challenges North Coast landowners, agencies

Cleaning up after pot growers challenges North Coast landowners, agencies

Glenda Anderson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Deep in a private Mendocino Coast forest, trees and brush give way to terraced clearings, miles of crisscrossing black irrigation tubing and campsites littered with cooking pans, empty food and beer cans, sleeping bags and toxic pesticides. They are the remnants of a marijuana garden where a multi-agency law enforcement effort last year seized more than 8,000 plants.

The environmental damage here is a microcosm of what’s happening nationwide as illegal pot cultivation continues to thrive despite decades of eradication efforts. Marijuana operations claiming to be medicinal, and thus legal in California, also are expanding exponentially, largely without regulation.

Marijuana growers have clear cut forests, eroded hillsides, dammed, polluted and sucked dry streams and poisoned wildlife. It’s not uncommon to find dead animals near pot gardens, wildlife officials say.

“This is probably the worst environmental crime I have ever seen in my life. It is literally ripping out the resources of this state,” said California Fish and Wildlife Capt. Nathaniel Arnold, who heads the department’s marijuana enforcement team.

via Cleaning up after pot growers challenges North Coast | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories Water, WildlifeTags , , , , Leave a comment on Appeals court upholds Russian River frost-protection rules

Appeals court upholds Russian River frost-protection rules

Glenda Anderson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

An appellate court has upheld state rules regulating how hundreds of farmers in Sonoma and Mendocino counties divert water from the Russian River to ward off frost.

The rules, aimed at protecting fish, were struck down in 2012 by Mendocino County Superior Court Judge Ann Moorman, who declared the law to be “constitutionally void” and “invalid.”

The state’s First Appellate District court reversed her decision in a ruling filed Monday.

The State Water Resources Control Board lauded the decision.

“The board is pleased with the court’s unanimous decision upholding the Russian River frost protection regulations,” Michael Lauffer, the board’s chief counsel said in a statement.

Mendocino County Farm Bureau Manager Devon Jones said the appellate court ruling is a disappointment.

“We felt there was a very good opinion,” she said of the overturned ruling.

State regulators created the rules to prevent endangered and threatened salmon and steelhead trout from becoming stranded and dying when farmers pump water from the Russian River to ward off frost. Water is sprayed on vines to create a protective ice shield when temperatures fall below freezing.

The goal of the state rules is to avoid the sudden drops in river flows that can be caused when farmers throughout the river system pump water at the same time.

Several incidents in which rapid declines in river flows caused fish to become stranded triggered the regulations. Fisheries officials estimated some 25,000 salmonids were killed in two April 2008 episodes, one each in Sonoma and Mendocino counties. The incidents coincided with freezing temperatures, state officials said.

via Appeals court upholds Russian River frost-protection rules | The Press Democrat.