Amber Manfree, CALIFORNIA WATER BLOG
In the historic heart of Napa Valley, a moderate climate and the alluvial soils deposited by the Napa River create perfect conditions for world-class cabernets. An acre of vines here sells for around $300,000, or 25 times the state average for irrigated cropland.
Yet a group of landowners have ripped out 20 acres of these prized vineyards to make room for river restoration, with levee setbacks, terraced banks and native plants.
The project runs the length of Rutherford Reach, a 4.5-mile stretch of the Napa River between St. Helena and Oakville. Landowners say the changes will bring economic benefits over the long term by reducing crop losses from floods and plant disease. Most of all, they feel good about giving back to the river that has brought them so much.
Rutherford Reach is one several sites undergoing major habitat and flood control improvements on the Napa River. Some projects started more than 40 years ago. Others are just getting off the ground.
Far from postage-stamp restorations, these efforts are steadily transforming a huge swath of wetlands in a very lived-in area, re-establishing geomorphic function at the landscape scale.
Innovative funding, inclusive planning and adaptive management power these projects and offer lessons for river restoration elsewhere.
Here’s a closer look at three major flood control and river rejuvenation projects on the Napa: Rutherford Reach, downtown Napa and the lower Napa River:
Read more at: Napa County strings together a ‘living’ river
Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Santa Rosa officials celebrated the completion of the first phase of the ambitious restoration of Colgan Creek on Thursday with a tour of the newly widened waterway.
The majority of work on the half-mile section of creek just east of Elsie Allen High School wrapped up last fall, with workers widening and reshaping the channel to increase its flood capacity, restore a more natural course and improve the riparian habitat.
The channel will now be able to handle a 100-year-flood instead of the 25-year event for which it was designed, city environmental specialist Sean McNeil explained to dozens of people who turned out for the event.
Wildlife already is returning to the creek. Western pond turtles were discovered in the area soon after major work completed last fall, said Steve Brady, a city’s environmental specialist. And a green heron was spotted Thursday hunting near one of the few remaining pools that haven’t yet dried up this summer.
Colgan Creek long has run dry in the summer, and the project won’t change that.
“This is not going to be a steelhead creek,” McNeil said.But it will create a more natural environment for a variety of wildlife, including winter habitat for fish species moving up from the Laguna de Santa Rosa, he said.
Read more at: Santa Rosa officials show off rehabilitated Colgan Creek | The Press Democrat
Eloísa Ruano González, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A busy stretch of road that runs along San Pablo Bay just south of Sonoma Raceway is considered a hot spot for roadkill.
Highway 37, which connects Novato to Vallejo, slices right through major habitat for jackrabbits, deer, coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions. The high speed limit and heavy congestion makes the four-lane highway an extreme peril for animals wanting to cross.
“For animals, it’s bad news,” said Fraser Shilling, co-director of the UC Davis Road Ecology Center.
With wetland restoration going on at Sears Point, he said, more animals will be drawn to cross the highway to get to the newly restored marshes to the south for food and habitat. They currently don’t have much of an option except bolting across the road, where an average of 37,000 vehicles travel a day, Caltrans said.
“A road like that with that much traffic makes it difficult for animals to move,” said Julian Meisler, baylands program manager with the Sonoma Land Trust.
The Land Trust is working on creating a safer wildlife passage under the highway. It has teamed up with groups such as the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge and Point Blue Conservation Science’s Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed program, known as STRAW, to restore the creek that flows through a decades-old cattle underpass. They’re planting willows, oaks, coyote brush and other plants to make the culvert more attractive for wildlife to use.
Animals avoided the underpass, about three-quarters of a mile west of the intersection of Highways 37 and 121, because of the lack of trees and shrubs to serve as cover, said Don Brubaker, manager of the wildlife refuge, which owns and manages the land to the south of the highway.
“We need to advertise this as a way to go (across) that wildlife understand,” Brubaker said, adding the best way to do so is by creating desirable habitat for animals.
Read more at: Highway 37 crossing for wildlife in the works | The Press Democrat
Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
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.
Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County supervisors Monday adopted a hard-won compromise between farmers and environmental groups, advancing protective buffer zones along 3,200 miles of streams and rivers in the county.
“This is a historic day,” Board Chairman David Rabbitt said. “It wasn’t easy to get here.”
Supervisors unanimously approved the measure shielding 82,000 acres of land outside city limits, most of it on private property, from future farming and development.
The decision followed a four-hour public hearing, where 25 speakers from a standing-room-only crowd called the once-controversial policy now workable.
“This has been a long process,” said Bob Anderson, executive director for United Winegrowers for Sonoma County, who has been heavily involved in negotiating new rules. “It is pretty amazing in this county to have all interests singing from the same sheet of music.”
Officials said the buffer zones along waterways throughout the county will provide critical ecosystem functions, including groundwater recharge, water quality, river bank stability and habitat for imperiled fish species.
Most of the speakers were in favor of the proposal and applauded the compromise. The new rules were first approved under the county’s general plan, adopted six years ago, and will now be aligned with county zoning codes, officials said.
“For people who violate the law, I can go after them now,” said Tennis Wick, director for the county’s Permit and Resource Management Department. “Yesterday I couldn’t.”
The new countywide ordinance prevents property owners from cultivating land or building on land that is 50 to 200 feet from rivers and streams. At issue Monday were details in the proposal, including where to draw the edge of the setback zone, vehicle turnarounds for farming operations and whether to allow wells within buffer zones.
via Unanimous county vote approves stream setbacks | The Press Democrat.
Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County’s effort to implement one of its most controversial land use policies — protective buffer zones along 3,200 miles of rivers and streams — has reignited a pitched debate between environmental organizations, farmers and private property rights activists about how to best protect and manage waterways throughout the county.
The dispute is fundamentally about the reach of government regulation onto private land to safeguard public resources, including water quality and wildlife. The debate has been closely monitored by environmental and agriculture groups, and county officials have acknowledged that the outcome will have far-reaching implications.
Read more via Stream protections vs. private property rights in Sonoma | The Press Democrat.
Mark Prado, MARIN INDEPENDENT JOURNAL
For the past seven weeks crews at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center have been rerouting a creek closer to its original path to help an endangered species’ chance for survival.
They have been using machinery and muscle to reshape lower Green Gulch Creek, a tributary to Redwood Creek near Muir Beach, one of the few remaining bodies of water to support endangered coho salmon.
“We are trying to provide a little piece of heaven for young fish here,” said Liza Prunuske, co-owner of Sebastopol-based Prunuske Chatham Inc., an environmental restoration business that is doing the work. “We had lost all the habitat here that fish needed.”
At one time Green Gulch Creek meandered from its headwaters through a valley floor before connecting to Redwood Creek. But as the valley was farmed the creek was pushed to the side into a ditch, part of it lined with concrete. When it rained, water moved rapidly through the straight ditch, making for poor habitat.
But that has changed over the past several weeks as the twisty nature of the creek has been restored, which will allow for slower waters. Parts of trees from the site also have been placed in the creek to provide breaks to calm waters so fish can rest. In addition, a flood plain was created, providing another place for fish to relax and retain energy as they make their way in and out of the area.
via Green Gulch Creek ‘recreated’ to help endangered fish – Marin Independent Journal.
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Construction crews that have spent more than two years reconfiguring a mile-long stretch of Dry Creek outside Healdsburg are about to mark completion of the critical first leg of what, by 2020, is to be a six-mile project designed to create new habitat for threatened and endangered fish.
So far, workers have strategically placed thousands of tons of locally sourced rock and more than a thousand giant root balls and saw logs in the creek, and they’ve removed some 30,000 cubic yards of soil and gravel to create restful backwaters, some of which already are being used by fish species whose very survival is at risk, officials said.
The overall goal is to offer supportive habitat for coho and chinook salmon, as well as steelhead trout, that includes areas of slow-water refuge, plenty of places to hide from predators, adequate food supply and cool, shallow current — partly offsetting the loss of 130 square-miles of upstream habitat cut off by the construction of Warm Springs Dam to create Lake Sonoma in 1983.
The reservoir has offered the project one advantage: From the dam at its southern end comes a reliable supply of cold, clear water that’s so rare in the Russian River watershed these days, said Eric Larson, environmental program manager for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“Basically, it comes down to the recognition that due to the characteristics of Dry Creek following the construction of the Warm Springs Dam, Dry Creek offers a huge opportunity to create salmonid habitat in the Russian River watershed where it once did not exist,” at least not year-round, Larson said.
Read more via First phase of Dry Creek makeover nears completion | The Press Democrat.
Eloísa Ruano González, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Steelhead trout once returned in strong numbers to Sonoma Valley from the ocean and San Pablo Bay, swimming up Sonoma Creek to the sheltered waters of Stuart Creek, an ideal stream for spawning and rearing with its rocky bed and abundance of aquatic vegetation and insects.
For decades though, it’s been rare to spot steelhead upstream in the creek near Glen Ellen. Man-made barriers and steep drop-offs formed by erosion have blocked their access, further imperiling a fish that has disappeared from much of its former range on the North Coast.
However, work is underway to restore a section of Stuart Creek in hopes of bringing back its once sizable steelhead run.
via Creek work in Sonoma Valley to remove barriers | The Press Democrat.
Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County planning commissioners Thursday night signed off on a new ordinance spelling out a wide set of regulations that limit agriculture and development along 3,200 miles of streams and rivers.
The controversial changes, decades in the making, would create buffer zones around waterways and protect sensitive plant and animal habitat on roughly 82,000 acres of unincorporated parts of the county. Thursday’s 4-1 vote followed eight hours of sometimes heated deliberation, and sends the regulation to the Board of Supervisors, who are expected to vote on the zoning rules sometime this fall.
More than 70 people packed a county meeting room Thursday, while roughly a dozen others spilled out into the hallway to fill out speaking cards and read opposition letters. Speakers, many of whom were farmers and ranchers, said they were concerned about changes affecting grazing operations, habitat protection areas that extend past the riparian corridor to include tree lines and rules guiding underground wells.
“There is always going to be someone who doesn’t get what they want,” said Don Bennett, chairman of the commission. “We’ve had a lot of meetings; it’s now our job to get this into shape to the Board of Supervisors. It’s just the last step in implementing the county’s general plan.”
via Sonoma County Planning Commission signs off on stream | The Press Democrat.