Matt Weiser, KQED SCIENCE
In 2014, scientists at the National Marine Fisheries Service published a study showing that two fire-retardant formulations are deadly to Chinook salmon, even when heavily diluted in streams.
Chemical fire retardants are considered a vital wildland firefighting tool, helping to slow the spread of flames while ground crews move into position. But as their use increases, the harmful side effects of these chemicals are coming under increasing scrutiny.
The chemicals, usually dropped from low-flying aircraft, largely consist of ammonia compounds, which are known toxins to fish and other aquatic life. Studies have shown retardants can kill fish, alter soil chemistry, feed harmful algae blooms and even encourage the spread of invasive plants. Yet there is little regulation of their use, and no safer alternatives on the market.
In California, state firefighting crews have applied 15.3 million gallons of chemical fire retardants so far this year, according to data provided by CalFire, the state’s wildland firefighting agency. That’s a new record, and double the amount used just three years ago.
CalFire applied 2.7 million gallons of retardant in a single one-week period starting October 9 – also a record. Of that amount, about 2 million gallons were used on the North Bay wildfires, which killed 43 people and burned more than 8,000 structures in October as they swept across several counties north of the San Francisco Bay Area, including Sonoma and Napa.
Read more at: Fire Retardant Use Explodes as Worries About Water, Wildlife Grow | KQED Science
Op-Ed: SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
When the president made good on a key campaign promise Tuesday to roll back federal environmental rules on wetlands, cheers went up across farmlands. The acronym meant little to city dwellers, but the promise to “repeal WOTUS” — a staple at Trump rallies — had secured much of the rural vote for Trump. Fearing rollbacks would weaken environmental protections for a state that has led the nation in environmental protections, Democratic legislators in Sacramento preemptively introduced a suite of legislation to “preserve” California.
WOTUS, or “waters of the U.S.,” refers to a rule intended to clarify the scope of the 1972 federal Clean Water Act, which tries to keep pollutants out of drinking water and wetlands wet. The rule was developed after years of public comment and a lawsuit that went to the Supreme Court. In 2015, the Obama administration finalized the rule, which defined the extent of federal jurisdiction over small streams and tributaries.
The rule is particularly tricky to interpret in California because many streams and wetlands are ephemeral — they flow or are wet only immediately after it rains. Think arroyos in Southern California and vernal pools — seasonal ponds in small depressions with distinct plant and animal life — that dot the Central Valley.
Farmers and ranchers, of course, are not against clean water. But they object to rules that they say are impossible to interpret and that interfere with agricultural practices. The California Farm Bureau stepped in and has led the charge to roll back the rule.
The rhetoric on both sides has been escalating since long before the final rule was issued, particularly on the opposed side, after San Joaquin Valley farmer John Duarte was accused in 2012 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of damaging vernal pools when he plowed to plant wheat.
To fight the promised Trump rollback, California Democrats borrowed a move straight from the playbook of Scott Pruitt, who had sued the U.S. EPA 13 times and called for its destruction before Trump named him EPA administrator. State Senate Democratic leader Kevin de León of Los Angeles has introduced Senate Bill 49, which would use existing federal environmental law as the baseline for state law “so we can preserve the state we know and love, regardless of what happens in Washington.
”The California Farm Bureau welcomed the president’s executive order Wednesday as a rollback of confusing federal rules.
The chest bumping is good political theater, but California has the power to exert its authority over wetlands. The state already uses federal environmental law as a template for state law. And federal law largely leaves authority to the state.
The state needs to invest in institutional muscle at the State Water Resources Control Board to enforce rules that protect the environment from those who would fill wetlands and dump pollutants into streams or seasonal streambeds.
Californians know the value of wetlands in flood control and wildlife habitat. We all want clean water. If these are the priority state leaders say they are, the state should step up.
Source: California should take lead on wetlands protections – San Francisco Chronicle
Rhea Suh, THE HILL
“What kind of a country,” he asked, “will we leave our children?”
In his address to Congress and the nation on Tuesday, President Trump made sparse mention of a leading focus of his first six weeks in office — his unmitigated assault on the nation’s environment and public health.
True, Trump boasted of having worked with congressional Republicans to set mining companies free to pollute mountain streams and destroy forests, by killing the Stream Protection Rule, leaving hard hit coal communities to pay the price.
He highlighted his call to do away with two existing regulations for every new safeguard put in place, an irrational and unlawful approach that short changes the government’s ability to respond to emerging threats in a complex and changing world.
He celebrated his order to revive the Keystone XL dirty tar sands pipeline bragging that he had “cleared the way” for some of the dirtiest oil on the planet to be shipped through the breadbasket of America to be refined on our Gulf coast and shipped, mostly, overseas.
And he took pride in noting his order to sweep aside the voices of the Standing Rock Sioux and force the Dakota Access pipeline across their water sources and sacred lands.
Not great, any of that.
Trump made a fleeting plea “to promote clean air and clear water,” but he never mentioned the order he signed, just hours before, to “eliminate” the Clean Water Rule that provides needed protections for wetlands and streams that feed drinking water sources for 117 million Americans.
He steered clear of reports that he plans crippling budget cuts for the Environmental Protection Agency and to open more public land to the ravages of coal mining.
And he said nothing about his pledge to eviscerate the Clean Power Plan – the single most important measure the government has taken to fight rising seas, widening deserts, blistering heat, raging fires, withering drought and other hallmarks of climate change.
And who could blame him?
Nobody voted in November for dirty water or to put our children’s future at needless risk. Why would Trump tout an extremist agenda for which there’s little public support?
Read more at: Trump’s Congress speech left unsaid his continued assault on our environment
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 –
Melanie Parker, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Beaver Blitz: On Oct. 8, observers will join teams throughout the county in the first ever “Beaver Blitz.” Register at inaturalist.org/projects/sonoma-county-beaver-blitz. To learn more about beavers, visit oaec.org/publications/beaver-in-california.
In this, the driest part of the year in Sonoma County, you might take a minute to consider creatures that are increasingly appreciated as watershed heroes — the beavers.
Beavers (Castor canadensis) are aquatic mammals that live in streams and lakes and are well known for building dams and lodges, but they have long been misunderstood, ignored or maligned.
Today, however, scientists and land managers recognize them as a “keystone” species, protecting habitat for many other plants and animals, and providing water security for people.
Have you ever seen a beaver? Don’t mistake them for otters. Beavers are actually members of the rodent family.
Beavers live in family groups or colonies led by the breeding male and female, and are joined by the juveniles from previous litters who help watch over the kits of the year. At 3, juveniles leave home in search of new territory, sometimes as far away as 30 miles.
Beavers once numbered in the millions all across North America. Because they were prized for their fur, they were largely killed off in the 1700s and 1800s. In California, they were exploited first by the maritime Russian-American fur traders who navigated up and down the coast, and later by fur trapping Mountain Men who came overland from the East.
Read more at: Nature: Sonoma County beavers are watershed heroes
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
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
California Dept of Fish & Wildlife, CDFW NEWS
The Camp Meeker Recreation and Parks District (CMRPD) has begun releasing untreated water from its water treatment facility into Upper Dutch Bill Creek, a tributary to Russian River, for the benefit of summer-rearing coho salmon and steelhead. This is the first voluntary flow augmentation project to be implemented in Dutch Bill Creek and the third to be implemented within the four tributaries subject to the Emergency Regulations for the Protection of Specific Fisheries.
The Voluntary Drought Initiative (VDI) program was initiated jointly by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to address stream flow concerns associated with the California drought. In March of this year, CDFW began asking rural land owners again to sign agreements to voluntarily reduce water demand in four critical watersheds that include Dutch Bill, Green Valley, Mark West and Mill creeks. So far 40 land owners have partnered with CDFW.
In response to increased awareness of the drought crisis, and the imminent threat to coho salmon from low stream flow conditions, several groups have stepped forward to actually contribute water back into streams from their stored sources. The CMRPD effort is unique in that it is diverting water from its supply pipeline in an amount that is immediately benefiting coho salmon.
Since the releases began last month, Dutch Bill Creek is flowing better than it has for the last two months and dissolved oxygen and temperature conditions are expected to keep juvenile coho salmon alive until the winter rains arrive.
CDFW, NMFS and the Goldridge RCD will continue to monitor conditions in the creek to keep enough water following until eventual rains.
Source: Camp Meeker Water District Releasing Water to Save Salmon | CDFW News
Will Parrish, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN
As California lurches through its fourth year of an unprecedented drought, it is no surprise that long-simmering Russian River water conflicts have come to the forefront. At the center of this struggle are salmon and trout, whose epic life journeys play out on a scale akin to Homer’s Odysseus.
In July, roughly 1,000 rural Sonoma County residents overflowed classrooms and small meeting chambers at five informational sessions convened by the State Water Resources Control Board. It would be hard to exaggerate many attendees’ outrage. At one meeting, two men got in a fistfight over whether to be “respectful” to the state and federal officials on hand.
The immediate source of their frustration is a drought-related “emergency order” in portions of four Russian River tributaries: Mill Creek, Mark West Creek, Green Valley Creek and Dutch Bill Creek. Its stated aim is to protect endangered coho salmon and threatened steelhead trout. Among other things, the 270-day regulation forbids the watering of lawns. It places limits on car washing and watering residential gardens. It does not, however, restrict water use of the main contemporary cause of these watersheds’ decline: the wine industry.
“The State Water Resources Control Board is regulating lawns? I challenge you to find ornamental lawns in the Dutch Bill, Green Valley and Atascadero Creek watersheds,” said Occidental resident Ann Maurice in a statement to the water board, summing up many residents’ sentiments. “It is not grass that is causing the problem. It is irrigated vineyards.”
In what many see as a response to public pressure, the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission, an industry trade group, announced last week that 68 of the 130 vineyards in the four watersheds have committed to a voluntary 25 percent reduction in water use relative to 2013 levels. According to commission president Karissa Kruse, these 68 properties include about 2,000 acres of land.
Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore, whose district encompasses more Russian River stream miles than that of any other county supervisor, has been strongly involved in developing the county’s response to the water board regulations and was the only supervisor to attend any of the state’s so-called community meetings.
“I applaud the winegrowers for stepping up,” Gore says in an interview. “I think they saw the writing on the wall. They knew they weren’t going to continue to be exempt from this sort of regulation for long, and there are also winegrowers already doing good things in those watersheds who wanted to tell their stories.”
Initially, state and federal officials who crafted the regulation said they preferred cutting off “superfluous” uses as a first step. “Our target is not irrigation that provides an economic benefit,” says State Water Resources Control Board member Dorene D’Adamo of Stanislaus. D’Adamo has been the five-member board’s point person for developing the regulations and was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown as its “agricultural representative.
“Many residents argue that there is no way of monitoring the vineyards’ compliance with the voluntary cutback because their water use has never been metered. Moreover, these residents’ passionate response to the regulation did not emerge in a vacuum. Rather, it tapped a deep well of resentment regarding the long-standing preferential treatment they say state, county and even federal officials have accorded the powerful, multibillion dollar regional wine industry.
As longtime Mark West Creek area resident Laura Waldbaum notes, her voice sharpening into an insistent tone, “The problem in Mark West Creek did not start with the drought.”
Read much more at: Coho vs. Pinot | Features | North Bay Bohemian
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.
Zeke Grader, MARIN INDEPENDENT JOURNAL
The next time you crack open a crab, or are served a plate of our delicious salmon, think about the near-extinction of these fantastic seafoods due to overpumping our rivers and the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary to water desert mega-farms.
The salmon and crab that are essential to Northern California diet and culture, and the $1.4 billion this fishing industry contributes to our economy, will eventually disappear from our dinner plates if Proposition 1 passes in the November election.
Proposition 1 is one more shovel of dirt on the grave of our salmon, crab and other Pacific fisheries.
Proposition 1’s biggest spending is to build more dams to hold water we don’t have.
That’s misplaced spending and harms the businesses, families and communities that depend upon our salmon, crab and other fisheries.
Our water shortage is not an engineering problem Proposition 1 can solve with billions of dollars of concrete. The 1 percent of additional water that may come from Proposition 1’s dam-building has already been spoken for 5 to 7 times over.
That’s how much water has been promised beyond what we have available each year. We don’t have enough water to fill our existing reservoirs, so what good is Proposition 1’s spending to enlarge them?
Read more via Marin voice: Prop. 1 – One more shovel of dirt on the grave of our fisheries – Marin Independent Journal.