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Uncharted waters for the Russian River this summer

Russian Riverkeeper, RUSSIANRIVERKEEPER.ORG

This past Sunday, while out on the River, we observed the clearest waters we can remember seeing in over 50 years. With 25+ feet of visibility, we could see the bottom of some of the deepest pools—from Geyserville to Healdsburg at Diggers Bend and Warnecke Ranch—it was incredible! Normally, we would be lucky to have 4-5 ft of visibility.

Sadly, this is not going to last for long. The incredible clarity right now is due to an increased amount of groundwater seepage which brings cold, clean water into the river system. These cold, clean waters are in stark contrast to Lake Mendocino releases or tributary flows that often have more sediment and higher temperatures this time of year. Unfortunately, as temperatures go up and water use increases for vineyards and lawns, this moment of beautiful clarity will soon end.

As we paddled downriver we saw many lower Alexander Valley vineyard pumps already on, signaling the start of the irrigation season. This means that we will soon be losing about 50% of flow between Ukiah and Healdsburg to irrigation. Two weeks ago we observed a semi-truck unloading pallets of new sod in Healdsburg so that even more water-sucking lawns could be planted. As a city that already uses more water per person than all others in the watershed, this seems counterintuitive to the current drought situation we find ourselves in. Seems like not much has changed as far as water-use patterns go.
Continue reading “Uncharted waters for the Russian River this summer”

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North Bay braces for water cuts with reservoirs at record lows after second dry winter

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Anyone paying attention to the season’s paltry rainfall has seen it coming for some time, but recent pronouncements about the state of the region’s water supply make it plain: hard times lie ahead.

Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino are both at their lowest levels ever for this time of year — after two consecutive years in which the combined rainfall totals barely measure up to a single average year.

State water regulators have issued letters notifying more than 700 vineyards, domestic suppliers, farmers and other entities with water rights for the Russian River that their diversions may be curtailed.

Dairy farmers in southern Sonoma County already are trucking thousands of gallons a day to their parched lands, and more than a billion gallons of recycled wastewater normally delivered each year to other agricultural users is simply unavailable, owing to low rainfall and diminished production.

And though it’s only the beginning of April, with months still to go before summer even starts, officials say the overall picture suggests mandated conservation measures aren’t so much a matter of if, but when.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/north-bay-braces-for-water-cuts-with-reservoirs-at-record-lows-after-second/

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Sonoma County: Dry year water supply update

SONOMA WATER E-NEWS – April 2021 Special Edition

Water Supply Reservoirs Reach Historic Lows

The Russian River basin is experiencing a second consecutive year of severely below-average rainfall. As a result, water supply levels at Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma are at historic lows. While state officials have yet to officially declare a drought, hydrologic conditions are more severe than the drought years of 2013 through 2014.

Last week the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) issued early warning notices to approximately 40,000 water rights holders statewide, urging them to plan for potential shortages by reducing water use and adopting practical conservation measures. These notices indicate the seriousness of the situation for water users throughout the Russian River watershed. We anticipate voluntary water conservation measures to be adopted by our Water Contractors and the potential for mandatory measures as well.

Sonoma Water is very concerned about water levels in Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma. Lake Mendocino is at 46% of the target supply curve and Lake Sonoma is at 63% of water supply capacity. Both reservoirs are at the lowest storage level for this time of year since they filled. Hydrologic modelling by Sonoma Water engineering staff indicates that without timely measures to reduce diversions from the Russian River, Lake Mendocino could reach levels too low to support releases for water supply and fish migration by fall of 2021.

What We Are Doing
Since the summer of 2020, Sonoma Water has been working closely with staff at the SWRCB to develop a plan to manage reservoir releases, minimum instream flows and diversions by Russian River water users to prevent both Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma from reaching severely low storage levels. Currently, Lake Mendocino is being operated in accordance with a second consecutive Temporary Urgency Change Order issued to Sonoma Water by the SWRCB that reduces minimum in-stream flows in the upper Russian River (above confluence of Dry Creek) to preserve water supply storage in Lake Mendocino. An option under consideration is the filing of a new Temporary Urgency Change (TUC) Petition. This would replace the current TUC Order that expires July 28, 2021 and could include reduced minimum in-stream flows in the lower river (below Dry Creek) and a proposal for Sonoma Water to voluntarily reduce diversions from the Russian River.
Continue reading “Sonoma County: Dry year water supply update”

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January 30: Community meeting for Santa Rosa Plain Groundwater Sustainability fee

Ann DuBay, WINDSOR TIMES

For more information about the Santa Rosa Plain GSA, go to www.santarosaplaingroundwater.org.

The Santa Rosa Plain Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) is hosting a community meeting on Jan. 30, to discuss a proposed groundwater sustainability fee to provide short-term funding for the new agency. Attendees will also learn about a proposed well registration program. The meeting will be held at 6 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 30, Finley Community Center, 2060 West College Ave, Santa Rosa.

The GSA was created to sustain the quality and quantity of groundwater in the Santa Rosa Plain (generally, the valley floor stretching from Cotati to Windsor and from the foot of Sonoma Mountain to Sebastopol). This state-mandated agency is nearing completion of a yearlong study to finds ways to finance day-to-day operations and groundwater planning. A groundwater sustainability fee – based on estimated groundwater use – is being considered.

“The GSA Board has worked for more than a year to develop an equitable, low-impact solution that will allow us to fund this state-mandated agency,” said Santa Rosa Plain GSA board chair Lynda Hopkins. “The meeting is an opportunity for community members to learn about the proposed fee, and to share their thoughts.”

“The GSA Board and Advisory Committee have discussed fee options in 12 public meetings, we held a community workshop to solicit creative ideas and we’ve provided monthly updates to our large email list,” said Santa Rosa Plain GSA vice-chairman Tom Schwedhelm. “We hope people can attend the January 30 meeting to learn more details.”

Read more at: http://www.sonomawest.com/the_windsor_times/news/community-meeting-for-santa-rosa-plain-groundwater-sustainability-fee/article_890441aa-1e9b-11e9-a5af-377f9b3e679c.html

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Apple season starts

Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

…the county’s orchards have long been “dry farmed,” or without irrigation. Other regions, including parts of Washington and California, have proven far more productive, both with irrigation and with newer, high-density growing methods.

Apple season kicks off next Sunday with a celebration at the Sebastopol Farmers Market, where Slow Food Russian River will have a community apple press and fresh juice.

This Friday will mark the opening of Sonoma County Cider Week, an inaugural series of events with 10 craft cideries taking part.

The celebrations will continue Aug. 11 and 12 with the 45th Gravenstein Apple Fair at Sebastopol’s Ragle Ranch Park.

Apple season in Sonoma County

The Chevy flatbed farm truck has been hauling apples and other crops for 43 years. The small yellow tractor has been chugging through the orchards for over 50. And some of the nearby Gravenstein apple trees have been blossoming for nearly a century.

The farmer, Paul Kolling, is 63.

“We keep the old stuff going somehow,” said Kolling, standing in a sparse orchard in Sebastopol where a crew of workers Thursday shook trees and collected apples for cider vinegar.

Kolling, a former engineer who switched to apple farming four decades ago, was thinking about the half-century- old Massey Fergusson tractor, whose front and back ends each carried a wooden apple bin. The tractor wouldn’t start until the farmer adjusted a loose battery cable.

However, “the old stuff” just as easily could have referred to the orchard’s aged trees, a few of which keep producing apples though their insides are nearly hollowed out or the holes in their trunks are big enough to put a hand through.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/8572505-181/gravenstein-apple-harvest-a-taste

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Op-Ed: New rules cast a shadow on a green energy program

Rocco Fabiano, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Nearly a decade ago, Sonoma County became the first county in the nation to offer an innovative financing option to encourage homeowners to invest in projects that reduced energy consumption and provided for a cleaner environment. Known as PACE, for property-assessed clean energy, the program made it easier to pay for renewable and energy-efficient upgrades by allowing homeowners to finance these projects through their property taxes. This program was designed to provide a vehicle for promoting important public policy initiatives, without using tax dollars or tax credits.

The Sonoma County program, known as SCEIP, was launched after California passed the most comprehensive legislation in the country to address climate change, with the goal of improving the environment while maintaining a robust economy. The fact that these pioneering programs were birthed in California was no accident.

The Golden State has long been a leader in addressing climate change, one of the most pressing challenges of our time. Residential PACE programs have now been approved in more than 50 California counties and have spread to Florida and Missouri. In California, the program has been expanded to support other public policy initiatives, including water conversation and seismic retrofits.

But now this program is in jeopardy of collapsing under the weight of new regulations. Losing PACE would have the unfortunate effect of eliminating strong economic and environmental benefits for our region.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/8528392-181/close-to-home-new-rules

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Knights Valley winery approved by Sonoma County Board of Supervisors

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A new winery proposed for Knights Valley was approved Tuesday by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, which denied an appeal from two local groups concerned about the long-planned facility’s impacts on the remote area.
With little fanfare, supervisors unanimously followed through on the intent they relayed last month during a lengthy public hearing about the Knights Bridge Winery.
Under a condition placed by county officials, the project cannot draw more groundwater than currently used at the site, which already includes about 43 acres of vineyards. The winery, which can produce up to 10,400 cases, is slated for a roughly 86-acre property off Spencer Lane.
A potential squeeze on the area’s already-scarce groundwater supplies was a primary concern among project opponents, including the Maacama Watershed Alliance and the Friends of Spencer Lane, who appealed the Board of Zoning Adjustments’ 2015 approval of the project to supervisors.
To meet the condition, the county is requiring the winery to reduce the property’s existing usage of groundwater by at least 0.5 acre feet annually, or nearly 163,000 gallons per year. Project applicant Jim Bailey initially plans to meet the requirement by dry farming three acres of vines, according to county staff.
Read more at: Knights Valley winery approved by Sonoma County Board of Supervisors | The Press Democrat –

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Op-Ed: Cap-and-trade funds to support creative rural solutions

Paul Dolan and Renata Brillinger, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Overview from the CALCAN (California Climate and Agriculture Network) website:
Climate Smart Agriculture Programs – The state of California currently has four Climate Smart Agriculture programs that provide resources for California farmers and ranchers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and store carbon in soils and trees, while providing multiple benefits to agriculture and the environment. The programs are funded with proceeds from the state’s cap-and-trade program.
Healthy Soils Initiative – The Healthy Soils Initiative was proposed by Governor Brown in 2015 and received initial funding of $7.5 million in 2016. The Initiative provides funding for farmer and rancher incentives to increase carbon storage in soils and reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions through practices that build healthy soil such as compost application, cover crop, reduced tillage, conservation plantings and more. The program will also fund on-farm demonstration projects to provide growers, researchers and other ag professionals strategies for mitigating climate change in agriculture.
State Water Efficiency & Enhancement Program (SWEEP) – The program funds growers to improve their irrigation management practices to save water and energy and reduce related greenhouse gas emissions. Eligible project activities include pump upgrades and solar pump installation; conversion to drip or micro irrigation; improved water storage and/or recycling, soil moisture monitoring and irrigation scheduling.
Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program (SALCP) – The program funds local government projects and permanent easements on agricultural lands at risk of development to prevent sprawl.
Dairy Digester Research and Development Program (DDRDP) – The program funds dairy digesters and related research to reduce methane emissions from the dairy sector. A portion of the funding will be allocated in 2017 to a new program called the Alternative Manure Management Program (AMMP).

Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed Assembly Bill 398, which extends cap-and-trade, California’s cornerstone climate change program, through 2030. The program requires the largest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions (e.g., the oil and gas industry, cement plants, large food processors) to cut their emissions. Without putting a price on carbon, we are unlikely to meet our climate change goals, the most ambitious in the country.
The state Legislature and governor will now debate how to budget billions of dollars in cap-and-trade revenue. In the past three years, California has invested more than $3 billion of cap-and-trade funds in our communities to accelerate the transition toward a clean energy economy. In January, Governor Brown proposed an additional $2.2 billion for the 2017-18 fiscal year.
To date, the money has been invested across California on projects that reduce emissions by weatherizing homes, installing solar panels, improving public transportation, building transit-oriented housing and more. In addition to these urban strategies, the state has also embraced sustainable agricultural solutions to climate change.
Since 2014, nearly $200 million has been granted to farmers and ranchers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to store carbon on their land. The country’s first Climate Smart Agriculture programs are demonstrating to the world that farmers and ranchers can be leaders in climate innovation.
Read more at: Close to Home: Cap-and-trade funds need to support creative rural solutions, like those on the North Coast | The Press Democrat

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Why some western water agencies are writing 100-year water plans 

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

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Sonoma County Water Agency manager named head of California Department of Water Resources

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Grant Davis, general manager of the Sonoma County Water Agency, was tapped Wednesday by Gov. Jerry Brown as the state’s new director for the Department of Water Resources, handing a veteran of North Bay politics and water policy a central role in Brown’s controversial bid to overhaul California’s water system with a $17 billion pair of tunnels under Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Davis, 54, has led the county Water Agency since 2010 and is set to begin in his new post in Sacramento in August, pending confirmation by the state Senate. The Department of Water Resources is the lead state agency providing water for 25 million residents, farms and business.
Its most contentious proposal under Brown is the pair of massive tunnels intended to convey Sacramento River water under the Delta and deliver it to users to the south, including farmers in the San Joaquin Valley and cities in Southern California.
“The governor supports that California WaterFix and so do I,” Davis said Wednesday, using the nickname for the disputed project that pits Northern California water and environmental interests against influential agricultural and urban users south of the Delta.“
I will be a major participant in that effort,” Davis said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C., where he was on an unrelated trip to lobby for funding to support long-range weather forecasting.
Davis would succeed former DWR Director Mark Cowin, who retired late last year along with the agency’s chief deputy director, Carl Torgersen. The appointment comes as the state continues to emerge from a historic five-year drought, with a push to fortify supplies, build new reservoirs and protect the environment — initiatives that can be in conflict.
Davis said there is “a long way to go” in addressing the state’s water demand and a need to “find a balance” between water supplies and protection of “habitat and fisheries.”
Read more at: Sonoma County Water Agency manager named head of California Department of Water Resources | The Press Democrat