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Something to celebrate: Beavers return to Sonoma Creek

SONOMA ECOLOGY CENTER

It’s been a long summer of extreme drought conditions in Sonoma Valley. In what seems like a steady stream of dire news for our watershed one glimmer of good news stands out: beavers are moving back into Sonoma Creek.

The return of these charming dam builders isn’t quite breaking news – since 1993 beavers have slowly made a comeback in Sonoma Valley. But this year, in the middle of our peak dry season, their increasing presence is something for celebration. From the perspective of drought resiliency and water retention in our watershed we’re observing how beavers are a positive factor in keeping what water we do have flowing in our creek beds and reducing hydrological impacts of water rushing through the main stem of Sonoma Creek.

Their natural impulse to build dams and create ponds is a major factor in retaining refuge habitat for species that rely on water to survive. Beavers provide refuge habitat for endangered salmonids, crawdads, California roach, Sacramento suckers, frogs and the endangered California freshwater shrimp which rely on deep pools and submerged, structural habitat like fine tree roots which are often present in the structure of a beaver dam. Any animal, insect, or crustacean that requires water to live in our creek is something that benefits from the damming that the beavers do.

Read more at https://sonomaecologycenter.org/beavers-return/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food SystemTags , , ,

New study confirms less water usage in vineyard can result in better grapes

Bill Swindell, PRESS DEMOCRAT

But the oversight comes as academic research is showing that less water is better for the grape crop, which was valued at $357 million in 2020 in Sonoma County. It can even improve grape quality. A UC Davis study released earlier this month found that grape growers in our region can use less water on vines without affecting crop yields or quality.

As local farmers well know, Mother Nature can be cruel in administering her gifts.

That was the case on the night of Sept. 11 when the crew over at Emeritus Vineyards in Sebastopol felt raindrops as they picked the pinot noir grapes to go into the winery’s premium wine.

While any rain is appreciated during an exceptional regional drought, the precipitation came an inopportune time for the winery that would wrap up its harvest just a week later, said Riggs Lokka, assistant vineyard manager.

“All of the sudden at 1:15 in the morning, it just dumped,” Lokka recalled.

The episode underscored the conditions vineyard managers are operating under: their industry is facing a prolonged era of water scarcity in which growers don’t want to put one more drop of water on their vines than needed.

Local agriculture’s water usage has come under increasing scrutiny. Three of Sonoma County’s 14 groundwater basins are subject to increased monitoring and regulation. Those areas are mandated to be sustainable within 20 years, which means to have no significant drop in water tables on a year-over-year basis. In addition, state regulators so far this year have ordered more than 1,800 water right holders in the Russian River watershed to stop water diversions unless they obtain waivers.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/business/new-study-confirms-less-water-usage-in-vineyard-can-result-in-better-grapes/

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Op-Ed: As river dries up, saving water is pivotal

Brenda Adelman, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Months ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom, facing a recall campaign while managing extraordinary wildfires COVID-19 and worsening drought, called for a voluntary water conservation effort that initially targeted only Sonoma and Mendocino counties. Not too much later, as the greatest reservoirs in the state came closer to reaching their lowest levels, Newsom asked the entire state to voluntarily reduce water usage by 15%, while never calling for mandatory savings. In the meantime, water levels went down, down, down.

As conditions became much worse, local reductions became mandatory. Most cities and counties had followed orders to save water with short showers messages, restricted garden watering, full dishwashers and clothes washers, etc. Yet the situation continued to become worse.

Of the past seven years, at least five have seen much lower than normal rainfall, a trend that might not end next winter if La Niña causes another water-short year. Combined with precedent-setting heat waves and record-setting firestorms, scientists are viewing this as further proof of a global warming syndrome.

To make matters worse, Sonoma Water’s “Schedule of Actual Water Deliveries in Acre Feet” indicates a significant increase in water use. The prime contractors (plus Marin Municipal Water District) purchased 6,117.8 acre-feet more water in the 12 months ending June 30 than they had in the previous year, a 9% increase in water sales. Marin Municipal is not a regular contractor, but it used 2,351.3 acre-feet more during the same period. Santa Rosa used 28 acre-feet less and was the only contractors with a reduction.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/opinion/close-to-home-as-river-dries-up-saving-water-is-pivotal/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable LivingTags , , , , ,

After 27 years in western Marin County, Straus moves to cutting-edge creamery in Rohnert Park

Austin Murphy, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

In his dungarees and rubber boots, Albert Straus looked every bit the dairy farmer that he is. On this particular morning, however, the 66-year-old founder and CEO of Straus Family Creamery was some 25 miles from his family farm.

Straus stood on the floor of a processing plant, amid gleaming silver tanks and conveyor belts that would soon begin moving hundreds of the company’s iconic glass bottles of milk with cream on top.

While those bottles were familiar, the building was not. After 27 years making its highly regarded organic dairy products at a facility in Marshall, the company recently moved its production plant from Marin to Sonoma County, to this brand new, $20 million, 50,000-square foot facility in Rohnert Park. Where the old creamery was surrounded by ranchland, its new neighbors include the Graton Resort and Casino, and a Costco.

“After 27 years in Marshall,” said Straus, gesturing to the machinery around him, “this will give us a road map for the next 30 years.”

While the old plant could process up to 20,000 gallons of milk a day, the new one will be capable of doubling that output — “and do it much more efficiently,” noted Straus. The upgraded plant also features new technologies that allow it to capture and reuse large amounts of water and heat.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/after-27-years-in-western-marin-county-straus-moves-to-cutting-edge-creame/?

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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”

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , , ,

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

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable LivingTags , ,

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

Posted on Categories Climate Change & EnergyTags , , , , Leave a comment on Op-Ed: New rules cast a shadow on a green energy program

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