Dale Kasler and Christopher Cadelago, THE SACRAMENTO BEE
The drought officially ended in most of California on Friday, but state officials vowed to clamp down on wasteful water use and impose a long-term conservation program that could create friction with urban water users.
Following a deluge of wet weather that left reservoirs brimming and the Sierra snowpack bulging, Gov. Jerry Brown declared an end to a drought that brought California some of the driest periods in recorded history.
But the governor warned the state’s groundwater supplies remain perilously low in some areas, and the state will continue to forbid Californians from hosing off sidewalks, watering their lawns during or immediately after rainfalls, and other wasteful practices. Municipalities will have to keep reporting their monthly water usage. With climate change threatening to make future droughts worse, Brown and others called on Californians to remain cautious about water usage.
“The next drought could be around the corner,” Brown said in a prepared statement.
Dry weather began in earnest in early 2012. It wasn’t until January 2014, with conditions worsening, that Brown declared a state of emergency and the drought officially began. Friday’s decision rescinds that declaration, as well as most drought-related executive orders he issued when the drought reached its zenith in 2015.
Brown lifted the drought order in every county except Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Tuolumne, where the governor said emergency drinking water projects will continue to help communities where wells have gone dry. The state will also continue fighting the bark beetle outbreak that has killed millions of trees weakened by drought.
Read more at: Gov. Jerry Brown declares drought over in California | The Sacramento Bee
NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL
Santa Rosa-based Jackson Family Wines, one of the world’s largest producers, said it has cut water use at its dozens of wineries and thousands of acres of vines worldwide by 31 percent and plans more big cuts in the next five years.
The maker of brands such as Kendall-Jackson, La Crema and Cambria on Sept. 7 released its first sustainability report, showing efforts since 2008 and laying out targets for 2021. It’s something that 92 percent of the world’s largest companies now publish regularly, according to Netherlands-based Global Reporting Initiative. GRI developed sustainability standards in the late 1990s now used in 90-plus countries.
“My family has long been at the forefront of responsible winegrowing with a decades-long commitment to environmental stewardship, innovation in energy and water management, and caring for our people and communities,” said Katie Jackson, vice president of sustainability and external affairs at Jackson Family Wines. “Today’s wine consumers are passionate about sustainability and support wineries that share their values, so I am truly excited to reveal the details of our progress and our ambitious five-year goals in this inaugural report.”
Jackson also has created what’s said to be the wine business’ largest portfolio of solar electricity generation — 6.5 megawatts’ worth installed at nine wineries, according to the 29-page report. And to store some of that for use when the sun’s not shining, the company put in 8.4 megawatt-hours of Tesla Powerpack stationary batteries. Jackson wants to produce enough electricity at its locations to offset half the usage in five years.
The company also installed low-water barrel and waterless tank sanitation systems by Tom Beard Co. of Santa Rosa. Tanks are cleaned via high-strength ultraviolet light. Barrels are automatically scoured with water that’s sanitized and reused up to three times, saving 700,000 gallons of water and also reducing energy needs for heating water.
The number of gallons required to make wine — called “water intensity” — plummeted 41 percent to 5.4 gallons per gallon of wine last year from 9 gallons of water in 2008. Jackson plans to cut winery water intensity by another third by 2021, or around 3.5 gallons per gallon of wine.
In the vineyards, Jackson installed sap-flow sensors by Fruition Systems to irrigate only when vines really need it, cutting irrigation water use by 25 percent.
Read more at: Jackson Family Wines cuts water use by 31%, pledges more by 2021
Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Later this year, workers reunifying Old Courthouse Square will plant dozens of new trees to replace the towering redwoods and others that were felled at the beginning of the project in downtown Santa Rosa.
Whether the new sycamores and crepe myrtles thrive in their urban environment will depend largely on innovative underground preparations underway this week.
Workers began installing more than 1,000 black plastic structures that future visitors to the square will never see, but will directly affect how well the trees grow.
Called Silva Cells, the rectangular blocks, which look a bit like large hollow Legos, are designed to create subterranean spaces where tree roots can grow freely and storm water can collect before flowing into nearby Santa Rosa Creek.
Trees in urban environments often fail to thrive because they are planted in heavily compacted soil that prevents them from getting the air, water and nutrients they need, said Shawn Freedberg, an account manager with the San Francisco-based DeepRoot Green Infrastructure. Instead of growing downward and outward, tree roots often grow upward, resulting in pushed up sidewalks and pavement damage, he explained.
Read more at: Santa Rosa’s Old Courthouse Square project stakes out space for new trees
NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL
The federal government has announced new guidelines that will make it easier for the sale and financing of homes with existing property-assessed clean energy (PACE) loans, through the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) and the Veterans’ Administration (VA).
Seniority has been a sticking point for PACE loans since California enacted Assembly Bill 811 of 2008, allowing such financing, and the pioneering Sonoma County Energy Independence Program launched in March 2009.
“This guidance provides resolution on how PACE financings will be handled in the event of a property’s sale, refinance or foreclosure and upholds PACE’s senior lien position,” said Stacey Lawson, CEO and president of Ygrene Energy Fund, a Santa Rosa-based PACE financing provider. “This is confirmation for the homeowners and local governments that have realized enormous, positive benefits of PACE financing for energy and water-related improvements.”
PACE programs enable homeowners to finance up to 20 years water and energy-efficiency projects, paying for the improvements along with their property taxes.
The new guidelines say that a senior PACE lien can be secured to a property with an FHA-insured mortgage in a manner consistent with traditional special property-tax assessments. Additionally, the announcement reinforces lien transferability by stating that in the event of a sale — including a foreclosure sale — that the outstanding PACE obligation will remain with the property and the new homeowner will be responsible for the balance.
The Obama administration, in collaboration with state agencies, also announced a new goal to bring 1 gigawatt of solar — enough to power roughly 700,000 homes — to low- and moderate- income families by 2020. The Clean Energy Savings for All Americans Initiative is a joint partnership between the department of Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, Health and Human Services and Veteran’s Affairs, and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Source: Feds ease rules on homes with PACE green-upgrade loans | The North Bay Business Journal
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Santa Rosa residents are out from under local water-saving mandates imposed two years ago in the grip of a nagging drought, thanks to an abundant water supply behind Warm Springs Dam at Lake Sonoma, officials said Wednesday.
Based on assurances that the reservoir behind the taxpayer-funded, $360 million dam west of Healdsburg can sustain 600,000 Sonoma and Marin county residents for three more potentially dry years, the City Council rescinded, effective immediately, the mandatory curbs on outdoor water use adopted in August 2014.
The council’s action followed last month’s ruling by the State Water Resources Control Board that local agencies with a three-year water supply could be exempted from state water conservation targets. Santa Rosa and five other Sonoma County water providers met that requirement, the Sonoma County Water Agency said at the time.
On Wednesday, the water agency confirmed in a forecast to the state water board that Lake Sonoma would hold a healthy 178,398 acre feet of water at the end of September in 2019, after three rain-poor years comparable to 2013 through 2015.
Brad Sherwood, the water agency’s spokesman, said the report “illustrates our region’s ability to meet water supply demands” over a three-year drought.
Read more at: Santa Rosa water restrictions end for city residents | The Press Democrat
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Santa Rosa will maintain the other aspects of its water conservation program, including rebates for water-saving devices, and will “continue to ask our customers to keep up their efficient water use behavior,” Burke said.
For most Sonoma County residents, the days of strict water savings mandates could be over by summer, a result of brimful reservoirs and a dramatic shift this week in state water conservation rules.
Santa Rosa and five other Sonoma County water providers should be excused from state-ordered water-saving standards as soon as next month under California’s updated conservation campaign, tailored for the first time to match regulations to the reality of regional water supplies, officials said Friday.
With the region’s two major reservoirs nearly full from above-average rainfall, six local agencies that serve more than 340,000 customers meet the new requirement for demonstrating a sufficient water supply over a three-year period under drought conditions.
“It’s good news,” said Brad Sherwood of the Sonoma County Water Agency, the water wholesaler that serves the local agencies. “Our Russian River water supply system is not in a drought condition.”
The water agency released calculations this week showing that the local water suppliers can balance water demand and supply over three more dry years, thereby gaining exemptions from the conservation standards imposed 10 months ago by the State Water Resources Control Board. In addition to Santa Rosa, the affected municipal systems include Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Windsor, Sonoma and Valley of the Moon Water District.
Local water suppliers that cannot meet demand will be assigned water-savings targets equal to their shortfall, according to the revised conservation program adopted by the water board on Wednesday.
“It does appear we have an adequate water supply for the next three years,” said Jennifer Burke, deputy director of water resources for Santa Rosa.
Read more at: Mandatory water savings may soon be over for most Sonoma County residents | The Press Democrat
The State Water Resources Control Board today adopted a statewide water conservation approach that replaces the prior percentage reduction-based water conservation standard with a localized “stress test” approach that mandates urban water suppliers act now to ensure at least a three year supply of water to their customers under drought conditions.
Recognizing persistent yet less severe drought conditions throughout California, the newly adopted emergency regulation will replace the Feb. 2 emergency water conservation regulation that set specific water conservation benchmarks at the state level for each urban water supplier. Today’s adopted regulation, which will be in effect through January 2017, requires locally developed conservation standards based upon each agency’s specific circumstances.
These standards require local water agencies to ensure a three-year supply assuming three more dry years like the ones the state experienced from 2012 to 2015. Water agencies that would face shortages under three additional dry years will be required to meet a conservation standard equal to the amount of shortage. For example, if a water agency projects it would have a 10 percent supply shortfall, their mandatory conservation standard would be 10 percent.
Read more at: MAVEN’S NOTEBOOK – Water news
Jonathan Lloyd, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Californians are falling short of the state’s mandated water-saving target for the drought.
State water officials announced Thursday that urban water users overall have managed to use 24.8 percent less water since mandatory conservation began last year. That just misses the 25 percent goal for statewide water cuts ordered by Gov. Jerry Brown.
California is now in the fifth year of drought. Water officials blamed warmer weather in January for urban users’ slipping in conservation efforts, which have included cutting back on watering lawns and stricter enforcement for wasteful users.
The latest numbers mark the first time since June that Californians have missed the overall mandatory water-conservation target. Monthly figures show water customers reduced their use by 17.1 percent statewide in January, compared to the same month in 2013.
Read more at: Californians Falling Just Shy of Water Conservation Goal | NBC Southern California
Will Parrish, SONOMA VALLEY SUN
For at least two decades, Sonoma County officials have sided with the wine industry in nearly every major political dispute. The reason? The industry dominates the county’s economy – and financially dominates county election campaigns.
Last spring, Sonoma County supervisors Efren Carrillo, James Gore, and Susan Gorin traveled to Sacramento to meet with some of California’s highest-ranking regulatory officials: California Secretary of Food and Agriculture Karen Ross, Secretary of Fish and Wildlife Charles Bonham, senior staff members at the State Water Resources Control Board, and State Water Resources Control Board member Dee Dee D’Adamo.
The subject of the closed-door session was a pending drought-related emergency order governing water use in four sections of the Russian River watershed, which the state and federal governments had deemed crucial to the survival of the endangered coho salmon and threatened steelhead trout. According to Supervisor Gore, in an interview with me last year, the specific focus of the conversation was to determine “what we could do to achieve the goal of water in the creeks for coho.”
Soon after, the Water Board announced the terms of the regulatory order, which spans 270 days – and remains in effect as of this writing. It applies to an estimated 13,000 Sonoma County residents. It forbids watering of lawns. It places limits on car washing and watering residential gardens. It does not, however, place mandatory limits on water used by irrigated vineyards, which are arguably the main recent cause of the iconic fish species’ perilous decline in the four areas in question.
The failure to regulate the wine industry outraged hundreds of local residents, who vented their opinions in public comment sessions at a series of public meetings held by the Water Board last year. Ironically, based on statements by the Water Board’s D’Adamo, the three elected Sonoma County representatives may have had a role in preventing exactly the restrictions for which these residents advocated.
In a 2015 public meeting, a Mark West Creek resident asked D’Adamo why the wine industry was exempt from the order. D’Adamo noted that “the county” had requested that the regulations not cause “an economic impact.” In a later interview with me, D’Adamo echoed this statement. “Our target is not irrigation [for wine-grapes] that provides an economic benefit,” she said.
Eventually, a slight majority of vineyard operators in the four watersheds (71 out of roughly 130 at last count) voluntarily committed to reducing their water use by 25 percent, relative to 2013 levels. Many onlookers question the efficacy of this voluntary effort, which they note lacks oversight. Meanwhile, one of Sonoma County’s largest wine corporations, Jackson Family Wines, agreed to pump 2.3 million gallons of water from a reservoir serving a pinot noir vineyard into Green Valley Creek. To many residents and environmentalists, though, this episode involving the Water Board reflects an elementary truth of Sonoma County’s modern power structure: The wine industry receives constant support from Sonoma County policymakers in every major political battle, even as it invades neighborhoods and pollutes the environment.
Read more at: Under the influence? How the wine industry dominates Sonoma County election campaigns | Sonoma Sun
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Rural residents within the watersheds of four Russian River tributaries that provide habitat for imperiled fish species have only partially complied with controversial drought regulations handed down last summer to preserve dwindling stream flows.
That’s the word from state water managers, who have resorted to aerial photography in remote areas to detect lawns that are being watered when they should not be, officials said.
In a progress report on the conservation regime presented this week, a representative for the State Water Resources Control Board said “quite a few” properties appeared to be benefiting from turf irrigation in violation of the regulations, though so far only 23 inspection cases have been opened and 14 warnings issued, officials said.
In addition, only half of more than 10,000 landowners in the four affected watersheds had met October deadlines for mandatory reports detailing their use of surface and groundwater — despite the threat of hefty fines for those who fail to submit the information, state water regulators said.
Residents in the areas of Mill Creek west of Healdsburg, Mark West Creek north of Santa Rosa, and Green Valley and Dutch Bill creeks in west Sonoma County are subject to fines up to $500 for each day they miss the deadline for producing information the state water board considers crucial to stream and habitat management.
“Moving forward, that is essential information,” said Erin Ragazzi, assistant deputy director of the water board.
Read more at: Thousands of rural Sonoma County residents miss deadline | The Press Democrat