Julie Johnson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
This was far from the cocktail-hour networking meetings for cannabis companies, worlds away from sterile laboratories measuring THC levels and the marketing teams channeling a great entrepreneurial push fueled by California’s recent embrace of the medical marijuana industry.
This was the Lake County wilderness, where an orange peel, a crushed Coca-Cola can and a cairn of rocks marked a footpath leading into the chaparral-covered hills southwest of Kelseyville.
A sheriff’s detective in camouflage gear pushed through a dense thicket until the underbrush lightened between manzanita trunks. He stepped into a clearing and onto a line of black quarter-inch hose, something that’s become as ubiquitous in North Coast backcountry areas as poison oak.
Nearby, two men sleeping on cots under low-slung tarps were startled awake by the sound of deputies sneaking into their camp. They bolted, running through the woods wearing only underwear as the two officers chased after them, weighted down in vests and gear belts.
“When we hike in, almost every time we run into someone,” Lake County Detective Frank Walsh said standing in the abandoned campsite several hours later. “They split up, heading somewhere toward Kelsey Creek. There are too many places for them to run to.”
Three years after the state cut funding for its now-defunct marijuana eradication program, local law enforcement agencies backed by federal dollars continue to battle against clandestine marijuana farms that proliferate in the region’s rugged hillsides.
Read more at: Secret marijuana gardens target of eradication campaign on North Coast | The Press Democrat
The State Water Resources Control Board announced on March 29 that they are suspending the upcoming deadlines for the California Water Fix/Delta Tunnels water rights change petition in response to a request by the state and federal water agencies to extend dates and deadlines for the scheduled hearing, along with a number of other requests either to dismiss or delay the petition.
On March 28, 2016, the Water Board hearing officers for the California WaterFix water right change petition hearing received a letter from the Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation requesting a 60-day continuance of all dates and deadlines associated with the hearing.
On the same day, the hearing officers also received a request from several parties to dismiss the petition. Then on March 29, the State Water Board received additional requests to delay and stay the hearing, pending resolution of several matters, according to a letter from Tam M. Doduc and Felicia Marcus, State Water Board WaterFix Co-Hearing Officers.
In their March 29 letter, ten representatives of environmental, fishing and farming groups called on Doduc and Marcus to dismiss the petition, stating, “We believe there are much better uses of everyone’s time, such as spending the necessary time to update the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan to adequately protect current beneficial uses.” (fishsniffer.com/..). In response to the various requests, the upcoming deadlines are suspended. “A ruling will be issued in the near future formally addressing the requests and providing additional information about the hearing schedule,” said Doduc and Marcus.
Read more at: A Chaotic Mess: State Water Board Suspends Delta Tunnels Deadlines
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
North Coast water quality officials are poised to adopt first-of-their-kind regulations governing waste disposal, erosion, chemical use, riparian management and other water-related impacts of widespread cannabis cultivation.
The new rules, set for a vote Thursday by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board at a meeting in Santa Rosa, result from growing concern about environmental damage related to the booming marijuana industry, particularly fragile stream systems and wildlife habitats already degraded by drought.
But it also represents a grand experiment in bringing pot growers out of the dark and into the open, obliging them to operate under a regulatory framework that requires they report their activities and submit to site inspections.
“It’s a milestone,” said Matt St. John, the board’s executive officer. “It’s one of the top priorities for me as the executive officer and for my board members.”
Even Colorado and Washington, which have legalized the recreational use of marijuana and adopted rules for cultivation and consumption, do not have environmental regulations in place, he said.
The new rules include provisions designed to safeguard privacy and make the process more palatable to those who might have an ingrained distrust of public authority, including an allowance for many farmers to register through approved nongovernmental third-party organizations. Board staff have fielded inquiries from individuals and organizations interested in participating as third parties in the program.
Read more at: California to impose environmental rules on North Coast | The Press Democrat
The lower Gualala River has a wide meandering floodplain rich in wetlands, mature productive riparian redwood forests and highly diverse riparian habitats supporting many special-status plant, fish, and wildlife species. “Flood prone” redwood forests are supposed to be protected by avoidance of logging disturbances under special salmonid protection rules under the Forest Practices Act.
Despite the special protected status of floodplain redwood forests, Gualala Redwood Timber LLC (GRT; formerly Gualala Redwoods Inc., purchased in 2015 by Redwood Empire, owned by the Roger Burch family) proposes in the new “Dogwood” timber harvest plan (THP) to log 320 acres along 5 miles of the lower Gualala River’s redwood floodplain forest, taking 90 to 100 year old redwoods almost to the edge of Gualala Point Regional Park, and adjacent to the river’s sensitive estuary. Gualala Point Regional Park is one of the only public recreation areas in the entire watershed. The “Dogwood” THP, however, concluded with that the logging would have no effect on recreation, but with no analysis of the potential impacts of next-door logging of “Unit 1” on the regional park, and offered no mitigation.
To add to the impacts of logging hundreds of acres of floodplain redwood forest, the “Dogwood” and adjacent “Apple” THPs also propose to guzzle an incredible 25,000 gallons per day of Gualala River water during the dry season (April to November) over the 5 year timber harvest permit period. Not only does this conflict with Forest Protection Act “Anadromous Salmonid Protection” rules requiring avoidance of water drafting in forested “flood prone areas”, but the THP’s incredible determination that it would have “no effect” on flows was based on an outdated 2010 hydrology report (prepared before the current historic drought) with no consideration of the drought impacts on Gualala River’s deficient minimum summer flows, and Gualala’s municipal water supply. In addition, no analysis of the THP’s major water diversion during drought on listed salmonids was prepared. Yet the responsible agencies and affected downstream public water users have raised no red flags about the massive diversion of river water during the drought.
Aggressive logging plans previously proposed by Gualala Redwoods Inc. (GRI) have either been denied permits, or have been forced to withdraw them due to strenuous objections by resource agencies over impacts to endangered fish and wildlife species of the river and its wide riparian zone. One of the last failed efforts to log the floodplain was the GRI “Iris” timber harvest plan of 2004.
Read much more at: Massive floodplain logging plan for lower Gualala River threatens wetlands, rare plants & endangered wildlife – Friends of Gualala River
Ernie Carpenter, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Sonoma County wine industry is starting to look like big oil. Its leaders crow about preserving the environment when they have created an unmitigated environmental disaster. They recently received $374,000 of taxpayer money to implement “sustainability” in Sonoma County. A good thought. Suspicions arise when the first thing they did with their taxpayer grant was buy a full page ad and label themselves “sustainable.”
The history of the local wine industry is “Paint it green and buy the supervisors.” The industry is just too big to be told what to do by mere citizens or politicians. It just throws some more money at redefining the problem until it expires.
You be the judge. Sustainability is a stool with three legs: the environment, the economy and social justice. The wine industry will cut water use, cut chemicals and do lots of advertising telling us what a good job it did. It will come with a sack full of facts and figures to show it is in the right, but it will not change, if the past is to be judge.
The wine industry will not join the chorus in support of raising minimum wages, an essential part of sustainability. They want cheap workers. The industry will not provide housing. They never have beyond a few “floor show” units. They fail on the social justice aspect and must add a housing component and higher wage if they want to be sustainability advocates.
Are you up for it industry?
Environmentally, grape farming is predicated on killing all organisms and keeping them that way — dead. Poison nematodes, poison weeds, poison birds, poison critters. They clear-cut zones around the vineyard. The topsoil leaves Sonoma County vineyards to our waterways by the tons. Why no sheet mulching?
They continue to plant in riparian and wetland areas. Go to Mill Station Road near Atascadero Creek to see this sustainable approach. And, support for limiting wineries in “mapped water scarce areas” to protect neighbors, not a chance.
Read more at: Close to Home: Is Big Wine the Big | The Press Democrat
Will Parrish, THE ANDERSON VALLEY ADVERTISER
On April 21st, officials with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the State Water Resources Control Board sent joint letters to property owners in four of the Russian River’s largest tributaries imploring them to conserve water on behalf of a federally-listed endangered species: Coho salmon. Its subject header was “Urgent Voluntary Drought Initiative Request to Maintain Stream Flow for Coho Salmon in Reaches of Green Valley, Dutch Bill, Mark West, and Mill Creeks, Tributaries to the Russian River, Sonoma County.”
When forester and hydrologist Jim Doerksen returned from vacation last week and read the letter, he was – as he terms it – “insulted.” Doerksen’s property features nearly a mile of Mark West Creek frontage. As Doerksen is intimately aware, having owned his property since 1967, the creek was once known for its thrashing, silvery surges of salmon and trout. But the first of the four horsemen of fisheries collapse – habitat degradation, dams, weakening of the genetic pool through the use of hatcheries, and over-fishing – have taken an enormous toll.
The cause of the habitat loss in Mark West Creek is summed up on a sign strung to a tree on the northwestern edge of Doerksen’s property, located along St. Helena Rd.: “Vineyards SUCK! Water.” “In the meetings I have had with you and [fellow Water Board staff member] Tom Howard, I have consistently emphasized that the State Water Board has always shirked its responsibility when it comes to protecting salmonids in Mark West Creek as required by the ‘Public Trust Doctrine’ and AB 2121,” Doerksen wrote in response, in a letter addressed to State Water Board Deputy Director of Water Rights Barbara Evoy. “In the Water Rights Complaint [RPL:262 (49-15-07)] filed by Grif Okie and myself, backed up by 5,000 pages of documentation, we emphasize that Mark West Creek was being dewatered directly due to actions taken by the State Water Resources Control Board and the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, and because of the total inaction of the Calif. Department of Fish and Wildlife.”
Some history is in order. In 1967, Jim Doerksen purchased 500 acres of ranch land on St. Helena Rd., about seven miles northeast of Santa Rosa, and meticulously removed fruit orchards, exotic annual grasses, and tangles of brush where old vineyards had been, replacing them with redwood trees and Doug-firs. The land had consisted of a redwood- and fir-dominant forest prior to the arrival of Euroamericans.
The land’s response has been nearly miraculous. By the early-2000s, visitors from the American Forestry Foundation informed Doerksen that more timber per acre was growing on his land than anywhere they know of in North America. And, as Doerksen fastidiously nursed the land back to health, the watershed’s abundance also increased.
Read much more at: Too Many Straws In the Russian | Anderson Valley Advertiser
Will Parrish, THE ANDERSON VALLEY ADVERTISER
In the San Joaquin Valley heartland town of Livingston, located along Highway 99 between Turlock and Merced, the United States’ most lucrative wine corporation, E&J Gallo, operates the world’s largest winery: a place where serried ranks of massive, 200,000-gallon tanks tower over the surrounding countryside, in a compound ringed by security fences.
Were California its own nation, its wine industry would be the world’s fourth largest in terms of revenue. Roughly 570,000 acres in the state are under the vine, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture (which chairman, incidentally, was president of the California Association of Winegrape Growers for 13 years). And about half of that acreage is located in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys, which operate in conjunction with the area’s enormous industrial wineries.
Much of this grape-based alcohol production is enabled by California’s unparalleled water infrastructure, which transmits water from north to south, thereby turning the arid lands that supply Gallo’s oil refinery-like facility into a bountiful — and profitable — farming region. On the other side of the Coast Ranges, and further north, resides another thirsty portion where the wine industry places inordinate demand on its watersheds.
As the American wine market moved increasingly upscale in the 1990s, Sonoma County emerged as an epicenter of the “premium grape rush” due to its wide variety of favorable microclimates and soils, as well as comparatively low land prices vis-a-vis Napa County to the east. In keeping with the prevailing market trend toward high-end varietal wines, a new division of the Gallo empire — Gallo of Sonoma — amassed a collection of sprawling estates in the verdant hills ranging north to south from Cloverdale to Sonoma.
The Gallo clan aimed not only to remake their company’s image; they were intent on remaking Sonoma County’s physical terrain in that image. Throughout much of the 1990s, Gallo’s fleet of D-9 excavators rumbled across the company’s vast tracts, steel mandibles akimbo, cleaving oaks and pines and Doug firs from their root systems. Gallo owns about 6,000 acres in Sonoma County in all.
Read more at: California’s Thirsty Wine-Grapes | Anderson Valley Advertiser
Linda Williams, WILLITS NEWS California Dept. of Fish & Wildlife Study
Researchers from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife published a study in March on the impacts of marijuana growing on several Eel River segments including the Little Lake Valley’s Outlet Creek.
The researchers concluded pot growing has become so prolific in this region it is literally sucking the streams dry. The study found the quantity of unregistered water abuse was many times the registered water use in the areas studied.
Unlike regulated forms of agricultural, livestock, home and municipal diversions, the clandestine nature of Emerald Triangle marijuana cultivation means that growers have been free to drain the Eel River with few controls in place to prevent it.
Water hungry marijuana plants need maximum watering just as California’s Mediterranean climate enters its dry period and normal flows in area streams drop naturally.
By regulation, the Brooktrails and Willits water reservoirs, located on tributaries of Outlet Creek, can only store water for human use during the wet season, allowing all dry weather flows to pass through the dams to benefit the fish. For much of the last 10 years it appears these water releases have gone, instead, to support marijuana operations.
Read more via Study shows pot is sucking the Eel River dry.
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
State officials have begun rolling out a new environmental initiative designed to win the cooperation of marijuana growers in protecting Northern California waterways and fisheries from the kinds of degradation that commonly result from pot cultivation.
A team of state and local agency representatives conducted a series of unannounced inspections last week of gardens in the Eel River watershed near Garberville, visiting 14 properties over three days along Sproul Creek. The creek went dry last summer for the first time in many years from what environmental officials believe was the combined effects of drought and unregulated water withdrawals for marijuana irrigation.
Part of a larger effort to address watershed damage, environmental contamination and illegal water diversions that have continued unregulated for decades in remote forests up and down the state, the undertaking includes a plan to develop water quality standards to which growers can be held accountable or face fines and other penalties.
The multi-agency endeavor targets those who cultivate pot on private lands, with landowner permission, and is aimed at creating a system of regulation designed to help growers farm in an environmentally friendly manner while authorizing enforcement action where necessary.
Read more via State seeks water rules for pot growers | The Press Democrat.
Andrew Adams, WINES & VINES
The Feb. 1 deadline has been pushed back a few times because of various legal challenges, but this year growers who use water for frost protection near the Russian River in Mendocino and Sonoma counties will need to make sure they’re in compliance with a state-mandated water-use plan.
The required plan, known officially as a “water demand management plan” or WDMP, stems from an incident in 2008 when several juvenile salmon were found dead or stranded in pools of water along the banks of the river during a record-setting dry and cold period in March. Biologists with the National Marine Fisheries Services extrapolated from the number of fish that had been found that several thousand had died in total. Officials blamed a sudden drop in the height of the river to growers drawing water to protect their vines during a severe frost event.
Despite growers taking steps to minimize the risk to fish in the advent of another severe frost, the state Water Board moved forward with adopting a management plan in 2011. The plan stipulated that if growers were going to use water in the Russian River watershed for frost protection from March 15 through May 15 they’d have to do so in compliance with the new plan that required monitoring of the Russian River’s main channel flow and water level as well as its tributaries. Plan administrators are required to work with fish agencies to determine areas of particular risk to fish stranding, notify growers when rainfall and flow conditions could increase these risks as well as prepare annual risk assessment reports.
A few growers responded with lawsuits, and implementation of the new regulations stalled as the legal challenges wound their way through the courts. On Oct. 1, 2014, the California State Supreme Court ruled in favor of the State Water Board, and growers had to make plans to comply.
Read more via Vineyard Frost Protection Deadline Nears – Wines & Vines – Wine Industry News Headlines.