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.
Glenda Anderson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Faced with an explosion of marijuana gardens, state regulators are developing a new program designed to bring medical cannabis farmers into compliance with state laws governing water use and water quality.
The regulatory program is expected to be unveiled sometime next year, said Erin Mustain, a senior water resources control engineer with the state Water Resources Control Board’s Cannabis Enforcement Unit.
It’s aimed at halting water diversions that can suck dry small streams; unpermitted grading projects that pollute waterways with dirt; and the misuse of toxic pesticides and fertilizers that have been known to poison streams and wildlife.
Water board staff members already have been meeting with medical pot growers in an effort to educate them about responsible water use and farming practices.
“From our outreach efforts and the feedback we have received from the growing community, we anticipate that most cannabis cultivators and landowners will want to work with us,” Mustain said.
Read more via Effort afoot to develop water-use rules for pot | The Press Democrat.
Dan Brekke, KQED California Report
A federal appeals court in San Francisco has upheld measures imposed by federal agencies to protect salmon and steelhead that migrate through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
A unanimous three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the National Marine Fisheries Service acted reasonably and within its discretion when it prescribed limits on the amount of water exported from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in order to protect threatened and endangered salmonids.
The fisheries service’s “biological opinion,” issued in 2009, set seasonal limits on the volume of water that could be extracted by the massive federal and state pumping plants at the southern edge of the Delta. From there, water flows down a pair of massive canals to farms in the San Joaquin Valley and to urban customers from the South Bay to the Los Angeles area.
Fisheries service biologists said the pumping limits were necessary to prevent juvenile fish from imperiled Central Valley chinook and salmon runs from being pulled toward the pumps as they attempt to migrate out to sea. The biological opinion said pumping limits were needed, too, to aid endangered populations of sturgeon and orcas.
Read more via Federal Appeals Court Upholds Protections for Central Valley Salmon | The California Report | KQED News.
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
State water regulators have lifted a nearly six-month freeze on certain water diversions from the upper Russian River, provoking relief among Sonoma and Mendocino county grape growers and others north of Healdsburg who are dependent on the river for crop irrigation and other uses.
Notice served over the weekend to 652 state permit holders whose claims to river water were suspended last May means they can once again pump from the river.
More importantly, given the season, those with permits allowing for wintertime storage can begin refilling reservoirs in preparation for the dry summer months if rain comes, several grape growers said.
For those users, lifting of the order to stop drawing water was “a tremendous relief for growers,” said Brandon Axell, general manager at Beckstoffer Vineyards in Talmage, south of Ukiah.
“This is the time of year where a lot of times we’ll get some big storms, and a lot of that water will just go downstream and into the ocean, ” said Brad Petersen, vineyard manager for Silver Oak Cellars and Twomey Cellars, as well as chairman of the Sonoma County Winegrowers. “Now is the time we need to be collecting that.”
The State Water Resources Control Board said it was lifting the curtailment because of reduced demand on the river since the end of October, successful water conservation savings and an increase in tributary flows. The order can be reimposed at any time, depending on weather and stream gauges, the board said.
via Diversion order lifted on the upper Russian River | The Press Democrat.
Susan Sward, SACRAMENTO BEE
In the third-largest watershed in California, the Eel River rambles through some of the state’s most stunning landscape. Nothing about the river, with its clusters of redwoods along its sandy banks, hints at the looming battle over its blue-green water.
In about three years, though, a federal commission will begin reviewing an application by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. to re-license its Potter Valley Project. The project includes a mile-long tunnel that began diverting Eel water to the Russian River more than a hundred years ago.
That Eel water becomes part of the Russian River flow now relied upon by 650,000 people in Mendocino, Sonoma and Marin counties and by farmers in Sonoma and Mendocino counties who irrigate millions of dollars’ worth of crops. Water users say the diversion project is vital for them. Environmental groups, however, want the project’s two dams removed to restore access to many miles of prime fish-spawning territory on the upper Eel, saying the project’s presence undermines recovery of fish in the river.
This license review follows more than a century of harm – including extensive timber harvesting, the Potter Valley Project dams and destruction of an estuary that functioned as a nursery for juvenile salmon. This has imperiled the river’s fish: The National Marine Fisheries Service has classified coho salmon, Chinook salmon and steelhead in the Eel as threatened.
via Beautiful river, growing thirst, looming battle over the Eel River – California Forum – The Sacramento Bee.
Glenda Anderson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
..State officials said the new regulations were necessary because nearly 70 percent of the 7,910 curtailment orders already issued statewide in the past two months have been ignored.
State officials on Wednesday issued new water curtailment orders to thousands of users and adopted emergency regulations that allow them to more quickly crack down on people who ignore orders to stop diverting water from drought-stricken rivers and streams, including the upper Russian River.
“Water rights holders who fail to comply with the regulations face immediate fines or administrative actions,” state Water Resources Control Board officials said in a news release.
The action, which included the approval of fines for noncompliant users, came on the second day of board discussion about drought-driven regulations.
During the public hearing the day before, some water users voiced strong objection to the new regulations, particularly measures that allow the state to fine noncompliant users up to $500 a day without a hearing. Those cited can ask for a hearing after they’re fined.
via State issues new water curtailment orders, plans swifter crackdown on diversions | The Press Democrat.
With surge in pot gardens, experts warn of ‘staggering’ destruction of habitats, likelihood of North Coast streams running dry.
Glenda Anderson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Streams in Northern California’s prime marijuana-growing watersheds likely will be sucked dry this year if pot cultivation isn’t curtailed, experts say.
“Essentially, marijuana can consume all the water. Every bit of it,” said state Fish and Wildlife Senior Environmental Scientist Scott Bauer, who specializes in salmon recovery and is working on a study of the issue. The findings, expected to be released soon, shed new light on a massive, largely unregulated industry in California that has been blamed for polluting streams and forests with pesticides and trash and for bulldozing trees and earth to make clearings for gardens.
A sharp increase in water-intensive pot cultivation, exacerbated by drought conditions, adds to the habitat degradation and threatens to undo decades of costly fish restoration efforts, Bauer said.
“The destruction of habitat is actually quite staggering,” said Patrick Foy, a spokesman with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. Last year, 24 North Coast salmon-bearing tributaries were reported to have gone dry, Bauer said, though not all were verified by the agency. Even without drought, there isn’t going to be enough water to meet the pot industry’s growing demand, Bauer said.
via Marijuana’s thirst depleting North Coast watersheds | The Press Democrat.