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.