Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , , ,

Wine moguls destroy land and pay small fines as cost of business, say activists

Alastair Bland, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO

After California wine industry mogul Hugh Reimers illegally destroyed at least 140 acres of forest, meadow and stream in part to make way for new vineyards sometime last winter, according to a report from state investigators, state officials ordered the Krasilsa Pacific Farms manager to repair and mitigate the damage where possible. Sonoma County officials also suggested a $131,060 fine.

But for environmental activists watching the investigation, fines and restoration attempts aren’t going to cut it; they want Reimers — an experienced captain of industry whom they say knew better — to face a criminal prosecution, which could lead to a jail sentence.

“We want him to be an example of what you can’t do here,” says Anna Ransome, founder of a small organization called Friends of Atascadero Wetlands. In August, the group sent a letter to Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravich, asking that she prosecute Reimers.

“If winemakers can figure into their budget paying fines and doing minimal restoration work, then what’s to stop the next guy from doing the same thing?” Ransome says.

The D.A.’s office did not return requests for comment. Multiple efforts to reach Reimers for comment were unsuccessful. On Nov. 13, a sign posted outside of an address listed for him that appears to be a residence read “Media Keep Out.”

The Sonoma County Winegrowers, an industry organization that promotes sustainability, also declined to comment.

Ransome’s concerns have been echoed by other environmental and community activists in Northern California who decry a pattern of winemakers violating environmental laws, paying relatively meager fines for their actions, and eventually proceeding with their projects.

For example, high-society winemaker Paul Hobbs now grows grapes on at least one small Sonoma County parcel that he cleared of trees in 2011 without proper permits. Though his actions on several locations where he removed trees caused community uproar, officials fined Hobbs $100,000 and allowed him to carry on with his business. Paul Hobbs Winery is listed by the Sonoma County Winegrowers website as certified sustainable.

Read more at https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2019/11/18/774859696/wine-moguls-destroy-land-and-pay-small-fines-as-cost-of-business-say-activists

Posted on Categories WaterTags , , , ,

Waste deep: Petaluma River awash in bacteria

Will Carruthers, THE BOHEMIAN

The river winding through downtown Petaluma might be the city’s single most defining feature. The city’s annual Rivertown Revival Festival features views of the river and, farther south, recreationists use the water for entertainment and exercise every day.

Yet, since 1975, the state has designated the water a contaminated water body due to excessive levels of bacteria tied to fecal matter. The river has also been included on the list for excessive amounts of pesticides, trash and sediment at other times.

Now, a state water oversight board may pass a plan laying out the steps to lower the levels of bacteria in the river and its watershed.

At a Wednesday, Nov. 13 meeting in Oakland, the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board will consider approving an amendment to the board’s water quality control plan for the region, a document known as a basin plan. The proposed amendment will set a cap on the amount of fecal indicator bacteria in the river’s watershed—the TMDL—and identify actions required to reach that goal.

The federal Clean Water Act requires the state to create the cap and cleanup plan, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load [TMDL].

Staff members working for the water board, one of nine similar regional bodies tasked with setting water quality rules in California, have been assembling the Petaluma River plan for several years, according to Farhad Ghodrati, an environmental scientist with the San Francisco Bay board.

Although there are over 100 potentially dangerous bacteria related to fecal matter, scientists generally only test for a few varieties. These “fecal indicator bacteria,” including E. Coli, are a sign that animal waste has contaminated the water body. If those levels are above the bar set by the water quality control board, they add the water body to a list of “impaired” waterways.

Read more at https://www.bohemian.com/northbay/waste-deep/Content?oid=9360941

Posted on Categories Sustainable Living, Water, WildlifeTags , , , ,

Clean storm drains seen as key to safeguarding Russian River

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Most people pass by storm drains day in and day out, giving little thought to them as conduits to local waterways — and ultimately, the Russian River in much of Sonoma County.

An alliance of local cities, special districts and the county wants to change that.

The coalition has launched a regional campaign to raise public awareness about the link between surface streets and local creeks in hopes people will think again about allowing litter, pet waste and other pollutants to escape down the drain and into the Russian River watershed, home to salmon and steelhead trout and a wide range other aquatic and terrestrial wildlife.

The $60,000 Streets to Creek campaign is intended to promote the fact that storm drains are basically extensions of creeks and streams. Anything left on or in the street — dripped motor oil, pesticide residue, discarded trash or cigarette butts — is basically left to be washed into the river.

“There is surprisingly little awareness about where storm drains actually flow to,” said Andy Rodgers, executive director of the Russian River Watershed Association, a stewardship group formed in 2003 by Sonoma and Mendocino counties, eight cities and the Sonoma County Water Agency. “There’s a number of folks who have the impression that all water goes to the wastewater treatment plants. Other people don’t really think about where it goes.”

Case in point: On Aug. 10, three people living in a motorhome were caught by a neighbor emptying a 50-gallon tank of raw sewage into a storm drain in Santa Rosa’s Junior College neighborhood.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9934996-181/russian-river-watershed-protection-campaign

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , , , ,

In bid to clean Russian River, water regulators adopt strict plan for Sonoma County septic systems

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

North Coast water quality regulators have signed off on a sweeping new plan that aims to curb the threat of human waste entering the Russian River by phasing out failing and substandard septic systems, viewed for decades as a prime source of pollution in the sprawling watershed.

Years in the making, the regulations affect a vast swath of Sonoma County — properties without sewer service from Cloverdale to Cotati and from Santa Rosa to Jenner. For the first time, affected landowners will be subject to compulsory inspections and mandatory repair or replacement of septic systems found to be faulty or outdated, at an estimated cost of up to $114 million, according to county officials.

The new rules take effect next year and will apply to an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 parcels without sewer service. Once the rules kick in, landowners will have 15 years to comply.

he highest concentration of affected property owners exist in the river’s lower reaches, where contamination from fecal bacteria has long been an open issue, but where officials worry that poorer communities will face the heaviest burden complying with the measures. Upgrades to an individual septic system can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and no pot of money currently exists to help defray landowner costs.

Local representatives, while not standing in the way of the measures, said outside financial support for the overhaul will be needed. North Coast water quality officials pledged to work with Sonoma County to pursue state, federal and private funding to bolster the cleanup effort.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9903962-181/in-bid-to-clean-russian

Posted on Categories WaterTags , , , , ,

Polluted gravel pit breached in Russian River flood

Riverkeeper, RUSSIANRIVERKEEPER.ORG

Our worst fears were realized in the Feb 28th flood event. The largest gravel pit mine, Syar’s Basalt Pit, had a complete levee failure on a section that had failed in previous floods. The image at left shows the breach in center of picture, with river on the left and Syar Basalt Pit on right. Over 30 years of mining waste containing extremely high levels of toxic metals as well as Healdsburg’s treated wastewater discharges are now connected to our river – our drinking water supply.

Syar’s own testing in 2006 showed the mining waste contained mercury, iron and aluminum at 200-800% of safe levels and phosphorous at nearly 500 times higher than levels that can trigger toxic algae. Those pollutants are all conservative – meaning they are still present, do not degrade over time and pose a threat to the river’s health and our health.

When we filed lawsuits against the County in the 80’s and 90’s to stop the gravel mining, one of our biggest reasons was the fear of the gravel pits being captured by the river in floods. Sadly our predictions were correct, again. This occurred during the El Nino events in the late 90’s which resulted in a Clean Water Act lawsuit by Friends of the Russian River, RRK’s predecessor.

As of this date, three months after the flood, we’re still waiting for action plans to protect the river this summer from Healdsburg’s wastewater and the mining waste – both have very high levels of nutrients, mainly phosphorous, that could trigger toxic algae blooms. We’re also very concerned that in six months it’ll be raining again and if we do not take action we will see major erosion of downstream properties.

At this time, Permit Sonoma has convened two meetings with resource protection agencies and are developing a tentative plan. Permit Sonoma plans to hold a public meeting to collect comments on concerns regarding this issue and give you an opportunity to voice your opinion on how the County should respond to this major threat to the River’s health. We’ll keep you posted when the public meetings are scheduled, stay tuned!

Source: https://russianriverkeeper.org/2019/06/05/polluted-gravel-pit-breached-during-flood/

Posted on Categories Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , , , ,

New plan to safeguard Russian River targets contamination from human and animal waste

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

An on-again, off-again effort by state regulators to better protect the Russian River and its tributaries against failing septic systems, livestock waste and other potential sources of bacterial contamination is in its final stages, with hopes that an action plan for the entire watershed will be approved this August and go into effect next year.

The move, controversial and closely watched in years past, could impose stricter regulations and mandatory septic system upgrades on thousands of landowners with properties near the river or its connected waterways.

Opportunities still exist for residents to weigh in on the complicated, far-reaching strategy designed to safeguard the region’s recreational hub and main source of drinking water, with bacterial threats ranging from everyday pet waste to rain-swollen sewage holding ponds and homeless encampments.

Now in its third iteration since 2015, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board’s new draft action plan is out for public review and comment through 5 p.m. June 24.

The board’s staff will host a public workshop at its Santa Rosa offices on Thursday afternoon, and a public hearing will be held during the board’s regular meeting Aug. 14 and 15, when it considers adopting the plan.

The water quality control program is required under the federal Clean Water Act as well as state regulations designed to ensure that people swimming, wading, fishing or otherwise recreating in the river and tributary creeks aren’t exposed to bacteria from human or animal waste — a problem in waterways around California, state officials say.

Key concerns include aging, under-equipped and potentially faulty septic systems and cesspools installed decades ago on steep slopes with too little soil to provide adequate percolation. Testing also shows livestock grazing in close proximity to waterways is a problem in many areas.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9693049-181/new-plan-to-safeguard-russian

Posted on Categories Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , , ,

Fight against plastic pollution targets a hidden source: Our clothes

Denise Chow, NBC NEWS

The plastic bottles, straws and grocery bags that wash ashore on beaches are some of the most visible signs that society’s intoxication with plastic is taking a toll on the environment. But scientists say there is another source of plastic pollution that is just as pervasive and even more difficult to clean up — and it’s hiding in our clothes.

Most clothing contains synthetic fabrics such as polyester or nylon that are essentially constructed from thin plastic fibers. These fabrics have become fixtures in closets around the world because they are durable and cheap to make. Stretchy, sweat-wicking workout clothes, water-resistant rainwear and fleece sweaters are all made of synthetics — not to mention many T-shirts, dresses and jeans that contain a cotton-synthetic blend.

These tiny bits of plastic pose a daunting environmental challenge. As so-called microfibers shed off clothing, they eventually end up in the ocean, where they can be ingested by fish and other seafood that humans eat.

“This is the microplastic pollution that we don’t talk about as much because it’s unseen, but these microfibers are everywhere,” said Sarah-Jeanne Royer, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California. “We’ve sampled them at the North Pole, in Antarctica, at the top of mountains and even at the bottom of the Mariana Trench — everywhere in the world.”

Most microfiber pollution occurs when people wash their clothes. A 2016 study by researchers at the University of Plymouth in the U.K. estimated that up to 700,000 microfibers could be released in a single load of laundry, roughly equivalent to the surface area of a pack of gum.

Read more at https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/science/fight-against-plastic-pollution-targets-hidden-source-our-clothes-ncna1000961

Posted on Categories WaterTags , , ,

Local environmentalist wins recognition from North Coast Water Board

Carol Benfell, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

In 1978, Brenda Adelman was a newcomer to the Guerneville area, a school teacher, housewife and jewelry maker who operated a crafts business out of her Rio Nido home.

Forty years later, she is recognized by The Press Democrat as one of the 50 most influential people on the North Coast and has received dozens of awards from government agencies and environmental groups for her tireless efforts to protect the Russian River.

On February 20, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, the state water regulator, honored her with a Water Quality Stewardship Award for her advocacy and effectiveness in protecting the Russian River watershed.

The award notes her influence in the city of Santa Rosa’s historic decision to expand wastewater recycling to the Geysers, and her continuing efforts to increase awareness of the role of endocrine disrupting chemicals on human health and aquatic life.

“Brenda has been an active participant and advocate for water quality in the Russian River for years,” said Josh Curtin, the board’s assistant executive officer. “She’s provided extensive input to our Board, and we’ve have made changes because of the things she’s brought up. We really appreciate Brenda.”

It all started, Adelman said, in 1979 when she joined a group of fellow townspeople concerned about the skyrocketing cost of a county proposal to build a wastewater treatment plant in Guerneville.

Then in 1985, amidst heavy rainfall, one million gallons of raw sewage spilled from Santa Rosa’s overflowing treatment ponds into the Laguna de Santa Rosa, which empties into the Russian River. That was followed by the city’s intentional, but illegal four-day release of 750 million gallons of treated wastewater.

Downstream, River communities were traumatized. The River might be Santa Rosa’s sewer pipe, but it was the source of their drinking water.

“There was a lot of fear. People were afraid of the drinking water supply, even the emergency drinking water that Santa Rosa provided,” Adelman said. “Everyone was outraged.”

Santa Rosa was penalized for the spill and ordered by the state to find a weather-independent method of wastewater disposal. For 16 years, the city explored a series of projects in various parts of the county that also called for increasing discharge in the Russian River.

Adelman and her group, the Russian River Water Protection Committee, fought on. They were not the only group opposing the discharges, but they were the most persistent. She read and researched her way through four multi-volume environmental impact reports with thousands of pages of scientific data and spent hundreds of hours attending and speaking at meetings.

She launched letter-writing campaigns, presented papers, galvanized community groups, published articles, developed a 1,000-person mailing list, and gave interviews, gradually developing an extensive knowledge of water quality that won the respect of the professionals.

Finally, in 2002, Santa Rosa chose to send most of its wastewater to the Geysers to recharge the dwindling steam fields that produce geothermal power. City and county officials credited Adelman for stalling the city long enough that a more environmentally sound project could be found.

She doesn’t get paid. She survives on a modest income. What kept her going?

“Outrage,” Adelman said. “Outrage. I was always just outraged.”

She continues to speak out on River issues. She’s currently battling a federal proposal to limit dam releases and significantly lower River flows in summer. The proposal is aimed at protecting endangered salmon species, but Adelman argues it will instead increase the growth of oxygen-killing algae and raise bacterial levels.

She’s also working to raise regulators’ understanding of endocrine disrupters, and sponsored a daylong seminar on the issue, bringing together experts from around the country. Endocrine disrupters are chemicals often found in wastewater that can cause birth defects, cancer and developmental issues in humans and fish.

As a result, the Regional Water Quality Board is conducting a special study to monitor the chemicals in the Russian River.

“Brenda is a Sonoma County treasure,” said Richard Retecki, a retired project analyst with the state Coastal Conservancy. “She’s persisted for decades, she’s been effective, and she’s made a difference. The county would be a lot worse off if she hadn’t done this work for all of us.”

Source: https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/brenda-adelman-water-russian-river-advocat-wins-recognition-from-water-board

Posted on Categories Water, WildlifeTags , ,

Sonoma Valley wastewater spill totals 2 million gallons

Guy Kovner, PRESS DEMOCRAT

A faulty valve caused the accidental release of about 2 million gallons of untreated wastewater into a slough in Sonoma Valley, a county water official said Saturday.

The valve on a pipeline in the Sonoma Valley County Sanitation District failed to fully close and was leaking wastewater for about 24 hours into Schell Slough, said Ann DuBay, a Sonoma Water spokeswoman. The flow was stopped at 10:45 a.m. Saturday, she said.

State and regional authorities were notified, and specialists sent to the spill site did not notice any dead or distressed fish or other species, DuBay said.

The valve is part of a system that collects wastewater from the equivalent of about 17,000 Sonoma Valley homes. The wastewater is treated at a plant on Eighth Street East, near the city of Sonoma.

Source: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9166172-181/sonoma-valley-wastewater-spill-totals?sba=AAS

Posted on Categories WaterTags ,

Santa Rosa lifts 11-month water quality advisory in Fountaingrove neighborhood

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Water in Santa Rosa’s fire-ravaged Fountaingrove neighborhood is safe for drinking and bathing, city officials said Thursday.

The city lifted the water quality advisory in place since the historic Tubbs wildfire in October 2017 melted water pipes in the hilly neighborhood and contaminated sections of the water system with benzene, which can cause cancer.

Residents living in the advisory area of Fountaingrove, where about 1,600 homes burned in the most destructive fire in California history, will get individual notices from the city about the water safety.

Recent water tests in the neighborhood showed traces of benzene, but at levels lower than state-mandated safety limits. The city said in a statement “the water continues to meet all state and federal standards for safe drinking water.”

Water testing will continue for at least a year to ensure safe water conditions, city officials said. Jennifer Burke, the city’s deputy director of water resources, said the city will continue sharing with residents the results from subsequent tests.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8831902-181/santa-rosa-lifts-11-month-water?utm_source=boomtrain&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=pd_breaking&bt_ee=ssS4Wcl06w1x64k%2BtZMmX%2BzEwBUjXHTsSHurR5xa67tWNhTRKSRsfi7NO1zRPptg&bt_ts=1539291227551