Posted on Categories Habitats, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , ,

Landmark lawsuit settlement between environmentalists and state water boards strengthens Delta protections

California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, MAVEN’S NOTEBOOK

Three California environmental nonprofits secured a landmark settlement agreement with the California State Water Resources Control Board to uphold the common law Public Trust Doctrine and other legal protections for imperiled fish species in the Sacramento River and San Francisco Bay/Sacramento – San Joaquin Delta Estuary.

The lawsuit, filed in 2015 by the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (“CSPA”), the California Water Impact Network (“CWIN”), and AquAlliance, brought sweeping claims against the State Water Board. It alleged that the agency’s management of the Sacramento River and San Francisco Bay-Delta displayed an overarching pattern and practice of:

failure to comply with the Public Trust Doctrine;
failure to implement Sacramento River temperature management requirements;
failure to ensure that fish below dams be maintained in “good condition”; and
acceptance of water quality below minimum Clean Water Act standards.

“The Water Board’s long-standing pattern and practice of inadequately implementing foundational environmental laws has brought the Central Valley aquatic ecosystem to the brink of collapse. This settlement agreement is a major step forward, compelling the State Water Board to fulfill crucial legal requirements it had previously ignored,” said Bill Jennings, CSPA Executive Director.

Read/download the full press release here

Source: https://mavensnotebook.com/2020/07/21/lawsuit-settlement-landmark-lawsuit-settlement-between-environmentalists-and-state-water-boards-strengthens-delta-protections/

Posted on Categories Sustainable LivingTags , , ,

Environmental justice in the spotlight

Catherine Boudreau and Debra Kahn, POLITICO

Unrest over police brutality, combined with the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on African Americans, Latinos and other minorities, has swiftly turned into a broader national reckoning over structural racism. That has elevated the perspectives of the environmental justice movement, a network of grassroots activists who push for climate change and sustainability policies that prioritize communities of color, which are exposed to greater levels of pollution and therefore are at greater risk of dying from the pandemic.

Out of balance: The amount of air pollution you create depends a lot on what you buy — bigger cars or more stuff means a heavier environmental footprint. But how much pollution you breathe in depends mainly on where you live and how close you are to things like highways or factories. That drives racial disparities, according to a 2019 study that compared consumption and housing patterns across different demographic groups. Discriminatory housing policies like redlining have historically pushed minorities to live in more polluted areas. The findings underscore disparities environmental justice campaigners are trying to address.

“We have been making recommendations for 20 to 30 years,” said Peggy Shepard, co-founder and executive director of We ACT for Environmental Justice. She also is an executive committee member of the National Black Environmental Justice Network, which officially relaunched on Monday for the first time since 2006 to address the simultaneous economic, health and environmental crises harming black Americans.

For most of that time, environmental justice activists received lip service at best from politicians and larger green groups. But that has changed in recent years, aided by proposals like the “Green New Deal” that sought to address racial and economic injustice in conjunction with rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Now, attention to their cause is at an all-time high, as politicians, celebrities, business leaders and everyday white people begin to acknowledge the disparities that still exist in America.

Read more at https://www.politico.com/newsletters/the-long-game/2020/06/16/environmental-justice-in-the-spotlight-489531

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Too little (but not too late) for the Petaluma River

San Francisco Baykeeper Update

Updated: On March 17, 2020, Baykeeper further challenged the Regional Board’s flawed plan before the oversight agency, urging the State Water Board to reject the plan as inadequate. Baykeeper’s scientists maintain that the Petaluma River is currently so contaminated with bacteria that people will get sick swimming and paddling in the waters, and our lawyers contend that the plan fails to hold accountable all of the sewage polluters along the River.

In 1975, scientists found that the Petaluma River was so heavily contaminated with E. Coli and other bacteria that it was unsafe to have any contact with the water. The presumed sources of the bacteria included animal and human waste running off of ranches, stables, farmland, and out of broken waste water treatment and septic systems.

Today, little has changed. The Petaluma River remains dangerously contaminated, with high levels of bacteria showing up in every single water test taken in the river.

Despite the findings nearly 45 years ago, the agency responsible for protecting the watershed—the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board—waited until 2019 to address the Petaluma’s troubling bacteria levels.

And unfortunately, the Water Board’s new plan doesn’t take the right steps to reduce bacteria pollution in the Petaluma. The Clean Water Act mandates that agencies start by identifying the specific sources under a regulatory strategy known as a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL).

Though the Water Board is calling their new policy a TMDL, it doesn’t establish where the bacteria pollution is coming from, by how much the bacteria sources must be reduced, or how progress will be monitored and enforced.

“It’s misleading for the Water Board to call this a TMDL, and their approach is doomed to take decades to solve the problem,” says Baykeeper Staff Attorney Ben Eichenberg. “While Baykeeper appreciates the Board’s stated goal of making water quality in the Petaluma River better, the agency is failing its actual obligation to make the river truly safe for people.”

The Petaluma River feeds into creeks across the North Bay and Marin, and eventually connects with San Francisco Bay. It attracts boaters, paddle boarders, kayakers, and anglers.

If cleaned up, this beautiful waterway could become a world-class destination for water sports enthusiasts and shoreline activities of all kinds, while contributing to a healthier San Francisco Bay.

As the Petaluma River TMDL heads to the EPA for a final review, Baykeeper will continue to push for a smarter approach. We can’t let another 45 years go by before it’s safe to swim in the Petaluma.

Source: https://baykeeper.org/blog/too-little-not-too-late-petaluma-river

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Full of it: Keeping horse manure out of the Petaluma River

San Francisco Baykeeper

One of the largest horse boarding facilities in the country lies on the banks of the Petaluma River (pictured, above). For years, there’s been nothing to stop the horse manure from flowing straight into the river and downstream to San Francisco Bay.

Manure runoff contains unlawfully high levels of bacteria, nitrogen, ammonia, phosphorus, and toxins, all of which are hazardous to public health and wildlife.

“Dangerous levels of bacteria have shown up in every water sample from the Petaluma River taken by agencies since the 1970s,” says Baykeeper Staff Attorney Ben Eichenberg. “We suspected that the fouled runoff from hundreds of horses at Sonoma Horse Park had contributed to the problem.”

Last rainy season, Baykeeper scientists conducted an extensive field investigation in the area. Our water sampling confirmed that runoff from Sonoma Horse Park was indeed contaminated and flowing into the Petaluma River and nearby wetlands.

Despite the fact that the Petaluma has the potential to be an idyllic recreational resource for the community, the river has a long history of neglect from government regulators.

The pollution is particularly troublesome since the Petaluma is critical habitat for many protected species, such as steelhead trout, Chinook salmon, longfin smelt, and green sturgeon, as well as the California brown pelican. Too much phosphorous and nitrogen in the water causes algae to thrive, which drains vital oxygen and suffocates fish.

That’s why Baykeeper filed a lawsuit under the Clean Water Act. We now have a legally binding agreement with the owner of Sonoma Horse Park to stop the facility’s manure and other pollutants from flowing into the river.

Under our agreement, the facility will use a large pond to capture runoff before it enters the river, contain and cover all of its manure piles, and implement other pollution controls as needed to prevent manure from contaminating the environment. In addition, Sonoma Horse Park agreed to direct $40,000 to the Rose Foundation for Communities & the Environment to mitigate damage caused by its past pollution. The Rose Foundation will award these funds to other local nonprofits for specific projects to restore the watershed.

We’ll keep monitoring to make sure the new runoff controls at the horse park are effectively stopping pollution—to give the Petaluma River a fighting chance at being a healthy and safe waterway for local communities and wildlife.

Source: https://baykeeper.org/blog/full-it-keeping-horse-manure-out-petaluma

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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, 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 Agriculture/Food System, Water, WildlifeTags , , ,

The twin tunnels are out—Berkeley experts say that’s a good thing

Glen Martin, CALIFORNIA MAGAZINE

The extravagantly wet winter notwithstanding, California’s water woes are far from over. But recent moves suggest Governor Gavin Newsom is leading the state into a new era of water policy. Last month, he decided to scale back his predecessor’s decades-long effort, the Twin Tunnels, to deliver water from Northern to Southern California.

“Really, the idea that two massive tunnels would be built in the Delta was always—well, a pipe dream,” says Peter Gleick.

This massive project, known as the California WaterFix, was promoted by Jerry Brown as the solution to the state’s agricultural and urban water insecurity and environmental degradation in the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta. Conceived as two 35-mile-long, 40-foot-diameter pipes buried under the Delta, the Twin Tunnels would’ve incorporated a great deal of concrete, steel, and machinery to move tremendous quantities of water southward. (Read more about Brown’s water plan here.)

Ultimately, though, it was a bridge—or tunnel—too far, even for Brown. And UC Berkeley water experts generally agree Newsom’s move away from the WaterFix is a pragmatic one.

“Jerry really wanted that legacy project, but he overplayed his hand,” says Richard Walker, a Berkeley professor emeritus of geography who has written extensively on state infrastructure, water, and agricultural issues. “The WaterFix was clearly a relic of the past. It doesn’t accord with either the will of the people of California or the actual way that state water management is moving.”

“Really, the idea that two massive tunnels would be built in the Delta was always—well, a pipe dream,” says Peter Gleick, a UC Berkeley alum and the president emeritus of the Pacific Institute, a water-oriented think tank. “It was always clear that you could get far better results spending much less money by exploring other avenues.”

And that’s exactly what experts anticipate Newsom will do. By scaling back Brown’s all-encompassing megaproject, he appears to be moving towards what analysts call a “portfolio” approach—or multiple, integrated programs, including one smaller tunnel.

Read more at https://alumni.berkeley.edu/california-magazine/just-in/2019-03-12/twin-tunnels-are-out-berkeley-experts-say-thats-good-thing

Posted on Categories Sonoma Coast, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , ,

PCFFA leads suit against State Water Board to protect salmon in the Water Quality Control Plan

Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, YUBANET.COM

On Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, a coalition of environmental, fishing, and Native American groups led by the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA) filed suit against the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board).

Plaintiffs demand that the State Water Board use its own recommendations based on science and environmental law to enact a Water Quality Control Plan protects fish in the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced rivers and in the main stem San Joaquin River blow their confluence.

These three tributaries of the San Joaquin River have historically supported vibrant runs of tens of thousands of Chinook salmon annually. Diversions of their waters by municipal water agencies, including San Francisco, and local irrigation districts over the past five decades have severely impacted those salmon runs, pushing them to the brink of extinction. The Water Quality Control Plan approved last month codifies what has heretofore only been a tacit approval of such diversions by the State Water Board.

In 2009, the California State Legislature adopted the Delta Reform Act to compel the State Water Board to take prompt action to save historic salmon runs. In 2010, the Board adopted the recommendations of a staff report which determined that, to save this public trust fishery, the San Joaquin River’s flows should be increased to a minimum of 60% of their historic (“unimpaired”) flows during the critical migration period of February through June.

On Dec. 12, 2018, the Board adopted minimum flow standards of just 40% of unimpaired levels on average, rather than the 60% average that its scientists showed was required to restore salmon runs.

PCFFA Executive Director Noah Oppenheim called Friday’s lawsuit, “a long overdue wake-up call that the State Water Board must now do its job to prevent the imminent extinction of this irreplaceable fishery. For decades this regulatory process has been captured by water agencies with no compunctions about hastening the end of salmon fisheries. Today salmon fishermen and fishing communities are raising their voice.”

Joining the PCFFA in filing suit are the North Coast Rivers Alliance and the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. All three agree that unless historic flows are restored immediately, the survival of the Delta’s salmon fishery is in jeopardy. A copy of the verified petition and complaint is here.

Their lawsuit alleges that the State Water Board’s failure to restore adequate flows in these rivers violates the federal Clean Water Act and California’s Porter Cologne Water Quality Act—which require protection of historic fish runs—and also the Public Trust Doctrine, which forbids the Board from allowing excessive diversions of water needed for the survival of the Delta’s salmon.

“Unless the Board is ordered to comply with the law and these flows are restored at the scientifically recommended levels, California’s salmon will never recover and the fishing families that bring the ocean’s bounty to the public will continue to suffer unjustly,” said Oppenheim.

Source: https://yubanet.com/california/pcffa-leads-suit-against-state-water-board-to-protect-salmon-in-the-water-quality-control-plan/

 

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Trump administration moves to slash federal protection for waterways

Steven Mufson, THE WASHINGTON POST

The Trump administration on Tuesday proposed to sharply limit the federal government’s authority to regulate the pollution of wetlands and tributaries that run into the nation’s largest rivers, a major win for builders, farmers and frackers.

The administration said it would introduce a “new construct” limiting regulation to streams that hold water in a “typical year,” as determined by precipitation over the past 30 years.

“This will be a significant retreat from how jurisdiction has been defined for decades,” said Ann Navaro, a natural resources lawyer in Washington who previously worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “This will significantly reduce the regulatory burden on landowners, developers and industry.”

The scaling back of the regulation was one of President Trump’s top priorities when he took office, and he issued an executive order in February 2017 directing the Environmental Protection Agency to carry out “the elimination of this very destructive and horrible rule.”

The Obama administration, under the Waters of the United States rule issued in 2015, had asserted federal oversight of a variety of ditches, storm-water controls, lakes, streams and wetlands that feed into larger waterways that are clearly protected under the Clean Water Act of 1972. Many experts believed that the 1972 law already gave the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers control over smaller U.S. waterways and tributaries, but a series of court rulings had left the extent of that regulatory power ambiguous.

Read more at https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/trump-administration-moves-to-slash-federal-protection-for-waterways/2018/12/11/eee0056a-fc98-11e8-862a-b6a6f3ce8199_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.01268fd7849c

Posted on Categories WaterTags , , , ,

In the North Bay fire zone, early tests show no post-fire water contamination

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Samples taken from key Russian River tributaries downstream of the massive Tubbs fire scar have so far tested within the expected range for a suite of 30 pollutants and other traits that might betray contamination related to ash, burned wreckage and recent firefighting efforts, according to North Coast water regulators.
The results are just the earliest in the long-term monitoring planned for the 1,500-square-mile river watershed. Scientists want to ensure that critical water supply and wildlife habitat aren’t exposed to heavy metals, excess sediment and other pollutants potentially leached from thousands of burned structures, vehicles and unknown materials incinerated in the October firestorm.
Staff with the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board also caution that the results reflect a limited number of test sites — three from below the burn zone and one from above.
But the outcome of three testing rounds conducted last month nonetheless contributes to faith in the success of a multiagency, all-hands-on-deck effort to deploy more than 30 miles of straw erosion-control wattles and tens of thousands of gravel bags to filter runoff from winter rains and direct it away from storm drains and streams, Senior Environmental Scientist Katharine Carter said.
Read more at: In the North Bay fire zone, early tests show no post-fire water contamination