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

Sonoma, Mendocino County grape growers battling new rules designed to reduce sediment, pesticides in local waterways

Mary Callahan, PRESS DEMOCRAT

A new program targeting 1,500 commercial grape growers in Sonoma and Mendocino counties and designed to improve water quality in local creeks and rivers is drawing criticism from members of the agricultural community.

The draft rules include reporting requirements, annual fees, well and groundwater monitoring, ground cover requirements and restrictions on wintertime operations that growers deem excessive.

Vineyard operators and agricultural representatives say the costs and mandates are overkill for an industry that is already working to reduce sediment runoff into waterways and protect fish habitats.

Small growers are especially likely to suffer because “their margins are really small, and the proposed permit is going to create costs that are significant to them,” said Robin Bartholow, deputy executive director of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau.

But staff of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board say the soil disturbance and chemical use in many vineyards, as well as potential disruption of riparian plants needed to shade fish habitat, can degrade water quality in creeks and rivers.

Read more at: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/sonoma-mendocino-county-grape-growers-battling-new-rules-designed-to-reduc/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , , ,

Balancing protein in your diet could improve water quality

Kat Kerlin, UC DAVIS NEWS

Eating Too Much Protein Adds to Nitrogen Pollution in U.S. Waters

…when a body takes in more protein than it needs, excess amino acids break it down into nitrogen, which is excreted mostly through urine and released through the wastewater system. This brings additional nitrogen into waterways, which can result in toxic algal blooms, oxygen-starved “dead zones” and polluted drinking water.

Balancing how much protein you eat with the amount your body needs could reduce nitrogen releases to aquatic systems in the U.S. by 12% and overall nitrogen losses to air and water by 4%, according to a study from the University of California, Davis.

Protein consumption in the United States, from both plant and animal sources, ranks among the highest in the world. The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, said that if Americans ate protein at recommended amounts, projected nitrogen excretion rates in 2055 would be 27% less than they are today despite population growth.

The study is the first to estimate how much protein consumption contributes to excess nitrogen in the environment through human waste. It also indicates that coastal cities have the largest potential to reduce nitrogen excretions headed for their watersheds.

“It turns out that many of us don’t need as much protein as we eat, and that has repercussions for our health and aquatic ecosystems,” said lead author Maya Almaraz, a research affiliate with the UC Davis Institute of the Environment. “If we could reduce that to an amount appropriate to our health, we could better protect our environmental resources.”

Read more at https://www.ucdavis.edu/climate/news/balancing-protein-your-diet-could-improve-water-quality

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Mark West Quarry faces hefty fine for polluting salmon habitat

Will Carruthers, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

A Sonoma County mining company faces a $4.5 million fine for allegedly allowing over 10 million gallons of tainted water to flow into a creek, damaging the habitat of endangered salmon.

In a September press release, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board announced that, at a Dec. 2 meeting, the agency’s board would consider approving a $4.5 million fine against the BoDean Company, Inc. for numerous alleged violations of the Clean Water Act at the company’s Mark West Quarry several years ago. The North Coast water board is one of nine similar boards around the state charged with enforcing a variety of environmental laws.

Water Board staff first identified the problem in December 2018, when they noticed “sediment-laden stormwater” in Porter Creek downstream from the 120-acre quarry, which is used for hard-rock mining and materials processing. Over the next five months, Water Board officials visited the quarry 15 times total, documenting numerous similar incidents. All told, Water Board prosecutors estimate that 10.5 million gallons of tainted water flowed from the mountainside quarry into Porter Creek, which feeds into the Russian River.

Water Board photographs show that the investigators repeatedly discovered cloudy waters, known as “turbid” in Water Board lingo, emanating from the BoDean quarry. The creek serves as habitat for endangered California steelhead trout and Coho salmon, and the sediments flowing from the quarry could put those creatures at risk.

Read more at https://bohemian.com/bodean-water-fine/

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Plan targeting faulty septic systems in parts of Russian River watershed revised, finalized

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Thousands of property owners in the Russian River watershed will soon be accountable for ensuring their septic systems operate properly through five-year inspections aimed at controlling bacterial contamination from human waste.

The new requirement is part of a controversial plan approved by water quality regulators this week. It was the fourth version of the plan to be considered, and it amends sweeping two-year-old regulations intended to keep human and animal waste out of local waterways.

The plan, approved unanimously by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, affects thousands of property owners in designated priority areas along the main stem and certain tributaries.

Property owners with septic systems within 600 feet of the river or mapped streams or within 200 feet of ephemeral streams in those areas must now have their equipment inspected every five years and take corrective action, if warranted, within 15 years.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/plan-targeting-faulty-septic-systems-in-parts-of-russian-river-watershed-re/

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

Posted on Categories WaterTags , , , , , ,

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

Posted on Categories WaterTags , , , ,

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