Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County supervisors agreed Tuesday to study the possibility of applying for a license to operate a remote Mendocino County hydropower project, marking the first move to maintain a long-standing water transfer deemed critical to residents and ranchers in both counties.
A coalition of five Mendocino County agencies and California Trout, a 50-year-old environmental nonprofit, are collaborating with Sonoma County’s water agency in the consideration of taking over the federal license for the Potter Valley Project, which delivers 20 billion gallons of water a year from the Eel River into the Russian River basin.
Each of the three partners is putting $100,000 into the study, an amount dwarfed by the potential cost of establishing free passage for the Eel River’s protected salmon and steelhead — likely a requisite step to extend the project’s life.
PG&E, the state’s largest utility now in bankruptcy, surrendered the project in January, upending the license renewal process, and no entity has responded to a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) call for a new operator.
The utility, which had owned the project since 1930, said it was no longer economical to operate a plant that generated less than 1 percent of its power.
But the water flowing through the powerhouse is virtually invaluable to the towns and ranches along the upper Russian River from Potter Valley to Healdsburg and is a critical source for Sonoma Water, which delivers water to 600,000 Sonoma and Marin county customers.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9598819-181/sonoma-county-supervisors-eye-future
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Dam operators are planning to store nearly 4 billion extra gallons of water this winter in Lake Mendocino, the reservoir near Ukiah that plays a critical role in providing water for residents, ranchers and fish along the upper Russian River and to communities in Sonoma and Marin counties.
Retaining that much more water — enough for about 97,000 people for a year — comes about as a four-year and $10 million program, proven in computer models but not in practice, gets its first field test.
The program, blending high-tech weather forecasting with novel computer programming, is intended to pinpoint the arrival of rain-rich atmospheric rivers that have been both a drought-busting blessing and a flood-causing curse to the Russian River region.
It evolved from a searing lesson water managers got six years ago, when they released more than a third of the reservoir’s allowed capacity in anticipation of storms that never arrived. Then the state’s prolonged drought set in.
Under the new program, called Forecast Informed Reservoir Operation, or FIRO, the Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the reservoir, will hold onto the extra water as long as no atmospheric river is imminent.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9014821-181/advance-in-storm-forecasting-allows
Carl Mears, PRESS DEMOCRAT
Carl Mears is lead author for the Climate Science Special report: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume I, U.S. Global Change research Program
As was recently reported in The Press Democrat, the U.S. government recently released the first volume of the Fourth National Climate Assessment. As one of the 51 authors of the report, (and the only one from the private sector), I was relieved that there was no political interference in the writing and editing process. The report accurately represents the conclusions of the expert scientists on the writing team.
The report is 477 pages of fairly technical reading, so I doubt that most people are ready to read it cover to cover. But I can summarize it in just three sentences:
— Global warming is happening now.
— It’s caused by human activities, mostly emission of carbon dioxide.
— And the consequences are beginning now
— and becoming increasingly serious as the warming continues.
These statements are not the personal opinions of the writing team. Every “key finding” in the report is defended by a “traceable account” that describes the scientific reports we read and synthesized to reach that conclusion.
Since this column is titled “Close to Home,” I thought I’d highlight several new findings that are of special concern to Californians and residents of Sonoma County.
Our report is the first to address sea level rise while considering troubling new results about the stability of ice sheets in Antarctica. By 2100, the expected range of sea level rise is between one and four feet. But because we do not know exactly how the ice in Antarctica will respond to warming oceans, a sea level rise of eight feet cannot be ruled out. This amount of sea level rise would flood a lot of low-lying land around the San Francisco Bay, including significant parts of downtown Petaluma.
Much of California depends on the Sierra snowpack to store water. New, more advanced climate models are able to predict the state of the spring time snow in the Sierra. Unless we begin to curtail carbon dioxide emissions soon, warming temperatures will lead to rising snow levels and more wintertime precipitation will fall as rain in the Sierra Nevada. Under the assumption of continued high carbon dioxide emission, the snow levels increase by more than 1,000 feet, leaving much of the mountain region north of Interstate 80 snow free at the end of the winter.
The water that should flow down the rivers in July and August comes much earlier in the year, threatening vital infrastructure such as dams and levees and reducing the amount stored for summer use.
Another consequence of warming temperature is the drying of soil and vegetation during our long, dry summers. Last month’s tragic fires bring the threat of wildfire to the forefront of our attention.
Because of dryer summer conditions, and the large swaths of dead trees killed by the warmer, more stressful climate, our report concluded that wildfires will increase over the entire western United States, a trend that has already been measured in almost every region of the West.
Drier conditions will also increase the need for irrigation, even as our state’s capacity to store water is reduced by the dwindling snowpack.
So, what should people do with this information?
Get informed and involved with organizations that work on policy solutions. While personal commitments such as riding your bike to work are good, they must also be supported by deeper systemic changes to our energy system. These changes cannot be achieved by individuals acting in isolation.
Read more at: Close to Home: What new climate report says. It’s urgent
Jerry Redfern, NewsDeeply
The plan calls for increased water conservation through groundwater management (including recharging the aquifer beneath Albuquerque), surface-water management (including protecting current water rights and buying more in the future), watershed restoration, water recycling and reuse programs and stormwater capture and storage.
In February of this year, the largest water district in a state with little water enacted a plan that attempts to manage that increasingly fickle resource for 100 years.
The plan, Water: 2120, is the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority (ABCWUA) in New Mexico’s blueprint to direct water procurement, protection and use for the next century.
“This really came out of eight to 10 of us sitting around in a room every Wednesday morning and talking this through,” said Katherine Yuhas, water resources manager at ABCWUA and one of the lead planners on the project.
It’s common for water agencies to develop plans looking 20 to 40 years ahead, or in some cases 50 to 60 years. And ABCWUA, of course, has had planning documents in the past, the last one looking 60 years out. But “this is the first one to take into account climate change,” Yuhas said, and “it’s the first one to look out 100 years.” Plus, it covers everything from watersheds to infrastructure to household use.
Other Western water groups are also working on long-range plans. Santa Fe is looking closely at Water: 2120. Next year, Austin Water plans to unveil Water Forward, which it calls, “a water plan for the next century.”
And in Arizona, the Office of Assured and Adequate Water Supply Program at the Department of Water Resources requires new developments in certain metropolitan areas to show they have physical and legal access to water for 100 years.
Read more at: Why Some Western Water Agencies Are Writing 100-Year Water Plans — Water Deeply
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Grant Davis, general manager of the Sonoma County Water Agency, was tapped Wednesday by Gov. Jerry Brown as the state’s new director for the Department of Water Resources, handing a veteran of North Bay politics and water policy a central role in Brown’s controversial bid to overhaul California’s water system with a $17 billion pair of tunnels under Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Davis, 54, has led the county Water Agency since 2010 and is set to begin in his new post in Sacramento in August, pending confirmation by the state Senate. The Department of Water Resources is the lead state agency providing water for 25 million residents, farms and business.
Its most contentious proposal under Brown is the pair of massive tunnels intended to convey Sacramento River water under the Delta and deliver it to users to the south, including farmers in the San Joaquin Valley and cities in Southern California.
“The governor supports that California WaterFix and so do I,” Davis said Wednesday, using the nickname for the disputed project that pits Northern California water and environmental interests against influential agricultural and urban users south of the Delta.“
I will be a major participant in that effort,” Davis said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C., where he was on an unrelated trip to lobby for funding to support long-range weather forecasting.
Davis would succeed former DWR Director Mark Cowin, who retired late last year along with the agency’s chief deputy director, Carl Torgersen. The appointment comes as the state continues to emerge from a historic five-year drought, with a push to fortify supplies, build new reservoirs and protect the environment — initiatives that can be in conflict.
Davis said there is “a long way to go” in addressing the state’s water demand and a need to “find a balance” between water supplies and protection of “habitat and fisheries.”
Read more at: Sonoma County Water Agency manager named head of California Department of Water Resources | The Press Democrat
Ellen Knickmeyer and Scott Smith, AP WIRE
National Marine Fisheries Service: California WaterFix Biological Opinion
Gov. Jerry Brown won crucial early approval from federal wildlife officials Monday for his $16 billion proposal to re-engineer California’s north-south water system, advancing his plan to build two giant tunnels to carry Northern California water to the south even though much about the project remains undetermined.
The National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gave their green light by finding that the project would not mean extinction for endangered and threatened native species of salmon and other fish. The project, which would tap part of the flow of California’s largest river, the Sacramento, would change the way the San Francisco Bay Area, the farm-rich Central Valley and populous Southern California get their water from what is the West Coast’s largest estuary.
The twin tunnels, both four stories high and 35 miles long, would be California’s most ambitious water project since the 1950s and 1960s. Then, Brown’s father, the late Gov. Pat Brown, helped oversee building of the pumps, dams, and aqueducts that move water from the green north to more arid south. Supporters say the tunnels are needed to modernize and secure water deliveries from the delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, now done by aging pumps that pull the rivers and the fish in them off-course.
Read more at: AP Wire
Monica Heger, YES! Magazine, for TRUTHOUT
A consequence of the creek being confined to its channel is that, over years, the water has dug away at the creek bed — or substrate — making it deeper and narrower, and increasing the speed at which water flows. This has decreased the chances that water will spill over the banks. The larger substrate materials that made the creek bed stable — boulders, gravel, and logs — have been washed out, but are not being replaced. Instead, the creek bed is becoming ever finer and more prone to being further incised. In this environment, salmon eggs are more likely to be washed away.
Wander out the back door of the tasting room at Truett Hurst Winery in Sonoma County, California, and follow the dirt path to the red Adirondack chairs next to Dry Creek. Look just downstream to the side channel that splits off the main waterway. You will see sets of interwoven logs and overturned trees with roots that splay along the banks. These aren’t the result of a particularly rough storm — they are there by design. As Dry Creek rushes by, these logs and root beds point the way to a newly excavated side channel — prime habitat for spawning and juvenile salmon.
In freshwater waterways along the coast from Marin to Mendocino counties, agencies are restoring salmonid streams to create habitat diversity, areas that provide deep pooling, predator protection, and side channels of slower-moving water. California salmon are in dire straits. Decades of dam building and development have destroyed or altered salmon habitat, eliminating the diversity of habitat these fish need.
As a result, salmon populations have plummeted. The number of coho salmon that return to the California waterways from the Pacific Ocean each year has dropped from around 350,000 in the 1940s to less than 500 in 2009. Although they’ve rebounded slightly, numbers are still 90 percent to 99 percent below historic levels, and many scientists are worried that California’s historic five-year drought followed by an exceptionally rainy winter could wreak further havoc.
Salmon provide enormous environmental and economic benefits. They are an integral component of marine and freshwater foodwebs and play a role in transporting nutrients from the ocean into rivers. In California, salmon are the backbone of a $1.5 billion commercial and recreational fishing industry.
The Warm Springs Dam, which crosses Dry Creek, is one of two drinking water sources for around 600,000 customers in Sonoma County, but the year-round flows it produces are a problem for salmon.
“Dry Creek is a tremendous misnomer,” says David Manning, environmental resources manager at the Sonoma County Water Agency. “It flows so quickly that it doesn’t provide habitat for steelhead and coho,” and young fish are often washed downstream. To combat this, Manning and others are building “off-ramps” that will allow salmon to exit the Dry Creek freeway.
Read more at: Dams Be Damned: California Rebuilds the Salmon Habitat It Destroyed
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
For information on the Sonoma County’s Sustainable Groundwater Management program, click here.
The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, the first law in state history to regulate pumping subsurface water, applies to about 9,000 wells in three groundwater basins in Sonoma County.
Reports by the county Water Agency in 2015 described conditions in the three basins, which essentially cover the county’s flatlands, also its biggest population and farming centers.
Santa Rosa Plain: Covers 78,720 acres from Rohnert Park and Cotati north to Windsor, including Santa Rosa and the east edge of Sebastopol. It has an estimated 6,000 wells.
Groundwater levels in the southern part of the plain declined in the late 1970s through the early 1990s, followed by recovery in the early 2000s. Water quality is generally high, with naturally occurring elements such as iron, manganese, boron and arsenic problematic in some areas and increasing chloride in southern parts of the plain.
Petaluma Valley: Covers 46,000 acres from Penngrove down to San Pablo Bay. It has an estimated 1,000 wells.
Sonoma Valley: Covers 44,700 acres from Kenwood to San Pablo Bay. It has an estimated 2,000 wells.
Groundwater levels in deep aquifers, primarily in southeastern and southwestern Sonoma Valley, have been declining for a decade or more. Water levels in many wells in these areas are dropping several feet a year and have fallen below sea level. Groundwater quality is generally good, except for brackish water affecting wells in southernmost Sonoma Valley and representing a threat if groundwater levels continue to drop.
Read more at: Get to know your groundwater source in Sonoma County | The Press Democrat
Ellen Knickmeyer and Scott Smith, THE WASHINGTON POST
They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly reveal details of the talks.Some water district officials said the move, to be done by a group of regional California water agencies in what is called a joint-powers authority, or JPA, would speed up the mega-project, which they say is needed to modernize California’s existing north-south water delivery systems.
California’s powerful regional water districts are working alongside Gov. Jerry Brown to take on more responsibility for designing, building and arranging financing for a $15.7 billion twin tunnel project that would ship water southward from Northern California as they push to finally close the deal on the controversial plan, two officials working closely on the project told The Associated Press.
Talks among Brown’s office, state agencies and the water contractors have been under way since May that could lessen the state’s hands-on role in one of California’s biggest water projects in decades, according to the two sources, one a senior official involved in the project, the other an employee working closely on the project.
Critics who oppose the tunnels said the change could allow California’s big water districts to cut corners on issues affecting public safety and the environment.
Read more at: APNewsBreak: Water agencies push bigger role in tunnel plan – The Washington Post
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Santa Rosa Plain Basin
Thursday, June 1, 5:30 p.m.
Santa Rosa Utilities Field Office, 35 Stony Point Rd.
Sonoma Valley Basin
Thursday, June 8, 5:30 p.m.
Vintage House Senior Center, 264 First St. East, Sonoma
Petaluma Valley Basin
Thursday, June 22, 5:30 p.m.
Petaluma Community Center, 320 North McDowell Blvd.
Residents who want to influence or at least understand how Sonoma County’s groundwater will be managed going forward are invited to participate in public hearings next month that will help shape new agencies governing aquifers.
Three new groundwater sustainability agencies are being formed under the 2014 state law meant to ensure that California’s groundwater basins are protected from depletion in an era of climate change and weather extremes.
The new law calls for monitoring, managing and, where necessary, regulating pumping from groundwater basins, which currently supply more than a third of the state’s water needs, even in a rainy year.
The state’s prolonged drought and overpumping of aquifers, especially in the Central Valley, fueled the new layer of oversight. Previously, California was the only western state to have no regulation of groundwater.
“It never really becomes real to people until it’s right in front of their face,” Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore said of rules now governing groundwater.
Sonoma County is comparatively water-rich in surface and groundwater supplies, though some areas of Rohnert Park and the Sonoma Valley have come under past scrutiny for overuse.
Gore said the county is ahead of other regions in terms of how much study already has taken place, referring to recent reports by the U.S. Geological Survey.
But growing tension over the impact of vineyard expansion and a booming wine industry have ensured water also is a source of local political conflict.
Most residents reliant on groundwater, including their own wells, have more questions than answers so far about the new bureaucracies, Gore said.
Read more at: Key public meetings set for governing groundwater in Sonoma County | The Press Democrat