Napa officials tour fish-friendly farming sites
August 5, 2014
By Peter Jensen, Napa Valley Register
Vineyard owners along the Napa River showed off the environmental benefits Monday of working cooperatively with government agencies to improve the lives of fish and other wildlife.
For the last decade, landowners in Napa County have enrolled in a fish-friendly farming program that allows them to produce a plan of environmentally friendly farming practices specific to their property, and have regulatory agencies sign off.
To grapegrower Ted Hall, the program was a means of ensuring compliance with the dozen or so regulatory agencies he deals with while also improving vital habitat along the Napa River and its tributaries for salmon and steelhead populations.
The practices are then checked regularly through a certification and re-certification process, enabling Hall to remain in good standing with regulators without burdensome or unannounced compliance checks, he said.
“We try to do the right thing,” Hall said. “It’s really hard to be compliant. The beauty of fish-friendly farming allows us to prepare that plan, have all 12 agencies sign off, and then we’re free, essentially.”
The program, also called Napa Green, started with 11,000 acres in 2004 but has expanded to cover 61,000 acres throughout Napa County currently, said Laurel Marcus, executive director of the California Land Stewardship Institute.
Marcus led a tour Monday morning of two sites along the Napa River — one near Oakville Cross Road, the second east of the town of Yountville — that highlighted the kind of large-scale restoration work agencies have done in concert with the adjacent property owners.
U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, Napa County Supervisor Diane Dillon, county Agricultural Commissioner Greg Clark, and other members of the wine industry, trade groups and environmental organizations joined in the tour.
Thompson praised the program, which is also exists in Sonoma, Solano, Mendocino, and El Dorado counties, as contributing valuable habitat restoration to salmon fisheries — a $1.4 billion industry in California — while also taking a proactive approach to regulatory compliance.
North Coast growers take fight over frost rules to state high court
August 4, 2014
The Press Democrat By Bill Swindell
Local grape growers and farmers are taking their fight over controversial rules governing frost protection to the state’s highest court, escalating a legal battle over regulations meant to protect endangered fish in the Russian River and its tributaries.
In the first of two planned appeals, Redwood Valley grape grower Rudy Light on Friday asked the California Supreme Court to review an appellate court decision in June that upheld the state regulations, dealing a blow to opponents, who have described the rules as government overreach.
They were imposed in 2011 by the state Water Resources Control Board, which along with other agencies, said the new measures were needed to safeguard beleaguered salmon and steelhead trout populations in the Russian River. For the first time, the state required growers to track and report the water they draw out of the river system in spring to spray over their crops and protect them from frost.
The requirements were set to affect hundreds of growers across tens of thousands of acres in Sonoma and Mendocino counties. Opponents in both counties were quick to sue the state, winning a first round in court in 2012, when Mendocino County Judge Ann Moorman struck down the rules, calling them “constitutionally void” and “invalid.”
Light and another group of plaintiffs, the Russian River Water Users for the Environment, who plan to file their appeal Monday, want that lower court ruling to stand. They have assailed the June 16 decision by the state’s 1st District Court of Appeal reversing Moorman’s ruling.
Marijuana's thirst depleting North Coast watersheds
August 4, 2014
The Press Democrat by Glenda Anderson
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.
Salmon will only get more water if die-off starts.
July 30, 2014
San Francisco Chronicle by Jeff Barnard, Associated Press
GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — A federal agency said Wednesday it will release extra water into Northern California's Klamath and Trinity rivers once salmon start dying from drought-related disease, but not before.
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Louis Moore said from Sacramento, California, that the decision came under terms of a 2012 emergency water plan, and after consulting with tribes, irrigators and other agencies.
"When you look at the need and demand for water, it's for every requirement out there, whether it is drinking water, species, power, agriculture or flow in the rivers," Moore said. "The best use of that water was part of that discussion. How can we use this water and still meet all the needs that are there."
Fisheries biologist Joshua Strange of Stillwater Sciences said that will be too late. Strange submitted a memo to the Klamath Fish Health Advisory Team saying low flows this year could lead to a salmon kill like the one in 2002, when tens of thousands of adult salmon died.
The major threat is a parasite known as Ich, short for Ichthyophthirius multifiliis, which attacks fish in stagnant water.
He says the idea of raising flows down the rivers is not to cool the water temperature, or make it easier for the fish to swim, but to make it harder for the tiny parasites, which swim with hair-like filamets along their bodies, to attack fish.
"Everything we know about Ich is that an ounce of prevention is worth 20 pounds of emergency action," Strange said. "If you can keep it from starting, your chances are way, way better. It builds up momentum very quickly."
Feds say no to fish-kill preventive water releases/Tribal, government officials concerned for future fish kills.
July 30, 2014
Eureka Times Standard by Will Houston
Federal officials today told local tribes and North Coast officials that extra water releases from Trinity Lake used to cool the Klamath and Trinity rivers for fish may only occur in an emergency — when enough fish begin to sicken.
Public Affairs Officer Mat Maucieri of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said that due to the ongoing statewide drought, the bureau will instead send the limited water to the Central Valley, where it will be used to cool the Sacramento River to protect endangered fish like chinook salmon.
"We're trying to retain that cold water supply in order to comply to those listings for other runs of salmon," Maucieri said. "We basically don't want to deplete our cold water pool if we may potentially need it for these other runs."
The decision was made to protect endangered winter-run and spring-run salmon listed under the federal Endangered Species Act in the Sacramento River and its tributary, Clear Creek. The spring-run and fall-run chinook salmon in the lower Klamath and Trinity rivers are not listed as endangered under the federal act.
The bureau, which controls releases from Trinity Lake, will not make its periodic preventative releases in September or late August, which cool down the water temperatures before creating a health hazard to the anadromous steelhead and salmon. The releases began after a massive fish kill in the Klamath River in 2002, with four pre-emptive releases being made since the incident.
"The drought is very much a factor in this," Maucieri said. "It's necessitating these kinds of decisions. This is a decision that we do not take lightly."
While the bureau will not be making its preventive releases, Maucieri said it will make an emergency release to double the flow the of the river for seven days if its monitoring programs at the mouth of the lower Klamath River finds signs of decaying fish health — such as dead fish.