The Delta Smelt: A Tiny Fish with Big Implications

By Trent Orr, January 21, 2015

An adult delta smelt.

An adult delta smelt. Dale Kolke / California Department of Water Resources

The delta smelt is a fish that grows to no more than three inches in length, but over the years this threatened species has made big headlines in California’s dusty, water-rights battleground. One congressional representative, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), is even on record as calling the smelt a “stupid little fish” that doesn’t deserve water (see video below). Recently, the Supreme Court dismissed such narrow-minded claims by denying a Big Ag-led attack against the smelt.

Protecting the delta smelt has reverberations far beyond the fate of one little fish, however. By denying Big Ag’s challenge of water restrictions meant to protect the smelt, the Supreme Court leaves in place a longstanding ruling that the Endangered Species Act requires federal agencies to consider the preservation of all endangered species their highest priority.

But that’s not all. The Supreme Court’s decision also protects the much larger ecosystem dependent on an adequate flow of fresh water through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Thanks to protections provided to the smelt and its habitat by the Endangered Species Act, many other species are now kept from joining the smelt’s imperiled ranks.

Finally, freshwater flows through the Delta support valuable commercial and sport fisheries and provide irrigation water for Delta farmers and drinking water for millions of Californians.

You read that last part right. Making sure that tiny little fish survives is actually pretty important to ensuring that California’s taps don’t run dry.

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Posted in Agriculture Impacting Water, Climate Change Impacts, Drinking Water issues, Environmental Impacts, Groundwater Impacts, Salmonid/Wildlife Impacts, Streams and Wetlands Impacts | Leave a comment

World Economic Forum Ranks Water Crises as Top Global Risk

January 15, 2015

Water rises on the world agenda

Photo © J. Carl Ganter / Circle of Blue

Photo © J. Carl Ganter / Circle of Blue
Though much of India is water-rich, the country hasn’t invested nearly enough in public water supply, transport, or treatment. Millions of India’s urban residents, including this man in New Delhi, draw their water from hand pumps or from water trucks.

By Brett Walton Circle of Blue

More than nuclear weapons or a global disease pandemic, impairments to water supplies and punishing cycles of flood, drought, and water pollution are now viewed by heads of state, nonprofit leaders, and chief executives as the most serious threat to business and society.

For the first time, water crises took the top spot in the World Economic Forum’s 10th global risk report, an annual survey of nearly 900 leaders in politics, business, and civic life about the world’s most critical issues. Water ranked third a year ago.

The report measured 28 risks on two dimensions:

  • the likelihood of occurring within 10 years
  • the impact, which is a measure of devastation

Water ranked eighth for likelihood and first for impact. It was one of four risks — along with interstate conflict, the failure to adapt to climate change, and chronic unemployment — that were deemed highly likely and highly devastating.

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Posted in Climate Change Impacts, Drinking Water issues, Environmental Impacts | Leave a comment

Climate Change Impacts on Vineyards, Wildlife Habitat & Natural Resources

April 29, 2013 by Renata Brillinger

A study entitled Climate Change, Wine, and Conservation published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences predicts that by 2050 the climate change impacts on the viability of wine grape production will be substantial and varied by  geographic region.

While many such projections focus primarily on the impacts on farming and agricultural economies, this study is unusual and important because it also takes into account the effects that shifting agricultural production will have on ecosystems and natural resources. As the authors conclude, “goals of maintaining sustainable development and allowing ecosystems to adapt naturally can be achieved only if adaptation includes consideration of secondary impacts of agricultural change on ecosystems and biodiversity.”

Predictions for California show an average decrease of about 60 percent in the net area suitable for grape growing as production shifts north and upland. As production regions shift upslope, California grape production is expected increase the impact on natural habitats by 10 percent. Freshwater use — already a scarce resource — is expected to increase as vineyards use more water to cool grapes in a hotter climate.

Though the study is global in scope, the authors acknowledge that significant regional variation will play out depending on soil types,  topography, microclimates, the adaptive responses of wildlife to climate change and more.

The report makes mention of agronomic adaptive strategies to climate change such as altered trellising and efficient micro-misters. They also mention managed retreat” to new varieties in an attempt to reduce water use and upland habitat loss and call for increased investments in new varieties.

Beyond individual actions such as these that growers can take, the authors also recommend larger regional planning efforts to balance production and natural resources/conservation priorities. They give an example from South Africa where wine producers and environmentalists have formed the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative to carry out activities such as joint planning of vineyard expansion to avoid areas of high conservation importance, a marketing campaign with an environmental theme, and resources for producers on management practices to reduce the environmental footprint of vineyards.

This study highlights both the consequences of unchecked climate change and also the need for planning and preparation at both the vineyard and regional level — something needed in all sectors of California agriculture as it prepares for farming in an uncertain climate future.

Posted in Agriculture Impacting Water, Climate Change Impacts, Environmental Impacts, Vineyards | Leave a comment

2014 Triennial Review of Water Quality Plan for North Coast Region

Many of you are probably on this list. It is a great opportunity for us to weigh in on the priorities for the North Coast Basin Plan priorities.

Begin forwarded message:

Subject: 2014 Triennial Review of the Water Quality Control Plan for the North Coast Region
Date: November 17, 2014 9:47:46 AM PST
To: Vivian Helliwell <>

This is a message from the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, North Coast Region (1).

Section 13250 of Porter-Cologne and Section 303 (c)(1) of the federal Clean Water Act require a review of basin plans at least once each three-year period to keep pace with changes in regulations, new technologies, policies, and physical attributes within the region.  The Regional Water Board is responsible for this review, and is required to:  1) identify those portions of the Basin Plan that are in need of modification or new additions; 2) adopt standards as appropriate; and 3) recognize those portions of the Basin Plan that are appropriate as written.  The review process includes public scoping meetings, a public workshop and a comment period to identify issues of water quality concern that may be amended by revisions of the Basin Plan.  After public input is received, the Regional Water Board’s role in the Triennial Review process is to determine if Basin Plan revisions are needed, and to set forth a priority list and schedule for consideration of the needed Basin Plan revisions.

As part of the 2014 Triennial Review, the Regional Water Board also will be asked to adopt editorial Basin Plan amendments, under a separate resolution.

Attached is the 2014 Triennial Review of the Basin Plan, Draft Proposed Basin Plan Amendment Project Priorities  which staff will present at a public workshop before the Regional Water Board on Wednesday, November 19, 2014.  The meeting will be held in Santa Rosa at the Regional Water Board offices and begins at 1:00pm.  Please see the Regional Water Board’s website for address and directions.  The Board will take no action at this time.  But, public comments on the proposed priorities are welcome and encouraged.

A Draft Staff Report for the 2014 Triennial Review of the Water Quality Control Plan for the North Coast Region (Draft Staff Report) will be posted on the Regional Water Board’s website and made available via the Regional Water Board’s Basin Planning email subscription (Lyris) list on November 21, 2014.  The Draft Staff Report describes the status of 2011 priority projects and presents new issues that should be addressed in the 2014 Triennial Review.  It also includes staff’s priority ranking of the proposed projects, as well as proposed editorial revisions to Chapters 1 and 2 of the Basin Plan.  Written comments on the Draft Staff Report may be submitted through January 9, 2015.

Questions regarding this item should be directed to Alydda Mangelsdorf, Supervisor of the Planning Unit at or (707) 576-6735.

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Aquatic plants: unsung but prime salmon habitat

Posted on November 13, 2014 by

Photo by Carson Jeffres/UC Davis

A Chinook salmon in Big Springs Creek near Mount Shasta. Photo by Carson Jeffres/UC Davis, 2012

By Robert Lusardi and Ann Willis

For decades, California’s management and restoration of salmon and trout populations have focused on principles rooted in coastal redwood streams. These concepts portray ideal salmonid habitat as deep pools, shallow riffles and “large woody debris,” such as fallen trees and limbs.

Recent studies on spring-fed streams challenges this mindset. The findings strongly suggest these streams should play a larger role in the recovery and management of sensitive cold-water species, particularly salmonids.

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Theo Colborn, 1927–2014

Theo Colborn 1927-2014

©2014 Julie Dermansky for Earthworks

If you ever had the chance to meet her, even once, you knew Theo Colborn. She didn’t have a single hidden agenda. Her commitment to uncovering the truth was out there for the world to see.

For nearly 30 years she dedicated herself to revealing the dangers of endocrine disrupting chemicals to wildlife and humans. More recently she alerted us all to the threats posed by chemicals associated with oil and gas development. She wove the two together beautifully in her statement The Fossil Fuel Connection, which she worked on until the day she died.

Theo’s visionary leadership and passion shone most brilliantly when she made direct connections between new ideas, scientists whose work confirmed them, impacted individuals, and people in positions to change what needed changing. She will be remembered for many generations to come, generations that she worked tirelessly to protect.

Theo often feared that we had already passed the tipping point — that our intelligence and compassion had been so compromised by endocrine disruptors that we could no longer think our way out of the crises we had created.

As the living embodiment of her legacy, we at TEDX say, “No. It is not too late. There are people out there who ‘get it’ and who care — a lot of people — and we won’t let you down Theo.”

— From the Staff and Board of Directors of TEDX.

Keep fighting for the health and well being of all living things.

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State Water Board Stream Pollution Report Shows Trends in Chemical Contamination, Toxicity

Detections and concentrations of pyrethroid pesticides are increasing in California stream sediments, according to a new report by the Stream Pollution Trends Monitoring Program of the State Water Resources Control Board.

The program is a statewide effort to measure trends in pollution levels and toxicity in major California watersheds. The latest report, “Trends in Chemical Contamination, Toxicity and Land Use in California Watersheds,” summarizes results from the first five years of annual surveys assessing stream pollution concentrations and how they are affected by land use.

According to the report, which summarized data from 2008 to 2012, pyrethroid pesticides showed an increasing trend in all watersheds, but most significantly in urban watersheds.

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Dr. Theo Colborn, pioneer on Endocrine Disruption, Passes

Hi everyone!

It is with great sadness that I inform you of Theo Colborn’s passing.  I urge you to read the brief biography by Elizabeth Grossman in the link below.  It speaks with great force and clarity about Dr. Colborn’s critical work.  Theo was literally the mother of endocrine disruption and beyond a doubt the Rachel Carson of our time.

In 1995 RRWPC put on a conference with the help of Dr. Howard Bern (UC professor at Berkeley).  Dr. Bern happened to be a supporter of ours, but I didn’t discover that until I called him to ask about a speech he was giving at the Bodega Marine Lab on the topic of endocrine disruption. Towards the end of our conversation, I boldly and unexpectedly (even to myself) asked if he would help me get speakers for a conference on the topic to be held in Santa Rosa.  He agreed to help and on May 13, 1995, Dr. Bern, Dr. Colborn, Dr. Lou Gillette (of Lake Apopka, Florida alligator fame), Dr Michael Frye (from UC Davis and endocrine disruption expert on sea gulls and other birds) and two others made presentations at our all day conference.  Everyone who came raved about the quality of the conference for years to come.  I am proud to say that our conference is listed in Theo’s CV (link below also) along with her many, many, many other accomplishments.

I too have felt frustration at the lack of serious response to the of low dose impacts of endocrine disrupting chemicals by State regulators.  It reassured me to read that Theo had similar issues with the EPA. (It is isolating to push an issue no one wants to deal with.)  Here is a major point made in the Bio below, “It’s hard to overstate what a sea-change in regulatory toxicology endocrine disruptor research implied….The prevailing regulatory testing regimen-the basis for judgments about the safety of chemicals introduced into the marketplace—pays little or no attention to metabolic changes, outcomes for development and behavior and the transfer of scrambled chemical messages that affect subsequent generations.  What Colborn and her colleagues proposed, that very low levels of chemical exposure—levels that might be present in the daily environment—could prompt subtle changes in cellular chemistry potentially resulting in a range of adverse health effects, was utterly radical to traditional toxicology.”  (emphasis added)

There is a clear and concise description in the Bio about endocrine disruption and low dose effects.  I also urge you to explore the TEDX website (link below).  Among other things, the site has a list of endocrine disrupting chemicals and the studies that have established their affects.  This science represents an already documented sea change in human and animal biology.

The notice of Theo’s passing came to me just as I was beginning to write a commentary on an article that appears to promote toilet to tap (direct discharge of highly treated wastewater into San Diego’s future drinking water supply).  Thus far, it appears that the State is requiring only limited testing of endocrine disrupting chemicals.

Brenda Adelman

Colborn bio short version


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Whose Groundwater Is It? From tiny Scott Valley flows a huge issue: the scope of the public trust doctrine.

by Glen Martin | November 2014

Scott River, Scott Valley, Siskiyou county

From his ranch headquarters – a ramshackle office liberally festooned with mounted deer heads and waterfowl – Tom Menne has a lovely view of Scott Valley, just west of Mount Shasta in Siskiyou County. Or he would if the vista weren’t utterly obscured by smoke from a large complex of wildfires burning in the adjacent Klamath Mountains.

“It’s been this way for about a month now,” Menne says of the resinous pall. “You kind of get used to it.”

Maybe. But the smoke is acrid and daunting. If you could penetrate it, you’d see an idyllic tableau of pasture and hay fields, many lush and green with alfalfa, others speckled with grazing cattle. The Scott Valley lends itself to any number of clichés: God’s Country. Shangri La. A Chosen Place. Such characterizations may be hackneyed, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t true. The Scott Valley is beautiful.

Oddly enough, though, its 1,500 or so residents feel they’re under siege. Their way of life – growing alfalfa and raising cattle – depends on water from the Scott River and its underlying aquifer. That water is in increasingly scant supply. The three-year drought has a lot to do with it, of course. But the valley’s ranchers also face another threat, one that has nothing to do with Mother Nature.

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The Passing of Bill Kortum: Dean of the local movement for Coastal Protection and Open Space

Here’s a few pieces of an article taken from a much larger article about the whole Kortum family. It was written by Chuck Lucas, and was posted on Caring Bridge. This gives a good idea of the depth and breadth of Bill Kortum’s contributions to our County.


Bill had graduated from Petaluma High School and entered the Merchant Marines during WWII. After he left the lure of the sea he enrolled in the Santa Rosa Junior College. He soon headed to U.C. Davis and pursued a career in veterinary medicine and graduated in 1952. Bill was working with Karl on the Ely Rd. ranch’s barn, (which Bill constructed as a high school project) when Jean brought her good friend, Lucy Deam, whom she met while a student at Pomona College, to the ranch to visit. Lucy’s father was a Naval Academy graduate and a Navy pilot when he met his wife in Pensacola at the air station in1924. Lucy was a history major at Pomona and was up visiting friends in San Francisco when Jean suggested she come up to Petaluma to paint some fences on the ranch. Bill and Lucy were married in 1953. They have three children, Frank a federal prosecutor, Sam an economist with the University of Chicago, and Julie who is an occupational therapist.

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