Researchers determine vineyards adversely affect soil quality

July 14, 2016, UBC Okanagan [British Columbia]

UBC biologists are digging under vineyards to see if the Okanagan’s grape industry is affecting soil quality.

Miranda Hart, an associate professor of biology at UBC’s Okanagan campus, her PhD candidate Taylor Holland, along with Agriculture Canada research scientist Pat Bowen, has spent the better part of three years studying soil samples from more than 15 vineyards throughout the Okanagan.

Specifically, they were looking at soils in vineyards and neighbouring natural—or uncultivated—habitats. With samples from both areas, the scientists compared the bacterial and fungal communities between these habitats, hoping to determine what’s happening to the soil under the wine-producing grapes.

They determined there was a definite difference in soil communities between the natural valley soil and the vineyard soil.

“Soil biodiversity may be an important part of terroir, which is everything to a grape grower, so they have a vested interest in ensuring we preserve soil biodiversity,” says Hart “This baseline study shows us that BC wine growing regions are different in terms of the organisms that live in the soil.”

All agricultural activity will affect the soil, some more than others, Hart explains. But in order to know how the soil is being changed, researchers wanted to compare samples with natural, uncultivated areas alongside processed areas.

“We have to take care of the microbes in the soil,” she says. “The biodiversity of soil microbes is essential if we are to feed our growing population.”

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Mike Benziger | Water Wizard

vommag July 31, 2015 Vol.1 Issue 2

Mike Benziger

Story: David Bolling
Photos: Steven Krause

Winemaking is a kind of alchemy because, at a fundamental level, it involves turning water into wine. A lot of water.

UC Davis professor Larry Williams studied a test plot of chardonnay grapes in Carneros and calculated that irrigated vines required a little over 15 gallons of water to produce a four-ounce pour of wine, although just 6.5 gallons from irrigation. Dry-farmed grapes (no irrigation) required slightly over 14 gallons of water, all of it drawn from the soil. Which leads us to Mike Benziger, the wizard of winery water.

Farming 50 acres of wine grapes on the side of Sonoma Mountain, Mike Benziger saved 1 million gallons of water between 2012 and 2013.

That amounts to 2,740 gallons a day, every day, for a year.

In 2014, he saved another 400,000 gallons.

How did he do that?

A typical vineyard, says Benziger, will consume about 100 gallons of water per vine per season. That could be as much as 300,000 gallons per acre. Mike got his vineyards below 50 gallons per vine, and 31 percent of his vines are dry-farmed, meaning they get no irrigation.

Again, how did he do it?

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Tree Growth Never Slows

Richard Schultz/Corbis

Redwood grove

Trees — including California’s giant redwoods — add an increasing amount of mass every year.

Many foresters have long assumed that trees gradually lose their vigour as they mature, but a new analysis suggests that the larger a tree gets, the more kilos of carbon it puts on each year.

“The trees that are adding the most mass are the biggest ones, and that holds pretty much everywhere on Earth that we looked,” says Nathan Stephenson, an ecologist at the US Geological Survey in Three Rivers, California, and the first author of the study, which appears today in Nature. “Trees have the equivalent of an adolescent growth spurt, but it just keeps going.”

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Cal Fire Oks Redwood Logging, Environmentalists Might Sue

Cal Fire has approved a timber harvest plan known as Dogwood that involves logging century-old redwood trees despite the objections of environmental advocates.

The Associated Press
July 5, 2016

Cal Fire has approved the Dogwood plan that involves logging century-old redwood trees despite the objections of environmental advocates.

The Press Democrat reports ( that environmental advocates may challenge the 330-acre “Dogwood” harvest plan that the state fire and forest agency OKed Friday.

Gualala Redwood Timber Inc. acquired the land along the lower Gualala River last year. Spokesman Henry Alden says the company plans to begin logging this summer unless there is outside interference.

Environmental groups like Forest Unlimited and Friends of the Gualala River have said they are considering taking the case to court.

They say the logging plan violates rules meant to protect sensitive habitats, although Alden strongly disputes that. The groups are also concerned about the operation’s cumulative effects.

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Of Water and Wine

New vineyards and resorts rising above the Napa Valley threaten the region’s water
This story was produced in collaboration with the Food and Environment Reporting Network, a non-profit investigative news organization.

Battle over Napa's hills

In the winter of 2015, a Hong Kong real estate conglomerate purchased the Calistoga Hills Resort, at the northern end of the Napa Valley, for nearly $80 million. Today, mature oaks and conifers cover the 88-acre property, which flanks the eastern slope of the Mayacamas Mountains.

But soon, 8,000 trees will be cut, making way for 110 hotel rooms, 20 luxury homes, 13 estate lots, and a restaurant. Room rates will reportedly start at about $1,000 a night, and the grounds will include amenities like a pool, spas, outdoor showers and individual plunge pools outside select guest rooms.

Following the sale, one of the most expensive in the nation based on the number of rooms planned, commercial broker James Escarzega told a Bay Area real estate journal that the project “will be a game changer for the luxury hotel market in Napa Valley.” That may well be true, but it’s likely not the kind of game changer that many locals want to see.

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Endocrine Disruptors: The Secret History of a Scandal

To River Watch readers: Our website has had several articles in the past on the impacts of endocrine disruptors in streams and other waters of the USA. Most of these chemicals come from pharmaceutical sources released through normal waste discharge without being filtered or treated. What has been revealed is that, unlike many other potentially harmful chemicals, endocrines can pose harm at very small concentrations. This is Part 1 of 3.

June 8, 2016
By Stéphane Horel

Editors Note: This article was originally published by Le Monde on May 20. This version is translated by the Health and Environment Alliance and is republished with permission. We are also republishing other parts of the investigation: Le Monde’s interview with French Environment Minister Ségoléne Royal (Part 2) and doubt sown by Brussels’ industry-linked scientific community (Part 3).

Graphic by AUREL. Translation courtesy HEAL

This is one of the best kept secrets in Europe. It is locked up in the maze of corridors in the European Commission, in a guarded room that only about 40 accredited officials have the right to enter. And then only with paper and pen. Smartphones are not allowed.

This is a stricter safety protocol than even for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (or TTIP) between the European Union and the United States: If members of the European Parliament want to access TTIP documents they can enter the reading room without anyone checking the contents of their pockets.

The secret is a report of about 250 pages. Its title, in the jargon of the Commission, is “Impact Assessment.”

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Stream Condition Databases

Hi Everyone,
Just sending word that the stream temperature database and scenarios for the Central Valley & remaining parts of California are now available on the NorWeST website ( Also attached to this email is a poster showing the statewide stream thermalscape that’s now been interpolated from data at 2,663 sites that were contributed by biologists and hydrologists working for 15 state, federal, tribal, university, and private resource organizations. The NorWeST project is a grassroots effort to develop an open access, comprehensive stream temperature database and set of high-resolution climate scenarios for the American West. The database currently houses >200,000,000 hourly records from >20,000 unique sites that were contributed by >100 agencies & resource groups. NorWeST was funded for California by the USFWS & the California Fish Passage Forum (, with complimentary grants to do the project elsewhere from the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives, NASA, NFWF, USFS, & USGS.

NorWeST data products consist of three basic things (described below), all of which can be summarized, displayed, or queried in ArcGIS and other digital formats for ease of use. You can also view & query the stream temperature scenarios dynamically from your desktop using this nifty GoogleMap tool: (zoom in until the streams appear).

Geospatial products:
#1) ArcGIS shapefiles of mean August stream temperature predictions from an accurate model fit to all the data (r2 ~ 0.90; Average prediction error ~ 1.00°C; Average observed error ~ 0.70°C) and used to develop a consistent set of historical and future climate scenario maps at 1-kilometer resolution. The historical scenarios consist of composite averages over multi-year periods (Scenarios 1 & 2), each individual year’s mean August stream temperature (from 1993 ~ 2015), and 10 different future scenarios (Scenarios 23 – 32; metadata describing the scenarios and stream temperature model are available at the project website). The NorWeST stream temperature model predicts an August mean temperature because it’s the one month that’s been monitored most consistently across the region (which allowed us to use the largest proportion of everyone’s data in the model), because August is a thermally stressful period for many fishes, and because a monthly mean can be easily linked to outputs from global climate models to create an integrated system for downscaling climate effects to local stream temperatures.

#2) ArcGIS shapefile showing the precision associated with the stream temperature model predictions (Scenario 22), which is useful for identifying areas in streams that are not redundant with existing temperature measurements and could aid in designing efficient monitoring strategies.

#3) Daily summaries (min/max/mean) of all temperature data (including non-August days) and georeferenced locations of monitoring sites to facilitate coordinated monitoring efforts and new temperature research. Note that we can only distribute those data we are given permission to distribute, but the great majority of people (>95%) do give their permission.

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The Key to Halting Damage to 36,000 Miles Of U.S. Waterways Annually

To All,

This is a message from Karen of Clean Water Network that should be of interest to River Watch members and supporters.

Exposed Soil = Pollution  The Key to Halting Damage to 36,000 Miles Of U.S. Waterways Annually

Hello CWN members, I’m Richard Klein.  I’ve been helping folks throughout the U.S. win sediment pollution and other clean water battles since the 1970s.  Recently I’ve learned that clean water advocates now have a rare opportunity to dramatically reduce a major pollution source just by educating the public that Exposed Soil = Pollution, particularly when you see it on a construction site.  A few experiments have shown that spreading this message can improve construction site sediment pollution control throughout a region by up to 77% in just one year!  You can help win this battle by signing our petition and by informing your supporters and the public at large that:

              Exposed Construction Site Soil = Pollution
             Demand Full Use of Erosion Control Measures

As of 2009, USEPA data showed that 107,231 miles of U.S. waterways had been damaged by sediment pollution.[1]  A sizeable portion comes from the 18 million acres of construction sites active throughout the country at any given moment.[2]  Nationwide, construction site erosion and sediment pollution generation rates average 100 to 10,000 times the rate for forest.[3]  One study indicated that without effective control, the sediment pollution released from a site could damage three miles of downstream waters with recovery taking up to a century.[4]  Based upon the EPA data there could be more than 12,000 sites active nationwide, which creates the potential to damage 36,000 miles of downstream waters annually.

Fortunately, all construction sites over one acre must use measures to minimize soil erosion and subsequent sediment pollution.[5]  However, most sites only benefit from ineffective measures like frequently failing silt fences. Silt fences and other perimeter controls are very ineffective at preventing sediment pollution

Straw, Grass & Other Erosion Controls Key To Aquatic Resource Protection
Most of the nutrients and other pollutants entrained in construction site sediment pollution are dissolved or attached to clay and other fine particles.  The most commonly used measures like silt fence, sediment ponds and other perimeter controls cannot retain clay-bound or dissolved pollutants.  Plus, aquatic ecosystem damage cannot be prevented unless large quantities of clay particles are kept out of downstream waters.

Only by stabilizing (protecting) soil from erosion with straw mulch, grass or stone can you keep clay and dissolved pollutants on a construction site.[1]  Mulch alone reduces erosion by 90% and a thick grass cover achieves a 99% reduction.  So, whenever you see exposed soil on a construction site you can assume a nearby waterway will be polluted come the next storm.  In other words: Exposed Soil = Pollution.
Each Dollar Spent On Erosion Control Prevents $100 In Downstream Damages
Once initial grading stops and building or road construction begins all exposed soils should be covered with a layer of straw mulch or planted in grass if an area will not undergo earth-moving for 14 days or more.  Road and parking lot beds should be covered with a base course of stone ASAP.  The stone is not only a normal part of road construction but usually halts erosion of the underlying soils.  For each dollar spent keeping sediment on a construction site, at least $100 in downstream damages are avoided.[1]  Mulch must be kept thick enough to obscure underlying soil from view

Lack Of Erosion Control Is Also Illegal
Section, of the USEPA NPDES General Permit for Discharges from Construction Activities requires that when earth-moving activity (filling-cutting-grading) will cease for 14 days or more all exposed soil must be stabilized (protected) from erosive forces.[1]  The most commonly used measures are straw mulch, grass, stone or some equally effective erosion control practice.  Mulch is used in areas where grass cannot grow due to foot or vehicle traffic, like next to buildings under construction.  The mulch must be maintained thick enough so underlying soil cannot be seen.  As stated above, road and parking lot beds must be covered with stone.  All idle areas must be mulched and seeded with grass, then maintained to achieve at least a 95% vegetative cover.

Become An Erosion Control Advocate
When you see exposed soil on a construction site where earth-moving has ceased and building has begun, you’re not only seeing a pollution threat but a violation of the law.  Contact your local or state elected representative and urge them to have the appropriate agency get the soil stabilized.  If the agency claims a project is exempt from the NPDES requirement then contact me at 410-654-3021 or  Together we’ll figure out if this is true.  If it is true then we’ll develop a strategy for using Politically Oriented Advocacy to win adoption of the necessary legislation.  This approach has proven more effective than past efforts like Get The Dirt Out.

About The Author
Richard Klein has been an advocate for aquatic resource protection since 1969.  Over the past 47 years he’s won better sediment pollution control on numerous of construction sites throughout the U.S.  For 18 years Richard was with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, spending ten years as the director of Save Our Streams.  In 1987, he founded his day-job as president of CEDS and has since helped thousands of citizens across the nation prevent threats to neighborhoods and the environment.

For further information:

Exposed Soil = Pollution webpage;
ES=P Guide which shows why erosion control is important and how to evaluate construction site erosion control quality

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Mendocino Redwood Company’s Political Cover Crops
June 1, 2016

The Redwood Forest Foundation, Inc. (RFFI) seemed to have a sure-fire plan when it proposed to receive $19.5 million for its conservation of the 50,000-acre Usal Redwood Forest – northwestern Mendocino County land battered by more than a century of logging – from the State Wildlife Conservation Board. The state agency had received funding via a bond initiative, Proposition 84 (2006), for the purpose of conserving working forests. RFFI owned the largest section of working conservation forest land in the state (meaning light-touching logging would continue to occur there).

More than 300 individuals had written in support of the proposal, and State Assemblyman Wes Chesbro and State Senator Noreen Evans had testified in favor of the RFFI proposal. The Wildlife Conservation Board’s staff unanimously supported it. The Mendocino County Board of Supervisors passed a supportive resolution and transmitted a letter to the Conservation Board’s director.

“The viability of sustainable timber management in Mendocino County relies on the Usal and Gualala models for job generation, restoration employment and future economic localization,” the May 2011 letter stated.

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The Fisher Octopus
May 25, 2016

The Fisher family’s roughly $10 billion in assets are spread across an opaque web of globe-spanning investments. One of their main money vehicles is Sansome Partners, the San Francisco- and Seattle-based investment firm that owns Mendocino Redwood Company and its northerly affiliate, Humboldt Redwood Company. The purpose of Sansome Partners, the company’s web site proclaims, is to make “long-term investments in high-quality businesses and assests.”

Best known as owners of The Gap and Banana Republic retail clothing empire, family matriarch Doris Fisher and her sons Robert, William, and John (best known in some circles as the majority owner of the Oakland A’s) are all billionaires. Within the Fishers’ 440,000 acres of forestland in Humboldt, Mendocino, and Sonoma counties, the family may own more coastal redwood forest than any private entity ever has.

As with Blum, it is difficult to know exactly where the Fishers’ fortune is invested at any given time. A 1998 San Francisco Business Journal story noted that “San Francisco’s real estate movers and shakers don’t like to talk about who’s stuffing their wallets with cash. Normally chatty developers turn stone-cold silent when the question is asked.”

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