Gualala River Logging Plan Suspended by Sonoma County Judge

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT | September 16, 2016, 4:21PM

A Sonoma County judge has halted logging operations tied to a disputed timber harvest plan in the Gualala River watershed until a court challenge against the project can be resolved.

Superior Court Judge Rene Chouteau granted a preliminary injunction Wednesday, affirming an earlier tentative ruling in which he said environmentalists challenging the plan had a strong enough case to justify a court-ordered freeze on the work.

Continued felling of trees in the project area, near the coast along the Sonoma-Mendocino county border, would alter the environment in a manner that could not be rectified were plaintiffs to prevail in the lawsuit and approval of the logging plan withdrawn, Chouteau said.

“Once you cut these trees down and actually damage these areas, that’s it,” said Chris Poehlmann, president of Friends of the Gualala River, a group pressing the lawsuit along with Forestville-based Forest Unlimited. Chouteau’s ruling did not address the validity of the arguments in the case, tentatively set for a Nov. 29 hearing.

At issue are plans by Gualala Redwood Timber to selectively log 330 acres of redwood forest spread among nearly a dozen spots along the lower river. The so-called Dogwood harvest plan, approved by Cal Fire on July 1, covers an area logged in the past and includes stands of large second-growth redwood trees, some of which are a century old.

Gualala Redwood Timber is controlled by Healdsburg resident Roger Burch and his family trust, which last year acquired the timberland in a purchase of more than 29,000 acres of forest along the lower Gualala River. The company already has logged about 17 percent of the Dogwood plan, launching operations July 22, two weeks after critics notified Cal Fire of their intent to challenge the plan in court. GRT agreed to stop work Aug. 18, pending a ruling on the injunction sought by environmental groups. The company continued removing cut timber from the area during the voluntary suspension and is still logging two other authorized projects nearby in the watershed, company representatives said.

GRT forest manager Henry Alden, who has managed the timberland for nearly two decades as vice president for the former owner, has said the Dogwood project would foster growth of older trees in the area and improve forest health without causing the damage critics fear.

But opponents say logging activity and the heavy machinery that goes with it would degrade an already impaired waterway and risk harm to a host of plant and animal species that include the California red-legged frog and steelhead trout, both listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. They also say Cal Fire improperly granted an exception to rules protecting streamside areas in approving the plan. GRT disputes those assertions, and Cal Fire and other regulatory agencies say the timber company has met the requirements to go forward.

If barred from completing the Dogwood harvest, Burch’s parent company, Pacific State Industries, which owns the Redwood Empire sawmill in Cloverdale and another mill in Philo, would not have sufficient inventory to keep its 240 mill workers employed through the winter, risking layoffs and loss of $1.4 million in profits and overhead expenses, according to court documents.

The company asked Chouteau to require plaintiffs to put down $700,000 toward compensating GRT losses should the company win the suit. Chouteau agreed to a $10,000 bond, due next week. Alden, the GRT forest manager, noted in an affidavit filed with the court that no trees would be cut within 30 feet of the top of the river bank, and that within the select harvest area, an average of 12.5 trees per acre would be taken, leaving 80 percent of the canopy cover in the logging zone nearest the river. He also noted that 24 regulators from different agencies took part in review of the logging plans, including inspections and development of guidelines for logging in riparian areas.

“Some nine agencies have already approved it,” said Santa Rosa attorney Doug Bosco, who appeared in court on behalf of GRT on Wednesday. “It went through three separate public comment periods. The government’s response is over 300 pages to every aspect of commentary on the project, and I feel that everything that could be done to make it a really good project has been done.”

He contended the forest was “vastly overgrown,” making the threat of wildfire the greatest risk to the landscape. Bosco, a former North Coast congressman, is a principal in Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat. He also serves as chairman of the  California Coastal Conservancy. The logging plan has drawn sharp opposition from a variety of environmental and community interests who have fought continued commercial logging in the region’s coastal forests and, specifically, the Gualala River watershed. They claim the Dogwood project was poorly conceived and as evidence point to the state’s re-circulation of the plans three times.
“We believe, of course, that we made a strong case,” Larkspur attorney Ed Yates said, “and that once we get the record then we’ll really be able to prove our case.”

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Injection Wells: The Poison Beneath Us

A class 2 brine disposal well in western Louisiana near the Texas border. The well sat by the side of the road, without restricted access. (Abrahm Lustgarten/ProPublica)

A class 2 brine disposal well in western Louisiana near the Texas border. The well sat by the side of the road, without restricted access. (Abrahm Lustgarten/ProPublica)

by Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica,
June 21, 2012, 8:20 a.m.

Over the past several decades, U.S. industries have injected more than 30 trillion gallons of toxic liquid deep into the earth, using broad expanses of the nation’s geology as an invisible dumping ground.

No company would be allowed to pour such dangerous chemicals into the rivers or onto the soil. But until recently, scientists and environmental officials have assumed that deep layers of rock beneath the earth would safely entomb the waste for millennia.

There are growing signs they were mistaken.

Records from disparate corners of the United States show that wells drilled to bury this waste deep beneath the ground have repeatedly leaked, sending dangerous chemicals and waste gurgling to the surface or, on occasion, seeping into shallow aquifers that store a significant portion of the nation’s drinking water.

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California and EPA Poised to Expand Pollution of Potential Drinking Water Reserves

Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica,
4 September 2016

California is one of at least 23 states where so-called aquifer exemptions — exceptions to federal environmental law that allow mining or oil and gas companies to dump waste directly into drinking water reserves — have been issued [Photo caption]

 As the western United States struggles with chronic water shortages and a changing climate, scientists are warning that if vast underground stores of fresh water that California and other states rely on are not carefully conserved, they too may soon run dry.

Heeding this warning, California passed new laws in late 2014 that for the first time require the state to account for its groundwater resources and measure how much water is being used.

Yet California’s natural resources agency, with the oversight and consent of the federal government, also runs a shadow program that allows many of its aquifers to be pumped full of toxic waste.

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Scientists to Launch Global Hunt for ‘Line in the Rock’ Marking the ‘Scary’ New Man-made Epoch


Earth’s city lights from, seen from space, highlight the impact humans have on the planet Nasa

A worldwide hunt for a “line in the rock” that shows the beginning of a new geological epoch defined by humanity’s extraordinary impact on planet Earth is expected to get underway in the next few weeks.

The idea that we are now living in the Anthropocene epoch has been gaining ground in recent years.

The surge in global temperatures by an average of one degree Celsius in little over a century, the burning of vast amounts of fossil fuels, the extinction of many animal species, the widespread use of nitrogen fertilisers, the deluge of plastic rubbish and a number of other factors have all caused changes that will remain visible in rocks for millions of years.

Later this month, an expert working group – set up to investigate whether these changes are so significant that the 11,500-year-old Holocene epoch is now at an end – will present its latest findings to the 35th International Geological Congress (IGC) in South Africa.

They then plan to search for what is known as a “golden spike” – a physical point in the geological record that shows where one epoch changed to another – which could win over any remaining doubters among the geology community.

Dr Colin Waters, secretary of the Anthropocene Working Group who will address the IGC, told The Independent: “The key thing to us is the scale of the changes that have happened.This would set in train a process that could see a formal declaration that we are living in the Anthropocene by the International Union of Geological Sciences in just two years.

“It’s of comparable scale with what happened with the Holocene and the transition from the last ice age.”

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Working Sessions on Climate and Hydrology

To All,

You are invited to participate in one or more working sessions for North Bay Watershed Association’s Climate Ready North Bay project.

You may attend one or more working sessions. Each will be tailored to a North Bay watershed or county.

Petaluma River watershed: Tuesday, September 13, 10am – Noon, Petaluma Community Center, Conference Room 2, 320 North McDowell Blvd., Petaluma, CA 94954
Sonoma Creek watershed: Thursday, September 15, 1pm – 3pm, Schell-Vista Fire Department, 22950 Broadway, Sonoma, CA 95476
Marin County, with focus on bay-draining watersheds: Tuesday, September 20, 10am – Noon, location: TBD
Napa River watershed: Wednesday, September 28, 10am – Noon, location: TBD

At last month’s working session (presentation available here), the NBWA community learned about new, detailed information sources for local climate, streams, runoff, groundwater, natural vegetation, irrigation demand, and watersheds. Participants identified additional specific management questions. The project team is now working to answer those questions, engage more potential users, and refine analysis tools for users to use on their own. Participants at the upcoming working sessions will:

• explore new findings responding to management questions from the NBWA community

• explore how to use interactive tools to answer future questions
discuss with the group how to apply the information to improve watershed health
• develop next steps for implementing climate-informed management of water and watershed

NBWA members are crucial for getting this project’s information and resources out to a broader audience.

Please let us know if there are other people you’d like us to invite, such as fire and emergency response programs, planning agencies, watershed groups, stormwater programs, RCDs, and sanitation districts.

Feel free to contact us with additional management questions that we may be able to address. See you in September!

Caitlin Cornwall

Biologist & Research Program Manager

Sonoma Ecology Center

North Bay Climate Adaptation Initiative

desk: 707 996-0712 x105

mobile: 707 322-1400

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To All,

This Lawsuit Has Put Big Ag On The Defensive In A Major Way
A pending Iowa case could set a new national precedent for water pollution stemming from farms.

Three highly agricultural counties — Buena Vista, Calhoun and Sac — named in a controversial lawsuit brought by the Des Moines Water Works.

The lawsuit, which was filed in 2015, claims that nitrogen-rich water flowing off the area’s farms pollutes the Raccoon River, which, along with the Des Moines River, provides drinking water for half a million people. The water authority wants the counties to pick up the dramatically higher treatment costs for the water. The counties, who want the case dismissed, counter that there’s no proof that agriculture is directly responsible for the nitrates.

The case has thus far been upheld, though it won’t be brought to trial until next June. Meanwhile, both sides are digging in for a pivotal Iowa Supreme Court hearing on the matter set for September.

If the water utility wins the suit, it would mark the first time in the U.S. that agribusiness is forced to pay for water pollution, potentially setting a precedent with nationwide ramifications.


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Logging for Water

A battle is brewing over whether cutting down trees will increase California’s water supply.

By Will Parrish

Clear cuts in Battle Creek watershed

Clear-cuts in Battle Creek Watershed, with Mount Lassen in the background, give the area a look like leprosy on the skin. Photo by Zeke Lunder.

The day after an unseasonal June rain swelled the streams of the northern Sierra Nevada, Marily Woodhouse steered her 2003 Dodge Dakota through 65 miles of winding mountain roads near Mount Lassen. Woodhouse first traversed the area on horseback shortly after moving here 25 years ago. Back then, the land was lush with life, and its towering conifer forests furnished refreshingly cool air on days that were blistering hot beyond the canopy’s shade.

Now, acre after acre of land of the Battle Creek Watershed is parched as far as the eye can see. Nonnative plants like star thistle and mullein compete to cover bare ground that was once studded with pines, firs, and cedars. Rather than finding sanctuary in the forests, Woodhouse now collects data that she says demonstrates the epic damage that has been wrought by the state’s largest timber corporation, Sierra Pacific Industries, or SPI.

Nearly every week, for more than seven years, Woodhouse has stopped at the same 13 stream locations in the watershed. At each spot, the founder of the environmental group Battle Creek Alliance uses specialized equipment to examine and record water temperature, water pH, soil temperature, and “turbidity”: a measure of individual particles that are generally invisible to the naked eye, similar to smoke in the air.

In 2012, the Ponderosa Fire torched 27,234 acres in the watershed. But Woodhouse says SPI inflicted much greater harm through post-fire “salvage logging,” which involved removing virtually every large- and medium-sized tree in the burned area—both living and dead—and deep-ripping the denuded soil to a depth of three feet with heavy machinery in order to accelerate the growth of newly planted trees.

“I used to think clear-cutting was the worst thing, but it’s not,” Woodhouse said regarding the salvage logging. “They took everything down to bare dirt. The water quality went crazy bad.”

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Last Stands

North Coast timber conflict flares up—again

By Will Parrish


After an era of relative quiet compared to the so-called timber wars of the 1980s and ’90s, conflict over logging in the forests of Northern California has returned.

A plan to log 100- to 150-year-old redwood trees across 320 acres of northwestern Sonoma County in the Gualala River floodplain has generated fervent opposition from environmentalists and local residents over the past year. Clear-cutting of 5,760 fire-impacted acres in the Klamath National Forest kicked off in April, much of it on land previously designated as endangered species habitat.

The indigenous people of the area, the Karuk tribe, worked with local environmentalists to craft an alternative plan, but the Forest Service largely ignored it. The Karuk and the environmental groups have filed a lawsuit in an attempt to scuttle the logging. Last month, Karuk tribal members and local activists blocked the road leading to the logging while holding up a banner reading “Karuk Land, Karuk Plan” in an effort to slow the logging operations pending a legal judgment that could come as soon as late August.

During the last period of conflict 30 years ago, regional environmentalists curtailed some logging operations by setting aside talismanic stands of old-growth redwood trees in parks and preserves, and by pointing out that forests provide important habitat to numerous species, many of them endangered, including northern spotted owls, marbled murrelets and coho salmon.

California is home to some of the most prodigious forests on earth, but lumber production in California has steadily declined since the 1950s. A similar trend also occurred in other western states. But now logging companies are coming back to pick over what’s left.

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Will the Delta tunnels get built? Plan enters critical make-or-break phase

DELTA NEWS, July 24, 2016

Still swirling in controversy, Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed $15.5 billion re-engineering of the troubled Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is heading into a critical phase over the next year that could well decide if the project comes to fruition.

Crunch time starts Tuesday. The State Water Resources Control Board begins months of grueling public hearings on the details of Brown’s plan to burrow a pair of massive tunnels beneath the heart of the Delta, a grand public works project designed to shore up the reliability of water deliveries to millions of Southern Californians and San Joaquin Valley farmers.

As the hearings plow forward, project planners will be scrambling to surpass another major milestone: securing a declaration from two U.S. regulatory agencies that the tunnels could operate without violating the Endangered Species Act.

Tunnel proponents say it’s essential to obtain that document before President Barack Obama leaves office next January. Otherwise the state might have to revisit much of the planning with a new administration in the White House, squandering eight years of work.

“You have certain windows in which you have to get things teed up and completed, and this window is six months,” said Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. The influential Los Angeles agency, probably the most vocal tunnels advocate outside of the Brown administration, relies heavily on Delta water to supply its 19 million customers.

Another key issue looms. Kightlinger said a “decision point” is fast approaching for south-of-Delta water agencies, which would be responsible for paying for the tunnels, to choose once and for all whether they’re on board. The agencies’ governing boards need to greenlight the proposal sometime early next year, Kightlinger believes, or momentum will fade on a project that will take at least a decade to complete.

“You need to get these processes started; we need to get going on the design; you need to get going on your geo-technical,” Kightlinger said. “You’ve got a whole huge timeline that’s got to be marching along.” Metropolitan hasn’t officially committed yet, either. But it has clearly signaled support, including spending $175 million to buy a cluster of Delta islands that Kightlinger said could be used to store construction materials as the tunnels get built.

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Twin tunnels: A matter of trust

Key hearing for water project starts this week

By Alex Breitler
Record Staff Writer
Posted Jul. 23, 2016 at 5:11 PM

When testimony begins Tuesday in a months-long hearing that could decide the fate of the $15 billion Delta water tunnels, amid all the acronyms and complexities and water-wonk jargon there will be a simple, consistent theme:


Or lack thereof.

Written statements submitted in advance of the hearing — which one advocacy group says may be the most important of its kind for decades to come — show that state officials will base their case for the $15 billion tunnels in part on an assertion that they have been good stewards of the Delta in the past, and that they can be trusted to divert water into the tunnels while still preserving water quality downstream in the fragile estuary.

They will say that they have met a complicated suite of standards nearly 99 percent of the time dating back to 1978.

“I think we would consider that to be pretty darned good,” said John Leahigh, who heads the operation of the State Water Project for the Department of Water Resources.

Delta activists will counter that with persistent salt invasions in the south Delta, and the temporary weakening of the water quality standards during the drought — 20-year-old standards which are already considered obsolete as several Delta fish species careen toward extinction — the state’s record isn’t as strong as the numbers suggest.

“The state’s trust value in the Delta is, like, zero,” said third-generation Delta farmer Mike Robinson. “There’s nothing there. They can make all the promises they want. They’re not going to follow through.”

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