Saturday, February 26, 2011

2011-02-26 "Shell Reports ‘Unplanned’ Flaring At Martinez Refinery" by John Donovan.
According to  an article published on 25 February 2011 by The Wall Street Journal [], Royal Dutch Shell Plc has recently reported “unplanned” flaring at its Martinez refinery in California.
Shell has a track record of illegal emissions at the refinery, paying fines totaling over $25 million since 1989.
On 1 December 1989, The New York Times reported [] that Shell Oil Company had agreed to pay $19.75 million “for spilling more than 400,000 gallons of crude oil into San Francisco Bay”. Shell said that it had “spent an additional $14 million in cleaning up the spill, when oil flowed from a pipe at its Martinez refinery in April 1988”. Oil leaked out from a 12.5-million-gallon storage tank at the manufacturing complex 40 miles northeast of San Francisco. The Government said that several Federal regulations were broken. According to the article at least 250 birds and 50 other animals were found dead and a valuable wildlife habitat was ruined and tidal marshlands would take 10 years to recover.
On 8 February 1995, an article in the The New York Times headlined “Shell Settles Dumping Suit for $3 Million” [] revealed that Shell Oil Company had agreed to settle a lawsuit alleging that it had been “dumping illegal amounts of selenium into San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta”. As part of the settlement, Shell agreed “to reduce the selenium released in wastewater at its Martinez refinery”. The article said that selenium is a nutrient in small amounts but is toxic in larger doses. While admitting Shell had exceeded permitted limits, company officials claimed that the selenium discharges in the strait were not enough to harm the environment.
On 9 May 2007, the Houston Chronicle newspaper reported [] that Shell Oil Products, a subsidiary of Shell Oil Company, had been fined $2.9 million for equipment failure “that sent 925 tons of excess carbon monoxide into the air”. According to the article, “the pollution-causing emissions escaped the refinery in Martinez, California over the course of a week”. Karen M. Schkolnick, a spokeswoman for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, was quoted as saying that “The fine reflects the size of the incident and the fact that human errors compounded the situation” and that “It was a series of either bad judgements or mechanical failures and it led to this acute situation”. Steve Lesher, a spokesman for the Martinez refinery, was quoted as conceding that Shell had not contested the Air District’s claims, “but is proud of its pollution control record”. Lesher went on to say “We have rigorous maintenance standards, and you hope something like this never happens and you work to make sure it doesn’t happen.”

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge is in the northern reaches of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta
2011-02-16 "GOP trying to kill Delta restrictions meant to preserve salmon" by MIKE TAUGHER from "Contra Costa Times" newspaper and "Chico Enterprise-Record" newspaper  []
Restrictions on Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta water supplies meant to protect salmon, Delta smelt and other fish would be eliminated by language that congressional Republicans have put into the federal government funding bill.
The 359-page bill, which is expected to come up for a vote today or Thursday, is needed to keep the federal government running after March 4.
House GOP leaders said the bill includes $100 billion in spending cuts needed to reduce the budget deficit.
Inserted at the request of Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, are measures to eliminate rules that federal biologists have created over the past couple of years in response to crashing fish populations. The bill also would block an effort to restore the San Joaquin River.
Salmon fishers and environmentalists decried the legislation. However, the general manager for the nation's largest irrigation district said the bill could significantly improve its water supplies this year.
"It would be safe to say that if the (restrictions) were not implemented, our water supply would be 65 to 70 percent," said Tom Birmingham, general manager of the Westlands Water District. It is now slated to get about 45 percent of its contract amount.
Several Delta fish populations have declined rapidly over the past decade, including Delta smelt, a small fish that some scientists said could be nearing extinction, and a commercially valuable salmon run that was closed for two of the past three years.
"We've just come through the three worst years in history for salmon businesses, families and communities due to the type of water management the House is now trying to force on us," said Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.
With the GOP takeover of the House of Representatives in November, many observers expected that the politically charged conflict in the Delta, which Westlands and others have characterized as a fight between fish and farmers, would be a target for conservative critics of endangered species rules.
One environmentalist speculated that Westlands' gains could come at the expense of other water agencies in the Bay Area and Southern California.
That is because Westlands relies on pumps operated by the federal government. If federal pumps are exempted from federal environmental laws, the state's endangered species law would require customers of the neighboring state-owned pumps to make up the difference, said Barry Nelson, a water policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Those customers include water agencies in the Bay Area, Southern California, Central Coast and Kern County.
"This really is a half-baked proposal with far-reaching implications," Nelson said. "It would cripple the ability of (state and federal) agencies to work together and develop solutions."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein in a statement Monday said, "These are complex problems, and they require nuanced solutions. These broad-brush strokes do nothing to help us," Feinstein said.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

2011-02-16 Delta fish may be too far gone to save, plan hints" by Kelly Zito from "San Francisco Chronicle" newspaper
Damage to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta is so extensive that billions of dollars in restoration efforts may not save smelt and salmon from extinction, according to the first draft of a long-range plan to manage the West Coast's most important estuary.
The bleak outlook, contained in a 52-page study released Monday night, could have major ramifications for California's drinking water, environmental policy and fish. Fishing industry representatives have long argued that fish populations are crashing because thirsty cities and farms siphon too much water from the delta.
The report by the Delta Stewardship Council says certain vulnerable species are unlikely to survive, even with significant investments to reinvigorate habitats, reduce pollution and increase freshwater flows through the estuary.
"Expert opinion suggests that some stressors are beyond our control and the system may have already changed so much that some species are living on the edge," the plan stated. "In addition, habitat conditions for some species may get worse before they improve."
'Incredibly cavalier' -
Conservation groups were indignant Tuesday that the council would raise extinction as a possibility on which decision makers could base policy. They insist that merely considering such an outcome flies directly in the face of the Endangered Species Act.
"It's incredibly cavalier to say a species can be discarded," said Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. "The law requires extraordinary efforts to prevent these species' extinction."
The report is the first of seven drafts due this year from a panel tasked with balancing the ecological health of the delta and water supplies for 25 million Californians and 4 million acres of farmland. The seven-member council must submit a final plan by Jan. 1, 2012.
Along with the likely loss of some species, the draft highlighted three other broad conclusions:
-- California's total water supply is oversubscribed.
-- Patterns of precipitation and runoff are increasingly uncertain.
-- The state lacks an emergency response plan for the delta in case of earthquakes or other disasters.
With its location at the confluence of California's two biggest rivers, the 700,000-acre delta represents the heart of the state's vast water network. Its 1,100 miles of levees, channels and pumps funnel snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada to the Bay Area, Central Valley and Southern California.
The debate over what should be done with delta water has recently pitted water users against those who want to save endangered delta smelt and disappearing chinook salmon.
Record low numbers -
After delta water exports hit their highest levels ever in the early 2000s, data showed record low numbers of salmon returning to inland rivers to spawn. In response, federal regulators canceled or curtailed the Pacific Coast salmon fishing season for three consecutive years. Though salmon stocks rose this past fall, biologists remain concerned about the long-term viability of a species that contributes billions to the California economy.
The thumb-size delta smelt is not caught recreationally or commercially. But it is considered a barometer of the health of an estuary awash with invasive species, pollution and decaying infrastructure.
While the council clearly believes some of the delta's problem can be solved, the smelt and salmon collapses have been so spectacular that solutions might not exist without taking extreme measures, according to officials.
'Issues are interconnected'
"The smelt may simply be too close to extinction," said Keith Coolidge, chief deputy executive officer of the council. "That is one of the issues on the table for discussion."
Fisheries advocates and environmentalists believe the council should expand its view of the delta crisis and acknowledge that the various dilemmas are intertwined. By reducing water exports to combat over-allocation, they insist, the plan would help save fish.
"Water supply, ecosystem health, flood management - all these issues are interconnected," said Barry Nelson, senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Californians don't want to see the bay delta collapse and wild salmon disappear. That's why we need a comprehensive plan."
The plan -
To read a full first draft of the Delta Stewardship Council plan online, go to

photograph by Lance Iversen / The Chronicle
Bill Jennings of California Sportfishing Protection Alliance: "It's incredibly cavalier to say a species can be discarded."

Monday, February 14, 2011

2011-02-24 "Orphaned bear cub returns home Back to the wild" from "Chico News & Review" newspaper
The last orphaned black-bear cub of 2010 was recently returned to its forest home in Tehama County’s Lassen National Forest after five months of rehabilitation at a Lake Tahoe facility, according to a California Department of Fish and Game news release.
The cub was emaciated and suffering from severe hair loss when it was discovered by a logger working in the forest last September. It appeared the cub’s mother died before he learned to forage for food, and that he would not survive the winter.
A DFG warden captured the cub, took him to Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, where he grew from a meager 18 pounds to a hearty 90 pounds. He was then transported back to the forest and was tucked into a pre-dug bear den.
Five other black-bear cubs were found around the state last year. Four of them were cared for at the same Tahoe facility, and the fifth was rehabilitated at an Arizona facility.

DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME Bear Program Coordinator Marc Kenyon tucks the cub into a pre-dug den in the heart of Northern California’s bear country. Photo courtesy DFG

2011-02-14 "DFG returns rehabbed bear cub to Lassen National Forest" from "California Mountain Democrat" newspaper
An orphaned black bear cub was safely returned to its remote Northern California forest home this week after five months at a Lake Tahoe wildlife care facility. Once near death, the male yearling cub has been deemed by experts to be fully rehabilitated, healthy and very likely able to survive on its own.
The cub was emaciated and near death when it was first spotted by a logger working in the Lassen National Forest (Tehama County) last September. Evidence at the scene indicated that the tiny bear’s mother had died before it learned to forage for food on its own. It was also suffering from severe hair loss, which would have made it unlikely to survive the approaching winter.
A warden from the Department of Fish and Game was able to easily capture the cub with a trap. When it arrived at Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, a licensed rehab center, the tiny bear weighed only 18 pounds — far less than the usual weight of about 30 pounds for a cub that age. With the assistance of charitable donations, staff at the nonprofit center treated the animal for ringworm and nursed it back to health over a five-month period.
This week, DFG biologists picked up the cub, which now weighs a hearty 90pounds, and transported it from Tahoe back to the Lassen National Forest. With the assistance of the U.S. Forest Service, the cub was tranquilized and transported deep into the woods, where it was tucked into a pre-dug bear den in a carefully selected, secluded spot in the heart of bear territory. The entrance to the den was covered and camouflaged, and the hope is that the young bear will return to his natural state of hibernation, emerging later this spring to build a new life in the same forest where it was born.
In 2010 five black bear cubs in similar condition were found in different locations and placed by DFG into care facilities for safety, temporary care and rehabilitation. Four of the cubs, all from Northern California, were cared for at the Tahoe facility and returned to the wild over the last few weeks. The fifth cub, from Southern California, was transported to a care facility in Arizona.
According to Marc Kenyon, DFG’s Bear Program coordinator, five cubs is the average number rehabilitated in licensed care facilities every year. They are typically found in the summer and fall, and are returned to the wild in the late winter, toward the end of the hibernation period.
In order to qualify for rehabilitation, a found cub must be clearly be both orphaned and in distress, as well as younger than a year old and unaccustomed to humans. Licensed rehabilitators are specially trained to assess the animals health and chances for survival, and to provide the cub with what it needs to survive — without taming it.
“We want to help these bears survive and return to the population, but in doing so, we must be sure that they don’t get used to being around people,” Kenyon said. “Once bears are no longer wary of people, they become ‘nuisance bears’ that are no longer wild.”
Throughout California, the black bear population has steadily been increasing over the past 25 years, and is now conservatively estimated to be around 40,000 statewide.Though black bears are not an endangered, threatened or protected species, the continued success of the population depends on the survival of tiny cubs such as this one.
Kenyon said that DFG’s goal in approving the careful rehabilitation and relocation of young bears is twofold. “We want to keep wild species wild, and to keep common species common,” he said. “You can’t do one without the other.”

Thursday, February 10, 2011

2011-02-10 "Feds May Crack Down on Delta Pollution; New rules to prevent an ecological collapse could force big changes on governments, businesses and farmers" by John Upton from "Bay Citizen" online journal[]
Central Valley farming practices, Northern California sewage plants and other government and business operations could be forcibly overhauled by the federal government in a bid to rescue a sprawling waterway from ecological collapse.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday it will study the impacts of fertilizer use, industrial pollution, habitat destruction and other factors on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta system stretching to San Francisco Bay.
The study will be followed by the creation of new rules governing the waterway, which runs from the Sierra Nevada mountains to the Golden Gate and provides water to 25 million Californians and 4 million acres of farmland. Debate over the new regulations is scheduled to begin next year.
“We all realize that the delta system is in crisis,” EPA Regional Administrator Jared Blumenfeld said.
Problems such as the growth of toxic blue-green algae, dammed rivers, changes in salt levels and invasive jellyfish have led populations of native fish, including smelt and salmon, to the brink of extinction.
Blumenfeld described the federal project as a “companion piece” to a high-profile effort under way at the state level to create a Bay-Delta Conservation Plan.
“The question is, how do we all collaborate effectively together to make sure that the individual efforts cumulatively add up to the protections that we all seek; and is the EPA doing everything it can under the Clean Water Act to protect the quality of water in the delta estuary,” Blumenfeld said.
Jon Rosenfield, a conservation biologist with The Bay Institute, said exports of water out of the delta for use by farms, homes and businesses are the biggest single factor causing native fish to disappear and allowing invasive species to thrive.
“One thing that’s going to help address all of those problems is improving freshwater flow conditions into the estauary,” Rosenfield said. “The flow will dilute chemical concentrations if they’re too high. Restoring the natural patterns of flow and availability of fresh water flow is going to help control invasive species as well.”
Rosenfield called on the EPA to consider water flow as part of its new study. Blumenfeld, however, said that various court cases are currently dealing with those issues, and that they may not be directly addressed by the EPA's new regulations.
“What we care about its getting to a place where the water quality standards are met,” he said. “Ultimately, how water goes in and out of the delta is critical and those issues are being played out” in court rooms and other venues.
The public will have two months to comment on the effectiveness of current delta management practices and agency research priorities.
“I hope they think about how these contaminants interact in the Delta,” Clean Water Action official Jennifer Clary wrote in an e-mail. “One frustrating thing about our regulatory system is that we tend to look at problems individually instead of trying to figure out how they interact in the environment.”
The state’s biggest water customers, meanwhile, called on the EPA to avoid duplicating or complicating work being done at the state level.
“EPA's announcement comes as water managers and others across the state are striving to address the Delta's serious challenges,” Association of California Water Agencies Executive Director Timothy Quinn said in a statement []. “It is incumbent on the federal government to coordinate any new EPA efforts with the BDCP process.”
2011-02-10 "EPA Launches Investigation into Toxins Impacting Bay-Delta Fish" by Dan Bacher from "Indy Bay" newswire []
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on February 10 took action on an "Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR)" seeking public input on the effectiveness of current water quality programs influencing the health of the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary.
Three things stand out in the agency's announcement, in consonance with the Obama's administration's support of a peripheral canal/tunnel, an environmentally destructive project that even the Bush administration didn't officially endorse.
First, rather than looking at the Delta primarily as an estuary that has traditionally supported salmon, Delta smelt and dozens of other fish populations, as well as farms and local economies, the EPA looks at the Delta as primarily a source of tap and irrigation water that just happens to be an estuary.
“The Bay Delta is a major source of our tap water and the water used to grow our food,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest.
Second, the EPA refuses to discuss the primary role that water exports from the Delta through state and federal pumps have played in the ecosystem's precipitous decline in recent years.
"No single factor is responsible for the decline of the Bay Delta’s health," the EPA claims. "The present condition of the estuary reflects the cumulative and interactive effects of multiple factors, including water pollution, invasive species, water diversion and habitat degradation. Impacts associated with these stressors include toxicity to fish, invertebrates and their food sources, developmental deformities, and reproductive problems."
Of course, there are many factors that impact fish in the Delta. Water pollution by municipal, industrial and agricultural users and land developers in Central Valley rivers is an enormous issue that the state and federal governments have failed to properly address. In fact, the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Board, at the direction of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, gave agribusiness virtual permits to pollute by granting irrigators waivers to state water pollution laws in 2006.
However, the EPA only mentions the generic term "water diversions," never pinpointing the major role that the operation of state and federal Delta pumping operations in the collapse of Delta fish and Central Valley salmon populations, as documented by Frank Fisher, former DFG biologist, and numerous other scientists over the decades.
Exports from the Delta increase the peril to Central Valley salmon, Delta and longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other collapsing fish populations posed by other factors, including toxins, invasive species, water pollution and upstream diversions. For example, when more water is exported, the concentrations of pollutants are increased in water entering the estuary and increasingly saline conditions cause a boom in invasive clams and other invasive species.
Third, Deputy Secretary of the Interior, David J. Hayes, in welcoming the EPA’s action, reiterated the committment of the Obama administration to move forward with the widely-contested Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build a peripheral canal/tunnel under the false "co-equal goals" of water supply and ecosystem restoration.
“EPA’s attention to a variety of water quality stressors and the role they play is an important complement to the science-based analysis that is going into the Bay Delta Conservation Plan effort," claimed Hayes. “The Administration is committed to working together across our agencies to use the best science to meet the twin goals that California has adopted for the Bay Delta in its comprehensive new water legislation: a more reliable water supply and a restored and enhanced ecosystem – including improved water quality."
What Hayes failed to mention is that it was precisely the "co-equal goals" of water supply and ecosystem restoration that guided the failed Cal-Fed process, a joint state-federal government boondoggle that wasted hundreds of millions of dollars while driving Central Valley salmon and Delta fish populations to the brink of extinction.
The state and federal agency leaders fail to recognize that California water resources are already overallocated - and that to restore Sacramento River salmon and Delta pelagic (open water) fish species, increasing water conservation must be practiced, drainage impaired land on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley must be taken out of production and environmentally sustainable water desalinization facilities must be developed to supply coastal cities with their water needs.
In addition, fish passage must be provided over Central Valley dams. The federal government must support the plan by the Winnemem Wintu Tribe to reintroduce winter run chinook salmon to the McCloud River above Shasta Dam, using the eggs of winter run chinook salmon from the McCloud now thriving in the Rakaira and other rivers in New Zealand.
The ANPR will be published to the Federal Register within one week. The EPA encourages interested parties to read the ANPR and provide additional information and suggestions for actions to improve Bay Delta Estuary water quality and aquatic resource protection. I urge everybody concerned about the fate of the Bay-Delta Estuary and its collapsing fish populations to make their voices heard!
Comments can be submitted electronically at the Federal Rulemaking Portal ( identified by docket EPA-R09-OW-210-0976 or in hardcopy addressed to Erin Foresman, US Environmental Protection Agency, 75 Hawthorne Street, San Francisco, CA 94105.
For more information, please visit: or
Below is the full EPA news release:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 10, 2011
Media Contacts: See below
U.S. EPA Launches Investigation into Toxins and Stressors Impacting Fish in the Bay Delta
SAN FRANCISCO –The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will today take action on an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) seeking public input on the effectiveness of current water quality programs influencing the health of the San Francisco Bay Delta Estuary.
The ANPR identifies pivotal water quality issues affecting Bay Delta fisheries, describes regulatory measures currently underway, and initiates an information-gathering process on how the EPA and the State of California can achieve water quality and aquatic resource protection goals in one of the West Coast’s most ecologically diverse and important aquatic habitats.
The Bay Delta is the hub of California’s water distribution system, providing drinking water to 25 million people, sustaining irrigation for 4 million acres of farmland, and supporting 750 different species of plants, fish, and wildlife, several of which are endangered or threatened. The water quality of the Bay Delta Estuary and many of its tributaries is impaired, the estuarine habitat is shrinking and many fish populations are at all-time lows.
“The Bay Delta is a major source of our tap water and the water used to grow our food,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “EPA is committed to tackling the pollution degrading the Delta, which is threatened by contaminants from sewage, pesticides, and a host of other chemicals.”
No single factor is responsible for the decline of the Bay Delta’s health. The present condition of the estuary reflects the cumulative and interactive effects of multiple factors, including water pollution, invasive species, water diversion and habitat degradation. Impacts associated with these stressors include toxicity to fish, invertebrates and their food sources, developmental deformities, and reproductive problems.
This ANPR is part of a comprehensive set of commitments made by the Obama Administration to address California water issues under the Interim Federal Action Plan released in December 2009. Through this plan, the Administration has promoted water conservation and efficiency improvements throughout California, dedicated more than $40 million to drought relief projects, and made historic investments in modernizing California’s water infrastructure.
“Communities rely on their water resources to supply clean water, sustain their environment, and support vital economic activities,” said Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. “Identifying the water quality challenges in the Bay Delta is key to addressing the delta’s complex and long-standing water problems and ensuring healthy communities and economies in California.”
In its ANPR, EPA notes that it will be coordinating its review of water quality issues with the on-going development of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, which currently is being developed through a collaboration of federal, state and local agencies, environmental organizations, and other interested parties.
Deputy Secretary of the Interior, David J. Hayes, who has been helping to lead the BDCP effort for the federal agencies, welcomed EPA’s action, noting that “EPA’s attention to a variety of water quality stressors and the role they play is an important complement to the science-based analysis that is going into the Bay Delta Conservation Plan effort.”
He continued: “The Administration is committed to working together across our agencies to use the best science to meet the twin goals that California has adopted for the Bay Delta in its comprehensive new water legislation: a more reliable water supply and a restored and enhanced ecosystem – including improved water quality.”
In addition to protecting aquatic species’ habitat, the federal Clean Water Act charges EPA with protecting water quality for a variety of uses that are not addressed in this ANPR, including water for drinking and agriculture. Water quality standards are established under the Clean Water Act to protect public health, welfare, and the protection and propagation of fish, shell fish, and wildlife.
The ANPR identifies specific issues for which the EPA has regulatory responsibility and solicits comment on topics, such as potential site-specific water quality standards and site-specific changes to pesticide regulation. Summaries describing environmental stressors and the regulatory framework necessary to address them are also included in the ANPR.
California’s State and Regional Water Boards have the lead role under the federal Clean Water Act to protect water quality; they are actively engaged in multiple efforts, including establishing numeric water quality criteria and developing and implementing watershed improvement plans. The recovery of the Bay Delta reflects national efforts to ensure higher water quality, protect public health, and support essential fish, shell fish, and wildlife populations.
The EPA, in collaboration with the State Water Resource Control Board and the Regional Water Quality Control Board, seeks to protect the biological, physical, and chemical integrity of the Bay Delta and its aquatic resources. Public input and scientific findings obtained from the ANPR will be reviewed and used to develop a strategic proposal for future EPA efforts toward protecting the Bay Delta and other important waterways.
The ANPR solicits public input on how EPA and the State of California can achieve water quality and aquatic resource protection goals in the Bay Delta Estuary and how to best use Clean Water Act programs to improve Delta water quality. No new rules are proposed in the ANPR and the ANPR has no regulatory effect.
The ANPR will be published to the Federal Register within one week. EPA encourages interested parties to read the ANPR and provide additional information and suggestions for actions to improve Bay Delta Estuary water quality and aquatic resource protection. Comments can be submitted electronically at the Federal Rulemaking Portal ( identified by docket EPA-R09-OW-210-0976 or in hardcopy addressed to Erin Foresman, US Environmental Protection Agency, 75 Hawthorne Street, San Francisco, CA 94105.
For more information, please visit: or

Mary Simms, Press Officer, U.S. EPA, (415) 947-4270, simms.mary [at]
Yoshiko Hill, Public Affairs Intern, U.S. EPA, (415) 947-4308, hill.yoshiko [at]
2011-02-10 "We should care about saving the Upper Napa River" opinion piece published by "Napa Valley Register" newspaper[]
One thing that should have been learned from a lawsuit filed by San Diego resident Grant Reynolds in early 2009 is that the state of the Napa River is far and away depleted from what it once was.
We know this from at least a pair of declarations by a pair of Calistoga old-timers, long dead, but whose words tell of the abundance of fish — trout, yes, and salmon, too.
In his statement of March 28, 2006, William Reid Tubbs, uncle of Debbie O’Gorman, whose family owned the rights of water that sprung from the highest reaches of spring in the Kimball reservoir area, said:
“I have found (sic) memories of catching foot long trout there during trout season. I also recall seeing many steelhead and salmon jumping over the dam’s spillway in those days.”
Tubbs lived here and wrote about the fish along the creek beside Chateau Montelena until 1942, when he joined the U.S. Air Force. His declaration was made prior to going into surgery.
More recently, in April 2009, Jack Evey Williams, Tubbs’ contemporary — both were born in 1923 — shared some of his own fond memories of growing up along the upper river.
“Occasionally I would fish on Kimball Creek with my father also named Jack Williams, who was a fishing partner of Chapin Tubbs who was the owner of Tubbs Ranch that was next door to my family’s ranch. During the summer I observed fish in the creek below the swimming hole that were approximately 10 inches to 24 long. The fish that I caught in the winter on Kimball Creek were around 1-2 pounds in weight, however further down the river it was my impression that the fish might be greater in size. In the winter the Napa River would overflow its banks all the way down to above the city of Calistoga. During the spring, while the river was still high, people would come to fish on the river on our ranch, the Tubbs Ranch and the Nolasco Ranch and caught fish that were approximately 18 inches long. Remember that my father was opposed to its construction because he felt that it would kill all of the fish in the stream, but offered no formal opposition because my grandmother owned the ranch.”
The occasion of his declaration was in a deposition as Reynolds versus the city of Calistoga was ramping up.
It seems, for whatever reason, Mr. Evey’s father was accurate about one thing. Something killed the fish.
One resident, who moved to Calistoga in 2004, noted that in his early days here he would see really good-size fish in the river, especially from behind the building that shares a parking lot with Bank of the West.
Today, there are virtually none.
Reynolds, when he filed his suit some two years ago, had expressed a desire of the city. “Conservation and compensation,” is how he described his purpose for filing the suit.
In 2011, as the world teeters on the edge of destruction — ahead of the threat of climate change, some might say — the need to conserve natural resources has become even more apparent.
One of those resources is the upper Napa Valley.
Bryan Del Bondio, president of Markham Vineyards,  owns a tiny piece of land downstream from Kimball Dam. He doesn’t remember fishing up there, where Jack and William Reid Tubbs fished in the 1930s and ’40s, but he did fish, often, down around Oakville, where he caught trout, pike and salmon. Nostalgia for a healthy Napa River resonated sweetly as he spoke.
If the Napa River is continually sucked dry, Calistoga may have a dry gully that sits like an ugly scar beneath the Lincoln Avenue bridge unless the city of Calistoga is urged to take future positions that will make preservation and restoration a priority.
Conservation and compensation. Something from the Reynolds case we can all learn.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

2011-02-06 "Rare Aquatic Bird Rescued From Sonoma Pond"
SONOMA (BCN) — Wildlife capture specialists successfully rescued an elusive aquatic bird that was trapped in a manmade pond early Saturday evening in Sonoma.
WildRescue, a Monterey-based group that specializes in helping animals in precarious situations, freed a loon that was trapped in a pond surrounded by a high chain-link fence in southern Sonoma.
“It put up a good fight,” Rebecca Dmytryk, the organization’s founder said. “It was getting away from us quite often.”
The loon, which is about the size of a chicken, was trapped because the pond wasn’t long enough for it to take flight, but WildRescue was able to free it about 5:30 p.m.
Dmytryk said it was trapped because the birds need about 8 feet to take off, and the fence was too high for the loon to fly over it in the pond’s limited space.
She said that five rescuers initially tried out their new “pop-up pen” to catch the loon, but they were unlucky.
“We used a remote control boat to herd it towards the pen,” she said. “We tried that for about 45 minutes.”
The pen is essentially a cage of plastic tubing and cloth, which crews weighted down under the water in hopes the loon would swim over it. The pen would then be released, float up, and catch the loon.
“It got close to the pen, but it didn’t go in,” she said.
Eventually, crews used a cloth that was about 70 feet by 8 feet, and cornered the loon until it got out of the pond.
The bird had gotten weak and thin looking after spending four days stuck in the pond, Dmytryk said, so it was taken to the International Bird Rescue Research Center in Fairfield to be examined.
Specialists at the center will give the bird an examination, feed it and release it.
Dmytryk was also working to free seagulls trapped with beer cans that have been cut in half and shoved around the birds’ necks.
She said Saturday that WildRescue stopped looking for the gulls in the past month after she no longer heard of sightings.
About five gulls were believed to have the beer cans on their necks. WildRescue freed two, and Dmytryk learned last month that the Peninsula Humane Society in San Mateo had also freed one.
“The other two have either been freed, or they’ve died,” Dmytryk said.
“They’ve probably been freed,” she added.
WildRescue raised about $3,500 and bought a net launcher to catch the gulls, but couldn’t use it Saturday to catch the loon, she said.
“The net launcher is for land and if you use it for water, it’ll drown the bird,” she said.
It’s a federal crime to put cans on the gulls. According to WildRescue, nearly every wild bird is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
The act, implemented in 1918, offers protection of migratory birds from being hunted, kept as pets, or sold. It was first used as a treaty between the U.S. and Britain, but later expanded to include Mexico, Japan and Russia.

Friday, February 4, 2011

2011-02-04 "Sacramento River Salmon Run: Nowhere Near Normal or Recovered" by Dan Bacher
Is is extremely important to note that 163,181 salmon does not represent recovery for the Central Valley chinook run, and it is not even close to what would be considered normal or status quo for one of the mightiest salmon river systems remaining in North America, according to Jim McCarthy, salmon activist. Below is McCarthy's excellent analysis of the just released salmon spawning returns on the Central Valley rivers.
Stories are starting to appear regarding the Central Valley chinook salmon returns.
 You can see the chinook numbers here at page 11, in the "Fall Run Summary I": []
 Given the fact that we have seen some of the lowest salmon returns ever recorded on this river system in the last three years, 163,181 fish returning is positive news after an extremely bleak three years for fish, fishermen, and the many fishing communities dependent on the Central Valley system.
 However, it is extremely important to note that 163,181 does not represent recovery for the Central Valley chinook run, and it is not even close to what would be considered normal or status quo for one of the mightiest salmon river systems remaining in North America.
 Certainly, this 2010 return did not provide normal harvest opportunity for California commercial salmon fishermen in 2010 - this year saw California's third federal salmon fishery disaster declaration in a row.
 What is "normal" for the Central Valley? Looking at the historical numbers on the same chart referenced above, the 10 year (1997-2006) pre-disaster return averages roughly 475,000 fish. This number is a useful reference point for "normal" when we are talking about this chinook salmon population.
 To translate this ten year average into food production, please refer to spreadsheet tab D-4 on the "Economic Data" link available on the Pacific Fishery Management Council website here: [ ]
 For example, California commercial salmon fishermen delivered an annual average of 4.2 million pounds of dressed salmon (made up of roughly 90% Central Valley chinook) to California ports over the 1997-2006 period. This figure does not include Central Valley fish caught by Oregon fishermen (who normally rely on Central Valley chinook for 60% of their catch from Garibaldi, OR south) or landings
 by sport fishermen in both states.
 Obviously, this represents a lot of delicious seafood, recreation, jobs, and economic activity for people in both states. (It should be noted that this average production number would be considerably higher but 2006 saw massive salmon fishing closures and a federal fishery disaster declaration due to the federal water policy-driven collapse of the Klamath River chinook run.)
 Moreover, the federal government has established a goal much higher than 475,000 for "normal" in the Central Valley. Federal agencies have a legal obligation under the 1992 Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA) to achieve around 750,000 Central Valley spawning chinook
 per year under this law's "salmon doubling" requirements. See the link below for a recent discussion of this standard from a commercial fishing group's perspective: []
In this context, 161,181 is nowhere near a "normal" or "recovered" level for this run.
 Another important element to consider when looking at the return numbers for all Central Valley salmon runs is the impact of trucking young salmon around the Delta on their way to the sea. Currently, some hatchery fish are trucked around the Delta to avoid the high salmon
 mortality caused primarily by Delta freshwater export pumping.
 Trucking does seem to influence this year's numbers. For example, spring and winter run returns are still both depressed. Springers came in at the lowest on record since 1993. Of the spring run return, by far the biggest component is from the Feather River hatchery. 50 percent of the Feather River springers smolts have been trucked since 2005, according to the hatchery manager. Were it not for trucking of these hatchery fish the springer returns would be much lower.
 Winter run are the lowest since 2000. None of these fish are trucked.
 Over the long term, we don't want to have to rely on trucking to save and rebuild our salmon runs. A big part of the solution will be for state and federal water managers to take a more balanced approach in how they operate the Delta's massive pumps. They must leave enough freshwater to flow through the Delta and bay to support our salmon runs instead of sending the water salmon need to junior water rights holders in the western San Joaquin Valley.

 Regards,  Jim McCarthy
 McCarthy Consulting
 2135 San Jose Avenue
 Alameda, CA 94501
 541-941-9450 [at]

Thursday, February 3, 2011

2011-02-03 "ENVIRONMENT: Perchlorate: EPA to set limits for drinking water" by Kelly Zito from "San Francisco Chronicle" newspaper
Federal regulators took the first step Wednesday in setting a drinking water limit for perchlorate, a noxious component of rocket fuel, flares and fireworks known to hamper thyroid function and hinder brain development in young children.
The Obama administration's announcement comes after two decades of research showing the dangers posed by the ubiquitous chemical and two years after the Bush administration exempted perchlorate from regulation.
"I applaud EPA's decision to regulate perchlorate in drinking water," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a statement. "Americans simply shouldn't have to worry that the water they drink and cook with will make them sick."
Environmental Protection Agency officials said it will take several years to develop the maximum perchlorate level for tap water - long enough for companies to invent new technologies for decontaminating soil and water.
Public health advocates praised the decision but acknowledged the challenges of taking on those who dispersed most of the perchlorate into the environment: the aerospace and chemical industries, NASA and the Department of Defense. For years, efforts to curtail perchlorate and force the costly clean up of polluted sites have met with resistance from manufacturers and the military, which questioned perchlorate's risks.
"We're extremely pleased - (the EPA) has wanted to do this for a long time," said Jennifer Sass, senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, D.C. "We hope they can make it final without any more political interference."
California, one of only a few states that already regulate perchlorate, faces a similar battle in its attempts to enact even stricter guidelines.
Under state law, water utilities serving more than 10,000 customers in California are required to test for perchlorate every year. If the chemical is found at or above 6 parts per billion (the equivalent of 1 teaspoon in an Olympic-size pool), the utility is subject to citations or fines. Above 10 times the maximum, the utility must shut down the source of the water supply.
Most perchlorate contamination in California and 44 other states where the compound has been detected stems from military and munitions operations. Known for its combustible nature, the tasteless, odorless perchlorate was historically used in rocket fuel. Today it is still used in air bags and fireworks.
Its disposal wasn't controlled, however, and excess or out-of-date perchlorate was often dumped into unlined ponds. From there it leached into underground aquifers and rivers - including the Colorado River, which provides water for millions of people throughout several states and Southern California.
Because that water irrigates crops and rangeland, perchlorate also taints a variety of foods. A U.S. Food and Drug Administration study of raw and prepared foods in 2006 found elevated perchlorate levels in everything from ice cream and chocolate bars to raisins and spinach.
Its presence in baby cereal and formula - and breast milk - is particularly worrisome given perchlorate's impacts on the thyroid gland. Chronic exposure to perchlorate can dampen the thyroid's ability to absorb iodide and produce hormones. That, in turn, can disrupt metabolic functions in adults and impede physical and mental development in unborn children and infants.
For that reason, California proposed lowering the maximum perchlorate level in drinking water to 1 part per billion last month.
Gina Solomon, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco, said California's action underscores the need for a federal standard strong enough to protect the most vulnerable populations.
"So many states have no drinking water standard for perchlorate," she said. "If no one is out there testing, they could be exposed to very harmful levels without knowing."

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

2011-02 "Flyway Festival Celebrates Return of Millions of Migrating Birds" by Myrna Hayes
Once again, local and regional bird lovers are throwing a wild party for our migrating neighbors from the north at the peak of migration season. Both birds and people will be flocking to Mare Island in Vallejo to celebrate what has become an annual ritual each winter on the “north shore” of San Francisco Bay: The San Francisco Bay Flyway Festival is a unique, three-day bird-watching and wildlife viewing event that draws an estimated 5,000 people each year to celebrate the return of over one million shorebirds and hundreds of thousands of ducks, geese, hawks and even monarch butterflies, which migrate through or winter in the San Francisco Bay Area.
This year the Flyway Festival will be held Friday, February 11 through Sunday, February 13 in Building 223, 500 Connolly St. on Mare Island. Admission is free. Festival-goers will be able to choose from hundreds of fun activities, including a Family Wildlife Exploration and Birding Expo with over 100 exhibitors, learning sessions, birding and wild bird demonstrations, art and photography exhibits and food.
Take one of more than 20 guided outings on Mare Island, along with a self-guided wetland walk to the edge of San Pablo Bay on a new 2-mile trail opened in December. For the fourth season, Vaca Valley Volks will host an American Volkswalk Association-sanctioned 5k and 10k walk routed along wetland trails and through the historic and new neighborhoods of the former U.S. Navy shipyard founded in 1854.
Mare Island outings will include guided tours of the Navy’s oldest cemetery in the Pacific and Sierra Club guided walks to the Navy’s first arsenal in the Pacific, both founded more than 150 years ago. Both of these sites are located on the Island’s scenic south end in the Mare Island Shoreline Heritage Preserve—Solano County’s newest regional parkland—from which you can take in scenic vistas of seven counties from a hilltop vantage point. St. Peter’s Chapel, with the most Louis Comfort Tiffany-designed stained-glass windows under one roof in the western United States, will be open for tours, as will the Mare Island Museum and World War II’s only remaining landing craft support gunboat, docked along the Napa River/Mare Island Strait. Visit or call 707-249-9633.
Looking like decoys, a pair of cinnamon teal ducks use the Bay Area as an important staging area during their migration south. Photo by Bob Dyer

Birdwatchers will be on the lookout for red-tailed hawks like this one on guided outings during the Flyway Festival, February 11-13. Photo by Bob Dyer
2011-02-02 "Rushin' Rivers: Lake Sonoma flows and flood control— not a pure science?" by Juliane Poirier
Sustaining a "natural" flow of water in tributaries of the Russian River is tricky business. If too much flows too fast, fish eggs nested in the gravel, aka redds, can get scoured, as can the banks of the waterway (aka erosion).
Flow can be altered abruptly by storms and by releases from the Warm Springs Dam, a 30-million cubic-yard dam created by the Army Corps of Engineers for flood control and water supply. The resulting Lake Sonoma can store 381,000 acre-feet of water and release up to 29,600 cubic feet per second (cfs), and it's the Corps of Engineers who decides how and when water escapes.
But not everyone is pleased by Corps decisions. One angry Santa Rosa fisherman complained to me that the Corps a few weeks ago "blew out fishing on the Russian River just as the conditions were getting good." The fisherman, choosing to remain anonymous, wrote, "The flow increased from 160 cfs to 2,000 cfs in 24 hours. It chased fisherman up the bank and could have washed Chinook, coho and steelhead redds out of Dry Creek's main stem" because the release "had no relationship with the weather and natural stream flow at the time."
Did the redds get blasted out by this?
When I ask this of Bill Hearn, National Marine Fisheries Service biologist, he pointes me to the Russian River Biological Opinion, a NMFS paper that claims scouring of coho salmon and Chinook salmon redds is likely to be caused when releases into Dry Creek are at 5,000 cfs. Hearn summarized by saying that "most redds in the three-mile segment between Warm Springs Dam and Pena Creek are scoured during major release operations." Not good for fish.
Peter LaCivita, a Corps biologist, defends the releases determined by those he refers to as the Corps' "water-management folks in Sacramento" who "look at the projected rainfall and at how much water is in the flood pool, and try to release enough water from the dam to get to the bottom of the flood pool before the rain starts filling up the reservoirs."
When asked whether the fish get any consideration in the releases made last week, for example, LaCivita says, "I believe we went up to 1,700 cfs last week, and we did maintain that release at that level long enough to get some fresh gauge readings below the dam and to calibrate our flows, then ramped back down to much lower numbers after that."
Was damage done to redds during that flooding? "Flood control releases have some impact to steelhead and salmon in Dry Creek," Hearn claims, "limited to the more upstream reaches." According to Hearn, the Corps has agreed to habitat restoration activities to mitigate impacts in more downstream reaches of Dry Creek.
What about the Russian River between Healdsburg and the mouth of the Russian River at Jenner—are the salmon and steelhead adults, juveniles or eggs harmed there by these gushes of water? "The flood releases," Hearn says, "very likely do not have significant impacts" on these fish in the main stem of the river.
As for ruined sport-fishing opportunities, Hearn explains that the NMFS, though it "administers the Endangered Species Act for marine and anadromous species, the Magnuson-Stevens Act which addresses conservation and protection of commercially harvested fish species and the Marine Mammal Protection Act," doesn't have the regulatory muscle to force the Corps to alter releases unless endangered fish species are being adversely impacted.
"We readjust releases depending on what circumstance calls for," says LaCivita. "I think you need to appreciate the fact that storms are part of the ecosystem, that higher flows are needed for spawning salmon swimming upstream to spawn, and that you need a certain amount of flow to move the finer sediments out of the gravel where the fish spawn. A pulse flow of 1,700 cfs at best is not unlike a routine storm." Very serious storm conditions, LaCivita points out, have created flows of 35,000 cfs at Guerneville.
"The two dams, Lakes Mendocino and Sonoma, control only 15 percent of the entire runoff for the Russian River watershed," he says. "And there's some art to this. It's not a pure science."

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

2011-02 "Birds of the Bay"' by Deb Self
Deb Self is Executive Director of San Francisco Baykeeper, which uses science and advocacy to enforce clean water laws and hold polluters accountable.  Deb has 25 years of experience in environmental advocacy and non-profit management, and enjoys paddling the Bay and walking its shorelines.
Last year at this time, I wrote about Baykeeper’s first-time participation in the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count and my experience as a novice birder on the Bay. This December, the Baykeeper boat was out on the Bay once again to assist with the 111th Christmas Bird Count, joining more than 60,000 people nationwide in documenting trends in bird population. We worked with both Marin Audubon and the Golden Gate Audubon Society to count birds spending the winter on the Bay. Over the course of two days, a team of Baykeeper volunteers and I spent about 13 hours on the Bay and identified 9,500 birds.
Our area for the San Francisco count included much of the central Bay, stretching down to the San Francisco Airport. Heading south along this wide arc, we saw numerous diving ducks this year, including every species of grebe and scoter that winters in the bay, many cormorants and buffleheads, and both Pacific and common loons. We also were lucky to see a Pigeon Guillemot, which is an ocean bird that usually is not seen on the Bay.
Coming back north along the San Francisco waterfront, we hugged the six-foot contour (which was about as shallow as we could comfortably take the Baykeeper boat), counting thousands of buffleheads and scaup. The Marin count circle started at the Marin Headlands, swept east to take in Red Rock Island near Richmond, then moved back west to McNears Beach. We covered the northern half of the area, while Helen and Bill Lindquist surveyed the southern portion in their boat.
Perhaps because the weather was rough that day, the Baykeeper team saw fewer diving ducks than last year, though surf scoters (a species that was heavily impacted by the Cosco Busan oil spill) were well represented on the open Bay. We also spotted a red-shouldered hawk on Marin Island and a male Peregrine falcon living under the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. The most exciting report from the Bay that day came from the Lindquist boat. In the deep waters of Raccoon Straight, a giant crowd of about 10,000 birds, including pelicans, cormorants, loons, grebes and a somewhat rare Mew gull, were feasting on fish brought in with the high tide. Marine mammal sightings topped the day off, with numerous harbor seals, California sea lions and pods of harbor porpoises joining the frenzy in Raccoon Straight.
Baykeeper team member Bridget Greuel (an avian ecologist) contributed to this article; photos were taken by Baykeeper volunteer David Assmann, Deputy Director of the San Francisco Department of the Environment. To learn more about the Marin, San Francisco, and Oakland Bird Counts, visit and To follow Baykeeper’s work to protect the Bay, visit
Over the course of two days, a team of Baykeeper volunteers spent about 13 hours on the bay and identified 9,500 birds. Pictured here are (from left to right) the bufflehead, greater scaup, Clark’s grebe and a surf scoter. All photos © David Assmann.