Environmental news from California and beyond

Category: Water supply and pollution

Judge rejects attempt to close California salmon fishery

A federal judge Friday killed an effort by a group of Central Valley irrigation districts to stop commercial salmon fishing off the California and Oregon coasts, rejecting claims that the federal government acted improperly when it reopened the season this year.

In one of his final rulings as a U.S. District Court judge, Oliver Wanger summarily dismissed a lawsuit filed by the San Joaquin River Group Authority, which argued that to help low salmon populations recover, there should be no commercial catch.

The irrigation districts were concerned that if Central Valley salmon populations don't rebound, they would be forced to release more water to support salmon migration in the lower San Joaquin River and its tributaries.

Chinook salmon numbers had dropped so much that federal managers in 2008 and 2009 closed the commercial season and permitted only a small catch last year. This year, citing rising numbers, they approved a limited season.

Wanger, who has handled many of the state's most contentious water cases in his two decades as a federal judge, stepped down from the bench Friday to return to private practice.  


California salmon fishing reopens, but trollers still worry

Removal of 4 Klamath dams would lift salmon count, studies find

Judge orders U.S. to revise salmon safeguards

 --Bettina Boxall

Photo: A salmon fishing boat heads to sea in Half Moon Bay, Calif. Credit: Don Kelsen / Los Angeles Times    

Heal the Bay: Long Beach water quality improves dramatically

Long beach runoff

The waters off Long Beach -- long among the most contaminated in the state -- have improved dramatically in the last year, according to a new report that gives the city's beaches their highest water-quality ratings in a decade.

All the beaches in the city earned grades of A or B in the environmental group Heal the Bay’s End of Summer Beach Report Card.

Statewide, 92% of California beaches earned A or B grades this year, the same as last year, according to the report.

But the picture was not rosy at some Southern California beaches.

Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro earned an F for the eighth consecutive summer despite millions of dollars spent on municipal projects to improve water quality.

Also flunking were a number of popular beaches in Malibu, including Surfrider Beach, Malibu Pier, Solstice Canyon at Dan Blocker County Beach, Carbon Beach at Sweetwater Canyon and Topanga State Beach.

The annual report by Heal the Bay evaluated hundreds of beaches in California, Oregon and Washington from Memorial Day to Labor Day, giving them grades based on tests for bacterial pollution, which indicate how likely the water is to make swimmers sick.

Read the full story.

-- Tony Barboza

Photo: The Los Angeles River cascades under the Anaheim Street bridge on its way to Long Beach Harbor. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

A century later, Santa Cruz Island wetland to be restored

Santa cruz island 
A major restoration project could bring back a long-degraded wetland to one of the Channel Islands.

Workers have broken ground on a $1-million project that will cut down 1,800 nonnative eucalyptus trees and scoop out tons of dirt and gravel to restore a coastal wetland on Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park officials announced Monday.

In the coming months, crews will work to return some 60 acres of habitat on the rugged island to the way it was before being degraded by ranching and farming activity more than a century ago.

Crews have started using heavy equipment to reshape the mouth of the island’s largest stream so it will flow freely onto 4 acres of restored wetland at Prisoners Harbor.

The anchorage on the north side of the island was once home to the largest coastal wetland in the Channel Islands, an archipelago of five ecologically distinct islands that are sometimes referred to as North America’s Galapagos.

Read the full story.

Yellowstone grizzly bear euthanized for "predatory behaviors"

Southwestern pond turtle making a comeback in San Diego County

Agency seeks to end sea otter relocations, to allow them off SoCal

-- Tony Barboza

Photo:  Aerial view of Santa Cruz Island. Credit: Al Seib

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar jabs GOP on San Joaquin River pact

San Joaquin River
U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar took some shots Monday at Republican efforts to roll back environmental protections and repeal a historic agreement on river restoration in California.

The GOP majority in the House is floating a number of bills that would freeze or dismantle an array of environmental regulations, arguing that they strangle business and hurt the economy.  

In a speech at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, Salazar took particular aim at a proposal introduced by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) that would increase water deliveries to Central Valley farmers, eliminate long-standing reforms to federal irrigation contracts and repeal a legal settlement that calls for increased flows and the restoration of salmon runs on the San Joaquin River.

"A few members of Congress are bent on killing a restoration program that is restoring water flows to the river, bringing stability and certainty to agricultural users, and that will bring the first salmon runs in half a century," Salazar said in a copy of his prepared remarks.

More broadly, the former Democratic senator from Colorado said Americans face two competing visions of how to deal with the nation's economic problems: Under one, he contended, "It’s a place where we give up on the rules and standards that give us clean water, abundant wildlife and open lands to hunt, hike and fish. It’s a place where we cut taxes for the few and abandon the less fortunate among us, rather than make the investments we need to compete and win."

The tenor of the speech was unusual for Salazar, whose public remarks tend to the bland. 

He also promoted another pact opposed by some in California's GOP House delegation, an agreement that calls for the removal of salmon-blocking dams on the Klamath River on the Oregon-California border.

While Salazar said environmental documents scheduled for release later this week conclude the project will cut hydroelectric power generation and eliminate some recreation on the river's reservoirs, it would restore 68 miles of coho salmon habitat and 420 miles of steelhead habitat.

The restoration and dam work would bring "4,600 jobs to the regional economy over 15 years, including around 1,400 during the year of dam removal," he added.


Scientists find holes in Klamath River dam removal plan

House GOP budget bill aims to slash environmental regulation

Settlement Will Provide Water for Parched River

-- Bettina Boxall

Photo: Water flows are being restored to this dry stretch of the San Joaquin River under a restoration agreement. Credit: Carlos Chavez / Los Angeles Times

$44.4-million settlement reached in San Francisco Bay oil spill

An oil-soaked bird is treated at a rescue center.

Local, state and federal officials on Monday announced a $44.4-million civil settlement with the owners and operators of a container ship that spilled 53,000 gallons of oil into San Francisco Bay after striking a tower of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in heavy morning fog.

The 2007 spill killed thousands of birds, damaged the bay’s herring spawn, sullied miles of coastal habitat and closed regional waters and beaches to fishing and recreation.

"This bay is the jewel of the San Francisco region and the Cosco Busan oil spill left a lasting scar across our water, natural habitats and wildlife," California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris said in a statement. "This settlement will allow all of these precious resources to be restored to their original health and beauty."

The settlement comes in the form of a U.S. Justice Department consent decree negotiated with Regal Stone Limited and Fleet Management Ltd., the owners and operators of the M/V Cosco Busan. The state, the city and county of San Francisco and the city of Richmond also are parties to the decree.

The settlement includes funds for natural resource restoration, penalties and reimbursement to governmental entities for spill response costs.

Continue reading »

$24.5-million settlement proposed for Chevron

Chevron settlement proposed California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris on Wednesday proposed a $24.5-million settlement with Chevron U.S.A. Inc. and Chevron Stations Inc. to resolve allegations that the companies failed to properly inspect and maintain underground storage tanks at 650 gas stations statewide.

The proposal comes in response to a complaint filed Friday alleging that Chevron since 1998 has violated anti-pollution laws by tampering with or disabling leak-detection devices and failing to test secondary containment systems and conduct monthly inspections. The companies also are accused of failing to train employees in proper protocols related to the tanks and of not maintaining operational alarm systems or evacuation plans.

"There must be accountability and consequences when the environment is compromised and innocent people are potentially exposed to hazardous materials that could endanger their health," Harris said in a statement. "This settlement accomplishes both and will protect Californians by mandating a compliance program for Chevron's underground storage tanks."

Violations of hazardous-materials and hazardous-waste laws and regulations were found at gas stations in 32 counties across the state, Harris said.

Chevron spokesman Sean Come said in a statement: "We have taken the appropriate actions to address the situations related to this issue and will work to avoid similar occurrences in the future. To fully understand the situation, it is important to note the majority of the incidents were technical violations, such as improper paperwork. None of the violations involved any risk to human health or the environment."

State lawyers on Wednesday submitted a proposed final judgment in Alameda County Superior Court that would impose a permanent injunction on the defendants. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Sept. 29.

If approved, the settlement would require Chevron to maintain a statewide compliance program, which includes a training program for employees and a database to track how underground storage tanks are monitored.


Interior department to hold big gulf oil lease sale

Natural gas fracking needs to be monitored, panel says

Keystone pipeline backers use anti-Saudi message for oil sands

-- Louis Sahagun

Photo: A Chevron pump in Vallejo. Credit: Paul Sakuma / Associated Press

Texas wildfires: Is drought the new climate?

Drought and climate change
The litany of misery playing out in Texas is tough to watch but less difficult to predict.

Well before the contagion of wildfires was sparked this week, the state had been experiencing a weather catastrophe. Texas has seen its driest consecutive months since record-keeping began in 1895. Parts of the state have had no measurable rain in nearly a year. The drought, warn officials from the National Weather Service, may continue into next year.

A brutal heat wave has tormented residents, with some cities experiencing 100-plus degree weather for more than a month.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a GOP presidential candidate, scoffs at the notion of human-induced climate change, even suggesting recently on the campaign trail that scientists are manipulating data to make money. He also has declared a  weather-related state of emergency every month since December. Meanwhile, Texas' state climatologist has warned that his fellow citizens should get used to this new climate of extremes.

These horrible fires are driven by wind, to be sure, but are fueled by much more combustible decisions: fire-prone nonnative plants planted to benefit another nonnative -- cattle. Rampant urban incursions into wildlands, placing homes in danger. Private property owners' failure to manage the grasses and trees on their land. A budget-cutting policy that pared  most of the state's volunteer firefighters. 

Climate-watchers are reminding Perry that Texas' nightmare is a direct result of a political decision to ignore the reality of climate change, leaving the state unprepared for its devastating effects on public health, the livestock and agriculture industries, and, ultimately, the sustainability of life in the arid Southwest.


Is nature doing what the climate models predict?

Global warming effect seen in pole-to-pole data-gathering flights

Climate change: Drought, floods, tornadoes part of 'new normal'?

--Julie Cart

Photo: A nearly drained stock tank in West Texas. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

Keystone pipeline backers use anti-Saudi message for oil sands

To the list of all the reasons why backers of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast want it to be built, add now the welfare of Saudi Arabian women.

The pipeline, which would bring oil from Alberta’s oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries, is awaiting a federal permit. In the meantime, critics and backers of the pipeline have ginned up their public relations machines to influence the administration’s thinking.

Most supporters of the pipeline say it will create jobs in the U.S. and bring in oil from a friendly democratic state, rather than from a foreign autocracy. Lately, the Oprah Winfrey Network in Canada began running a 30-second ad from a group called Ethical Oil, which argues that buying Canadian oil is a better political choice for Americans than importing oil from Saudi Arabia.

Over a soundtrack of doom drums, a woman’s voice says North Americans bought 400 million barrels of oil from Saudi Arabia. “We bankrolled a state that doesn’t allow women to drive, doesn’t allow them to leave their homes or work without their male guardian’s permission,” the ad continues.

“Why are we paying their bills and funding their oppression?” The music suddenly shifts to violins and singing that sounds something like the Vienna Boys’ Choir. “Today there is a better way,” the narrator says. “Ethical oil from Canada’s oil sands.”

Ethical Oil, according to its website, is a Canadian venture that began “as a blog created by Alykhan Velshi to promote the ideas in Ezra Levant’s bestselling book Ethical Oil: The Case for Canada’s Oil Sands.”

Velshi and Levant are conservative activists, the latter gaining some notoriety for accusing George Soros of collaborating with Nazis.

One stated goal of the Ethical Oil blog is to rebut “inaccurate and unfair criticisms of the oilsands,” the website says. Those “Myths & Lies,” the website says, include concerns about the impact on the environment, including greenhouse gas emissions, from extracting oil.

Oil from the sands isn’t developed through conventional drilling. It's mined as a mix of bitumen, sand and clay, accessed by stripping away boreal forests and polluting waters, say environmentalists and some scientists.

Extracting and refining bitumen also releases more greenhouse gases into the air than conventional oil production. Opposition to the project stems from the damage oil sands mining has done so far, and the potential damage it could do should the pipeline leak into a major aquifer it would wend through in Nebraska.

Why the ad is airing in Canada is unclear, when the decision to build the pipeline will be made in the U.S.

The Oprah Winfrey Network could not be reached to find out if such ads would air in the U.S.

The Obama administration is expected to render its decision on Keystone XL before the end of the year.


Arctic oil spill could prove tough to clean

Interior department to hold big gulf oil lease sale

Natural gas fracking needs to be monitored, panel says

-- Neela Banerjee, in Washington

Photo: An oil sands mining operation in Alberta, Canada. Credit: Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times.

Funds will help protect South Orange County waterways

Aliso Viejo was awarded more than $93,000 in waterway improvement funding last month from the Orange County Transportation Authority.

The program funds projects to protect county waterways and beaches from pollution generated by transportation.

Aliso Viejo plans to match the funding with $40,000 of its own money.

"As we continue to meet the transportation needs of our county, we have to remember how critical it is to protect and preserve our environment from the impacts of our projects," OCTA Chairwoman and the Fifth District county Supervisor Patricia Bates said in a statement. "Orange County voters approved using a percentage of M2 to keep our oceans clean, which will make a long-lasting, positive impact on our quality of life and economy."

The money will go to reducing litter and debris in storm drains and the installation of 40 catch basin screens that prevent the litter from getting into drainage systems, according to the Coastline Pilot.


BPA ban passes California state Senate

Mountain lion killed in attempt to cross 405 Freeway

Sierra magazine ranks UC Irvine among top 10 green schools

--Joanna Clay, Times Community News

California says yes to recycled water

The state Senate today passed a bill allowing so-called graywater systems in homes and commercial buildings.

The bill, AB 849, is aimed at clarifying a patchwork of local regulation that has at times prohibited these "non-potable water reuse systems," which divert drain water for irrigation and other purposes.

If signed by the governor, the new state law would prohibit local jurisdictions from banning graywater systems, which have gained popularity as more municipalities face restrictions on fresh water. It would allow those jurisdictions to enact stricter graywater standards than those of the state only if they provide climatic, geographic and topographic reasons for the tougher regulations.

The state adopted uniform rules for installing graywater systemsin 2009, according to an analysis of the bill, which was sponsored by Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles).

The Assembly already has approved the bill.


BPA ban passes California state Senate

Mountain lion killed in attempt to cross 405 Freeway

Sierra magazine ranks UC Irvine among top 10 green schools

-- Geoff Mohan

Photo: A graywater system collects and filters laundry water in an East Rancho Dominguez low-income housing development. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times


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