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Jenner Jottings - Tim McKusick - May 2015


Jenner Jottings - Tim McKusick - May 2015

I celebrated Earth Day by taking a tour of the Sonoma Valley Waste Water Treatment Plant located among the vineyards on the outskirts of the town of Sonoma. About 20 people were in attendance of this Community Open House, including a local Brownie Troop to hear how the area’s “liquid” waste is treated, processed and ultimately discharged into the environment.

One of several regional waste water treatment plants operated by the Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA), the one serving the Sonoma Valley County Sanitation District is proposing to construct a recycled water pipeline in collaboration with the Sonoma Valley Unified High School District to provide recycled water to Sonoma Valley High, Adele Harrison Middle and Prestwood Elementary schools.

SCWA spokesperson for the tour Ryan Kirchner explained the operations of the facility from the “headworks” (grease and rag/debris removal) to the final recycled water holding ponds, where the treated and disinfected effluent is distributed to local vineyards or released into the environment.

The Sonoma Valley groundwater basin is experiencing a decline in groundwater levels, relatively low aquafer productivity and saline intrusion in the south end of the valley. Recycled water will allow a reduction in groundwater pumping and take pressure off of the SCWA’s deliveries of Russian River water to this area so far from the river source.

It is always nice to travel the Highway 12 corridor through Kenwood and the Valley of the moon. It is notable that the rolling hills of vineyards which dominate the landscape are carefully planted away from the noble Valley Oak Trees…No vines are planted within the drip area of the tree canopy. The vineyards and trees coexist. The County’s primary agriculture is thriving while the heritage trees are protected.

Contrast this with a ride on Occidental Road, another favorite Sonoma County Wine Region with the “other” tree that the area is known for, Redwoods. More rolling hills with grape vines and trees. A classic Sonoma County scene.

It troubles me that when some of the newer vineyards have been planted, the owners seem to cut down every last Redwood on the property. A small 10 acre parcel recently sold and was groomed for the inevitable vineyard. It is already a sunny meadow framed by a few “fairy rings” of Redwoods.  

Last week the last few remaining Redwoods were cut down for reasons which escape me. The trees were along the road, and would not block any sunlight from the new vines. The only reason I can think of for the trees to be cut would be to make room for a few more grape vines. What a waste. An example of new vineyard owners simply trying to maximize their return, I suppose, but still sad.

Obviously the Redwoods do not garner the same County protections that the Valley Oaks do, or they would not be mowed down. It is time for that to change. Not only should the Redwoods be protected, property owners should be encouraged to leave the larger ones and plant new ones. Perhaps through a tax credit that recognizes the beneficial contribution to our world that these amazing, carbon-sequestrating, air filtering. water-producing “machines” bring.

Out here on the Sonoma Coast, we are suffering through the same drought as elsewhere in California. But we have one saving grace- Fog. It still amazes me the way these coastal Redwoods actually pull the moisture out of the air and throw it on the ground. Driving out here, you will find areas where it appears to have rained….Under the trees! Driving River Road just before Jenner, the fog is just thick enough to make it over the first coastal ridge; snaking through the trees and sliding down the hillsides like magical fingers of moisture.

In the past, this life-giving water would normally be filtered off by the old growth trees and in turn would feed the Coho streams that originate here. These first few ridges inland from the ocean contain what I feel is our last hope to save the native Coho populations. We have to preserve what few large trees are left in this critical Coho-recovery zone. For even in the absence of rain, the fog feeds the trees and the species they support.

The recent closing of the Russian River mouth allowed the water to back up into the Estuary Perched Streams, as far upstream as Austin Creek. The fish that call these streams home may have a chance of survival as a result of this tidal influence, a luxury their upstream cousins lack.

I implore the private property owners, especially in this vital Coho Recovery Zone, to please stop taking the Big Trees. The long-term benefits of properly managing our timberlands by leaving the biggest trees and removing the thickets of “suckers” far outweigh whatever short-term monetary gain selling these logs may have. 

Pray for Rain and Harvest the Fog.