The Sonoma County Gazette: Community News Magazine
Sonoma County Gazette
| more

Photo Gallery

Mitzvah Moments - June 2015


Mitzvah Moments - June 2015

by Tish Levee

Leading the way again. Sonoma County Fleet Operations, with one of the nation’s largest hybrid vehicle fleets, was one of seven operations honored nationally by the EPA for work on clean air and climate initiatives. 

How many oil spills does it take? In 1969 an offshore oil well blew up off the coast of Santa Barbara, one of the most biologically rich places on the planet, dumping approximately three million tons of oil in to the ocean. That disaster helped to bring about landmark federal environmental laws like the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Clean Water Act. Locally, it led to the creation of the Environmental Defense Center. It was eclipsed twenty years later by the Exxon Valdez spill—more than 11 million—and the 210 million gallon Deepwater Horizon or BP spill five years ago, the affects of both of which are still with us. 

Now we have another spill near the site of the ’69 one. The pipeline in this latest spill in Santa Barbara was operating well below its safe capacity, but there are still 105,000 gallons of oil in the ocean, and it is devastating to marine life and has closed a popular State Beach. Earlier this month the Obama Administration conditionally approved drilling in the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska. Although “rigorous safety standards” are required, if something can go wrong, it will. As difficult as cleanup is anywhere, it is exacerbated by the challenge of frigid weather and a short season in Alaska. We need to keep oil in the ground and develop energy sources that don’t add to our emissions or to disastrous spills. It CAN be done. 

June is National Hunger Month! The Redwood Empire Food Bank currently provides food for 82,000 people a month. The Every Child, Every Day Hunger-Free Summer delivers free hot and healthy meals and a variety of fun activities to children at 45 community based sites throughout Sonoma County every summer. You can donate online at $25 will pay for 50 meals. You can also donate by dropping food in REFB barrels at stores.

There’s a drought on, so why do we still have lawns? We live in a Mediterranean climate, not one suited for lawns the way the climate is in New England. But we still plant them, despite the high cost of watering, fertilizing, mowing, and other care, which often include pesticides and herbicides that run off into groundwater or wastewater. Besides the cost to the environment and to our wallets, what about the aesthetics of green lawns compared to water saving landscapes? The latter don’t have to be just rocks or bark with a few plants; instead there is an opportunity to create a landscape that is interesting, diverse, and pleasing to the eye. Lately as I’ve been walking around I’ve noticed the difference between large swatches of grass, which even when well cared for is pretty boring vs. the different heights, shapes, and colors in a drought resistant landscape, especially one using native plants which requires virtually no care once established. Native plants also help to attract beneficial insects, including bees and butterflies. SCWA estimates that 500 sq. ft. planted in conventional lawn can use 2800 gallons a year of water vs. less than 100 gallons for the same area planted in native drought resistant landscaping. Let’s take those lawns out! Check your water agency for rebates to help do the job.

A lot has been happening on my beat this month. It won’t all fit in this column or this issue of the Gazette. The Sonoma Ecology Center celebrated their 25th anniversary on Earth Day; their GiveBack25 program asks volunteers to give 25 hours by next Earth Day, sign up at For articles about their anniversary celebration at Ramekins and about the 10th Sustainable Enterprise Conference at Sonoma Mountain Village, search under my name online. Next month look for in print or online articles about the National Climate Adaptation Forum, from which I just returned, and the California Climate Ride, in which my friend Kristin Berger and other Sonoma County bicyclists joined with nearly 170 others to ride from Fortuna to San Francisco and raise over $600,000 for climate protection beneficiaries.

© Tish Levee, 2015