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Jenner Jottings -Tim McKusick - June 2016


Jenner Jottings -Tim McKusick - June 2016

I have never seen the Russian River Estuary with so much (bright) green matter, in such high concentrations lining the shoreline and Penny Island, and the summer (algae blooming/breeding) heat is not yet upon us. It is impossible to ignore this obvious imbalance in the River’s water chemistry any longer. One would surmise that with the Federal Government mandating this critical Estuary habitat be protected, more would be done to stem the flow of man-made pollutants from entering the waterway both upstream and in the Estuary itself.

How about we start by addressing the elephant in the room? Or should I call it the Bovine in the River? We can then address the upstream sources, which are many and is a complex issue. Eliminating the cattle “by-product” source should have a positive direct impact on the Estuary water quality. It may take a season or two to realize the benefits, but we have to start sometime.

Friends of Sheephouse Creek spokesperson Mike Keller reports on the fish restocking and stream restoration efforts in this important Estuary-perched Coho and Steelhead breeding stream. Mike’s family has lived at the confluence of Sheephouse Creek and the Russian River for generations and are conscientious stewards of their lands.

The last Coho counts were dismal and Steelhead counts only slightly better. The drought has really impacted the returns. The Warm Springs Hatchery has said it will restock Sheephouse Creek this fall. Experts have agreed with Keller’s assessment of the creek being unsuitable when the hatchery fish were introduced in early 2000 due to poor habitat and sedimentation due to primarily poorly maintained logging roads. It was a desperate measure to do something. 

Since 2000, Sonoma RCD (Resource Conservation District) has taken care of the sedimentation problems and things seem to have ‘normalized’ over the past two years. CA Fish and Wildlife also feel that the habitat has improved today and that this embattled watercourse will have a much better chance for supporting and nurturing these endangered species than before. That is why they are giving it another chance with the broodstock restocking program. It is also good news that Sheephouse water levels are back being close to ‘normal’ after four years of drought nearly ran it dry, keeping hope alive. Perhaps miracles do happen! Especially when accompanied by hard work and dedicated stewards and volunteers.

With Summer right around the corner, those of us who live in the Urban Wildland Interface are once again bracing for ‘fire season’. The recently released report on last year’s devastating Butte Fire points to a tree falling on a PG&E power line as being the source. Such a simple act with such far-reaching catastrophic results. 

Trees fall. That is a fact of life. It is usually no big deal and nothing more than an inconvenience. But when they fall and there are overhead power lines in the way, it can create a life-threatening situation. 

PG&E has an undergrounding program, Rule 20, where they will replace these vulnerable overhead power lines with safe underground lines. A visit to their website explains how this program is implemented and what the goals are. The criteria for an area to qualify for this program seems to be entirely ‘aesthetics-driven’. That is, to avoid unsightly overhead lines in certain locales.

Nothing in their list of qualifications needed even mentions the need to protect the public’s health and welfare. No consideration is given for those of us who live in forested communities where power outages and fires caused by trees on power lines are a regular occurrence. 

In my 25+ years living here on the Coast, we have had so many close calls with fires caused by downed power lines. Were it not for the grace of God and the quick responses from our local fire department, CalFire and their air attack team, we would have lost everything. Many Times Over. 

During the El Nino of the 90’s, I remember standing at my kitchen window in my home at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac, watching through the driving rain as a tall Pine tree on my neighbor’s property fell seemingly in slow motion. It came down across our dead end street breaking the overhead power lines AND the telephone lines before coming to rest with the tree crown burying my wife’s classic Mustang. 

The fuses on the PG&E pole at the other end of the street failed to blow, and the still-energized lines under the downed tree (and on top of the vehicle) would buzz loudly and burst into flames. Only to be put out by the pouring rain, where upon they would buzz and burst into flames again. As the lines were down, the phone was useless. 

I made my way through the forest to a neighbor’s home where the phone still worked and was able to call in this emergency. But the emergency responders were helpless due to the live wires on the wet streets. It was at least an hour before PG&E was able to de-energize the neighborhood. Meanwhile we worried that the gas tank in the Mustang would blow at any moment. A tense situation to say the least.

As I said we count our blessings that we have survived in spite of the dozen or so near misses in our small community. It breaks my heart to think of the folks who lost everything in the Butte Fire. Especially when there is such a simple solution. 

With today’s ‘trenchless’ undergrounding technology, we no longer have to trench through sensitive tree roots to retrofit our power lines. Contractors can bore underground for hundreds of feet, pulling in the conduits and wires as they go, with little disruption or damage to the environment. 

One more comment on the PG&E Rule 20 Program; When I inquired at our Board of Supervisor’s office (who help implement the program in our area) I was told that yes, our community can apply to be placed on the ‘list’, but even if we were approved, we would be placed at the bottom (meaning it could be 10 years or more), no matter the dire need. She also confided that even the places that had been approved for the retrofit are not being done. PG&E is refusing to do them, ever since their pipeline disaster in the Bay Area, for reasons known only to them. 

Currently we are seeking grants and funding to somehow get the job done in spite of PG&E’s refusals.