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Glomalin and Conservation in Humboldt County The 1996 discovery of the soil glue glomalin is changing our understanding of the impact of elevated carbon dioxide, while giving important clues to forest health, watersheds, revegetation, wildfire and carbon sequestration. Here I share what I have found so others may read and draw their own conclusions, and relate it to my own experience, Humboldt County issues and stories from the news.
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
The Times Standard article on June 14 about removing Klamath dams is another interesting look into landscape destruction. While the Klamath has maintained its fisheries to some extent, it now appears the dams acted as sediment traps; hiding the impacts of poor land management practices. We know timber and road building occur throughout the region. It becomes unclear what is the best way to proceed as whatever course is followed will call for dealing with a huge amount of sediment that may or may not be industrially contaminated. We salute the coring studies to determine the content of the sediment. If it is clean there are far more options than if not. I do recall a friends Dad, on the Board of Ventura County Water being invited to speak in the Oregon Klamath region in the 1980’s. I remember the issue was plywood glue. I have no idea what it contains but the loggers essentially got out of line before the conference, in the bar, and he left without giving his presentation. He was steaming as he relayed the story on his way home.
Mattole Restoration Council won another large grant to continue its work. The Mattole is more impacted and less impacted as the Klamath at the same time. Without dams and in the high rainfall areas sediment was trapped in all the pools and the estuary, essentially destroying the fishery. The mouth of Middle Creek has a thirty acre alluvial plain created by sediment not likely to be fixed anytime soon. But we can see why the Klamath continued to enjoy healthy fisheries- the dams were in place before tractor logging became popular. Part of the problem with dams is that sediment reduces the volume of available water behind the dams.
An article on June 28thn said Federal water officials were buying Trinity water from farmers to send down the river for fisheries. This is a complete puzzle as DOI has refused to send mandated water to Humboldt. It is incredible that millions of dollars have been paid to farmers when agreements to that water have never been satisfied. Talk about a waste of tax dollars! And again, as long as there were fish, little happened. Hopefully some sanity can return to the region.
Finally, Sanctuary Forest is sponsoring a Low Flow conference. Again they browbeat us with threats of federal regulation of small landowners. I remember the SOS people coming to tell us about TMDL’s. All kinds of bad scenarios were presented about nitrogen from stock and phosphate from detergents.. But the Mattole has little industry and proactive cattlemen and so the only contaminant in abundance is/was sediment. Much of that was from legacy damage from logging decades before, and a possibly accelerated rate of wildfires in the last century. Another similar issue is “taking”, the removal of private lands from activity when a species of concern (Endangered, threatened or of special concern) is identified
All of these issues benefit from a general understanding of glomalin. Rivers and fisheries are dependant on clean water filtered through the ecosystem. Runoff is not filtered and carries a lot of material with it. The need to reduce runoff and replace it with infiltration not only reduces sediment, it keeps the water in the landscape for a longer period, translating into summer flows without precipitation, and better upland wildlife habitat.
The recent decision be the State Water Quality Control Board to overrule its regional Board in regard to Elk River/Freshwater watersheds shows they mean business concerning sediment. All the parties involved have received several emails pointing out the need to preserve the glomalin in order to prevent sedimentation. It is not clear if anyone is actually becoming informed but it would seem that PL should take the scientific lead and reduce clear cutting and road building. Too much precipitation makes any clear cut and most roads deliverers of sediment.
We have called for a glomalin task force to study this together with all agencies and timbermen as well as restorationist workers. In a few years the entire landscape could be healing including fisheries. After twenty years and a lot of money and work, PL is getting ready to cut in the Mattole again. PL holdings make up about 10% of Mattole lands. Unfortunately, they are in some of the high rainfall areas and near the mouth of the river, meaning that any sediment will further impact the already marginal water quality in the estuary and in spite of upstream restoration efforts. We can also say the loss of trees will lead to summer low flows, increased instability in wet weather and much less fog drip captured, an uncounted but vital function of these forests.
Friday, June 24, 2005
In an ideal world, each building, parcel or road would be responsible for all the runoff from roofing and pavement and other non-porous surfaces. This would mean infiltration ponds or pools for directing collected runoff into groundwater storage. Written into the building code, this would seriously reduce runoff problems and be a positive step toward reducing summer low flows. This would bring us into compliance on the national level without a lawsuit. Capacity should be several times normal so most large rain events are controlled on site. Vegetated surfaces also control runoff and are important players in the planning. The soil zone capacity is a reflection of the types of vegetation, with above ground form generally reflecting the depth of soil zone conditioning.
Humboldt County planners have been slow to recognize the need for composting sewage. World class models available are not up to code simply because there is no place for them in the code. Much of the county’s angst stems from homeowners or tenant responsibilities to maintain them. We’d like to see some serious money go into developing a dry toilet that can purify urine and compost feces to an inert state. In this day of computer control and advanced devices, this should be readily doable. The price of sanitation thus becomes a cost of ownership and large water treatment projects are not necessary. No spills or leaks can happen larger than a single residence.
Sudden Oak death may have a truly serious impact on forestlands ability to handle storm water for a period of years. I have no doubt something will move in to replace large areas but the need to recognize the role of tanoak and oak in the glomalin economy threaten landscape stability and a primary wildlife food source. Recent discoveries that SOD infects wood as well as bark implies even more restrictions coming for the movement of infected wood and thus a lesser chance of recapture expenses from removal. In addition, firewood movement even in the county could cause more rapid spreading. This implies less opportunity for wood cutters and others living off oak related products. We have mentioned before that once the nature of the chestnut disease was known a massive cut began. Since most trees were dying all were cut to save the usable wood, which was rotting on the stump. The problem was that not enough trees were left to find and select those with natural resistance and create a better strain.
Finally, planners must take into account public money spent for restoration projects not be jeopardized by industrial activity. In particular, logging plans between restored or preserves areas need to be protected from large incursions of sediment from business activities. This is why glomalin is so important- it can guide us to a sustainable rate of harvest while drastically reducing sediment delivery and preventing excessive runoff.
Once again we would like to see a local scientific and business glomalin task force that would implement the new science in meaningful ways for all land managers and planners. The playing field is level as all are equally new to the concept. Now we can be sure of the reasons for the consequences of our actions and we can take positive steps toward true sustainability.
Supervisors' vote against a costly plan for runoff is criticized by environmentalists.
June 23, 2005 By Jack Leonard, Times Staff Writer
The city council of Los angeles this week refused to pass legislation that would make runoff the responsibility of the landowner. We can speak with some knowledge because Jim Marple railed against Munincippal Water District’s policies in Waterforum for quite a while. Much of the opposition came from operators and engineers of existing public works and often sounded like they were defending turf rather than being open to new thinking. Marple’s several points included the fact that all of LA’s water needs could be met by capturing ten percent of its annual rainfall in underground storage, whether by soil or vault or aquifer; the high cost of pumping water over the Tehatchapi’s, flooding, flooding prevention construction that robs the biological zones of infiltrated water and costs taxpayers millions in construction and even more on upkeep and monitoring, degrading habitat conditions in regions that are receiving less water, and a self perpetuating bureaucracy closed to new thinking, all at taxpayer expense.
While it is easy to see why a government like LA’s might be nervous about such a huge shift, the reality is that the world is turning greener. The Chesapeake Bay recovery program is on a larger scale in terms of population and previously built lands, yet their ambitious plans are going forward. We point out that Chesapeake Bay suffers many similar problems as coastal runoff in California but has taken a more drastic approach. In time landowner precipitation responsibility will come to LA anyway, probably as Federal law, so preparation would seem like a good idea, especially regarding rewriting building and public safety codes and municipal water sources.
A recent report on runoff into Humboldt Bay from the first flushing rains of the season givce some idea of the problems although Humboldt has far less amounts and types of runoff contaminants. Besides threatening ingredients, controlling runoff on the surface causes more erosive processes and has led to concreting the drainages, totally removing this water from the biologically active areas, reducing habitat and assisting the general dehydration of the landscape.
The need to preserve as functional the storage of precipitation in biologically conditioned soils is made evident this year in the Pacific Northwest, where a drought has brought down river levels and fish counts drastically, in one year. This is due to the cumulative impacts of many years of timber cutting reducing the lands ability to store water. What should be five years of soil moisture in old growth Douglas fir forests has dwindled to complete panic in one dry year. Global warming cannot occur that fast but destruction of the lands ability to deal with it can. So we are likely to see combinations of punches thrown at our natural systems, and we, as instigators of this, will have to “defend ourselves at all times.” Another example is repeated fires in the mountains and deserts surrounding the Basin. These coupled with construction and logging have left the ability of the land to deal with storms severely impacted. The results that can be traced to this include more frequent fires, increased runoff in similar storms, increased mudslides, insect attacks killing more trees, thus holding less water and aggravating the spiral, lowered river levels, loss of habitat and recreational opportunities and a higher cost for power.
All of this engineering has as its crown jewel the system of dams that water western cities and provide electric power to California. Yet California is situated in a far more promising place for renewable energy than most regions. The governor has called for a million new homes to be built as mini solar stations, utilizing solar on homes for electrical generation. This plan should include the remediation for storm water runoff immediately back underground, as Fresno has done, where it is clean, does not evaporate, cannot flood and requires little post construction monitoring or upkeep and is available to feed springs and creeks downstream. Wind farms are a common California sight, with better technology always appearing.
The use of tidal power is another system being studied. Tidal power counts on the changing of tides near shore to drive generators. Tidal power stations need a very high tide to be effective. One good example I know of is in St. Johns, New Brunswick, on the Bay of Fundy. The really exciting news is the Sea Dog project that captures the motion of swells to generate electricity beyond the breakers. In this scenario swells raise a platform that falls with the passing swell driving the generators. This seems like a really good idea with potentially less impacts than near shore plants. Indeed. Most structures put in the sea seem to attract a lot of life to them, from redwood logs to industrial waste like the Tin Can Grounds off New York Harbor, a famous bluefish spot.. My old home town of Smithtown LI drastically improved fishing and its landfill problems by creating fish habitat with tires bolted together in sixes to from tubes and filling them with concrete. These spots became hot fishing areas in just a few years of placement. I doubt today we would do that with tires but the speed of colonization is amazing.
California will do well to take this information into account in new development as well, where it is easiest to implement. When a plan to develop a large area comes into focus look to its infrastructure. Does it include a storm water runoff component or will it be developed so that is not necessary? Will the region retain some biological capacity or are we writing it all off in hopes we can avoid ESA actions? Will we use the annual rainfall that falls on our land or will we throw it away and go get somebody else’s at great expense to us and them, with little thought of non human consumers?
In light of this the vote to appeal the ruling seems short sighted. And I have not even gotten to the source of the fight- polluted beaches. This is the tag end of inland rainfall capture problems. Runoff CAN be seriously lessened by simple management practices. Proven systems exist, indeed abound, but leaders are not so easy to sway until economics or a higher level of law demand action. In this case loss of beaches should force re-examination of all runoff programs and activities in the Basin.
Monday, June 13, 2005
Mattole residents have worked as hard as anybody to restore their river and its salmonid populations. For this reason there is now a large percentage of knowledgeable people who have witnessed landscape destruction from management and extreme weather events. Their observations and new science point out the problems with old protocols and why they keep areas at risk even when protections are put on them.
In the last few years the important role of mycorhizzia has become apparent on the landscape stability and nutrition scales, as well as the carbon cycle. In addition, the need for better management of precipitation is becoming apparent where summer low flows are complicating fisheries recovery. The regular drumbeat of new scientific findings continued on with the discovery of glomalin, a product of mycorhizzia responsible for soil aggregation that creates pore space for water storage and ease of root tip penetration.. We find new understanding of forests as communities with un-guessed at functions rolling merrily along even as we create new challenges for the system. But the important element here is the soil glue mechanism, for destruction of it is the source and cause of uphill sediment, which will wash into the stream before it re-grows into the landscape. Sediment that fills pools, causing scour along the stream banks, allowing sun to warm the now shallow waters; sediment that can liquefy in a heavy rain event and send entire hillsides sliding down hill; sediment that comes from dust as roads are driven in the dry season; sediment that is choking the estuary to a point of poor conditions in a necessary environment for Mattole fish, a public resource.
The presence and operations of mycorhizzia have been studied for about twenty-five years, but no mention is made in the Washington guidelines for watershed analysis. No attempt has been made to restore water storage on devastated hillsides, or to understand the reason sediment is cut loose in the landscape. And sediment is what we are talking about as far as watershed health is concerned. And while Redwood Science Labs knows something is wrong they can’t put a finger on the problem. The PNW Forest Mycorhizzia team has not yet added glomalin to its research and so we find we can answer all these questions if we can get scientists to read other scientists work in light of what we can see with our own eyes over the years. There is no classroom training for new information, but we now know sediment is kept in place by mycorhizzia producing glomalin adding root strength, hyphael structure and soil glue to the landscape.
The discovery of glomalin completes our understanding of forest stability in steep high rainfall watersheds because it answers all the questions found in the 1992 Washington guidelines of the Northwest Forest Plan, HCP’s, THP’s, NCWAP, CEQA, NEPA and Redwood Sciences Lab work at Caspar Creek. Landslides and mass wasting are readily explained and preventative measures appear. Low river flows are a direct result of watersheds shrinking in three dimensions, with less capacity in the dry season leading to fights over withdrawals when that is not the problem.
Luckily a brilliant lady working in crops has supplied us with the key to water retention and storage in soil systems that we can interpolate to forestry, which is about to undergo a revolution as big as the arrival of Caterpillars. Several teams of scientists are reporting regularly on many aspects of glomalin. Every issue of CO2 Science magazine, Nature and New Scientist reports new findings on atmospheric interplay between tree, fungi, soil, water and/or atmosphere. The revelations seem to all point to forests as self sustaining systems capable of far more important work than providing fiber, such as producing aerosol hydroxyl radicals that ameliorate carbon monoxide and ozone, have unrecognized ability to use atmospheric nitrogen in an enhanced carbon dioxide setting as well as intercepting and storing precipitation in soils for use in dry seasons and times of drought, disease and insect attack, and enhanced growth of plants, roots, shoots and fungi under enhanced CO2, and even rising temperatures.
The biggest revelations come from what destroys these very processes: sunlight, ambient air and running water, all primarily man caused today.. With about forty percent of sedimentation resulting from road building and the rest from clear felling according to Redwood Sciences Lab, we now have scientific explanations for failing landscapes, roads, streams and fisheries.
Since we are paying a lot of money to prevent and repair these very situations, it seems clear we need a new harvest protocol in the forest. It would need to protect the forest floor from unnecessary disruption, retain enough canopy to slow precipitation and shade and cool the ground,, leave enough trees to feed the carbon pools before they decay and the land further destabilizes which causes landslides and mass wasting years after insults have ended, and recognize the critical importance of the big trees in the role of atmospheric science.
These priorities create wildlife habitat and carbon sinks while thinning and select cutting provide jobs and resources as well as outdoor activity areas and reducing fire risk, providing quite a payload for the dollar. This new vision of the working forest provides plenty of room for sustainable economic activity.Road building and clear cutting leave long term impacts that remain at risk on site and downstream for
decades after work ceases. These will deliver sediment to the stream that will further compound water quality and habitat requirement problems at the estuary. This new information allows clarity of focus on keeping sediment out of creeks and PL’s commitment to Mattole Salmon Restoration efforts, especially regarding the Estuary. The last three years have been pretty good for fish and we hope that doesn’t have to
relapse as a result of operations.