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Clean Water Act Video River Watch got a request from a teacher whose student requested that CRW post a link to a video on the history and explanation of the Clean Water Act. This an excellent video and we appreciate being contacted in order to show it to a larger audience.


Owners give up developmental rights to protect
critical watershed land in Mark West


EPA to scale back
WOTUS definition — document

Ariel Wittenberg, E&E News reporter
Greenwire: December 6, 2018

Wetlands. Photo credit: Petr Kratochvil/PublicDomainPictures.net
The Trump administration is expected to severely restrict the number of wetlands and waterways covered by the Clean Water Act. Petr Kratochvil/PublicDomainPictures.net

The Trump administration will propose to severely restrict the number of wetlands and waterways covered by the Clean Water Act in an announcement expected next week.

The proposed new definition of "waters of the U.S.," or WOTUS, will erase federal protections from streams that flow only following rainfall, as well as wetlands not physically connected to larger waterways, according to a copy of EPA talking points obtained by E&E News.

EPA did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The talking points offer a high-level outline of EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers' proposal to restrict which wetlands and waterways are protected by the Clean Water Act. EPA's formal announcement is expected next Tuesday morning, a source told E&E News.

The exact number of wetlands and waterways losing federal protections won't be known until the full, detailed proposal is released. But the talking points offer some clues.

"Ephemeral streams and related features" that are wet only after rain events would be completely excluded. The proposal also "covers only adjacent wetlands that are physically and meaningfully connected to other jurisdictional waters."

It's not clear how the administration would define "physically and meaningfully connected." But the agencies have set out to write a regulation based on a 2006 opinion written by the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who said the Clean Water Act should extend only to waters and wetlands with a "continuous surface connection" to nearby rivers and streams where it is "difficult to determine where the 'water' ends and the 'wetland' begins."

Reporters Robin Bravender, Hannah Northey and Geof Koss contributed.


THE PRESS DEMOCRAT | December 24, 2018

Ambling through a forest on his rural Mark West area property, Ray Krauss bent over to pinch a fir tree sprout and pull it from the rain-damp ground. If the tiny green seedling grew much larger, Krauss would have to nip it with pruning shears, and were it to become a substantial tree he would fell it with a chainsaw.

But the 76-year-old retiree, who wears a bright red bicycle cap to keep his bald head warm, is considered a patron saint — not a plunderer — of the 63 acres of critical watershed land he has stewarded for nearly half a century.

“It’s been an utter privilege to live here all these years,” Krauss said. “It’s such a special location.”

Were the land and the wildlife on it able to speak, they might thank him for his dedication.

Sonoma Land Trust, which has protected more than 50,000 acres of land for future generations, embraced the early Christmas gift it got last week from Krauss and his wife, Barbara Shumsky. The couple donated a conservation easement, prohibiting development and guaranteeing the land will remain largely unchanged in perpetuity, foregoing the potential for substantial profit.

“We have a special affection for the Mark West watershed,” Ariel Patashnik, the Santa Rosa nonprofit’s land acquisition program manager, said while visiting the property on a foggy afternoon.

Dog trots past manzanita
Ray Krauss' dog, Darla, trots past a manzanita on Krauss' upper Mark West watershed property, near Santa Rosa on Thursday, December 20, 2018. Krauss has granted Sonoma Land Trust a conservation easement that will permanently protect the 60-acre property in the foothills of the Mayacas Mountains. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

The 40-square-mile watershed, stretching from the Napa County line to the Russian River near Forestville, encompasses Mark West Creek and multiple tributaries, all emptying into the Laguna de Santa Rosa about five miles from its confluence with the river.

The Krauss-Shumsky land, which slopes from a level bench in the Mayacmas Mountains down to a Mark West Creek tributary called Monan’s Rill, is home to mountain lions, black bears and bobcats. It’s part of a largely undeveloped corridor enabling wildlife to migrate from Lake County to Marin County.

A patchwork of habitats, the property includes native oak woodlands, fir and mixed hardwood forest, chaparral and grassland. Located just a half-hour from downtown Santa Rosa, about a mile up a private road off St. Helena Road, the land is a refuge apart from the urban world.

Its underlying attribute, Krauss said, is the basalt spewed by a volcano over the mountains some 8 million years ago. With open fractures that absorb rain water like a sponge during winter and allow it to seep out during summer, the rock endows Mark West Creek with a year-round flow that makes it an official “priority stream” for the recovery of endangered coho salmon.

To the Sonoma Land Trust, one of the property’s prime attractions is the result of Ray Krauss’ personal assault, with fire and hand tools, on the invasive fir trees that he saw attempting to overrun his woodlands.

“The firs were choking off the light, using all the water, making it impossible for anything else to grow,” he said, standing in a sloped forest of various oaks, madrone, bay, maple and manzanita trees.

Eight years ago, he cleared the area of firs and low-hanging tree limbs — a practice known as “vegetation management” and now regarded as an antidote to raging California wildfires.

Walking through the thinned woods is as easy as it was for the Native Americans who honed fire-control techniques that white settlers largely abandoned, Krauss said.

He paused, pointing with his boot toward native bunch grasses and wildflowers that have appeared since the fir canopy was removed. The fir, however, won’t quit, he said, pointing out 1- to 2-inch sprouts he intends to eliminate with pruning shears in the spring.

Nearby, three large madrone trunks have risen from the stump of a much larger, 3-foot-wide tree. It had been cut 50 years ago when the Mayacamas woodlands were still harvested for firewood to heat the area’s hop kilns, as had been done since the 1880s, he said. 

Krauss and Shumsky purchased the property in two pieces, in 1972 and 1986, and named it Sunsrays, owing to the land’s bench, where their home sits at 1,500 feet above sea level and, most of the time, above the fog. It’s in a so-called “banana belt,” enabling the orchard of more than 200 trees to grow apples, pears, figs, cherries, plums, peaches, pomegranates and citrus, which Shumsky sold for years at farmers markets. 

Not far from the house, Krauss built a simple wooden deck several decades ago, facing west so they could comfortably enjoy sunsets and a view all the way to Jonive Ridge near the ocean. 

On Oct. 9, 2017, they watched the horrifying spectacle of the Tubbs fire burning from right to left toward Fountaingrove. Krauss said he could hear propane tanks exploding and feel the blast concussion.

Mushrooms on fallen tree Mushrooms grow on a fallen tree on Ray Krauss' upper Mark West watershed property, near Santa Rosa on Thursday, December 20, 2018. Krauss has granted Sonoma Land Trust a conservation easement that will permanently protect the 60-acre property in the foothills of the Mayacas Mountains. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

They were in an evacuation zone, but the flames came no closer than a mile away, he said.

Krauss was one of Sonoma County’s first planners employed when environmental impact reports became required for new development and the county’s first general plan was adopted, with an accompanying political upheaval.

He was environmental manager of a Lake County gold mine for 20 years and spent his final 10 years in conservation working for local nonprofits.

His personal vegetation management project began in earnest in retirement and has now cleared about 10 acres of woodlands.

The couple had long intended to donate a conservation easement for their property, and Krauss said it came at the sacrifice of about two-thirds of the land’s value. Barring the voluntarily imposed restriction, their land could be subdivided, creating a pair of 20-acre parcels they could sell and retain the balance for their modest home.

The value of undeveloped rural land hinges on its attributes, such as a building site and vineyard potential, said Jeff Bounsall, a Santa Rosa Realtor and land consultant.

“You are definitely giving up value” with an easement, he said.

Krauss said his land has those attributes, and noted that a nearby 40-acre parcel with a house sold last fall for $1.2 million.

The donation, he said, is “a gift from California that I can give back to future generations.”

There won’t be any public access to the property, however.

The donation is the land trust’s 45th conservation easement, bringing the total to 7,160 acres.

“We need more landowners like Ray who think about the value of the land that way,” Patashnik said.

There are another 40 acres of forest in need of clearing, and Ray Krauss would welcome assistance.