Category Archives: History

Lower American River contains unsafe levels of E. coli. Are homeless camps to blame?

Levels of E. coli bacteria found in the lower American River exceed the federal threshold for safe recreational use, in part due to human waste from homeless camps, state regulators say.

The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board has proposed adding the bacteria to a list of pollutants that make the lower American River a federally designated impaired water body. A state board is expected to sign off on the decision later this year and ask for final approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

E. coli can sicken and even kill people who swim in or drink contaminated water. State regulators say they’re not aware of anyone who has been sickened by E. coli in the the lower American River, but nearly a decade of test data indicate the risk of exposure.

“It should give people some discomfort about using the water – it’s not good,” said Ron Stork of Friends of the River.

A report summarizing test results from 2007 to 2014 found average levels of E. coli at three sites that were higher than the EPA standard, “beyond which the water body is not recommended for recreation.” The three sites are in the westernmost section of the American River Parkway, near downtown Sacramento, where the highest concentration of homeless camps are set up.

Seventeen of the 25 test sites had at least one recording in excess of the federal threshold, according to the “Safe-to-Swim Assessment.”

Thousands of people use the lower American River each year, from the boaters who launch at Discovery Park, to the swimmers who enjoy the beach at Sutter’s Landing Regional Park, to the triathletes who participate in Eppie’s Great Race.

“My concern is that it could make me sick,” said Alex McDonald, who was sitting in the water with his wife at Sutter’s Landing last week. “I would like to know more.”

More at SacBee.com >>>

Supervisors OK effort to clean up American River Parkway’s homeless camps

Sacramento County supervisors on Wednesday approved a $5 million plan to beef up patrols along the American River Parkway and clean up its homeless encampments.

The 3-2 vote came after dozens of residents packed the supervisors’ chambers to support or denounce the proposal to add park rangers, maintenance staff and sheriff’s employees to the 23-mile “jewel of Sacramento” and adjacent neighborhoods.

Some speakers recounted bad interactions with homeless people. Others expressed compassion for the homeless but said they wanted a clean, safe parkway. Still others denounced the proposal as “criminalizing the homeless.”

Supervisors Phil Serna, Don Nottoli and Patrick Kennedy voted for the measure. Supervisors Susan Peters and Sue Frost voted against it, citing concerns about funding.

Kennedy said the issue is “a tale of two tragedies” – homelessness and the condition of the parkway. “I think (the plan) is a little heavy on the law enforcement side, and I fear it will just move people around,” Kennedy said. “But we have to try something … It’s devastating. We just can’t let (the parkway) continue to deteriorate.”

Aimee Rutledge, head of the Sacramento Valley Conservancy, said the conservancy’s property, Camp Pollock, is at “ground zero” in the lower reaches of the river with a clear view of the degradation of a precious natural resource. “To abandon (the parkway) would be to abandon the best part of Sacramento,” she said.

Last month, supervisors asked staff to find ways to fund additional employees for animal control, waste collection and the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department Homeless Outreach Team.

Staff members found several sources of funding but not enough to cover the full costs of the program. Staff laid out options costing $3 million, $4 million and $5 million, which had $1.4 million, $2.9 million and $3.8 million funding gaps. Going forward, the funding gaps increase to $1.8 million, $3.2 million and $3.9 million for consecutive budget years, they said.

“Where is the money going to come from?” Peters asked Wednesday.

County Executive Nav Gill said there’s a $3.4 million placeholder in the budget that will come before the board next month and could be used to fund the parkway plan.

Serna launched the parkway debate in June when he requested between $3 million and $5 million to address the impacts of homeless campers.

Other supervisors countered that campers would simply move into the surrounding neighborhoods when rousted. As a compromise, the board asked staff to come up with options to also clean up unincorporated areas of the county adjacent to the parkway.

Karen Humphrey, former mayor of Fresno, told supervisors the plan will “just move the problem around and waste precious resources.” She said she helped create the San Joaquin River Parkway, modeled on Sacramento’s parkway, so she understands its importance. But there isn’t enough capacity to shelter all of the people living in the brush, she said.

Earlier this year, supervisors voted to dedicate $6.2 million to a slew of new homeless initiatives on top of the county’s roughly $40 million in annual spending for homeless services.

The county will build a 75-bed shelter aimed at moving chronically homeless people off the streets. It’s scheduled to open in early 2018, and the county estimates it could serve 300 people annually. The money will also pay for a rehousing program, transitional housing and case workers.

More at SacBee.com >>>

American River canyon cleanup targets pesky plant

It’s not just litter that volunteers will be scouring the American River canyon for during Saturday’s American River Clean-up.

As well as taking out the trash, Protect AmericanRiver Canyons and its partners will be targeting invasive broom – a plant that board member Eric Peach said is disturbingly on the increase in the Auburn State Recreation Area and threatening to choke off trails.

Clippers and pruners will be provided to participants willing to wade into the dense growth on the branches of the invasive weed. The broom that is cut will be removed and burned.

“Once it gets established, it’s almost like star thistle,” Peach said. “You can’t get rid of it.”

April is a good time of year to reduce the broom footprint because its trademark yellow blooms haven’t appeared and its not seeding, he said.

The cleanup starts with 8 a.m. registration at the confluence information booth. From there volunteers will fan out to areas throughout the recreation area to clean up litter and chop away broom.

 “Being close to the American River and canyons – having wild nature so close by – is why many of us live in the foothills,” Peach said. “One of the easiest way to express our appreciation for the AmericanRiver is to keep the river and canyons clean and safe for all wildlife and people.”

By 9 a.m., the educational component of the Earth-Day related event will start, with a hike and lecture by Perry Cook and Charlene Carveth on canyon bridges and wildflowers. Colfax watercolor artist Juan Pena will be offering a painting demonstration and tips on capturing the canyon on canvas starting at 9 a.m. and lasting throughout the morning.

More at AuburnJournal.com >>>

Three county supervisors appointed to Lower American River Parkway Conservancy

Sacramento County supervisors appointed three of their own to the advisory committee for the Lower American River Conservancy Program on Tuesday.

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to appoint supervisors Phil Serna, Susan Peters and Don Nottoli to the committee, with the goal of protecting the parkway, often called the “jewel of Sacramento,” and promoting recreational opportunities.

The American River Parkway is an urban greenbelt that provides flood control and wildlife habitat and protects water quality, along with biking and walking trails.

“Overall the American River Parkway is one of the best amenities in the region,” said Dianna Poggetto, executive director of the American River Parkway Foundation. “It’s considered a blueprint for all the greenbelts in the United States.”

The parkway attracts 8 million visitors annually, Poggetto said.

The Lower American River Conservancy Program was established in a bill authored by Assemblyman Kevin McCarty and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year.

More at SacBee.com >>>

Folsom’s Johnny Cash Trail to be completed in early fall

Construction of the second phase of Folsom’s Johnny Cash Trail begins this week at East Natoma Street and Folsom Prison Road and is scheduled for completion by early fall.

The current portion of the project includes 1.25 miles of Class I paved trail, an undercrossing beneath Folsom Prison Road allowing trail users to avoid motor vehicle traffic, and a 190-foot wooden arched bridge providing views of the American River and Lake Natoma, according to a city news release.

The project also includes a paved trail spur for Folsom prison employees between Natoma Street and the prison employee parking lot. Two-way traffic will be maintained on Folsom Prison Road during construction, although minor delays can be expected, according to the news release.

When this phase is completed, the Johnny Cash Trail will connect to an existing trail at Rodeo Park, providing runners, walkers and bicyclists a route to Folsom’s historic district and the American Parkway Trail.

Funding for the $3.23 million project comes from various federal grants and local transportation funds, according to the news release.

Like the first section of the trail, completed in 2014, this phase will be built by Westcon Construction Inc. The firm also built the Johnny Cash Bridge. Designed to resemble Folsom State Prison’s East Gate guard tower, which is featured in a photo of Cash taken before his 1968 Folsom prison concert, the bridge spans Folsom Lake Crossing Road.

More at SacBee.com >>>

Snow survey reveals CA water content at 185% of average

The Sierra snowpack survey conducted Wednesday revealed that the northern Sierra water content is well above average for this time of the year and bodes well for runoff later in the year.

Numbers manually taken by water officials at the Phillips Station in El Dorado County revealed 43.4 inches of water content, which is 179 percent of the long-term average for March 1, and a snow-depth of 112.7 inches.

The water content did not break the record of 56.4 inches for that station, but Frank Gehrke, of the California Department of Water Resources, said it is “a pretty phenomenal snowpack.”

“It bodes very well for runoff much longer than we have had in the past four or five years,” Gehrke said. “It’s a very, very good indicator of good surface water supplies as we head into spring and summer.

As of March 1:

  • The northern Sierra is 159 percent of average.
  • The central Sierra is 190 percent of average.
  • The southern Sierra is 201 percent of average.

The central and southern regions are tracking “very close” to 1983, which is when the maximum snowpack was recorded statewide.

More at KCRA.com >>>

Dam manuals keep California’s water future in the past

“Sacramentans will recall how the operators of the Folsom Lake dam dumped billions of gallons of water last year at this time into the American River, never mind that the region was gripped by drought and a heat wave. The reservoir was down to 40 percent of capacity, under clear skies. But dam operators had no choice.”

The Oroville Dam crisis was about infrastructure. The scare this week stemmed from rickety spillways, not dam management.

But if other aspects seemed familiar, it may be because it again highlighted the gap between modern science and the antique flood-control manuals governing major dams in California. As The Bee’s Ryan Sabalow and Andy Furillo reported, the guiding document determining how full Lake Oroville can be in a rainy season hasn’t been updated since the Nixon administration, and is almost as old as the dam itself.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manual, they reported, was last revised in 1970, two years after Oroville Dam’s completion. A lot can change in 47 years.

Science has advanced, in meteorology and engineering. Weather satellites, computer models and research into atmospheric rivers have made it possible to forecast storms with an accuracy previously unimagined. Climate change has upended assumptions.

Two of the biggest floods ever to hit the region have occurred since the Oroville Dam manual was written; on its sepia pages, it’s as if they never happened. The story is the same for all 54 of the state’s primary flood-control dams, whose manuals are 30 years old or older.

“California’s flood infrastructure is based on the hydrology of the past,” Jeffrey Mount of the Public Policy Institute of California told The Bee. “I don’t know a scientist anymore who thinks the future is going to look anything like the past.”

This isn’t just some clerical issue. The owners of those 54 dams cannot deviate from the manuals’ old models in determining water levels. That inflexibility has become a problem in both wet and dry years.

Sacramentans will recall how the operators of the Folsom Lake dam dumped billions of gallons of water last year at this time into the American River, never mind that the region was gripped by drought and a heat wave. The reservoir was down to 40 percent of capacity, under clear skies. But dam operators had no choice.

The installation of a new spillway at Folsom this year has triggered an update, finally, to its manual. Oroville’s problems, and ensuing repairs, could eventually mean a new and improved manual for it, too.

More at SacBee.com >>>

Gigantic Spike-Toothed Salmon Swam In California Rivers 5M Years Ago

At 400 pounds and 8 feet long, this salmon would be good eating—if only it wasn’t extinct. Oncorhynchus rastrosus, the giant spike-toothed salmon, lived in California for around 7 million years, going extinct 5 million years ago. This monster salmon, which is closely related to modern Pacific salmon and actually a member of the same genus, luckily left behind clues about its life and behaviors in its fossil remains. New research by paleontologist Julia Sankey at California State University Stanislaus and colleagues in PaleoBiosgets to the bottom of how this behemoth lived and bred.

Spike-teeth or saber-teeth? When this salmon species was first described, researchers called it a “sabertooth salmon” because of the long, robust teeth on its upper jaw, but actually they point outward instead of downward. This makes them more spike-teeth rather than sabers. The teeth were around 1.5 inches long and pointed straight out from the top of the jaw– likely used for breeding, digging and fighting. Living Pacific salmon fight with each other during mating season for the breeding rights to females, but did O. rastrosus do the same?

More at Forbes.com >>>

Tarantulas looking for love near Folsom Lake

Tarantulas are out looking for love and hikers are being warned to look out for them.

Last weekend, while hiking along the Darington Trail near Folsom Lake, ABC10’s John Bartell came across one of those hairy arachnids. A group of mountain bikers warned John and his girlfriend, who were on the trail at the time, of a tarantula. A surprisingly large tarantula. If you listen closely to the video, you can hear John’s girlfriend warn him about picking up the eight-legged creature.

Wade Spencer, a member of the UC Davis Entomology Department, works with spiders. He said tarantulas can bite, but only if they are only aggressive when agitated. Though they have fangs and carry poison, tarantulas are not considered a serious threat to humans.

More at ABC10.com >>>