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Mendocino County Today: Monday, Aug 3, 2015

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MORNING UPDATE (8am, August 3): 60,000 acres burned - 12% contained

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Most of the expansion in the direction of the prevailing northeasterly wind. Now up to over 54,000 acres with no containment in sight (but no new structure destruction since yesterday).


CALFIRE ASSESSMENT as of Sunday night: The fire activity has grown dramatically and firefighters are aggressively working to stop the progression. The terrain is steep and rugged with limited access, fuels are at critically dry levels and there is little to no fire history in the area. In total, all evacuations now impact over 12,190 citizens living in over 5,201 residences. Damage assessment teams have begun initial assessments based on access through fire affected areas. Resources continue to respond from around the state.



A Mandatory Evacuation order has been implemented for all residents on Ogulin Canyon Road. Law enforcement is currently in the area and informing residents of the mandatory evacuation. All of Ogulin Canyon road will be closed to traffic. A Mandatory Evacuation order is in effect for all of Spring Valley. Law enforcement is currently advising Spring Valley residents of the mandatory evacuation. The Highway 20 corridor will be closed from New Long Valley Road to Highway 53. The Mandatory Evacuation includes Paradise Canyon, New Long Valley Road, Old Long Valley Road, Salt Canyon, Indian Hill Road, Flaming Hills Lane, Benmore Canyon, Red Rock Road, Red Rock Court, Round Mountain Road, North West of Highway 22, Fern Way, Juniper Way, Holly Way, Golden Red Way, Shasta Road, Cougar Road, Jeep Trail, Smith Lane, Pueblo Trail, Quail Trail, Ogulin Canyon Road, Meadow Creek Road, Cache Creek Road, Wolf Creek Road, Spring Valley Road, Riverview Road, Rocky Ridge, Chalk Mountain Road, Lakeview Campground, Cache Creek Winery, Noggle Winery, Elm Way, Dogwood, Cedar, Blue Berry, Acacia Way, Acacia Street, Doe Trail, Madrone Way, Peach Way, Quince Way, Redwood Way, Sequoia Way, Tamarack Way, Weeping Willow Way, Yucca Way, Coyote Way, Elk Way and Fox Way. An Advisory Evacuation is in effect from Highway 53 west to Sulphur Bank Road along Highway 20.

Previous evacuations still active;

Mandatory: Jerusalem Valley area east of Soda Creek, Bonham Road, Quarter Horse Lane, Mustang Court, Bronco Court, Sunset Court, Morgan Valley east of Bonham Road, Canyon Road, June Bug Road, Cambell Ranch Road, Sloan Ranch Road, Sky High Ranch Road, Rocky Creek Road, Dam Road from the gate to the dam, Grizzly Canyon, Long Branch Drive, Lance Road, Cougar Road, Red Rocks, Meridian Road, Antelope Road, Mule Skinner Road, Flint Look Place, Moccasin Road, Roundball Road, Watertrough Road, Grigsby Canyon, Lucky Canyon, Remington Canyon, Walker Ridge, Walker Ridge Road, No Guns Road, Meriann Drive, Bear Valley Road from Highway 20 to Wilbur Springs Road, Wilbur Springs Road and Morgan Valley Road X Butte Creek Road.

Advisory: All areas including east of Hwy 29 @ Raita Road east of Hwy 53 north to Hwy 20 including Ogulin Canyon Road, City of Clear Lake, Spruce Grove Road, Noble Ranch Road, Black Bass Pass, Jerusalem Valley area west of Soda Creek, Double Eagle Ranch, Homes along Hwy 20 corridor between New Long Valley Road and east of the county line, Spruce Grove Road to intersection of Jerusalem Grade, Lake Ridge.

Evacuation Centers: Middletown High School, Kelseyville High School

Road Closures: Highway 20 is closed from Highway 16 to Highway 53 for all through traffic in both directions due to increased fire activity. Highway 16 is closed from Highway 20 to the Yolo County Line in both directions due to increased fire activity. Jerusalem Valley Road is closed to all traffic at Spruce Grove Road.

An animal evacuation center is opened at the Lower Lake Social Services parking lot, 15975 Anderson Ranch Parkway, Lower Lake.


ACCORDING TO RECORD-BEE PHOTOGRAPHER Bob Minenna, who was positioned with fire crews on Highway 20 near the Oasis and farther east, the fire came upclose to Highway 20 but was knocked down each time. Fire lines held thanks to hand crews and bulldozers cutting fire lines, air support knocked down several hot spots, and "firing out" operations by firefighters burned up fuel in front of the approaching blaze. So far, the Highway 20 line has held in that area. Minenna said engines were stationed at intervals up and down the Highway 20 corridor. Those engines were from San Francisco, San Jose, Salt Lake City and Los Angeles as well as many other agencies from all parts of California.

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TWO AIR FORCE RESERVE FIREFIGHTING PLANES are being sent to California to battle wildfires raging there. The C-130s from Colorado's Peterson Air Force Base are expected to arrive at McClellan Airtanker Base near Sacramento on Monday to fight fires in California and the Northwest. The planes are equipped with large devices called Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems, or MAFFS. They can drop 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant in less than five seconds and can be refilled in less than 12 minutes. Planes equipped with MAFFS are operated by four military airlift wings around the country, including the 302nd Airlift Wing at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. The wing says the planes were activated after the U.S. Forest Service requested help Saturday evening. (AP)

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CALIFORNIA TO RECEIVE FEMA FUNDING to battle Rocky Fire in Lake County

OAKLAND, Calif. -- The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has authorized the use of federal funds to assist the state of California to combat the ROCKY Fire burning in Lake County.

On August 1, 2015 the State of California submitted a request for a Fire Management Assistance Declaration for the ROCKY Fire burning in Lake County. At the time of the request, the fire was threatening 704 homes in and around the community of Lower Lake and other nearby communities. Mandatory evacuations were taking place for approximately 450 people. The fire started on July 29, 2015 and has burned in excess of 47,000 total acres of federal, state, and private land.

The Regional Administrator for FEMA's Region IX office determined that the ROCKY Fire threatened such destruction as would constitute a major disaster and approved the State's request on August 2, 2015.

The Disaster Relief Fund provides funding for Fire Management Assistance Grants (FMAGs) through FEMA to assist in fighting fires which threaten to cause major disasters. Eligible costs covered by FMAGs can include expenses for field camps; equipment use; repair and replacement; tools; materials; supplies and mobilization and demobilization activities.

FEMA's mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.

(Federal Emergency Management Agency)

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WILLOWS, Calif. – The Mendocino National Forest is still searching for and identifying fires sparked by lightning from storms that occurred late last week and through this weekend.

Of the approximately 15 fires located on the Forest, only three on the Upper Lake Ranger District remain active, with the other fires declared either contained, controlled or out.

The Etsel Fire is approximately 32 acres and 60% contained. It is located in the Yuki Wilderness and is burning in heavy timber and brujsh.

The Boardman Fire is 40 to 50 acres, with fire behavior increasing this afternoon from moderate to high due to winds. Air resources, primarily helicopters making drops, are experiencing interference with hang gliders in the area, affecting their ability to safely work on suppressing the fire.

The Deer Fire, burning southeast of Lake Pillsbury, is estimated to be 50 to 75 acres. It is burning in mixed conifer with fire behavior picking up this afternoon. There are three structures threatened. Two engine crews and two Type 1 handcrews are currently working on the fire with the help of various air resources.

As dry conditions and hot temperatures continue, firefighters anticipate discovering more lightning fires in coming days. There are additional thunderstorms in the forecast for the remainder of the weekend.

Forest visitors are asked to be aware of their surroundings and be prepared for changing conditions. This includes reporting visible smoke that could be from a wildfire.

To report a fire, please call 911.

As a reminder, the Mendocino National Forest is currently under fire restrictions. Visitors are asked to follow regulations and be careful with anything with a flame or that can throw a spark in the forest. For more information, please visit

For more information, please contact the Mendocino National Forest at 530-934-3316 or visit Updates are also available on Twitter @MendocinoNF.

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FROM TOMMY WAYNE KRAMER'S column in Sunday's Ukiah Daily Journal: "NOTE: A longstanding but mostly bogus historical rewrite of the closing of California’s state hospitals puts the blame squarely on the desk of Governor Ronald Reagan, who was indeed at the helm in the early ‘70s. The fact is that Reagan could no more unilaterally close the state’s vast network of hospitals down in 1972 than Jerry Brown could today shut down the the CHP or CalTrans. Not possible then, nor now. Public opinion had swung against big, prison-like hospitals (think of Nurse Ratched and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and in favor of integrating the mentally ill back into the communities. The California State Legislature obliged."

WELL, NOT EXACTLY. Reagan and the Republicans were, of course, shutting down all government, except the military, and the libs, visions of Nurse Ratched dancing in their always fraught heads, got together to promulgate the myth that by closing the state hospitals and placing the mentally ill in community-based group homes they were committing a great, bipartisan leap forward. The prob was that California's state hospitals, like the one at Talmage, were humanely run. Natch there was the occasional atrocity, but by and large they were like Talmage — different units for the varying intensities of dysfunction. There were units for the drug and alcohol dependent, children's units, and lock-up wards for those who were dangerous to themselves and others. The second prob with the great shutdown was that there were no community-based group homes for the mentally ill beyond a few for-profit board and care homes here and there run, mostly, by families of recent immigrants at a loss to cope with the disturbed.

THERE WAS NOTHING WRONG with the state hospital system as it existed in the time of The Great Communicator except it was expensive and, as we know, then and now the Republican mission is to shut down government where it helps people in favor of government that either kills people or works to enrich Republicans and their friends. (The Democrats can be counted on to go along.)

(I had two close relatives confined for several months each at the Napa State Hospital and at the Langley Porter Clinic in San Francisco. I visited them often and I'm here to tell you it was a life saver for both of them. They got themselves together and they got out. That was in the pre-Reagan time when there was still an American consensus that people unable or unwilling to help themselves had to be effectively cared for and we all had a responsibility to pay for that care. Reagan, by the way, before he became governor, had given his famous speech that the MediCare program would "destroy freedom in America." He said that Gramps and Gram would have to explain to their grandchildren what America was like before MediCare destroyed it. The idiot wing of the Republicans still wants to destroy MediCare, but where would most of us be without it?)

AND LOOK WHAT we have now for the mentally ill. I believe it's called Next To Nothing.

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Photo by Annie Kalantarian
Photo by Annie Kalantarian

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IN ALL THE HOORAH about the proposed name change for Fort Bragg, a hoorah already totally forgotten, I remembered Braxton's Espresso next door to Doug Roycroft's wonderful bookstore, Fiddler's Green. I had to call on Doug for the name of the guy who ran Braxton's, I'm ashamed to admit, because I always stopped in there for coffee and the proprietor always seemed to be whirling around behind the counter in dervish-like dances to classical music. Doug reminds me that his name was Michael Berenz. His partner was Rella, a well-known anti-nuke activist who was also well known on the Coast for her skill at raising succulents. Doug says of Berenz, "If you had as many double espressos as he did, you'd be dancing around the shop too, music or no..." Whatever else you might say about Mendocino County, we've never lacked for vivid personalities.

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NOTICE how surprised newspaper reports on the economy always sound when they're at odds from the propaganda out of the White House that "inflation is in check," unemployment is "down," the job market is "strong." An AP story seemed surprised that "Average US vehicle age hits record 11.5 years." Gosh, you mean most people can't rush out to sign up for a new Beamer?

MY '97 Honda Civic has 240,000 plus miles on it. The radiator blew up once. Once. That's it, the only time it hasn't been completely reliable. The interior is rough, so rough my wife complains about it every time she's compelled to be transported in it. "This is like riding in a garbage can," she says. "Can't you at least wash the outside?" Honest country dirt and detritus, my dear, I say. The winter rains will take care of the exterior.

MY MECHANIC, a discreet kind of guy, asked me, "No new car for you, huh Mr. Anderson?" I explained that I intended to calibrate the demise of my vehicle with my demise. "I think that'll work," he said. "These things run forever."

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A READER WRITES: Slow breaking news from Elk: Brigit Dolan’s Last Stand. Over a year ago, the executive chiefs of the highly successful Jackson Rancheria Casino and Resort near Sacramento needed a place to stash their overflowing coffers, gleaned from hordes of gambling morons; so why not buy Elk? They purchased the Greenwood Pier properties, which included an inn, restaurant, trinket store, and garden shop. They promptly shut the facilities down for a year’s refurbishing. As an afterthought, they also bought the property next door: Brigit Dolan’s Pub and Inn. The pub was reorganized; the menu upgraded and all appeared to be well at the popular pub where locals mingle over cold pints of opinion and gossip. However, last week, one of the big chiefs from Sacramento dropped in for an overnight stay and found his accommodations lacking. He also didn’t like the food. Granted, the pub grub is not exactly the gastronomical equivalent of Chez Panisse, but the locals appeared to like it with scant complaint, but not the big chief from Sacramento. He promptly fired the entire staff and closed the pub and inn for “renovations.” The manager resigned before being tomahawked, but several employees, most of them hard working Mexican Americans, were summarily scattered to the ranks of the haplessly unemployed. A sign on the door states the pub will reopen after August 11, but the best bet on the table is that the pub will be closed for a long, long time. After all, the tribal owners don’t need the money.

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DeVALL 86ed. Also in Elk, Norman DeVall, Mendocino County’s former Mandarin supervisor, was recently tossed and told not to come back to Bobby Beacon’s Beacon Light Cocktail lounge. DeVall was not drunk, but, as usual, he was intoxicated on a cocktail of self-grandeur and local politics. DeVall, on behalf of the Elk Water Board, threatened to force water rights from Beacon’s ranch in an act of “public domain.” Beacon had enough, and pointed to the door. It was DeVall's second expulsion from the famous Elk bar in the past two years.

NORMAN PROMPTLY REPLIED: "This is a complete surprise to me. I invited a guest who is a strong member and supporter of Veterans for Peace who was passing through as the S/V [sailing vessel] GOLDEN RULE was southbound to the VFP conference in San Diego. He offered Bobby his Veterans for Peace hat which was refused, as was his VFP T-shirt. We did speak of the water district, and I did counter Bobby's criticisms with district options, such as suggesting that if we annexed his property he could be on water district board of directors. A half-hour later we left after shaking hands."

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CATCH OF THE DAY, August 2, 2015

Arriaga, Ayon, Bolton
Arriaga, Ayon, Bolton

MARIC ARRIAGA, Ukiah. Resisting, probation revocation.


JOHN BOLTON, Willits. Drunk in public, probation revocation. (Frequent flyer.)

Brogie, Ceja, Dexter, Gonzalez
Brogie, Ceja, Dexter, Gonzalez

BRANDY BROGIE, Fort Bragg. Probation revocation.

SEBASTIAN CEJA, Ukiah. Brandishing, criminal threats.

JUSTIN DEXTER, Fort Bragg. Felon with firearm.

ERIC GONZALEZ, Ukiah. Contributing.

Hernandez-Medina, Horbacheusky, Ligon, Little
Hernandez-Medina, Horbacheusky, Ligon, Little

HILARIO HERNANDEZ-MEDINA, Redwood Valley. Drunk in public.

PETER HORBACHEUSKY, Oakland/Ukiah. Possession of more than an ounce of pot.

ZACKERY LIGON, Ukiah. DUI causing injury.

JOSEPH LITTLE, Fort Bragg. Probation revocation.

Marin, McKenzie, Spencer
Marin, McKenzie, Spencer

MIGUEL MARIN, Ukiah. Probation revocation.

DWAYNE MCKENZIE, Ukiah. Possession of controlled substance and paraphernalia, probation revocation.

ASHLEY SPENCER, Willits. Under influence of controlled substance.

Stephen, Vargas-Nell, Williams
Stephen, Vargas-Nell, Williams

TONY STEPHEN, Sebastopol. Contempt of court, court order violation.

VANESSA VARGAS-NELL, Lakeport. Under influence of controlled substance.


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THE STYLE NEVER FALTERS. The silhouette of no sentence is ever blurred. Every sentence is ringing with a clear vocal cadence. There after all, in that vocal quality, is the chief test of good writing. Writing, as a means of expression, has to compete with talking. The talker need not rely wholly on what he says. He has the help of his mobile face and hands, and of his voice, with its various inflexions and its variable pace, whereby he may insinuate fine shades of meaning… But the writer? For his every effect he must rely wholly on the words that he chooses, and on the order in which he arranges them, and on his choice among the few hard and fast symbols of punctuation. He must so use those slender means that they shall express all that he himself can express through his voice and face and hands or all that he would thus express if he were a good talker.

— Max Beerbohm

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Profit Is A Requirement.

Todd Walton in the July 22 issue quotes Jennifer Hinton, “The Greek government should encourage not-for-profit enterprise in every sector to prevent the extraction of profits from the real economy and encourage social entrepreneurs and innovators to start up their own not-for-profits.” A nonprofit based economy is a common theme with some, because profit is viewed as the fundamental cause of “societal injustice.” I am not sure being anti-profit is exactly the intent, but will comment on the basis that it is.

All successful living organisms are required to make a profit. Successful reproduction requires it. Profit merely means the amount of energy gained exceeds the amount of energy expended in the enterprise of life. Biologically, profit is measured in energy units. This concept is about as fundamental to biology as it gets, and is what drives evolution.

With people there are other relevant factors. We use money to measure profit, and money is a proxy that can and is easily corrupted. We are also unique among mammals in being specialists. We have a “division of labor.” Our social model is unique and reflects this. There are no true “lone wolves” among us. Unique and inherent to us as well is slavery and war.

George Hollister


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An American businessman was on the pier of a coastal Mexican village when a small fishing boat docked. On the boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them. The fisherman replied that it only took a little while. The American then asked why didn't he stay out longer and catch more fish. The fisherman said he had enough to support his family's immediate needs. The American then asked, "But what do you do with the rest of your time?" The fisherman said, "I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life, señor." The American scoffed. "I am a Wharton MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats. Eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then L.A., and eventually New York City, where you will run your expanding enterprise." The fisherman asked, "How long will this all take?" To which the American replied, "Fifteen or twenty years." "But what then?" The American laughed and said, "That's the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You would make millions." "Millions? Then what?" The American said, "Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with friends."

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Here is another quotation from Marilynne Robinson that I found intriguing. It is the conclusion of "The Strange History of Altruism," one of the essays in The Absence of Mind: "It has been true in fact that the renunciation of religion in the name of reason and progress has been strongly associated with a curtailment of the assumed capacities of the mind."

Also, I sometimes wondered whether the AVA criticisms of KZYX were too harsh, but I tuned into a call-in show while driving in Mendocino and it was appalling. The intense self-seriousness was really sad, and so was the assumption that KZYX was important and special. My theory about a lot of these people is they have just enough money not to work, but not enough money to do much of anything else.

Writing about Tennessee Williams' rough last years, Gore Vidal described people like this as "remittance men," people who were paid off by their families to keep their distance.

Richard Russell

San Jose

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I am confused. (The usual state of affairs.) I am also two weeks behind on the AVA. (Better than the usual state of affairs.) I refer to the piece by Clay Geerdes in the July 22 issue, "The Big Be-In."

As I may have told the Esteemed Editor several decades ago, Clay Geerdes is one of my all-time favorite contributors to the AVA. It's a delight to find him in those pages again. But I am puzzled by the opening paragraph: "January 14, 2007 was the 40th anniversary of the great Gathering of all Tribes for a Human Be-In…" Did someone else write that? I thought Mr. Geerdes departed this mortal plane in 1997.

I also can't help observing that if he taught at Fresno State while living at 903 Ashbury (second paragraph), he had a helluva a commute! Perhaps he was just in SF for the Summer of Love. (But he is talking about January.)

I know the Mighty Editor has considerable power and influence. If he can bring back Clay Geerdes from the great beyond one way or another, I'm all for it.


Stewart Bowen

Suisun Valley

ED NOTE: Geerdes was one of our faves too. And The Major did indeed note the 40th anniversary but didn't explain that he'd made the change, not Geerdes reaching down from the great be-in the sky. I think Geerdes, a cutting edge guy, did indeed live at 903 at least part-time.

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As usual grapes not mentioned

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by Jonah Raskin

In Roman Polansky’s Chinatown — arguably the coolest movie ever made about the murky political world of H2O — private eye Jake Gittes never nails the man who murders Hollis Mulwray, the chief engineer for the L.A. Department of Water and Power. The case unravels Gittes. What's more, the police kill his client, Mulwray’s wife, played by Faye Dunaway.

“Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown,” his levelheaded buddy Walsh says. These days, Polansky’s noir thriller seems as timely as ever, not just in California, but all across the West where it’s drier than ever before in recorded history. In California, the last four years have been the driest since the 1920s, according to UC Davis groundwater expert Thomas Harter.

"Groundwater levels are lower than they have ever been before as the consequence of groundwater overdrafts," Harter explained on June 10, 2015 at the Sonoma Wine Grape Growers Annual Seminar in Forestville. He added, "If locals don't manage groundwater, the state will."

Even Roman Polanski might be shocked by the specter of the current “mega-drought” that has spiked fears, led homeowners to abandon lush lawns, install artificial turf and dig deeper wells. Not only that, citizens are encouraged to watch neighbors and report culprits who wash cars in broad daylight, habitually hose down sidewalks and soak red roses at noon — all no-no’s.

Meanwhile, those who pooh-pooh the drought, like climate change deniers, go their merry ways. Next year, they predict, it’ll pour cats and dogs and everything will be bright green again. Not to worry, folks, except that in Sonoma climate change means hotter, dryer summers, more evaporation from soils, plants, lakes and streams and, yes, less water all around.

Daniel Muelrath, the buoyant General Manager of the Valley of the Moon Water District (VOMWD), knows Polansky’s Chinatown. He tells me he’s watched all the movies and read all the books about water. In his Bay Street office on a hot, dusty afternoon, he unfurls a large color map that shows the waterscape for the entire Valley of the Moon: fire hydrants, storage tanks and the six wells that the agency owns or leases. It’s an indispensable tool for water engineers and not for general consumption. Muelrath won’t let it out of his sight.

Bad guys, he suggests, could use the map to wreak havoc in the Valley of the Moon, where the drought, has stretched water resources, brought citizens close to the boiling point and opened a new chapter in the story of water and power in Sonoma. A lone reporter can feel like Jake Gittes investigating a case where sources won’t talk. Indeed, for everyone who craves the truth about water, there seem to be just as many who’d like to hide it in subterranean aquifers.

Well drillers’ reports — there are about 800,000 in the state capitol — aren’t public documents. They’re signed, sealed and filed away, though that may change with new legislation in Sacramento prompted by the paucity of rain and zero snowpack.

Muethrath tells me that Valley of the Moon residents are all in the same boat when it comes to water, and that solutions will have to serve everyone. Born in 1979 and too young to have experienced the drought of 1976-77, he graduated from Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo and worked for the city of Santa Rosa in water resource conservation. There doesn’t seem to be a drop of Roman Polansky cynicism in his veins, though he knows the turbulent tale of water in the Golden State.

He’s visited its celebrated landmarks, from Hetch Hetchy and the Salton Sea to the Tehapachi Pass, where water from the North moves through pipes to the South. That’s the direction it travels almost everywhere in the state as it brings Californians together and also divides haves from have-nots, urban from rural, and folks close to forests from those on the edge of desert.

Muelrath reels off data. “The VOMWA serves 23,000 people,” he tells me. “In 2013-2014, eighty-five percent of our water came from the Russian River via the Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA), fifteen percent from local wells. This year we’ll buy five percent less from SCWA and draw five percent more from our own resources. Last year rainfall in the Valley of the Moon was 75% of normal. We had better ground water recharge this year than last because of storms in December and February and we’re in better shape now than we were during the drought of 1976-77 because of improved technology and fewer leaks.” Maybe.

He pauses for a moment, glances at the map on his desk and adds, “Lake Sonoma is 85% of normal. I’d rate that a B. The big unknown factor is the weather. In the water equation it’s the hardest thing to predict.”

The City of Sonoma’s water works are separate from VOMWA, though the picture in town is similar to the picture in the Valley. Dan Takasugi, the city engineer and director of public works, occupies an office on the plaza where he keeps an eye on the ebb and flow of water resources. Ninety-two percent of city water comes from the SCWA, he says, and eight percent from wells four hundred feet deep that are pumped only during the driest months of the year. Takasugi adds, “We store water in tanks within city limits and on Thornsberry Road; we chlorinate.”

Moreover, he explains that families in their own houses use more water than renters in apartments and that overall consumption by urban residents is down dramatically this year. In May 2015, for example, customers used 42,246,477 gallons, a thirty-five percent reduction from May 2013.

Neither Muelrath nor Takasugi knows the number of privately owned wells in the Valley or how many acre-feet are pumped every year. Apparently no one knows. If they do they’re not talking. All across Sonoma drillers dig new wells fifty-two weeks in the year, deeper than ever before, even as the water table falls. It doesn’t fall everywhere, but it does in many locations, according to Ray Larbre whose family went into the well and pump business in 1931. These days his firm installs pumps and leaves messy drilling to others.

“People in the Valley insist we have a Mediterranean climate,” Larbre tells me. “Except we don’t have the Mediterranean Sea and we don’t have summer rain, either as they do in many parts of Europe. That’s a big difference.”

He gazes out the window and adds that, “One thing I see around here are multi-million dollar estates with huge gardens and big lawns. They’re often unoccupied.”

Brandon Burgess works for Weeks Drilling and Pump Company with headquarters in Sebastopol and crews on the job from Covelo to Redwood City and everywhere in between.

“We’re in the Gold Rush of water,” he tells me on his cell phone. “Over the last couple of years, we’ve been drilling two hundred wells a year. Some of our business is driven by fear, a by-product of the drought and the unknown. Still, a good well always increases the value of a property. Some land owners are putting in wells on 50-acre blocks to get ready for development.”

Crews from Weeks dig wells that go down a thousand feet. Some provide two-thousand-gallons a minute, others just two on the same property. “I get calls from farmers in the Central Valley who want us to drill,” Burgess says. “We could make money hand over fist, and while it’s enticing to leave the area and make big bucks that’s not our thing. We take pride in putting out a quality product and we don’t cut corners, though there’s pressure to do so.”

For seven days in May, Drake Coffey and Mike Iraola, both veteran Weeks workers, dug a well three-hundred-feet deep on Broadway, a short distance from the plaza, where a good well already existed. The owners planned to put in a tasting room and wanted more water. Using a very noisy, old mud-rotary rig called “The Hole Master,” Coffey and Iraola worked all day; by the end of each day they were covered with mud and clay, which is harder to work with than the valley’s volcanic rock that’s more likely to yield abundant water. The harder the ground, drillers say, the better the well.

“Mike and I do about sixty wells a year,” Coffey explains. “Well drilling is a good job. People always need water, especially in a drought. Some folks put in wells so they don’t have to be on city water. Some have water anxiety. It’s usually more gratifying to put in a well for a family than a vineyard; growers often don’t appreciate that fact that someone had to bust ass to get water for them. It’s a tough job that takes a toll on a body.”

Sonoma Valley Wholesale Nursery on Arnold Drive has a new well, and, though business plummeted after Governor Brown asked Californians to cut back on water, customers have come back to buy everything from olive trees to succulents and roses. Kellan MacKay, the savvy sales manager, comes from Seattle.

“I’m a plant nerd, a foodie and I raise chickens,” she says. “I settled in Sonoma to dry out my bones.” Fluent in Spanish as well as English — an advantage in the landscaping and nursery business where many Mexicans work — MacKay also knows both the Latin and the common names for the plants she sells, including Hydrangea macrophylla that she urges customers not to purchase because it gobbles water.

“We need to change the whole water paradigm, but I don’t see many people doing it,” she says. “A lot of education has to be done. It’s hard to make the transition to drought-resistant gardening and landscaping, but I believe that we can do it.”

She holds up a flower and smells. “This is California, not the Arizona desert,” she adds. “A garden is supposed to be enjoyed, with trees and shrubs that use water appropriately. Here at the nursery we’re far more conscious about water than we were a short time ago. A great thing about this place is that it’s an oasis for plants and a haven for birds, insects, foxes and more.”

Paul Wirtz of Paul’s Produce raises lush vegetables on the parcel adjoining the nursery. He cultivates 40% more land now than he did in 2011, but he’s using water far more efficiently now than ever before with drip and sub-surface irrigation (especially for onions) and not much overhead irrigation.

“We’re a small farm,” he says. “Seventy-five percent of what we grow goes to valley residents. I feel good that it’s not exported as so much wine is. We grow lots of lettuce; our customers demand it, though it takes a huge amount of water. If there’s more pressure to conserve I might have to think through every crop and not grow some crops.”

Wirtz loves farming, but he’s worried about the future of the family farm. “I don’t want to get into anything with grapes,” he says. “But there’s only so much water around.” He adds, “If we can’t grow as a business we’ll die.”

He’s not the only one reluctant to talk about grapes. One vineyard worker who asked for anonymity described grapes as the valley’s “sacred cow.”

James Knight, an enologist who writes for the North Bay Bohemian, thinks vineyards might be as profitable tomorrow as they are today, but he suggests that they might not be dry farmed.

“I don’t see a trend toward dry farming in Sonoma,” he says. “There’s no mass movement toward drought resistant root stock. Farmers who have dry farmed grapes are getting out of dry farming.”

Pam Strayer maintains a widely read blog, Wine Country Geographic. She has also written seven apps about organic and biodynamic wines in northern California. “Until the 1970s, most vineyards in Sonoma Valley were dry farmed,” she tells me on a breezy Sunday afternoon when we sip a 2013 McFadden Chardonnay from Mendocino County. Strayer adds, “The California wines that won at the famous blind tasting in 1976 in France and that put California on the viticultural map of the world came from dry farmed grapes. Then corporations moved in and changed nearly everything. Grape growers began to irrigate to maximize tonnage. Today, irrigation is all about quantity not quality. Saving water in the vineyards is not a popular subject with grape growers.”

At Glen Ellen’s Old Hill Ranch, Will Bucklin makes up for every one who tiptoes around the sacred cow. No ands, ifs and buts about it, he doesn’t approve of the practices of the grape industry, especially what he calls “the waste of water.” Born in San Francisco in 1961, he spent summers in Sonoma as a boy and learned about water and wine from Otto Teller, his mother’s second husband, who bought Old Hill Ranch in 1980 and dry farmed grapes just as grapes began to take over the Valley and as traditional crops like walnuts vanished acre by acre. Thirty-five years later, the monoculture is far more entrenched than ever before. Drive across the Valley and one can’t help but see baby vineyards in almost every nook and cranny.

Bucklin sells about half his harvest to Ravenswood where Joel Petersen, located in the foothills of the Mayacamas at the end of Gehricke Road, makes some of the best wines money can buy. The rest of Bucklin’s grapes go into his own wines that are marketed under the Old Hill label. “Our paradigm at Old Hill is weird,” he says. “We like weird.”

Fortunately, his well, which is only one-hundred-and-twenty-feet deep, produces eighty-gallons a minute, which means that he’s sitting pretty. On a hot day he strolls through his fields with his dog Matilda and looks at gnarled vines over hundred years old with roots that go down forty to fifty feet. There’s no plastic here, no T-tape and no irrigation lines, but there’s enough water in the soil for the grapes to thrive.

“Dry farming is an aesthetic thing, but it’s not just about aesthetics,” Bucklin says. “I dry farm because I think dry farming produces the best grapes, which in turn make the best wines. In France, Greece and Italy they dry farm and they make the best frickin’ wines you can drink.”

Bucklin looks toward the Mayacamas and then toward Sonoma Mountain. “Most grape growers around here want to move water off the land as quickly as possible so they can get tractors into the field to do whatever needs to be done,” he says.

At Old Hill, he slows down rainwater, spreads it and sinks it into the ground. He adds compost, grows cover crops, tills modestly and makes soil with organic matter so that it retains water.

“Much of farming is fear-based,” Bucklin says. “The fear of climate change and the fear of drought that begets anxiety. The challenge here in the Valley and elsewhere is to overcome the fear that things will get out of control.”

In the midst of the drought of 2011-2015, one can’t help but remember Franklin D. Roosevelt’s speech during the Great Depression when he said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Roosevelt also told Americans that he would ask Congress for “broad Executive power to wage a war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.”

Eighty years on, Californians are wary of executive power whether it comes from Washington, D.C., Sacramento or Santa Rosa, where the Sonoma County Water Agency has its headquarters and where decisions are made that affect farms, fish, forests and folks who’d like to enjoy a patch of green and know that their children and grandchildren will be able to turn on the tap and still get uncontaminated water.

No story about water in the Valley would be complete without Susan Gorin, the supervisor for the First District that includes the City of Sonoma, Kenwood, Agua Caliente, Glen Ellen, El Verano, Boyes Hot Springs, Schellville and Vineburg. No public figure in the North Bay has a better grasp of the drought than Gorin and no one is more forthcoming than she.

“There are many moving pieces to the story,” she begins. “The good news is that we’re using the drought as an opportunity to send the message that water is fragile and finite. For a very long time, there’s been a free-for-all around the state and right here in Sonoma. We know now that more water is coming out of the ground than is being recharged and that there are serious issues about depletion near the golf course on Arnold Drive and around Eight Street East where there’s commerce and manufacturing.”

Gorin pauses a moment, gathers her thoughts and continues. “We’ve captured the attention of the public,” she says. “Now’s the time to engage with the rural and the agricultural community. Farmers and grape growers have to recognize that they need to take water conservation as seriously as urban users who have cut way back.”

She repeats Mark Twain’s quip, "Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over,” though she doesn’t mean to encourage the consumption of alcohol or water wars. Twain’s words are too catchy not to quote.

“We have to avoid in-fighting,” Gorin says. “Citizens want to be included in the conversation and government needs to listen to them. We have to sit down in a democratic way and determine the best uses of water for all. We’d like farmers to build ponds for storage, develop sustainable vineyards, use gray water, persuade wineries to recycle water and make reclaimed waste water available for agriculture.”

She could go on. There’s more to say. It seems likely from everything that Gorin does say that various agencies will jockey with one another for power, water and bragging rights.

“We’re doing a lot of amazing things,” Gorin says. “It takes time. We’re learning many of the same lessons that Australia learned during its drought.”

The bottom line is this: nobody knows how much water there is in the Valley and no one knows how much water is consumed in the Valley. No one at any water agency, no one in local or state government and no one in commerce, agriculture, business or the environmental movement. The water clock is ticking. Civilizations that once had water and power and that didn’t use either wisely are no longer sustainable civilizations. As long as there are rocks and mountains there will a Valley of the Moon, but it might be a hot, dry, dusty valley that looks and feels more like a desert with a few oases here and there.

Citizens in the Valley of the Moon have turned to water conservation without brazen political arm-twisting. At the Sonoma Community Center on East Napa the old lawn is gone, replaced by a model garden with native plants. A sturdy new stainless steel tank along the side of the building can store up to 8,000 gallons of rainwater for irrigation. This summer there’s not a drop inside.

On a Monday morning, Seth Dolinsky in shorts and sunglasses pulls up grasses that aren’t as drought resistant as he’d like them to be.

They’ll be replaced by the best that nature can provide for hot dry summers. The landscape manager at the Community Center and the President of the Sonoma Valley Grange, Dolinsky describes a time when the valley was green in summer. He looks forward to a time when it might be green again if citizens conserve, recycle, restore and more. “People are curious about ways to save water,” he says. “They want to know what they can do.”

At the Valley of the Moon Water District, Dan Muelrath, shares Dolinsky’s sentiments. He also leads by example at his home in Santa Rosa where he’s removed lawn, put in drought resistant plants and built swales to soak up rainwater. “With an ecological approach, I believe we can have a sustainable valley,” he says. “We can have enough water for veggie farms, dairy, grapes, and domestic use, too.”

If the drought is a story about ecology and economy it’s also a story about life styles, identities and generations.

At Sonoma Garden Park on Seventh Street East, a group of school kids learned about birds, bees, bugs and H2O. Tony Passantino, who works at the Sonoma Ecology Center and who runs the summer camp, says that the subject of water is incorporated in every aspect of the program, from wild life habitat to sustainable gardens.

Thalia is just eight, but she’s already aware of the need to conserve, recycle and recharge. “When you brush your teeth you have to turn off the tap and not let water run,” she tells me. “You can’t put bad stuff down sewage drains because that would pollute creeks.”

When it comes to water, Valley of the Moon kids are alright. Now adults need to get their act together.

* * *


by Dan Bacher

The Sacramento Chapter of "System Change Not Climate Change" held a protest, featuring the "Raging Grannies" singing their songs calling on the Brown administration to end fracking now, on August 1 at 11 am at the California Department of Conservation office in Sacramento.

The Raging Grannies - Robin Durston, Jennie Taylor, Joan Kelly, and Ellen Schwartz - sang five songs, including "The Monterey Shale," "Hydrofracking Sucks, "No Fracking No Way," "Fracking and "We Curse You Fracking CEOs."

People gathered at 18 coordinated "Clean Not Extreme" events that were a part of a statewide day of action following the release of a statewide study on fracking and oil well stimulation in California. These actions demonstrated mounting public opposition to fracking and other extreme oil extraction methods and increasing support for a pathway to 100% clean energy, according to Californians Against Fracking.

Other demonstrations took place in Auburn, Bakersfield, Eureka, Joshua Tree, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Modesto, Oakland, Roseville, San Diego, San Francisco, San Rafael, Venice and Ventura.

"We are in the front of the Department of Conservation today to protest fracking, since this agency is the one that regulates fracking in California," said Chris Hodges, Sacramento organizer of "System Change Not Climate Change. "The Department has the authority to stop all fracking in the state."

He pointed out that fracking, an extreme method of oil and natural gas extraction, adversely impacts the air and water quality of California at a time when the state is suffering from extreme drought. The fracking process yields toxic wastewater after a mixture of toxic chemicals and water is used to fracture the shale to extract the oil and bring it to the surface.

"The state of New York, after publishing a 160 page report documenting the dangers of fracking to water, air and human health, has banned fracking," he said. "Governor Jerry Brown should do the same as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and ban fracking also."

Hodges noted, "We hope this demonstration is but the first of many such anti-fracking demonstrations to be held by System Change Not Climate Change (and any other sympathetic persons, and organizations) and we hope it or similar demonstrations will be held on a regular monthly basis until fracking is an outlawed practice in the State of California."

At Lake Merritt in Oakland on Saturday, Alameda County families and residents entered the ring and delivered a round of "jabs, right hooks and upper cuts" to the oil industry to demand clean, not extreme energy, in Alameda County and across California, according to a statement from Food and Water Watch.

The “Knock Out Oil” rally and performance saw kid superheroes in bright orange capes teamed with adults dressed as grapes and a solar panel to topple over a fracking rig in a street theater boxing ring.

"The action offered residents a light-hearted way to speak out for urgent action to protect public health, water and the climate from the risks inherent in fossil fuel extraction," said Ella Teevan of Food and Water Watch. "The crowd of several dozen issued a resounding call to Gov. Jerry Brown and the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to ban fracking and extreme extraction."

“We knocked out oil today, and we call on the Alameda Board of Supervisors to do the same by passing a countywide ban on fracking and extreme oil extraction,” said Ashley Cupp, an Alameda County campaigner with Food & Water Watch. “In the absence of statewide leadership to protect California from the dangers of drilling, it is up to local elected officials to take the lead. We urge the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to do what Governor Brown hasn’t: ban fracking and other dangerous drilling as the first step toward a renewable energy future.”

Shaye Wolf, climate science director at the Center for Biological Diversity, confirmed the dangers that fracking poses to air quality, water quality and human health.

“Governor Brown says science must guide decisions on fracking, and scientists tell us that fracking pollution threatens the water we drink and the air we breathe,” Wolf said in a press release from Californians Against Fracking. “Extreme oil extraction in California uses incredibly hazardous chemicals near our precious water supplies. Air pollution from fracking and drilling endangers the health of millions of Californians living near oil and gas wells. It’s time for the governor to protect our state by stopping the oil industry from using fracking and other toxic techniques.”

Earlier this month, an independent scientific study by the California Council on Science and Technology (CCST) outlined serious risks associated with oil development processes and concluded that state regulatory officials lack data to adequately protect the public or even to propose effective mitigation strategies to avoid associated health risks, according to Wolf. (

In an opinion piece in the Sacramento Bee, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the President of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) and the former Chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create so-called "marine protected areas" in Southern California, claimed, "For those in the oil industry – or who value energy independence and domestic production – the council’s report provides validation that we are doing things right in California." (

"After decades of using hydraulic fracturing and other oil production technologies under some of the most stringent regulations in the world, the council was unable to find any evidence these technologies have harmed the environment," she said.

However, Californians Against Fracking, in their response to the study, released their "Top 10 Reasons to Ban Fracking" that strongly contest oil industry claims that the report provides "validation" that the oil industry is "doing things right in California." Cited with page numbers and direct quotes from the study, the independent scientific analysis clearly demonstrates the serious risks associated with drilling, fracking and well stimulation. (

"The CCST study concludes that operations close to neighborhoods present substantial public health concerns, including risks to children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with pre-existing health conditions. It also concludes that the sheer number and toxicity of chemicals used in fracking and extreme extraction fluids make it impossible to quantify the risks to the environment and human health, thereby making human beings lab rats in California’s fracking experiment," according to the coalition.

"The recent study by the California Council on Science and Technology only verifies what we’ve known all along: fracking and drilling threaten our water, our food, our health and our future," said Adam Scow, California Director with Food & Water Watch. “It’s beyond time for Governor Brown to protect Californians from these risks by banning fracking and other dangerous drilling as the first step toward a renewable energy future."

“The release of the CCST report highlights a critical decision point for Governor Jerry Brown. Now that the science is in, he can either choose to stop fracking and dangerous oil extraction, or allow it to continue and knowingly put Californians at risk,” said David Greenson, Rootskeeper, one of the organizers of the event.

In the absence of statewide action by Governor Brown and other regulators to protect public health and the climate, communities across the state facing the threat of expanding oil development are taking steps to protect themselves, the group said.

In 2014, Santa Cruz and Mendocino counties joined the city of Beverly Hills in passing measures to ban fracking and similar oil extraction techniques. San Benito County voters also approved a fracking ban with a 59 percent majority, despite a $2 million opposition campaign by the oil industry. In March, voters in Hermosa Beach stopped one company’s attempt to expand oil drilling in their community.

Big Oil is the largest corporate lobby in California. Big Oil spent an amazing $266 million on lobbying and election campaigns from 2005 to 2014, according to an analysis of California Secretary of State data by, an online and social media public education and awareness campaign that highlights oil companies’ efforts to “mislead and confuse Californians.”

For more information, go to:

Californians Against Fracking is a coalition of about 200 environmental business, health, agriculture, labor, political and environmental justice organizations working to win a statewide ban on fracking and other dangerous extraction techniques in California. Follow @CAagainstFrack on Twitter or go to:


  1. LouisBedrock August 3, 2015

    “It has been true in fact that the renunciation of religion in the name of reason and progress has been strongly associated with a curtailment of the assumed capacities of the mind.”

    This has to be one of the most stupid quotes I have ever heard.
    It is religion that curtails the capacities of the human mind. Muslims murder Infidels and Muslims who want to be Ex-muslims.

    Jews brand new, unwilling initiates by mutilating their genitals thus assuring that they carry the brand name on their bodies for their entire lives.

    Christians burned the great Library of Alexandria, murdered Hypatia, and have burnt heretics, “witches”, writers and scientists since the 3rd Century C.E.. Giordano Bruno was burned alive. Galileo was let off after he renounced his valid discoveries; but he was publicly humiliated. Christians still have public book burnings although public burnings of writers and scientists are now discouraged.

    The renunciation of obscurantism, superstition, and scripture based mythology such as Jews being God’s “Chosen People”, or Jesus Christ, the resuscitated (or “resurrected”) son of god and a virgin, being a savior for humanity, or the revelations of the great pedophile Mohammed, is a movement from the mind numbing restrictions of faith to the liberation of empirical investigation and flight of the human imagination. It is a release of the capacities of the human mind which religions seek to suppress and imprison.

  2. Rick Weddle August 3, 2015

    re: profit, war and slavery being unique and inherent in homo sapiens…

    Nope. Successful cultures, unlike this one, know better and act like it. Biological ‘profit’ is regarded as a GIFT, acknowledged as such in word and deed. It’s ‘borrowed’ then plowed back into the biosphere, no waste, no muss, no fuss. Otherwise, subscribing to the Machiavellian model of betrayal, murder and thievery for gaining and consolidating Artificial Power, you get what we’ve got in ‘our’ Great Western Civilization…Unnatural selection, chaos, destruction, and orbicide. This is a long way from a new story.

  3. Jim Updegraff August 3, 2015

    I certainly agree with Mr.Bedrock’s comments. I had a good laugh over the assertions in the cited quote.

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