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By Roz Rogoff

About this blog: In January 2002 I started writing my own online "newspaper" titled "The San Ramon Observer." I reported on City Council meetings and other happenings in San Ramon. I tried to be objective in my coverage of meetings and events, and...  (More)

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Pass the salt, please

Uploaded: May 24, 2014

I was shopping at Nob Hill last Saturday, wearing my "Read the San Ramon Observer in the San Ramon Express" t-shirt, when a man, who did not want his name or title used, came over and asked if I was a newspaper reporter.

I said I write a blog for the online San Ramon Express. He told me that Redwood trees in the park below the Walmart shopping center are dying from salt in the recycled water. He said he called the Parks Department and they were not going to do anything about.

Well it isn't the Parks Department that maintains the parks. They run the programs for the parks, but it's the Public Works Department that maintains the parks' grounds and trees.

I thought I should check this out for myself. So on Sunday, May 18th, I drove down to Richard Fahey Park, which is the one on the Dublin border that the man described, and took some photos of the redwood trees. I don't know much about trees, but these did not look good.

On Monday I called Sue Stephenson at the Dublin San Ramon Services District (DSRSD) to ask about the status of the James B. Kohnen Scholarship. She received only one entry again this year. I asked Sue about salt in the recycled water. She said there is.

I asked if that could be killing redwood trees. She didn't know. She said to call Alden Lane Nursery in Livermore and ask a horticulturist which plants or trees can use recycled water and which should not.

I thought the parks maintenance people should know this and wondered why they were using recycled water if it was harming the redwoods. So I called Glenn Sautter, Parks & Landscaping Maintenance Program Manager and left a message. He didn't return my call, so I called Jeff Gault, Maintenance Operations Division Manager.

Jeff called me back and I asked him if he knew about the redwood trees in Fehey Park. He did, but he didn't want to take a position on whether the recycled water was killing the trees. He said, "It looked like it might be hurting the trees. It's possible, maybe it is." Finally he said without ambiguity that the salt in the recycled water is killing the trees.

Gault told me that the salt in the water wouldn't be a problem if we had more rain, because the rain would wash away the salt residue. But we are in a drought now and it hasn't rained in weeks. So that's why the City is using more recycled water.

Gault made a presentation at the Policy Committee meeting on May 21st on "City Standards for Pesticides and Chemical Use for Landscaping and Weed Abatement." Harry Sachs commented on it when I interviewed him for my last blog

Gault told Policy Committee members, Harry Sachs and Dave Hudson, that redwood trees in the parks were suffering from salt in the recycled water. To treat this they would add organic material to the soil around the trees. However, the heavy clay soil in this area might keep the fertilizer from getting down into the soil.

Gault told me they could clean the salt from the recycled water with an on-site, sulfur burner. The one in the link above is small and inexpensive, but I don't know if this is what he meant.

I didn't ask Harry if this item would be on an upcoming City Council Agenda, but since the Policy Committee sets the meeting agenda that's probably why item was on the Committee's agenda. So to the anonymous man at Nob Hill, the City knows about the dying redwoods and is working on a solution to keep them alive.
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Posted by Roz Rogoff, a blogger,
on May 24, 2014 at 9:47 pm

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on May 25, 2014 at 3:29 pm

I have the impression that whoever is responsible for the health of the trees doesn't know what to do to save them.

I recommend that local Third Graders study the matter and write a story about how to SAVE THE TREES!

Don't be surprised if they come up with reasonable and cost saving solution.

Posted by San Ramon Observer, a resident of San Ramon,
on May 26, 2014 at 10:13 am

San Ramon Observer is a registered user.


Jeff Gault emailed me an article about the trees, which explains why he was hesitant to say the recycled water is killing them. These are "Coastal Redwoods," which means their normal habitat should be along the coast in a cooler, moister environment.

Redwoods planted inland, in a hot, dry environment do not do well; so maybe the trees should just not be here at all.


Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on May 26, 2014 at 11:43 am

Can the trees be transplanted to a healthier environment...along the CA coast?

Posted by San Ramon Observer, a resident of San Ramon,
on May 26, 2014 at 2:53 pm

San Ramon Observer is a registered user.


I was in San Ramon's Central Park this morning for the Art & Wind Festival and the redwood trees there also show signs of salt on their trunks.

I have an arborist coming to take care of one of my trees. I'll ask him, but I suspect it would be too big a job to move all of those trees, and where would they go?


Posted by Paul Mitchell, a resident of another community,
on May 31, 2014 at 10:00 pm

Roz, the explanation that the Public Works department needs rain to "wash away the salt residue" does not make sense to me. If the recycled water contains medium to high levels of "salt" (sodium chloride, calcium chloride, etc.) the salt must be dissolved in the water. If the sprinkled recycled salty water soaks into the ground and finds the tree roots, perhaps there is some "salt residue" left on the surface soil when the surface water evaporates, but that salt residue does not hurt the trees. It is the salty water that is absorbed by the tree roots that would be the problem. Could the recycle water supplier add Reverse Osmosis (R.O.) treatment to the water to reduce the salt levels?

Posted by San Ramon Observer, a resident of San Ramon,
on May 31, 2014 at 11:22 pm

San Ramon Observer is a registered user.


I guess if it rained more there wouldn't be a need to use as much of the recycled. What's really killing these trees is the drought and inland heat. They are coastal redwoods and should not have been planted inland.

R/O is expensive. It's probably too costly for landscaping. I expect Jeff will make a presentation to the Council at an upcoming meeting. We'll know more about what can or cannot be done then.


Posted by Resident, a resident of San Ramon,
on Jun 4, 2014 at 1:45 pm

Doesn't San Ramon use recycled water for a lot of parks and other landscaping around the city. If it does, why is the problem limited to Village Green Park. I thought that Athan Downs and Boone Acres also used recycled water and a lot of Dougherty Valley too.

I wouldn't pin the problem on recycled water if only the trees at Village Green are suffering AND the city uses recycled water lots of places.

Posted by San Ramon Observer, a resident of San Ramon,
on Jun 4, 2014 at 2:39 pm

San Ramon Observer is a registered user.


It's mainly the Redwood trees in parks around the city, and other plants that require an acid soil. I'm not a gardening expert, so I don't know which ones might be hurt from the salt in recycled water. As far as I can tell, grass does fine on recycled water and keeping lawns green requires a lot of water. That's why I had my grass law removed three years ago and changed to a "drought tolerant" front yard. But I use captured rainwater, which is considered recycled, but it doesn't have any salt in it.

Posted by San Ramon Observer, a resident of San Ramon,
on Jun 25, 2014 at 4:11 pm

You might want to go back to the park and take pictures of the dying trees and put those in your article. I believe part of the problem is the over spray of chemicals around the trees. Look back at the picture in the article above, you can see dead grass around the trees. If you go back to the park, you can see they have removed a lot of the burnt grass where they over sprayed the tree bases so much that the chemical ran down any hill and burned long section of grass. All, just so they don't have to use a weed wacker to cut around the trees. Some of the chemicals ran into storm drains and is now going into the bay. The EPA has been notified. Just today Floratech was at the park spraying charcoal around the trees to TRY and absorb the excess of chemicals they dumped on the grounds. Also, the city has decided to start cutting trees down, so far they have cut down 6 trees in the park. I feel only one was actually dead. This is not rocket science. I'm tired of hearing the trees are not native or don't like heat. Go along the Iron Horse trail and look at all the nice big green trees, they don't have any problems. They must be watered with the same water the park receives, but they seem to be doing just fine. Stop spraying chemical at our parks that we don't need.

Posted by San Ramon Observer, a resident of San Ramon,
on Jun 25, 2014 at 9:42 pm

San Ramon Observer is a registered user.

San Ramon Observer (hey that's my name),

You are using my name. I'm Roz Rogoff, the real San Ramon Observer.

I hired an Arborist to shape the Ash tree in my front yard a few weeks ago. I asked him about the dying Redwoods. His answer surprised me but if anyone would know, it would be Darrell Wise. Here's his diagnosis.

"The reason so many redwood trees are dying in the tri-Valley is simple, it's redwood canker or redwood bacterial canker. The longer the city and homeowners wait to remove these dying redwood trees just adds to the spread of the disease. The problem is a no-brainer and the solution is simple -- removal and disposals of the dying redwood trees. Everything I read on your blog are people's opinions, but they don't really understand the problem."

I asked Darrell if I could reprint his comments and he said, "You can use my name, you can quote me, you can publish this, whatever you want to do with the information is fine with me."

I plan to pass it on to Jeff Gault and the City Council too. I've found that even though Darrell is expensive, he knows what he's doing and does it right once and for all.


Posted by Sorry, a resident of San Ramon,
on Jun 26, 2014 at 8:44 am

Sorry for using your user name, I'm not totally familiar with this type of interaction and saw the name repeated. I thought it was a generic user name, so I apologize for using your user name.

Thank you for the additional information. We all are just trying to get to the root cause of the trees dying.

Posted by San Ramon Observer, a resident of San Ramon,
on Jun 26, 2014 at 10:54 am

San Ramon Observer is a registered user.


No need to apologise. You asked a good question and reminded me to post Darrell's comments. I just wanted my readers to know that it wasn't my post.


Posted by KingJames, a resident of San Ramon,
on Jun 29, 2014 at 1:57 am

Chemicals are the problem. Charcoal is used to nuetralize chemicals that have been applied at rates too high or a chemical that has contaminated the soil. EPA does not fool around and spend time on non-issues. What chemical was used? Why charcoal? What went into the drain? Typical appropriate chemicals for landscape applied properly per label do not require charcoal. Typically do not run into storm drains, kill trees, and require the EPA? What did that company Floratech use? Are they even licensed?

Posted by steve, a resident of San Ramon,
on Jul 2, 2014 at 6:41 pm

Well Floratech is taking more heat than it should. Who ever had the maintenance contract for spraying the lawn for broadleaf weeds last year and year before is the cause..... LIKE I said at the SAN RAMON CITY COUNCIL meeting MAY 13th & May 27th THE CITY has no clue .I OFFERED HELP but no call. Floratech just finished some trees off WITH a mix of PENDULUM AND RANGER PRO AND HAS BEEN SPRAYING INSIDE THE TREE RINGS NOT LABELED FOR THAT.

Posted by San Ramon Observer, a resident of San Ramon,
on Jul 2, 2014 at 6:50 pm

San Ramon Observer is a registered user.

I just spoke to Darrell Wise again this afternoon. He said it is redwood canker and it won't be stopped until the dead and dying trees are all removed. I asked him how it is spreading to other redwoods and he said by birds and insects.

I'm pretty sure this subject will come up at a future City Council meeting. I plan to attend it and see what can be done about it.


Posted by steve, a resident of San Ramon,
on Jul 2, 2014 at 8:13 pm

You must be corrected.PLEASE ignore HIM, The RW trees in the park are all coming BACK.As long as they DONT spray for BROADLEAF weeds in the lawn. MOST of the redwood are all GREEN inside of all the DEAD CAUSED by DRIFT AND it VOLITIZED and floated off,(my LAST post I want to correct LONTREL IS what the golf course use behind my home.) IF they SPRAYED early with fog above and then it cleared ,the sun heated the grass ,vaporized the chemical ,with light wind it floated up to the trees.THEY have REGROWN more then 7 + times. THIS PARK is HARD to spray because it is completely surrouned by trees + UNQUALIFED personnel.ROZ FORGOT to look at the OTHER 3 KINDS of trees at the PARK .....TAKE A look at the senior center 17 DEAD redbud trees standing.CAUSE PREAMERGENCE WEED KILLER in all the PLANTERS. 100+ of shrubs GONE. DO U need more.... CHECK THE JOHN FOWLER KTVU 2 NEWS (HERBICDE KILLING TREES )

Posted by KingJames, a resident of San Ramon,
on Jul 6, 2014 at 1:53 pm

Round Up and Pendulum do not kill lawn and trees. Read up. Floratech had to apply charcoal, as stated by the resident earlier the EPA is involved and because of what chemical was put down Floratech. The grass and Maple trees did not die because of Round Up and pendulum. What was sprayed by that company Floratech? Really past years Steve? And now is dead grass and Maples and not last year death and because of the more recent chemical by Floratech? Reality please.

Posted by New Resident, a resident of San Ramon,
on Mar 21, 2016 at 9:12 am

The redwoods in Athen Downs seem to be similarly effected. A neighbor was also told it was due to the high salt content in the recycled water. If you look around the adjacent neighborhood (including my backyard), you will see very healthy redwoods. However, it appears that the majority in Athen Downs are dead.

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