RRWPC Comments on TUCP 4.10.09

April 10, 2009

Mr. Charles R. Hoppin, Chair
Ms. Francis Spivey-Weber, Vice-Chair
Mr. Arthur G. Baggett Jr., Ms. Tam M. Doduc, Members
Ms. Dorothy Rice, Executive Director
State Water Resources Control Board
1001 I Street
Sacramento, CA 95814

Ms. Vicky Whitney, Deputy Director
Mr. Steve Herrera, Permitting Section
Division of Water Rights
1001 I Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
Delivered via Email

Re: TUC Order 20090-0027-DWR- Objection and request for hearing

Dear Chairman Hoppin, Vice-Chair Spivey-Weber and Board Members:
I am writing on behalf of Russian River Watershed Protection Committee (RRWPC) to request that you hold a hearing on the recent Order 2009-0027-DWR to the Sonoma County Water Agency. This Order has vast implications for water users in our area and we urge you to allow public comment from the people who are greatly affected by it.
Furthermore, we have questions about the interpretation of the directives in this Order, concerns about prior implementations of previous orders, and we request opportunities to recommend possible changes and additions to this current directive to make it more effective and clear.

RRWPC has advocated on behalf of the lower Russian River community on water and wastewater issues since 1980. We were advocating for clean water in our area long before it was popular to do so. Now, thankfully, there are many active groups engaged this work, including the 33-group member Sonoma County Water Coalition, of which we are an active member. Our own group has about 1500 supporters, mostly property owners, recreationists, business people, and river lovers from all over. We regularly contribute articles to local newspapers and we are a familiar face at meetings of the Sonoma County Water Agency and their contractors.

RRWPC is deeply concerned about the need to manage our water resources to protect all beneficial uses. Unfortunately, prior policies and management decisions and lack of adequate oversight and controls have lead us to a point where there is not enough water to serve all the uses for which there is need.

One very critical need is management of agricultural uses. Without adequate oversight, drastically reduced flow regimes in tributaries resulting from inadequate agricultural conservation methods are likely to further cause devastating downstream environmental impacts such as growing nutrient problems, invasive plant invasions, sediment and temperature problems, and unknown toxicity issues. The Water Agency has no jurisdiction over agricultural water use, so their ability to take effective action is very limited.

Furthermore, it is likely that global warming is setting a new trend and continued limited water supplies are likely to be a future reality for everyone. Add to this changes in the seemingly uncontrollable management (from the water supply perspective) of the aging Potter Valley Project by PG&E and FERC, we are left with a situation where no one entity is able to fully know, let alone comprehensively address, the multiple and complex factors contributing to the water shortage.

RRWPC fully supports all issues and points raised in the letter sent to you yesterday by Don McEnhill of Russian Riverkeeper. We will not reiterate everything he said but attach his letter to our letter. We want to highlight a few issues and add a few of our own.

On page five of this Order it states (in regard to CEQA compliance), “The proposed action will assure the maintenance of the environment, i.e., the instream environment of the Russian River.” What is not acknowledged is that this order will cause both environmental benefits AND detriments. By lowering flows now, before what may be a long hot summer, it may cause greater harm to riparian vegetation. It is also likely to cause great proliferation of invasive species such as Ludwegia, which in turn would have further impacts.

There is also likely to be unknown impacts from unregulated toxins as the lower flows deny any mixing benefit to minimize their effects. What harm will come to the fish and other aquatic life as a result of this scenario? (Many unlisted species use the river all summer.) And here we are referring to all aquatic life, not just identified at risk populations. What will be the impacts to human health from swimming in this water with possible concentrated pollutants and how much more likely will it be for them to come in contact with pathogenic bacteria? Will these circumstances cause public beaches to be closed?

Finally, on page 8 of the Order, it states, “2. The petitioned change will not operate to the injury of any other lawful user of water; and 3. The petitioned change will not have an unreasonable effect upon fish, wildlife, or other instream beneficial uses;…” Neither the State, nor SCWA has provided any evidence indicating that this is indeed the case. Number 9 on page 10 of the order calls for water quality monitoring to address possible harm of these lowered flows. What happened to the monitoring done in 2004 and 2007 during low flow periods? Where is that information? How complete was it? Simply ordering monitoring doesn’t address potential impacts from lowering flows.

To assure that a healthy environment will be maintained, simply by stating that impacts to beneficial uses from this Order will not occur, is just a convenient way to address the “emergency” through a piece of paper, rather than provide meaningful information about actual environmental reality. For this reason, it is essential that you open the review process and allow public input. This is now the fourth year of the last eight where emergency situations have arisen. When that occurs, what you have is not an emergency, but a MANAGEMENT PROBLEM!

One of the main directives to the Water Agency is to require 25% savings of what would normally be withdrawn during that period. Their permits allow them to withdraw 75,000 AFY from the system and about two thirds of that would occur during the summer months. This comes to about 50,000 AF. Are you suggesting that the Agency only withdraw 37,500 AF (75%) during these summer months? According to SCWA staff, there is an assumption that savings should be based on 2004 water deliveries, which were 66,193 AF that year. Are you now saying that is no longer the case? SCWA staff seems to be of the impression that the 25% will be based on 2004 use. That would come to 33,093 AF, which is obviously less, and would have greater impacts than doing it the way you seem to be suggesting in this Order. This needs to be clarified.
We would support designating clear amounts to be saved each year. Total Agency use in 2008 was 58,587 AF. In 2007, total Agency deliveries were 60,893. This year, for budgetary purposes, the Agency is tentatively promising 54,500 AF. The numbers are all over the place and keep changing. Some kind of easily calculated consistency is needed.

Also, most contractor savings were through the use of groundwater. Is this an acceptable way to “conserve”? Contractors also merged their conservation numbers into averages so that it was harder to decipher which entities were not pulling their “conservation weight”. While not all entities have the ability to save the same amount, there needs to be a clear allocation for each contractor.

All in all, the means of determining the 15% appeared to use sleight of hand measures. The required 25% savings needs to be spelled out in detail. Savings should not be set up to statistically roll over year after year when new crises arise. There needs to be a consistent formula worked out that designates savings by each contractor, taking into account their individual circumstances and ability to pay.

More than anything else, we urge you to have a full hearing on this Order. We hope you will be able to address the issues raised in this letter. We look forward to your response.

Brenda Adelman: Chair
Russian River Watershed Protection Committee

Cc: Senator Pat Wiggins
Assemblymember Noreen Evans
Assemblymember Wes Chesbro
Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey
Congressman Mike Thompson
William Hearn, NOAA Fisheries
Dick Butler, NOAA Fisheries
Susan Gorin, Mayor City of Santa Rosa
Catherine Kuhlman, Executive Officer NCRWQCB
Randy Poole, General Manager, SCWA
Grant Davis, Assistant General Manager, SCWA
Linda Sheehan, CCKA