April 30, 2009
State Water Resources Control Board
1001 I Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
General Manager/Chief Engineer
Sonoma County Water Agency
P.O. Box 11628
Santa Rosa, CA 95406
Delivered via Email: email@example.com
Re: Order 2009-0027-DWR:
RRWPC Concerns About Order
Dear Chairman Hoppin, Vice-Chair Spivey-Weber, Board Members and Randy Poole, Sonoma County Water Agency:
On April 10, 2009, I sent the attached letter expressing my preliminary comments on the TUC Order 2009-0027-DWR. Since that time, I have expanded my comments on the ORDER APPROVING TEMPORARY URGENCY CHANGE IN PERMITS 12947A, 12949, 12950, AND 16596 held by the Sonoma County Water Agency and released by the State Board and include them here.
Please distribute both sets of comments and attachments in response to that Order to the Board and include them as part of the record. We are submitting this letter by email and will also mail a hard copy. We request notification when the Board has received our comments and they have been entered into the record. We are also including our comments on the Water Project EIR, which were submitted to the Water Agency recently. Those comments address the lower river flow issue also, in regard to future changes to Decision 1610.
In our previous letter, we introduced ourselves, (Russian River Watershed Protection Committee) and gave a little of our background and our cause for concern. We will not repeat that information here, except to say we represent the views of about 1400 property owners in the lower Russian River on water and wastewater issues and have done so for the last thirty years. We comment here on those parts of the Order that directly affect the lower Russian River.
We have read through Sonoma County Water Agency’s (SCWA) Petition for Temporary Urgency Change, including the extremely brief environmental information section and also the Hydrologic Analysis of Lake Mendocino Storage Under 2009 Conditions.
Regarding circumstances leading to Order…..
The “Background” (page 2) section explains the basis for this Order, which states that a major reason for this crisis is that PG&E released 27,000 AF less water through the Potter Valley Project tunnel in 2008 than the previous year (which had also seen lower amounts released). We believe that the true basis for the Order is much broader in scope. Next year you will consider permanent changes to Decision 1610, and the situation may become increasingly dire if global warming causes more draught. Furthermore, if there is no lid put on growth, disaster will go from being likely to being inevitable. It is essential that future plans look at the whole picture.
In regards to the current situation, we looked at charts and graphs released by SCWA at the 2007 Board Hearing on the Emergency Petition and noticed that different inflow amounts entered Lake Mendocino from the PVP than those shown in the 2009 Petition. What causes the discrepancy? Also, SCWA and the contractors have variable ways of reporting water use and they are not always clear and consistent in their methods. The Agency has 200 meters throughout their distribution system, but the whole river has only ten gauges to keep track of flows. There is a need for increased flow meters throughout the river system and we think the Board should require them.
We have attached three different charts accounting for water allocations in 2004 and 2007. In spite of the 200 meters, discrepancies exist between the charts on actual water delivery. In asking SCWA staff about these discrepancies, I was told that the numbers in the charts were generated for the budget, but received no explanation for the variable and inconsistent data. They seemed to imply that numbers generated for the budget don’t have to be accurate. Yet, if they are not, then how can the public or contractors gauge the actual situation?
Bar Graph in June, 2007 packet to State Board on “Annual Inflow”. (attached)
2004: 145,000 AFY (This is approximate since the graph wasn’t very clear.)
2007: 60,000 AFY (graph stopped here)
According to a line graph recently released by SCWA (for presentation to BOS) the releases from PVP for the last few years has been as follows:
2008-09: continued downward trend: a little lower than 07-08
Prior to 2004, the customary diversions were about 140,000 AFY or more. Fairly significant discrepancies between the two graphs appear for 2005-06 and 2006-07. But in either case, the amounts for 2007 are below 70,000 AFY, which is already half of what had been traditionally released. We are not clear about the 27,000 LESS described on Page 2 of the Order. Which amount is it LESS than? What diversions or lack from Lake Pillsbury can be anticipated in the future?
In a related matter, Agency staff keeps repeating that almost all contractor diversions come from Lake Sonoma. Supposedly water supplies from Lake Mendocino are used up by Mendocino and Northern Sonoma County cities and agriculture. We were assured that almost no water makes it down from Lake Mendocino SCWA’s diversion facility. If this is the case, then why did the contractors have such a strong overt reaction to the proposed 25% cut in diversions from Lake Mendocino in the Order? How much of the Lake Mendocino water goes to the contractors?
Order approved without public input or environmental review.…
It appears as though the Order was mostly based on these SCWA documents and differed on only a few points. In other words, most of the directives in the Order and their justification were actually those requested by the Agency. People in the community are quite distressed that there was no environmental review, no opportunity for public input BEFORE the Order was issued. In fact, even SCWA staff seemed surprised that it came down so quickly. We wonder if any changes can be made to the Order after the Workshop on May 6t, or whether it is set in stone? Will there be any response to these comments? Is this whole effort to respond to the Order a futile exercise?
It was shocking to read that one of the justifications given for substantially lowered flows was to “provide recreational opportunities”. On the first page of the Petition, it states, “These conditions must be implemented to prevent Lake Mendocino from going dry, which would severely impact threatened Russian River fish species, create serious water-supply impacts in Mendocino County and in the Alexander Valley in Sonoma County, and harm Lake Mendocino and RUSSIAN RIVER RECREATION.” (emphasis added)
Implementation of this Order, lowering flows to 35 cfs on July 1st, will have devastating impacts on recreation in the lower river, and in all likelihood, contrary to the petition, may eliminate it entirely for this year. No one can canoe or swim in 35 cfs. It is likely that pathogens and nutrients will proliferate and water quality will become a serious problem. None of this has been addressed. Furthermore, this whole management scenario is supposedly going to save the Chinook, which, according to the Biological Opinion, is the least threatened species of the three that have been listed.
Coho and steelhead rely on tributaries in the summer time, but those are being drawn down by agriculture due to lack of enforcement action on illegal diversions. When the river is so low, the mouth of the tributary will lose contact with the main stem and fish will be stranded in the upper reaches of the streams. Why is that not being effectively and rigorously addressed? What will happen to those fish if there is no rain until December or January? Would that be considered a “taking” under the ESA? Has NOAA been consulted on this?
We recognize the serious immediate problem that the Agency is coping with and we understand why SCWA is sending out alarms about the situation, but we believe that the Agency is dealing with one problem while creating a new one and ignoring others. Lower river residents are prepared to live with lowered flows to 85 cfs, but more than that will have devastating impacts that have not been addressed.
UWMP Litigation defines much of the problem….
And much of the old problem was of the Agency’s own making. Since the early 1990’s SCWA has been promising the contractor’s an extra 26,000 AFY with which to expand. They wrote it into their contracts, including the most recent Restructured Agreement and they wrote it into their Urban Water Management Plan (UWMP) released a year late at the end of 2006.
SCWA had also released a 3000 page EIR late last fall, including a pipeline plan for Dry Creek and decreased flows in the lower river. Subsequently they put the document and all comments on a shelf and refused to fund responses. Many of us knew beforehand that they might do this, but we were afraid if we did not submit comments, they might change their mind.
That 2006 UWMP was challenged successfully in Superior Court and is currently under appeal. The main contention of the litigants (a coalition of 16 environmental groups) was that water promised in the UWMP was “paper” water and could not be delivered.
In late October, Judge Nadler issued his ruling, which stated that SCWA’s UWMP violated the UWM Planning Act in five ways, including:
• SCWA failed to coordinate with relevant agencies as required;
• The Plan fails to include the degree of specificity required;
• The Plan fails to adequately consider environmental factors, specifically, the effect of changed water flows during periods of water shortfalls on the salmonids, and other potential implications of the Endangered
• The Plan fails to adequately address the effect of recycled groundwater on the availability of water supply in the future; and
• The Plan fails to quantify with reasonable specificity the scope of water demand management measures which are relied upon to address the anticipated water shortfalls.
This Order falls into the same pitfalls as the UWMP. What we have is a case of poor planning and bad management. This so-called “emergency” has been evolving for years. What is worse, if we don’t have rain next winter, we can be facing total disaster. Every single agency involved has had a hand in creating this situation. What we need is funding and a political will for your Board to regulate the tributaries and groundwater. We need legislation to revise antiquated water laws. We need strong enforcement and accountability. And most of all, we need water policies that are equitable for all interests, including the environment and wildlife.
Comments on contractor Letters…
SCWA Water Contractors have sent you letters dated April 23rd requesting certain revisions to the Order. The WAC (water contractors) and the City of Santa Rosa are petitioning the Board to reconsider the Order, and we request that if you do it for them, you do it for lower river residents and business people also.
This Order calls for a 25% decrease in diversions by the Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA). It is unclear how that number is calculated, what the percent is based on, and whether contractors would necessarily have to decrease water use by that amount this year. We know that contractors are requesting decreased diversions to only 20%, based on 2004 diversions, and want you to lift the stringent requirement for immediate cessation of commercial turf irrigation.
Almost everyone has expressed confusion about how to calculate the 25% reduction. We have looked at Contractor water use for 2004 and 2007 and attach some charts generated by SCWA and contractors. What they indicate is that contractor’s saved about 15% off 2004 levels through 2007. (We question the contractor’s claim of 22% savings over 2004 water use.) While they have sustained the original savings, it does not appear that they have improved upon it much and would like to know how they calculated their numbers. If your Board agrees to the recommended 20% based on 2004 usage, in effect the latter will only have to save an additional 5%. Unfortunately, much of the savings came from the use of local groundwater, hardly a sustainable conservation method.
We wonder if vacant units were included as water users in calculating their conservation percent? We include a City of Santa Rosa Water Use chart where they figured out the gallons used by each connection. Apparently they did not calculate vacancies when they figured the amount, which could result in a much higher conservation level. In our comments on the Water Project EIR, Appendix P, we discuss the model results that project water use. The document attributed some of the savings to a fairly high vacancy rate, especially in the commercial sector.
Many of the contractors have fairly effectively addressed indoor conservation, although it could be said that they have gone after the “low handing fruit” and it has been suggested that they could really do a lot more. There is a higher level of conservation that can be achieved, but certainly the biggest potential savings is with greatly cutting back on landscape irrigation. Their letters go into depth about how they are “aggressively” meeting all BMPs of the California Urban Water Council. Yet over-irrigation, puddles, and runoff can frequently be seen in urban areas, especially in business parks and at times even on City property. Contractors have made inroads as indicated in their water use statistics, but a lot more can be done.
The demand in the Order to get rid of turf is right on target. The only problem, and the contractor’s make this case, is you can’t wipe out landscape contractors’ businesses in a stroke of a computer without some kind of phasing. This needs to be addressed, but we encourage you to demand significant measures to cause immediate water savings. It’s a balancing act and details need to be worked out.
We also include a recent article by Pete Golis, former Press Democrat editor for many years. He calculated how much water he could save if he got rid of his relatively small residential lawn. It was a very revealing article about someone who finally caught on to the importance of conservation. He discovered that his 625 sq. ft. lawn used about 1800 gallons of water a month. Golis concludes that “…we wouldn’t have a water crisis if we replaced ornamental lawns.” (In the letter the Santa Rosa Mayor was quoted as saying that one city dweller used 124,000 gallons a month.)
How many more need to see the light and how can the Cities more forcefully hammer out the message? What was especially revealing showing how far Santa Rosa has to go yet, was the statement that Santa Rosa staff told Golis that, “…Santa Rosans use about 13 million gallons of water per day in December – and 32 million gallons on the hottest summer day. Most of the difference between winter and summer demand is water used to irrigation landscaping. And turf uses more than three times as much water as other plants.”
Proposed Lower River Flow Changes to 35 cubic feet per second (cfs) after July 1, 2009.
This flow limit is set to occur if inflow into Lake Mendocino is less than 25,000 Acre Feet (AF) before June 30, 2009. Since this is highly likely to occur, our comments will assume that this 35 cfs limit will be put into effect at that date.
RRWPC understands the critical circumstances, which stimulated the need for this Order. But this is the third such Order since 2004 and the critical issues underlying the current situation have existed all along. Yet here we are again, and in much worse shape this time. What will happen if we have another dry winter next year? There are many Russian River interests and stakeholder activities at which to “point the finger”, but the bottom line is that the lower river is having to bear the brunt of poor practices and bad management upstream.
We are aware of the goals of the Biological Opinion and have concerns about the focus on very limited watershed changes to protect the endangered Coho and threatened Chinook and Steelhead. We wonder why there is so much focus on managing the river flows for the Chinook’s fall run, when they are the least threatened of the three species according to the Biological Opinion? We wonder why the focus of this Order is on the main stem and leaves the flow and habitat issues of critical tributaries unaddressed, upon which Coho depend?
We wonder why large wineries are able to drill new wells to obtain unlimited amounts of ground water, further drawing down the water table and subsequently significantly affecting surface water flows? We wonder why water contractors have consistently been able to avoid mandatory water rationing? Why are illegal water users in agricultural areas able to continue with impunity? Why has gravel mining been allowed to greatly impair the aquifer (SCWA refused to speak out on this matter all the years that deep gravel pits were being dug right upstream and in the area of their water facility)?
This Order claims to protect the environment…
On page 5 of the Order, it states that, “The proposed action will assure the maintenance of a natural resource, i.e., the instream resources of the Russian River.” It also states, “ The proposed action will assure the maintenance of the environment,…” On page 6, under CRITERIA FOR APPROVING THE PROPOSED TEMPORARY URGENCY CHANGE, it states under the findings that, “2. The proposed change may be made without injury to any other lawful user of water.” And “3. The proposed change may be made without unreasonable effect upon fish, wildlife, or other instream beneficial uses,…”
Based on almost 35 years of living near the lower Russian River in Guerneville, I can tell you first hand that when flows are low, recreational experiences, upon which our local economy is based, greatly deteriorate. Furthermore, pollution increases, sometimes causing beaches to be closed due to contamination. Water heats up, invasive plants proliferate, canoeing is compromised, and general water quality deteriorates. Bright green Ludwigia chokes the river and scummy, slimy algae coats the bottom of the river. In other words, it’s a mess.
If there are juvenile steelhead and coho in the river under these circumstances, they don’t have a chance to survive. And the same goes for economic interests in the lower river. Our tourist industry is an important economic attraction to Sonoma County; why are we being given short shrift in terms of consideration? Your Board Order minimizes the harm to our community as a result of this action while doing little to control unlimited access to water by the agricultural community.
Page 7 of the Order states, “It is in the public interest to preserve water supplies for these beneficial uses when hydrologic circumstances cause dangerous reductions to water supplies.” IT IS NOT IN OUR COMMUNITY’S PUBLIC INTEREST FOR THIS ORDER TO PRIORITIZE THE NEEDS OF URBAN DWELLERS AND VINEYARDS OVER LOWER RIVER RECREATIONAL INTERESTS!! It is particularly egregious that on page 1 of the SCWA Petition it claims that the project is intended to PROTECT Russian River recreation. This is rather impossible, since the recreational season is during the time when flows will be down to 35 cfs. It is only AFTER the recreational season that flows will be increased again.
It is true however, that keeping Lake Mendocino filled in the summer would serve recreational use in that area, and while SCWA gives lip service to protecting lower river recreation, they don’t discuss how this proposal would accomplish that. It seems impossible that they have given true consideration for recreational use downstream when they recommend 35 cfs from July through October. See page 1 of the hydrologic analysis.)
In this time of economic adversity, many low-income people look to the Russian River as a economical way to de-stress in the summer time. What may be the side effects of their losing this opportunity? Lower river businesses rely on tourism as an economic resource. Flows of 35 cfs could destroy their businesses. How are their needs addressed here? Also, what might be the health impacts if pollutants concentrated in these very low flows, including bacteria? Would you need to close the whole river for the whole summer? What would be the economic and social costs of doing that?
Water Quality issues….
In both 2004 and 2007 Urgency Orders the State Board requested that the Agency conduct water quality testing to determine the impacts of lowered flows on water quality. Some tests were conducted, but to my knowledge no reports were made. No reports were provided with this Order. Statements were made about preserving water quality, but no proof was given. We fail to see how a determination could be made that no harm will come to the environment from the drastically lowered flows as a result of this Order. There is no evidence provided to substantiate this claim.
WE REQUEST THAT YOU DEMAND MEANINGFUL AND IMMEDIATE REPORTS ON WATER QUALITY MONITORING RESULTING FROM PRIOR “EMERGENCY” ORDERS. Further, we demand an intensive monitoring program that looks at a whole range of nutrients, conventional pollutants, and toxins, including those, such as pharmaceuticals, that are currently unregulated. According to tests done a few years ago, the mouth of the river contains dead zones. Yet the National Marine Fisheries Service claims that this could be ideal habitat for juvenile salmonids. How is that possible if it is a sink for pollutants? Water quality needs to be tested in the sediments as well as the water column.
Last year there was a large amount of algae and invasive plant growth downstream of the Russian River County Sanitation District outfall. How might that situation be exacerbated if low flows warm the river and sediments are roiled to reintroduce pathogens?
We need full disclosure on water quality impacts downstream as a result of this Order. We need to know that people recreating in such low flows will be safe and not subjected to toxins and pathogenic substances. Regional Board staff need to explore this with the Agency, who should in turn pay for any additional work that needs to be done.
Russian River Watershed Protection Committee
P.O. Box 501
Guerneville, CA 95446