RRWPC Comments 2010 UWMP, 6-7-11

Purpose of UWMP not clearly described….
The leading sentence of Sonoma County Water Agency’s draft Urban Water Management Plan states: “This wholesale Urban Water Management Plan (Plan) addresses the Sonoma County Water Agency (Water Agency) water transmission system and includes a description of the water supply sources, historical and projected water use, and a comparison of water supply to water demands during normal, single-dry, and multiple-dry years.”

These words describe the content of the document, but not its purpose. The parts of the system are separated into small pieces and not integrated into a whole. Here’s an outline of our concerns:
• Agency’s Mirabel water system and water source details are minimally described;
• important conclusions drawn from model output are not explained;
• educated layperson cannot read this document and understand the circumstances leading up to and underlying the model’s conclusions, upon which the findings of adequacy are based;
• conservation savings and low flow can benefit contractors and be seen as a supply resource to be used for future growth;
• document fails to address measures needed to assure sustenance of water resources for future generations, including discussion of water quality impacts and beneficial uses to lower river resulting from low flow;
• document fails to demonstrate how water quality will be protected as supported by contractors in strategies;
• document fails to analyze true worst case water supply circumstances;
• assumptions listed as underlying the conclusions in this document are incomplete and realism of some are questionable;
• slight acknowledgement that Russian River is a natural system subject to natural and man made forces.

Integrity of document challenged by separation of responsibility…
What may be most egregious is that this document absolves SCWA of culpability for contractor water demand projections and denies legal culpability for water shortages. They have characterized the contractors’ population and water demand data provided as representing the worst-case scenario for which SCWA is not legally required to respond.

In their statement on page 3-3 they describe the bifurcation of the process and justify their ability to do so with the following: “The Water Agency provides wholesale water to its Customers, which then retail water directly to different water user categories,…. Because the Water Agency does not itself retail water to these end user categories, the Water Agency is not required by the Act to provide the information contained in DWR Tables 3 through 8……This information is contained in the plans prepared by the Agency’s Customers. Section 3.1 provides a description of the evaluation of projected wholesale water demands to be met by the Agency.”

It goes on to state that Table 3-2 summarizes actual wholesale water deliveries to contractors and does not include demands that are met by water conservation or supplied by the Customers’ recycled water or local supplies, such as groundwater. They clearly point out that future demand estimates were provided by the Agency’s customers and at the bottom of 3-5 and top of 3-6 makes a statement that appears to question the authenticity of the very high projections and states, “For these reasons, actual future demands on the Water Agency’s transmission system, particularly those shown for the year 2015, may be less than those shown in Table 3-2.”

The Urban Water Management Plan should clearly demonstrate adequate water resources for all anticipated demand, including information that all parts of the Agency’s current and planned future facilities and operations would adequately serve almost all water delivery scenarios, including the provision of minimum water supplies for health and safety needs to the retailers over a broad range of scenarios. Yet it is unclear how the system will be managed during peak demands and the status of the infrastructure to function during emergency breakdowns.

In circumstances where delivery is impossible or severely constrained, descriptive plans to be utilized in emergency situations should clearly demonstrate what activities are to be implemented in order to expeditiously resolve various emergency situations.

On page 9C.4 in the Appendices it is noted that such plans exist for some situations but they are sparsely defined. For instance, wells are sited as relief for a toxic spill emergency, but it says nothing of their capacity or the amount of time they can provide relief. We are most concerned that an earthquake would take out the Potter Valley Project and have long term and devastating effects. What would be the response in that situation? (The document assumes that PVP will continue to function as is throughout the life of the project.)

In order to fulfill it’s public mission, SCWA’s Plan should demonstrate how the various parts of the supply infrastructure interrelate and function together, including descriptions of how dams will be managed in relation to flow limitations required by the Biological Opinion (BO) and in coordination with the Army Corps in regards to winter/spring transitions, and how supplies will be consistently and adequately provided in relation to unknown drawdown by intervening Russian River water users.

This document relies on the computer model and assumes it is valid for currently anticipated conditions. Others have called attention to the lack of verification and testing of the model. Description of the types of information fed into the model to reach the conclusions provided also seems to be lacking. While numerous charts are provided to demonstrate modeling results, the considerations behind those numbers are usually unclear.

For example, Table 4-18 on page 4-25 entitled “Factors Resulting in Inconsistency of Supply” shows no factors under “Legal”, “Environmental”, “Water Quality”, and “Climate” topics, but includes the message, “Current and future supply is and is expected to be available at a consistent level of use with regard to these factors. Future supply may not be consistent if assumptions regarding future conditions do not come to pass.” Can we conclude that many of the projections in this document will not come to pass if future conditions and assumptions factored into the model don’t occur? What about other circumstances that may not have been considered? To what extent have recent social, economic, and environmental factors been factored in to the projections?

If radical changes should occur soon after adoption, are there opportunities and/or requirements to adjust the Plan before 2015? How are major infrastructure changes at the Wohler facility (work on the ponds) going to affect the Agency’s ability to divert water, for good or for ill? How will construction occur so as to not interrupt water deliveries? We have seen no description of the work to be done there and how it will impact the delivery of water. Similarly, we have seen no description of the functioning of the rubber dam, how and when it is operated, whether there will be a change of function in relation to the work on the ponds, etc.

Lack of clarity about SCWA water sources & destiny of releases….
Currently, it is unclear how much released water from Lake Mendocino ends up in SCWA’s diversions to their delivery system, if any, and how much in the lower river. It is unclear how much is known by the Agency in terms of tributary inflow (other than Dry Creek) and diversion into and from the Russian River, nor how much that is considered into management calculations. This Plan says virtually nothing about how the system is operated and how it works. The basic hardware is named but not really described. (RRWPC has been trying to get a handle on this information to fully understand implications of the water supply system on proposed changes to D1610 and new recommended minimum flows.)

We are not sure that all factors have been considered in the first place. It is confusing for instance, that on page 2-6 (see below for quotation) it states that transmission system demands are met primarily by releases from Lake Sonoma. Yet in 2009 the State Board issued a Temporary Urgency Change Order to address Lake Mendocino’s inadequate supplies to serve needs of both contractors, other water users, and the Chinook fall run. This Order also required extensive conservation measures by the contractors and called for volunteer conservation for all water users in the Russian River. Recreation in the lower river suffered greatly that summer. (It is bearable when we know that all share the pain.)

Yet, it is unclear to what extent the water in Lake Mendocino serves the needs of the lower river and the migrating fish in that segment. If the State sees a nexus between Lake Mendocino releases and demands for conservation by the Agency’s contractors, that would seem to indicate that the contractors are using at least some of Lake Mendocino’s water, even during dry periods. It seems very appropriate to request that this supposedly informative plan should explain the details of that situation and, at a minimum identify what general percentage of the Agency’s diversion comes from Lake Mendocino.

In 2007, 2010, and 2011, the Agency applied for Temporary Urgency Change Petitions from the State Board, which lowered minimum flows (as per BO) downstream from Coyote Dam and in the lower river downstream of Dry Creek. Yet it makes no sense to obtain such an Order, which did not include even upper limits in Dry Creek, unless there was a nexus between Lake Mendocino releases and SCWA supply. Furthermore, it was only a few years ago that the Agency was on the verge of purchasing the Potter Valley Project. Would they be willing to do that if the water transfer was not serving the supply needs of SCWA customers?

Contractor Projections….
Finally, contractors base their determination of adequate water supplies for new development on promises in this UWMP. One goal of this Plan is to determine if there is enough supply to meet contractor demand to 2035. Apparently the contractors use vastly different methods to determine their projections, although about half of the contractors are working with the same consultant this time to generate their estimates, with the City of Santa Rosa taking the lead. Our greatest concern is that they are maximizing their demand, based on numbers generated in the 2005 Plan, which assumed greatly increased water rights, would be obtained. (Please see careful analysis of this in SCWC letter.)

There are many judgment calls as to what assumptions to use in developing the projections. We have been going through a rapidly transitioning time in the last two years. Santa Rosa’s General Plan was approved in November 2009, but so much has changed just in that year and a half, it’s hard to believe that estimates aren’t already out of date. In particular, the housing market is going through a profound shift, with more people turning to the rental market for a place to live, and generally, apartment dwellers use less water, mainly because they don’t water lawns. Many believe that things will not go back to where they were, but rather that we should start to adjust to the “new normal”.

One day newspapers’ business pages report that things are looking up, and soon after some new report comes out (such as mortgage foreclosure rates and/or new job statistics) that belie such optimism. It seems like people want to believe that things will get better soon, and few are preparing for the real possibility that they will stay this way for a very long time, and may even get worse. It is simply astounding to look at the breakdown in State and Federal governments and see how dysfunctional they have become. On what basis can we project that any of this is going to be fixed any time soon? Isn’t the true worst-case scenario the one in which there is little money to fix anything?

This document appears to agree that water demands for new development will diminish rather than grow over the next several years. There is likely to be a new “normal” that has not been considered in Santa Rosa’s projections. Nevertheless, Santa Rosa is banking on a rapid housing turnaround and projecting a growth rate of almost 4% annual between now and 2015. This document questions the realism of that assessment, but nonetheless goes along with it. This is the unfortunate outcome of this process.

The City is assuming they can get the 29,100 AF promised in the 2005 UWMP, when the goal was to obtain new water rights for 101,000 AF. What we have are a multitude of documents (including each contractor doing their own for demand projections), using different estimating methods and probably assuming that the world is soon going to change back to the growth oriented status from where it came. Furthermore, Santa Rosa has done a lot of work in conservation, to their credit, but there is still a lot more they can do, as pointed out by many local experts in the field. Yet the City insists that they have reached a point of “demand hardening” and can’t go much further in water savings.

RRWPC obtained Santa Rosa water/sewer bills from a friend for an entire year. We noted that a three-person family with a small lawn used approximately one third more water than a single person in the Guerneville area but paid one third less. The difference between the first and second tiers for 1000 gallons of water is $.75, a very minimal amount. (The City claims there are additional charges for high use, but we didn’t see that on the bill.) The tiered water system appeared to have no impact on water use, at least in this case. Summer water use was almost double what it was in the winter. Water use was greatly diminished during the three winter months upon which the sewer bill was based for the coming year.

SCWA’s “ace-in-the-hole” with all this, since they don’t have control over what the contractors do in this regard, is the caveat that they are not legally required to provide all the water promised in the UWMP, if shortages are to occur for one reason or another. So purpose of this Plan is to demonstrate they can provide the water projected to be needed by the contractors, except they can’t do it all the time.

Coordination with Army Corps at Lake Mendocino unclear….
It is unclear how the additional water negotiated with Army Corps to remain in Lake Mendocino in the early spring will assist the Agency with water deliveries in light of flow restrictions from Coyote Dam, especially when the document states that Lake Mendocino water is not needed for those deliveries. On page 2-6 in the middle paragraph it states, “Since Warm Springs Dam became operational in the 1980’s, it has been the Water Agency’s policy to make water supply releases to serve transmission system demands primarily from Warm Springs Dam and not from Coyote Valley Dam.” Does this mean that Coyote Valley Dam releases are intended only for Mendocino and North Sonoma Counties?

It is also unclear how that relationship is being managed to have more water available at critical times (for whom?), while avoiding flood control problems in the lower river if late spring rains cause excessive flows into the dam. The bottom of page 2-5 states, “The USACE allows the Water Agency to encroach into the flood pool in the spring so that the summer water supply pool can be increased to 111,000 ac-ft.” Yet it does not explain how down river flooding will be avoided should major late rains occur.

While the Agency claims not to need Lake Mendocino diversions for water supply, nevertheless, very low levels in that reservoir in 2009 initiated the request for a Temporary Urgency Change Petition because of the need for adequate water for the migrating Chinook. What doesn’t make sense is that this document claims that Lake Sonoma supplies, rather than Lake Mendocino’s are mainly used to meet minimum flows and water supply in the lower river.

When I questioned SCWA Staff about the complexities of managing the system in terms of what water gets used where and at what time, I was told it was very “complex”. But shouldn’t the intention of this UWMP be to identify the problems involved and the means utilized to solve them? Merely indicating that the whole thing is too complex does not address the fact that the whole point of this document should be to do just that!

Lake Mendocino sedimentation rates…..
An unaddressed potential problem for future water supply is the sedimentation of the reservoirs, especially Lake Mendocino. I remember years ago hearing that it was filling in at a much greater than anticipated rate.

Why was no assumption framed regarding the rates of sedimentation in the two reservoirs and especially Lake Mendocino? The only reference to sedimentation appears to be on page 4-5, where it states, “Sedimentation rates for each of these reservoirs have been estimated and modeled and are accounted for in the Eel River Model and RR ResSim model.” There is no quantification provided as to how that was done. Why was no data provided on the designed rate versus current sedimentation? What information was factored into the model? Merely saying it was factored into the model gives us no information with which to understand this statement.

In February, 1999, a report was released by the Army Corps of Engineers entitled, “PROPOSAL TO CONDUCT PRELIMINARY FEASIBILITY STUDIES FOR THE LAKE MENDOCINO BYPASS”. This study stated on the first page of text (pages not numbered), “According to the Sonoma County Water Agency estimates, an average of 210,000 tons per year of sediment is trapped behind Coyote Dam from the 105 square miles of watershed upstream (Florsheim and Goodwin 1993).” It goes on to describe damage to the river downstream because of the loss of gravel. How much of the 210,000 tons makes its way into the reservoir and are they mostly fine sediments? Has a bathymetric study been done to determine the size of the sediment? What specific data was factored into the model in regards to sedimentation?

Reports in the Press Democrat state that Lake Mendocino currently has a capacity of 116,500 acre feet. In the Temporary Urgency Change Petition (p. 6) it claims that the design storage capacity was 122,500 AF and the water supply pool 70,000 AF. But in 2008, SCWA apparently persuaded the Corps to allow the water supply pool to store up to 111,000 AF. The water supply pool now leaves only 5,500 AF leeway between the potential water pool and the top of the dam.
(How does this work in late spring if heavy rains, like we are having this year, cause rapid filling of the reservoir and the threat of lower river floods occur? Furthermore, if releases/flows are controlled by the Biological Opinion, how can a major release, needed to prevent downstream flooding, occur in the spring?)

SCWA places culpability on contractors……
SCWA appears to rely on contractors’ abilities to deal with their own situations when a “worst case” arrives through expanded conservation, wastewater reuse, groundwater use, and storage. The Agency appears to avoid legal culpability for water shortages through bifurcation of responsibility. In other words, the unrealistically high demand numbers by Santa Rosa between 2010 and 2015 is seen by SCWA and Santa Rosa’s “worst case demand scenario”. It is the Agency’s view that if adequate water supplies are not available, Santa Rosa is responsible to make up the difference.

Agency worst case scenarios…..
This document should more clearly demonstrate how the water delivery system would function under worse case scenarios. While it acknowledges (pages 3-4 and 3-5: bottom/top paragraph) that high demand estimates by contractors are meant to cover “worst case” demand scenarios, this plan fails to adequately address such scenarios in terms of water supply and availability, even though this should be its primary function.

This document should focus on how water delivery will occur during all difficult circumstances, especially during dry, hot summers in single worst and multiple worst years. Yet it relies on a series of assumptions that eliminate the need for seriously dealing with difficult scenarios in the present. There are also some assumptions that it doesn’t deal with, or even mention in some cases, such as large earthquakes, dam failures, terrorist events, major fires, and other similar catastrophic events.

The assumptions that are addressed assume the best of all possible worlds. While it is true that many may turn out to be valid, some of these may represent a way to skirt consideration of potentially difficult roadblocks to overcome. While we understand the Agency cannot read crystal balls and predict the future, at least certain possibilities could be described in more detail, especially for those that will be implemented in the next five years or so.

Our group, RRWPC, asked Agency staff about the trigger point for declaring water impaired circumstances, and the timing for when the Urban Water Shortage Contingency Plan kicks in. Essentially we were told that there was no specific trigger point, but that it depends on specific situations, which can be different each time. This is a similar type of response to being told that the problem is “complex”, yet also serves to alleviate the Agency from transparency and relief from explaining the various water shortage (and other) circumstances. The Agency has simply made it clear that they bear no responsibility for inflated demand projections, which represent worst-case scenarios and believes that they are not legally required to respond.

This also appears to be evidenced by the avoidance of dealing with worst-case scenarios during back-to-back dry years. The UWMP concludes that the Single Dry Year scenario, patterned on 1977 flows, is the only one where they project that Lake Sonoma will not reach 100,000 AF by July 15th, and will therefore necessitate a 30% reduction in water deliveries. What is puzzling to most people who have studied this document is the lack of a similar conclusion for three back-to-back dry years as the “worst case”. Why were the years of 1988 to 1991 chosen rather than say 1976 through 1979? It seems as though a different result would have been concluded. We request that you model those years to study the result.

Discussion of water quality issues on supply avoided….
The Plan shows total irresponsibility when it fails to even allude to any water quality and recreational use issues affecting the lower river that might accrue as a result of lowering flows as per the BO. (We realize that this is not a CEQA document, but future regulatory limits may ensue as a result of these operations and should at least be mentioned. I am specifically thinking of the likely tmdl and Clean Water Act 303d listing on bacteriological contamination of the river from Healdsburg on down.)

Similarly, the Plan mentions the Water Agency’s nine strategies (p. 4-23), but fails to include a strategy to maintain water quality as strongly supported by the contractors and environmental groups. The Plan discusses water quality of the water being delivered, but nothing about maintaining natural water quality in the sources. This is especially significant because the Agency relies on natural filtration of the source. If this could no longer occur, then a very expensive treatment system would have to put in place and everyone wants to avoid that. It behooves the Agency to study this issue and provide information on the long-term water quality viability of the source water.

Potential water supply impacts from D1610….
The most problematic example here is the permanent changes to D1610. This is a highly controversial issue with the potential outcome having dire consequences for water quality, human health, and recreation in the lower river.

Many people in the lower river have questioned whether we are getting the short end of the supply and consequent water quality problems, through the implementation of “low flow”. A statement in the Agency’s Plan seems to indicate that this is the case. On page 2-6 it states:

“…for normal water supply conditions, because minimum instream flow requirements below the confluence of Dry Creek and the Russian River are (and under the proposed reduced Biological Opinion flows will continue to be) lower than the instream flow requirements in the Russian River above Dry Creek, the Water Agency is not required to release water from Warm Springs Dam to meet instream flow requirements in the Russian River below Dry Creek. To this extent, water stored in Lake Mendocino provides an incidental water supply benefit to the Water Agency’s transmission system customers.”

It is interesting that in their 2011 Temporary Urgency Change Petition the Agency alleges that it meets the four criteria that qualify the Petition for emergency status. The two most egregious statements include the following:

1. The proposed change may be made without injury to any other lawful user of water;
2. The proposed change may be made without unreasonable effect upon fish, wildlife, or other instream beneficial uses.

Absolutely no evidence was provided to indicate that there has been no injury to other users of water (especially in the lower reach) or that other beneficial uses and other species have not been harmed. There is no associated environmental or public review associated with these Temporary Orders, which nevertheless offer water supply benefits to SCWA and their contractors.

RRWPC has written extensively on the water quality and recreational impacts of low flow. We wrote comments and gave testimony on the 2007, 2009, and 2010 Temporary Urgency Change Petitions to the State Water Board; we wrote comments on the Fish Flow Project EIR Scoping in 2010; we wrote comments on the scoping and DEIR for the Estuary Project; we submitted extensive comments to the State on the 303d listing process for nutrients in the lower river and the impact of low flow on water quality. (The Regional Board submitted significant comments on this issue to the Agency in November 2010.) RRWPC has written many articles, comments, newsletters, etc. to local citizens about this issue. We do not intend to go into detail here, but our concerns are in the record over the low flow issue.

The Russian River is being managed by the Water Agency to provide wholesale water to its customers, at times to the detriment of many other water users. Never mind that all of us are paying for Warm Springs Dam and never mind that we get to elect one County Supervisor, when five of them get to run an Agency that doesn’t even work for County interests (except for some of the cities. There are about 40,000 private wells in the County, and the Agency does not represent their interests. It is one more travesty that this document does not focus on resource protection, but just assumes that there is enough water behind the dams to serve their interests.

Flow and diversion management strategies unclear….
Furthermore, the Plan fails to describe the “upper” flow limit in Dry Creek and how that might affect supplies, especially if lowered releases from Coyote Dam diminish the customary flows in the area of the diversions. In fact, the upper limit could be more problematic than the lower from the perspective of water supply. How can you assure that, given this upper limit, adequate flows will reach the Russian River for diversion, especially critical since it is stated that the system relies on this particular supply for its water deliveries to contractors.

This document neglects to describe the changes that will take place at the Wohler Facility in regards to the infrastructure, especially elimination (?) and/or changes to the rubber dam and infiltration ponds. Exactly what is being planned, when will this occur, and how will it impact the total delivery system?

Issues of peak demand…..
During the development of the 2005 UWMP the issue of peak demand deliveries was often discussed with great concern. This issue is barely addressed on p. 4-21 where the agency admits several infrastructure improvements remain to be constructed (Table 4-12). The Agency promises to work with the affected contractors in addressing demand issues, especially in regards to limiting demand so that construction can be delayed until more funds are available.

There is really no discussion of peak DAILY demand, other than to imply that SCWA will work with affected contractors to diminish the need (decrease projected demand) in general terms. However, that still does not address the circumstances where there are multiple dry years/months/days where demand spikes significantly and the supply is inadequate. It is particularly important that this be addressed in more detail in regards to meeting health and safety flow supplies. It seems as though the Agency is attempting to avoid responsibility by saying that the contractor must manage their supplies in such a way so as to address all scenarios. Is SCWA washing its hands of all legal culpability in this manner?

This letter represents some of our current thoughts on the direction of water policy in this County. This is a work in process and we do not consider this complete. I hope decision makers will read our comments and give them careful consideration. If not, we consider that Mother Nature is ultimately in charge, and great suffering may result if the issues mentioned here, and many more about the natural world, are not taken seriously.

I also want to acknowledge that I believe the decision makers and the Water Agency staff are people of good will and want what is best for this County. It will take great wisdom to lead this County through the different times ahead, and while it may seem water activists are super critical much of the time, it is only our desire for the good of current and future generations that we do this work and offer these concerns.

It was music to our ears that staff of the City of Santa Rosa, having received numerous awards for their wastewater facilities, now claim to be in much better shape than other cities and dischargers because they have the Geysers Project, where they not only have the benefit of claiming major accomplishments in cleaning up the river, but can also claim to be contributing greatly to generating alternative energy with this project.

Right before they decided to seriously look at the Geysers Project as a real alternative in 1997, they were strongly pursuing a 20% Russian River discharge option. They had already completed 3 or 4 EIRs up to that point along with facing numerous legal actions. If they hadn’t met very serious citizen opposition between the 800 million gallon illegal planned spill of secondarily treated wastewater in 1985 and the offer from the Geysers companies in 1997 to provide them with wastewater for power regeneration, they would have long ago expanded river discharge and would not have been willing to spend $200 million to do that project.

All of this is to point out that citizen water advocates have played a major role in water politics in Sonoma County and should be taken very seriously.

Thank you for your consideration.