RRWPC Newsletter, February 2022: New Housing Won’t Solve Housing Shortage

Drought again!   Last November, we thought we were done with drought.  It was raining so hard, and for so many days, we almost wished it (the rain) would go away.  Now we’re sorry, aren’t we?  This January we got almost nothing, although the wind is drying everything out and we are told that the fire season has begun. (We had less than an inch of rain between January 1st and mid-February, 2022,

and this is our winter rain season.)

To make matters worse: The Press Democrat reported on February 2, 2022 (Power Plant plan falls apart by Mary Callahan) that, “A coalition of organizations from Sonoma, Humboldt and Mendocino counties abandoned their quest to acquire the century-old Potter Valley hydroelectric plant, saying it could not meet an April 14 deadline for submitting a federal license application.

Water transfers from the Eel River represented about 70,000 Acre Feet (AF) into the Russian River annually.  There is hope that the transfer could continue AND the Scott Dam be taken down to improve fish passage.  The project will cease operating as an electric generating facility but it is hoped that diversions into the Russian would be able to continue.  There are many active parties however, not all in agreement about how to resolve the situation, and a highly complicated and expensive regulatory process to implement this change, so nothing is certain.  In the meantime, citizens are being asked to conserve water use as much as possible, although Santa Rosa alone issued over 4000 permits for new housing units as of a year ago.

State demands great increase in affordable housing development…The State is demanding massive new development of affordable housing and no one has explained where the water would come from (that we know of) to service this development. Sonoma County (not including cities) is currently planning citizen input meetings to discuss where to put 3,881 new units in the next eight years. This is a ‘bit’ more than the 515 homes constructed during the current eight year cycle, according to a Press Democrat article, “Input on housing goals wanted” by Ethan Varian on 2-12-‘22.

Higher minimum flows are needed to protect recreation and water quality in lower river….All along, it has seemed as though Water Agency practices demonstrate inequities of their Russian River flow management for those of us downstream.  Water contractor needs always dominate decisions regarding water entitlements and policies and seem to regularly be prioritized over lower river flows. Lake Sonoma could relieve critically low flows down river, but there are always reasons not to do so.  It is important to assure that canoes can float, people can swim, dogs and children can play, and water quality is good enough to keep people and aquatic life from getting sick.  This is not frivolous; especially after all the stress people have experienced lately from worldly and political conflict and deadly health issues.

Last summer, flows dropped down to 27 cubic feet per second (cfs) on some days. The last time flows were that low was in 1975-76.  With flows were so low in 2021, recreational opportunities were severely diminished and algae proliferated.  To give you an idea of the difference between Lake Mendocino north of Ukiah, and Lake Sonoma, on August 1st, 2021, Lake Sonoma’s water supply pool was 50% full and had 122,420 acre feet (AF) of water in it.  By contrast, Lake Mendocino (less than one third the capacity)  had 25,039 AF in storage. By October 15th, Mendocino was around 14,000 AF.  Cities had been bragging about huge conservation savings, but LM’s reservoir went down by 11,000 AF in 2.5 months even with supposed extreme conservation measures in place.  SCWA had been hoping that conservation would see levels of at least 20,000 AF on October 1st, but that goal didn’t make it.

North Marin’s water grab……We have other unaddressed concerns about impacts of upstream water distribution on the lower river in summer time.  We have learned that North Marin Water District, serving Novato area, purchased about 1000 acre feet of water from SCWA much earlier than they needed it, so they could put it in their reservoir and have it ‘on hand’.  Furthermore, Marin Municipal Water District, purchases about 5000 to 8000 acre feet of SURPLUS Russian River water from SCWA most years.

These two Marin water districts apparently have an agreement where North Marin can buy extra water, which may be Russian River water that MM had purchased from SCWA, from Marin Municipal on the side.  In cases where there is a large amount of rainfall early in the season, and we have plenty to spare, there shouldn’t be a problem. But when the deluge is followed by severe drought in the middle of the rainy season, and shortages exist in the lower river, why is North Marin allowed to have this leg up on supply? How can Marin Municipal purchase surplus water during drought?  In addition, North Marin used to have a similar agreement with Rohnert Park.  The latter is growing so astronomically however, they probably need it all for themselves now.

We have asked the State why the lower river can’t be allocated flows from Lake Sonoma in summer to augment very low flows in drought years?  Thus far, no one has given our query any consideration.  They cite the Biological Opinion as requiring minimum flows to protect juvenile salmonid upstream migration and other flow requirements in Decision 1610, but we requested a study to see if it would be possible to allocate some of the releases from Lake Sonoma, for the lower river during critical dry periods when the river has less than 40 cfs flow.   More stringent conservation measures may be needed.  State regulators have not responded to our letter.

In a recent presentation to the North Coast Regional Water Board, State Water Board Representatives claimed that Water Agency contractors had one of the most successful conservation programs in the state. They claimed that per capita water use in Northern California falls mostly under 50 gallons per person per day and is 38% lower than statewide average.  They claimed some other savings that we have no idea of how they were calculated and are about 50% lower than anything we have ever seen.  Water Agency contractors claim nowhere near that much.

RRWPC needs your continued support & notice when you move!   RRWPC requests your continued support to sustain our river protection work. For those who have not donated recently, we appreciate any donation so that we know you remain interested in receiving our mailers.  RRWPC relies exclusively on six (or fewer) mailers a year for our entire fiscal support and we deeply appreciate the generosity our supporters have shown us.

We need to share with you a problem we are having with the United States Postal Service.  As you may have noticed, we now use First Class Stamps to mail our letters.  That entitles us to receive address corrections when you move.  We have received very few corrections in the last two years.  We recently had the experience of getting back ten mailers within a week’s period that had been addressed to a single person over a two year period.  It had no address change but merely stated it was undeliverable.  They had been sitting in the post office somewhere for all that time.

Another time we got 4 pieces of mail addressed to the same person (not us) in one day to a box quite distant from our own.  These are just two examples of what has been happening over the last two years and we fear it is the ‘tip of the ice berg’.  We get no results when we try to discuss this with post office officials.  We filed a report with Congressman Huffman’s office, but have heard nothing so far.  We ask you to please notify us if you move and either give us an address change or ask to be removed from our list.  Also, if you send a donation and don’t receive a thank you letter within a month, please notify us as it could mean we never received it.