RRWPC Newsletter, November 2023: Potter Valley and the Water Agency

Potter Valley Project (PVP) on its way out…..Now is a time of major transition in the water resource management field.  After completion of a long and laborious public process expected to occur during the next several years by water contractors and users, governmental managers and technicians, fishery advocates, native Americans, and environmentalists,

the following issues will hopefully see their way to resolution: changing status of water rights by the State, climate change impacts involving the river and the local environment, land use changes including extensive housing growth, the degrading environment from fires and floods and other similar impacts, and the new ways we are yet to discover in making it all work together.  It’s likely that at least one dam in the upper river will come down and possibly two. (Scott and Van Arsdale) and importantly, some kind of diversion developed between the Eel and the Russian so the upper river can access a water source.  And it is likely that climate change will bring us more drought and more floods.

All needs must be addressed…..And needs of all interest groups must be addressed: including the agricultural community, Native Americans, recreation industry, State and Federal regulators, several County governments, fishery groups and agencies, water contractors (looking to serve a supposedly growing population), and more.  It’s an almost overwhelming process and current national politics may get in the way of smooth implementation.  The Water Agency and the cities and others are looking at many ways to increase water supply: more stringent conservation, turning emergency well supplies into full time use, aquifer storage and recovery during high flow periods, direct potable reuse (toilet to tap), desalination (of ocean water), new diversion facility to continue Eel River transfer, and many other possibilities.

In a letter to Federal and State Legislative Representatives, water contractors stated the following in support of the PVP diversion, “The lack of diverted water [from Eel River] would cause tens of millions of dollars of economic damage per year, result in need for new and more drastic conservation measures and increased water rates, curtail needed new housing, and increase the region’s vulnerability to droughts, wildfires, and climate change.  For these reasons, WAC hope that we can count on your support of the Proposal now, through the regulatory process, and through completion of the project.”  RRWPC wishes water purveyors paid similar attention to the needs of the lower river community, especially regarding local sewage conditions polluting the river and environment during major floods.

SCWA Leads the effort…The Sonoma County Water Agency is playing a leading role with this effort.  In the last year they hired a consultant, set up a layering of committees, began the organizational planning process, kept up with the numerous studies and reports required, worked on obtaining project funding (only partially available so far), and attempted to keep all the moving parts together on a forward track.  The whole complex process makes us dizzy to contemplate and we recently learned that SCWA may not be able to count on continued Federal funding to make this major effort move forward.  And, since we believe that very little, if any flow from Lake Mendocino reaches the lower river in drought years, whatever they work out may be of little consequence to those of us downstream.  However, with every opportunity, RRWPC continues to plead for resolving our sewer issues in an environmentally friendly way.

Most of what’s planned will probably not help the needs of the lower river.  There is little attention to recreational needs and low flow is still very much on the table through the Biological Opinion process (which will probably overlap into next year).  And the Russian River County Sanitation District, managed by the Water Agency, will continue to be the most polluting sewer system on the Russian River if it is not properly repaired and upgraded.  And there are other infrastructure needs requiring attention.

The main thrust of Water Agency efforts will be for the benefit of agriculture, native American fishing rights, protection of fisheries’ benefits, and adequate water flows to serve the great growth machine of urban areas, etc.  We can tell you that efforts to save the threatened and endangered salmonid species (Chinook and Coho salmon and steelhead) has met with mixed results.  The Coho were almost gone but are now making a comeback.  The Chinook seem to be on their way down. The average number of adults sited each year since 2016 (not counting 2021), as they moved upstream, was 1,183.67.  This can be compared to 6,730 in 2012 and 6,103 in 2002 total adults.  Other years in between were much lower.  Many of the returning coho and Steelhead are hatchery fish of which there are no Chinook.  All Chinook sited are native to the Russian River and are not hatchery raised.

Update on Monte Rio/Villa Grande potential proposed project for sewage solutions…I have not seen any publicity about a planned meeting on this issue yet, but it’s supposed to happen at the Monte Rio Community Center on November 29th from 5:30 to 7:00.  You can get information to confirm from Michael Makdisi at Michael.Makdisi@sonoma-county.org    County officials plan to present information on what new regulations are about and projects to be considered.

RRWPC has concerns about some of the thus far proposed projects.  Just briefly, they are looking at possibly hooking these communities up to Russian River County Sanitation District (RRCSD) in Guerneville.  Our prior mailers have described our concerns at length.  They also want to look at three huge pipeline projects that connect many of the smaller systems in West County to either Windsor, Santa Rosa, or the Geysers pipeline.  We believe that this would be far more expensive both to build and to maintain and that it would change the nature of our small town cultures.  They also are looking at establishing a septic inspection program and replacement or repair of current systems.  RRWPC feels this is the better way to go, but that there may be other small scale systems also available that are both affordable and easier to install.

RRWPC thanks our volunteers this holiday season….RRWPC thanks all who have supported us this past year, including our Board of Directors (Brenda Adelman: Chair, Dennis O’Leary: Secretary, Sherrie Althouse: Treasurer, Nichae Blume, and Dave Blanchard), and Mary Anne Sobieraj for website upkeep.  Also, we thank Vesta Copestakes for page layout and Brenda Adelman for organizing donor list.  We are grateful for our mailer volunteers including Wayne Gibb, John Uniack, Mark Pedroia, and Cynthia Strecker, and all who contributed funds to sustain our efforts between Nov. 1, 2022 and Oct. 31, 2023. (see donor list). We thank Brenda, Mark, and Sherrie for help organizing our storage unit. We thank Dave for all his help with our ancient computer that too often breaks down. We also thank Emily Heinzelman and the Russian River Senior Center for allowing us to hold meetings and assemble mailers at their facility and we send condolences to the friends and family members of the numerous loyal RRWPC supporters who have passed on this year.

RRWPC needs your continued support!  Donor contributions sustain our independent river protection work. We rely exclusively on six (or fewer) mailers a year for our entire fiscal support and we can do so because we are primarily a volunteer organization. We appreciate any amount you can contribute. Donations may be sent via mailed check (with card and envelope provided) or by using PayPal at our website.   We recently placed asterisk(s) by the last names of those who have not contributed in two or more years: one asterisk indicates most recent donation was given in 2021, two indicate most recent in 2020, and three indicate most recent in 2019.  At the start of 2024, if we have not heard from you, people with three asterisks will be removed from our list, as we will assume you are no longer interested in our work.  (Occasionally we do make mistakes.  If you have sent a donation that did not get entered, please notify us by letter or email and we will check our records and make correction.)   Also, we have been getting mail from other box holders in our P.O. Box 501 and that makes us wonder if other people are getting our mail.  PLEASE let us know if you move and also contact us if you sent a donation and check doesn’t clear, and/or you receive no Thank You letter within 5 weeks.   (Lately, USPS has not been informing us of new addresses of people who move.)  Please help us with that.    Happy Holidays!