RRWPC Newsletter, May 2024: RRCSD, Fee Increases, and Local Governance

Some sad news to report this month, sorry to say, but you need to know the following:

Water Agency’s $20M grant application denied for RRCSD pipe & pump station repairs….We learned recently that the results of the income survey supposedly received by all Russian River County Sanitation District (RRCSD) ratepayers, was determined to be just shy of required amount to qualify for funds, as the cutoff was 80% of statewide average income and the District was at 81%.

As such, the District will be non-classified for fund eligibility through at least 3/31/2025.  We think it’s odd that we missed it by so little and wonder if the results were arrived at correctly?

This result is particularly disappointing, since the Agency had been required by funders to develop  an expensive 90% design for the project in order to qualify, and then missed out in the end.  They had been led to believe that there was an excellent chance to qualify for the grant funds, but it turned out that State budget woes (very high deficit) required a reduction of the amount available.  To add to the problem, there was a lack of clarity in explaining to ratepayers how to calculate their income.  We still have many questions about what when wrong and we hope to follow through with more details.  If you recall, our system needs about $47 million in repairs and upgrades, which will not be happening now any time soon.  Besides this loss, we can’t use penalty funds for this purpose either.  (see below)

Regional Board Backs Change in Penalty allocation…..

  • As our last mailer described, the State penalized RRCSD almost $1.3 M for spills during the major flood of 2019 in February and March. While this was $8M lower than the penalty could have been, not one dime was allocated for repairs to RRCSD’s system and the cause of the spill.
  • Valerie Quinto, Executive Officer of the Regional Board, wrote a very detailed five page letter to the Executive Director of the State Resources Control Board asking for the following:

The North Coast Water Board believes that the lack of flexibility that the Enforcement Policy imposes unnecessarily restricts its options in discretionary penalty ceases and is undesirable from both a public process and water quality benefit perspective.  The Board respectfully requests that the Office of Enforcement engage with the State Water Board to evaluate the issues raised by the Russian River CSD settlement and Order and consider how the Enforcement Policy might be amended to allow the Board to consider a wider range of options in administrative civil liability cases that involve discretionary penalties.

RRWPC worked on this issue for five years and we believe that this letter would never have been written without our attention to this issue.  While it may not affect this penalty, it could assure that future penalties will go towards fixing the problems that caused the spill in the first place.  Or we can hope anyway.

Water Agency requires another 8.9% fee increase this year: new hookup charge to be $2,292….We have the second highest rates in the County.  Ratepayers are allowed one vote per parcel to oppose.  (You should have gotten one brochure for each property you own.)  Yet they don’t give space on form to list parcel numbers. Many citizen have complained about brochure and form regarding RRCSD fees:

  • People received the mailer at different times; you should have received the brochure by first week in April. You should write a note on form if you received it later than that.
  • Ratepayers get a vote for each parcel they own within the District. You need to write in each parcel number.  The number of parcels should be listed under the owner’s name on mailing label.
  • While RRCSD doesn’t have anywhere near adequate funds to repair the collection system, even with current rate increases, the County is taking steps to study hooking up Monte Rio and Villa Grande to RRCSD system. These communities would add the equivalent of about 50% of current RRCSD flows to a system that can’t manage our own flows during major floods.  And summer storage, necessary to avoid summer spills into river,  is deficient to serve new hookups.
  • County is currently seeking $1.9M grant to repair and expand the headworks that would allow for greater flows through the RRCSD treatment system (even though a decision about what project to select for Monte Rio/Villa Grande is far from decided.) They are applying to the Federal Government for a similar grant to design and implement plant improvements to allow it to produce tertiary recycled water through extended flood periods.  This would include expanding pipe and pump size that  currently limits capacity of treatment plant.  There is no question that this is ‘putting the cart before the horse’ as no decisions have been made as yet about what to do with Monte Rio’s and Villa Grande’s wastewater.
  • And all of this ignores the State’s recent decision to change the Action Plan for the TMDL. The focus will move from addressing all septic system within designated boundaries, to addressing those proven to not be functioning appropriately in areas close to the river and designated tributaries.

The plan to revise West County Governance….

  • In the meantime, our 5th District Supervisor, is rounding up funds all over the place, to revise West County governance. One study by Brelje & Race, soon to be released, studies constructing large pipelines travelling long distances to carry raw wastewater through our sensitive environment to Santa Rosa or Windsor for treatment. Supposedly, this will provide rate savings and benefit the environment.
  • It is also believed that it will provide water supplies to agriculture and other towns during drought without realizing that reservoirs remain close to empty during drought and more expensive storage would be needed along the way to store what water is available during wetter times.
  • Furthermore, water service agencies experience major water sale decreases during drought and therefore far less to spend on such projects and maintenance. Should a pipe break occur, services above the damage could be constricted for great distances until repairs can be made.
  • One problem they are hoping to address is to have a way to allow septic systems able to meet new requirements and continue while the properties having inadequate land to meet these, would have the option of hooking up to RRCSD. This sounds like a good choice, but pipelines are very expensive, and usually it’s fiscally necessary to have all properties on a sewer line hooked up for service.

New Special Districts being considered for West County…..

County Supervisors are looking at combining services in various communities to provide for cost savings …We will go into much more detail on this item in a future mailer letter.  It will involve creating new districts in some cases and combining others for more efficient delivery.  As we read through the various possibilities, we believe many of the suggestions are more appropriate for more urban areas rather than our rural communities.  Many of the people living in Guerneville area however, have no need or desire for curbs, gutters, fancy service buildings filled with employees who don’t get to know the residents by name.  Just think about the transformation of the Guerneville Post Office into an institutional setting (fence and all).  While current employees are much nicer than prior ones, the building no longer feels like a place where friends meet and gab about the latest news.

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.  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 want to also mention that we have had an horrific time with our computers and printers lately;  Comcast service has gotten much worse.  We’ve been tearing our hair out a lot more lately and unable to send out email announcements on all of the issues we are dealing with.  If it looks like we are not doing much, it’s because we haven’t been able to get the word out.