By Brenda Adelman
The Russian River County Sanitation District (RRCSD) needs additional storage capacity at the treatment plant in order to keep it from discharging contaminants into the Russian River during high water periods. Russian River Watershed Protection Committee (RRWPC) agrees that it is necessary. According to official documents, approximately 30 million gallons of storage is needed in order to fully serve current ratepayers under all river flows. RRCSD currently has 3.5 million gallons (mg) of storage, and the proposed new storage basin would give us 3.5 mg more at a cost of $4.5 million dollars.
We agree on the need for storage, but this is where the agreement stops. Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA), operators of the system, have neglected developing a master plan for this and other components as required in the General Plan, which states that no projects can be implemented until a master plan is complete. Yet SCWA has proposed several component projects with separate environmental reviews. Their intent has been to use inappropriate and possibly illegal methods to turn RRCSD into a regional system.
Why is a master plan necessary? It provides the full picture of impacts to be expected from the entire project that cannot be addressed in piecemeal fashion. The master plan, as stated in the Public Facilities Element of the General Plan, would provide the following information for all components:
- Maps showing future service area boundaries,
- Forecasted growth that reflects all potential sources of future demand for facilities and the relationship to General Plan projections and limits,
- Projected service and facility needs,
- Estimated costs and revenues for needed improvements,
- System design parameters and assumptions,
- A program for water use reduction,
- A program to reduce storm water infiltration, and
- A program to monitor and account for amendments of the General Plan land use map over time.
With the help of geologist Dr. Jane Nielson, formerly of the United States Geological Survey, we have learned that there are many serious problems with the plan and the project site. She has expressed concern that the whole area of the treatment plant is subject to serious landslides, as is the single road (Neeley Rd.), leading into the facility. Furthermore, the environmental report did not adequately incorporate the suggestions of geological consultant reports. She expressed trepidation that the bottom of the basin will just be a few inches over the high water levels that have been tested thus far and questioned whether they would hold during future flood events.
She stated that the geology and soils section of the environmental document has a segment that is partially incorrect, contains misleading details, and does not describe significant subsurface soil variations. Soils are identified only generally, and extensive geotechnical soil studies that have been done on the site at public expense have been ignored. The report does not consider the full potential for slope failures (landslides and debris flows) on steep slopes north of the basin site, which could affect the equalization basin if the slides came onto the site, and does not adequately assess or mitigate that potential. It does not consider the potential landslide and debris-flow generation from severe earthquake shaking, and minimizes hydrologic issues, especially the potential for groundwater levels to rise higher than the equalization basin’s bottom.
The storage basin will contain raw sewage, partially treated wastewater, and fully treated wastewater at different times of the year. It is not adequately explained how all of the raw and partially treated sewage will be removed from the basin so as to not contaminate the fully treated wastewater, which will be used for discharge and for irrigation. They simply state that they will fill the basin with treated effluent and then retreat all the effluent again. It is our understanding that the City of Santa Rosa never can remove more than about 80% of the wastes in their ponds. It is unclear how RRCSD is going to remove 100%. We are concerned that raw sewage residues in the pond will cause contamination in the discharge to the river.
It is highly questionable whether this storage project can be safely constructed at this site. We know it is not adequate in its current form to treat the waste of new hookups and other communities, let alone serve the needs of all area properties with septic tanks. Nevertheless, the North Coast Regional Board Staff is encouraging expansion of the District to serve such properties. It’s hard to fathom why they would do this, since they know better than anyone about district failures and inadequacies.
RRWPC supports a community leach-field project for Occidental and Camp Meeker and septic management districts for all the rest. We have no objection to the construction of the storage, once the master plan and a comprehensive environmental review is complete, all costs are estimated and revealed to the community, and funding is obtained that won’t break the backs of the ratepayers.
RRWPC can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org We would like to get more people on our mailing list so please call and leave your name and address if you want to get our mailers every other month (or use the coupon in this newspaper). RRWPC is mostly a volunteer organization and receives all our funding from our supporters.