Sonoma County Gazette, October 2006

RRWPC Hires Attorney to Fight Actions by Sonoma County Water Agency

By Brenda Adelman

Sonoma County Water Agency, operators and managers of the Russian River County Sanitation District, are seen as committing such egregious violations of California environmental law, that Russian River Watershed Protection Committee has hired the environmental law firm of Shute, Mihaly, & Weinberger to assist in challenging their actions.

The Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA), as operators and managers of the Russian River County Sanitation District (RRCSD) have been attempting to regionalize the RRCSD Treatment Plant since they took over 11 years ago, without serious regard for extensive environmental impacts of such a project.  In 1996, 400 people crowded into the Forestville School in a unique meeting with the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, almost unanimously opposing a similar plan.  Soon to be Supervisor Mike Reilly was one of many speakers strongly opposing the project, while he clearly supports it now.

In spite of public opposition in 1996, SCWA completed an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for expanding RRCSD in 1998.  It had taken over two years to complete and cost $600,000 of District funds, yet it was thrown out by District Directors (SC Board of Supervisors) before the final hearing for lacking an adequate project description. We have heard of no other instance where Supervisors have dismissed a final EIR under such circumstances before or since.

But SCWA has never wanted to be bothered with operating small wastewater disposal systems and have continuously attempted to enlarge RRCSD without appropriate environmental impacts analyses.  Environmental laws require project proponents to reveal all the potential impacts in a public forum while also providing mitigations to address significant impacts.  The public is then given opportunities to comment and offer recommendations after full disclosure has been made.

After that 1998 EIR was eliminated, District Directors (Supervisors) decided to use the 1976 Project EIR, grossly inadequate and out of date, to complete part of the Treatment Plant expansion.  RRWPC legally challenged the use of that document, believing that the plant was being expanded in order to regionalize the facility.  At that time, as now, citizens were pressing for a comprehensive document that would completely reveal intentions of the District Directors and fully address all environmental, social, financial, recreational, and other impacts.  Full disclosure was requested, so the public would be thoroughly informed of the Agency’s intentions and have their concerns addressed.

Since County Counsel informed the Court that treatment plant expansion was for current ratepayers only and not intended to expand the system, the Court ruled that it was okay to use the outdated document.  The sole purpose, County Counsel said, was to better serve the system during flood periods when the treatment plant gets inundated.  The Court refused to allow evidence of their intent to hookup other communities, and, unfortunately, we lost our case. The $4.5 million dollar expansion was built, and that is only PART of the story.

Currently, SCWA is moving forward on FOUR separate EIR’s for regionalization of RRCSD.  Last April they began an EIR process for a new equalization storage basin.  Most recently they began a separate EIR process for an outrageously sized irrigation pipeline, focusing on a 15-18 mile pipeline to irrigate vineyards in the Green Valley area, and does not even consider an affordable, local Guerneville project irrigating redwood trees.

At the same time, SCWA has made Camp Meeker Recreation and Park District lead agency for a pipeline project to hook Camp Meeker and Occidental to the RRCSD.  They loaned CM the money for the project; they absolved them of any legal liability, and as operators and managers of the Occidental County Sanitation District, which will be part of the project, they appear to be as legally responsible for this EIR as Camp Meeker.  In addition, an EIR must be imminent for a new disinfection system, which is the reason why RRCSD violates its permit almost every winter, and an essential component of this expansion.

RRWPC feels strongly that a comprehensive EIR covering ALL anticipated project areas must be developed in one document. (We are also concerned that Monte Rio and many properties now on septic may also need to be added to the expanded system, and should also be covered in a comprehensive EIR.)  EIR law states, “The lead agency must consider the whole of an action, not simply its constituent parts, when determining whether it will have a significant effect.”

RRWPC has provided comments on this situation to SCWA along with a separate letter from our attorney.  Copies may be emailed by sending a request to RRWPC at