Alan B. Lilly
Bartkiewicz, Kronick & Shanahan, P.C.
1011 22nd St.
Sacramento, CA 95816-4907
Grant Davis: General Manager
Sonoma County Water Agency
P.O. Box 11628
Santa Rosa, CA 95406
PROTEST REGARDING: NOTICE OF PETITION REQUESTING MODIFICATION TO WATER RIGHTS PERMITS FOR SONOMA COUNTY WATER AGENCY BY MODIFYING THE MINIMUM INSTREAM FLOW REQUIREMENTS: PERMITS 12947A, 12949, 12950, AND 16596 (APPLICATIONS 12919A, 15736, 15737, AND 19351)
PETITION FILED: 9-23-09 COUNTY: Mendocino & Sonoma Russian River
RRWPC PROTEST FILED MAY 13, 2010
SUBMITTED BY: Brenda Adelman on behalf of RRWPC
RRWPC has been tracking water quality issues in the lower Russian River (Healdsburg to Jenner) for 30 years. We are neither scientists nor legal experts, but we have studied water quality issues all that time and have accumulated a vast library of reports, studies, presentations, etc. from experts on these issues. We will draw on those documents as background for this Protest.
This Protest is being filed on behalf of Russian River Watershed Protection Committee (RRWPC). We are a nonprofit public benefit organization incorporated in the State of California since 1980. Our supporters number approximately 1200 property and business owners, recreationists, and other concerned citizens in the lower river area from Healdsburg to Jenner. We also have a great deal of support from many others who appreciate our advocacy on behalf of the Russian River.
RRWPC supporters and activists utilize the Russian River for recreation and/or tourism, for fishing, swimming, for artistic expression, spiritual well being, for exercise and personal health of ourselves, family, friends and pets, and for replenishment of health and energy needed to balance out the stresses of modern day life. Due to its proximity to Bay Area urban centers, the beautiful and peaceful lower Russian River is easy to access and allows a natural refuge from everyday cares. Many of our supporters own properties in the lower river for their summer enjoyment, but reside and work in the greater Bay Area and beyond. A large number have submitted separate protest forms.
Low flow will cause harm….
There should be no permanent change in the Russian River minimum flow regime as delineated in Decision 1610 until significant issues are appropriately addressed and resolved. Specifically, we are most concerned about the request from the Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) (Petition filed 9-23-09) to lower the minimum flow during normal rain years (as defined in D1610) from 125 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 70 cfs.
We believe this proposal will cause harm to the river by exacerbating water quality problems that already exist and ultimately harming the fish and causing health and safety problems for humans and wildlife. Also, we believe recreation will be severely restricted and the pleasure of those who continue to take part greatly diminished by this change. We anticipate that our local economy will suffer greatly from this proposed change as well.
Finally, we are concerned that the summer reservoir water levels not exacerbate potential flood scenarios in the lower river. This is of particular concern in April and May when storage is at its height, and the ground is still saturated, yet large storms have the ability to instigate flooding in the lower river. If flows are held back all summer, we would be concerned about that same possibility should early storms should occur the reservoirs remain full too late in the season.
Protest process unclear….
We don’t fully understand this protest process. The protest period closes on May 13th, but the process has really only begun and now in its earliest stages. If the only purpose is to identify interveners, then can testimony of those who do not formally intervene later be heard? It would have been helpful if the SWRCB (State Water Resources Control Board) protest notice for the Permit Application had a brief explanation for the general public.
Many of the issues we raise here (and we will raise more later on) will probably be addressed in the EIR for this project. Numerous studies are currently being conducted, and will probably be completed, at least in part, for the EIR. There is a study at UC Davis about to be released on the occurrence and fate of pathogens in the Russian River. There is a USGS Study on water quality, which is only partially complete, but should be done and released soon. SCWA is sponsoring numerous studies on the Estuary and water quality. There is a great deal of data being collected for this project for which summary reports have not yet been written. Obviously we cannot address those now. In addition, the Regional Board is also gearing up to conduct new studies through the Ambient Water Quality Monitoring Program.
RRWPC has numerous photographs of the lower river taken last summer indicating extensive nutrient pollution. These include proliferating algae blooms and Ludwigia mats. (One of the pictures was taken at a broad section of the Laguna by Stony Point Road. It shows an area where Ludwigia had been mostly eradicated in an expensive three-year program and within two years of being left alone totally filled the broad channel again.) We have many pictures of beach goers and their dogs standing ankle deep in water in the middle of the river. We have water quality studies conducted by the Regional Board going back 30 years, from which we can draw information. We have numerous studies and newspaper articles expressing concern about river flows, impacts on recreation, and water quality. Many of the people who submitted protests also testified to their problems in the river.
We have no doubt that the authors of the Biological Opinion know far more than we do about fish, and in particular, the three listed species of concern here. We have been assured that our concerns about water quality and recreation will be considered, yet the tone of the Petition and the Biological Opinion upon which it is based, is that these significantly lowered flows will indeed be required. Our greatest concern is with the ultimate “collateral damage” that will result from permanently lowered flows. We assume that such potential damage will be fully assessed in the environmental impact report (EIR) and that the State Board will take all these matters into consideration when they deliberate their decision.
Lack of clarity about flow management process…..
How will flows be managed by SCWA so as to have summer low flows consistently in the upper river, in Dry Creek, and the lower Estuary while still serving all the beneficial uses in between, especially since it takes about four to six days for flows to travel the 110 mile length of the river and conditions vary along the way. What happens during extremely hot weather when the flows get rapidly used up, but the diversions can’t be increased because that will affect upstream management of the fishery? Does the BO assume conditions will be consistently uniform throughout the watershed? (The BO refers to the flexibility allowed by the flow range of 70 cfs to 85 cfs. We don’t think that’s adequate, and will look into it further during the EIR process.)
In the Emergency Petitions of 2004, 2007, and 2009 the emphasis was on managing storage and not managing flow. Certainly that approach makes more sense to the public. Persuading people they have to use much less water when the reservoirs are full, and pay more besides, is probably a bit unreasonable in their eyes, especially when the benefits for the fish are ill-defined and “experimental”. (NMFS has repeatedly stated that the Estuary Project and the Dry Creek habitat restoration projects are an experiment.) If that is the case, shouldn’t any flow changes be tentative until the benefits are ascertained?
In fact, why does the Petition only give us a bare outline of what SCWA is going to do, and says nothing about how they will do it? Significant amounts of information, much of which is not readily available at this time, will be necessary so that the EIR could inform the public of the many exigencies of implementing this project. Could NMFS be expecting the impossible?
Given that there are so many illegal (and unregulated legal) diversions, especially in the summer, including both ground water and surface water draw downs, controlling the many variables in order to assure minimum flows throughout the mainstem would be tricky. Computer models base predictions on past occurrences, but global warming, more intense land use practices, increased pollution, etc. may be changing all those assumptions, while water short seasons may increasingly extend from early spring through late fall. Unexpected storms and inconsistent weather can foul up predictions as well.
There are other questions: What is the condition of the aquifers and to what extent does ground water contribute to surface water flows in summer? How much reservoir storage is REALLY available after siltation is considered? To what extent might this change in the event of new agricultural development and new growth in the urban centers? To what extent will groundwater and private and public wells be affected by this change in D1610? What amount of surface water could be lost to evapotranspiration during a hot summer? To what extent does recent drastic decreases in Eel River diversions exacerbate the situation? (Last year only about 60,000 acre feet (af) was diverted as compared to the former average of about 160,000 af.) Of course in drought years, flows will be naturally reduced and people will be more motivated to conserve.
Last year the Agency succeeded in achieving its goal of retaining enough stored water in Lake Mendocino to serve the needs of their contractors and the fall run of Chinook. We commend SCWA staff for managing the balance as well as they did. There was a heavy emphasis on voluntary conservation by farmers and water contractors, but it was a cool summer. During a hot summer, the water could easily be used up in no time, especially since no one adequately controls agricultural use. The closed estuary and low flow could then become problematic if the mouth remains closed to upstream migration late in the fall.
Furthermore, SCWA has at times been at odds with the contractors, with whom they have contracts to provide water to meet their general plan projections. Santa Rosa actually filed suit when SCWA changed direction and dropped the Water Project, shelved the EIR, and said they were no longer seeking to expand diversion rights to 101,000 acre feet for the time being.
The story is found in two news articles entitled: “New water policy raises concerns about process: Cities caught off guard by Water Agency’s sudden change” by Frank Robertson of Sonoma West Times and News, on September 2, 2009, and a Press Democrat article on September 3, 2009 by Mike McCoy entitled “Santa Rosa ready to sue for more water”. (Attachments #1 & #2) Ultimately they reached a compromise agreement that leaves things in limbo for now.
Last year the Agency had a crisis with low water storage in Lake Mendocino. Contractors were initially made to conserve 25%, which they appeared to do (depending on how it was calculated), and were then told their rates are going up because they were so successful. The costs of running the system had to be financed even when less water is sold. Last year there was a severe shortage of water that justified very low flows.
What will happen to the water balance this year as the reservoirs are full, and people are told increased supplies cannot be delivered (because of flow limits), and the price goes up even further? Controls are needed to assure that water savings are permanent. None of this is mentioned in the Permanent Petition however, which only requests the change and justifies it exclusively on the basis of the Biological Opinion. (The day before we completed this Protest, we saw the Temporary Petition that went to the State Board on April 1st, for the first time. This document appears to only recommend lower flows of 70 cfs from Dry Creek to the mouth of the river. We have no idea how this will play out in terms of water supply this summer.)
In addition, we wonder how lower river residents will react if the contractors and farmers end up with plenty of water this year because of very full reservoirs, but due to reduced flows, there is little available for recreation or tourism downstream? People go to the river, for some peace of mind in these difficult times. How will they react when their experience is greatly diminished by low flows during a time of plenty? (See Attachment #3. This is a PD graphic from 8-24-06 which nicely depicts recreation along the Russian River.)
Pilot Study Requested in 2004….
On May 28, 2004, SCWA sent a letter to Victoria Whitney, Chief of the Division of Water Rights, entitled PILOT STUDY – UPDATE ON DEVELOPMENT OF PROPOSED TEMPORARY CHANGES IN MINIMUM FLOW REQUIREMENTS FOR THE RUSSIAN RIVER AND DRY CREEK IN SONOMA AND MENDOCINO COUNTIES, ETC. (Attachment #4)
This letter was part of the Emergency Petition process of 2004, where SCWA requested a Pilot Study to study the water quality impacts from various flows. It states on page 1, “The purpose of the study is to evaluate the effects of flow regime changes that NOAA Fisheries believes may be necessary to improve summer rearing habitat for threatened salmonid species.” Furthermore, the Agency designated “…the Russian River downstream from the town of Monte Rio” as being most impacted from Russian River “excessive” flows. (Actually, the notice for the Estuary Project EIR defines Duncans Mills as the limit for Estuary influences. It is the portion between Duncans Mills and the mouth that will be closely studied.) The distance between Monte Rio and Duncans Mills is approximately four miles.
The blanket and careless reference to river flows as being “excessive” fails to differentiate those areas that may need higher flows for various reasons, including recreation. (The river between Forestville and Monte Rio probably has the highest recreational use and should be given special consideration in this regard.) Does the Biological Opinion view “excessive” flows as merely those higher than desired to meet the exclusive needs of the fish? It will be up to the State Board to decide this issue in a way that protects all beneficial uses. (See page 8-9 of our comments. Historical flows at Hacienda since 1947 averaged much more than 125 cfs.)
Furthermore, and maybe most important, the letter states on page 4 (emphasis added): “Any changes in Russian River water quality resulting from implementation of the Flow Proposal will affect the overall viability of the Flow Proposal as a solution to limitations in salmonid rearing habitat.” We have not heard that statement since, but there is an implication that serious water quality impacts can squash the program. We believe that it can be demonstrated that water quality impacts may be severe.
Was that pilot study ever completed? Was the original intent to experimentally lower flows to various levels and collect a suite of water quality data to study the impacts, ever realized? We don’t recall any reports containing water quality analysis for the lower Russian River at different flow levels, nor the expected impacts that might result. (There were some preliminary results from the USGS study.)
We are aware that monitoring is going on now, but that the nutrient data, according to a Regional Board staff person, is totally inadequate. (Please see section below on water quality.) While SCWA may have conducted water quality monitoring between 2005 and 2009, we don’t recall seeing a full analysis of the results of their data. We assume this will come forth in the EIR, but then it won’t be a “Pilot Study”; it will be an environmental analysis of a project already defined. We are concerned that NMFS downplays water quality issues and the possible ramifications of their experiments in the lower river.
While last year the river was managed on behalf of the fall run of Chinook based on water levels in Lake Mendocino, the goal of this Petition is to manage steelhead and coho habitat based on flow. We also question the management preference for keeping Lake Mendocino as high as possible in the late spring, when it is still possible to flood. Water balance analysis is needed for the entire year, so that flooding can be addressed and all possible scenarios (storage AND flow) considered.
Notice of Petition Filed:
On September 23, 2009, the Sonoma County Water Agency filed this Petition with the State Board to request modification of water rights through changes in instream flow requirements as specified in Decision 1610. The Agency anticipates that the State Board will consider whether to grant, deny, or amend their Petition.
The request by SCWA for stream flow modification is based on the need to address the demand for new flow requirements called for by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in the Biological Opinion (BO). The Petition Notice states (page 2), “In its Biological Opinion, NMFS concluded that the current minimum instream flow requirements have an adverse effect on Central California Coast Steelhead and central California Coast Coho Salmon because the artificially high flows limit the quality and quantity of rearing habitat. Based on the findings in the Biological Opinion, SCWA has petitioned to modify the minimum instream flow requirements in an attempt to avoid further jeopardizing steelhead trout and coho salmon populations.”
The Petition further states that stream flow changes are necessary to implement that reasonable and prudent alternative (RPA) in the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Biological Opinion (BO) issued on Sept. 24, 2008. The “Opinion” was a result of a formal consultation between SCWA, NMFS, the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) and Mendocino County Russian River Flood Control and Water Conservation Improvement District under section 7(a)(2) of the Federal Endangered Species Act of 1973.
Yet we are reminded by SCWA that the State Board reserved jurisdiction to (page 2 of Petition)“….modify, delete or add minimum flow requirements or related criteria for the protection of fish and wildlife and the maintenance of recreation in the Russian River should (1) additional fishery studies be conducted in the Russian River.” SCWA claims that the BO is such a fishery study and that stream flow changes are necessary to avoid jeopardy to coho salmon and steelhead. We hope the State Water Board will give full consideration to all the evidence during the course of this Decision 1610 revision process.
(Attachment #5: RRWPC is attaching a copy of the BO electronically.)
Biological Opinion’s Reasonable and Prudent Alternative….
In reviewing SCWA and ACOE operations, the BO identified specific areas of concern related to existing operations of SCWA and describes the “reasonable and prudent alternative” (RPA) on pages 243-247. We will not focus on issues involving the upper reaches of the watershed except in regards to describing circumstances where the reduced diversions affect lower reaches. Similarly, we will skip discussion of the management of Lake Sonoma and Dry Creek including flow and Hatchery management and habitat improvements except where minimum flows affect downstream water quality and recreation. Many other interested and knowledgeable parties are addressing those concerns. RRWPC will focus our attention on the impact of reduced flows on the lower Russian River, particularly between Forestville and Duncans Mills and on the Estuary.
RRWPC believes that last year’s water availability crisis at Lake Mendocino was caused by three year’s of low rainfall, in combination with significantly decreased Eel River diversions into the Potter Valley Project. For many years, diversions averaged around 160,000 af a year. Last year’s diversion was down to 60,000 af. This could go up a bit in a wetter year, but it is likely that diversions will remain far lower than previous amounts.
Friends of the Eel River (FOER) filed a petition and complaint around March 1, 2010 to the State Board regarding SCWA’s petition asking the State to rescind ALL rights to the water diverted from the Eel River. (Actually they said that SCWA had NO rights to the water that was diverted by PG&E for power generation.) They referred to the BO in one of their critical arguments stating that threatened fish species are suffering from too much summer water in the Russian River. RRWPC challenged many of their assumptions in our detailed response to that petition and complaint. (Rather than repeat our concerns here, we include our response as part of this record. Please see pages 7-8 of our response to Eel River Petition and also see below.) Attachment #6: attached electronically to email version
The Biological Opinion states that higher flows in the lower river are not good for the fish. Yet this is within the context that higher flows contribute to the breaching of the river mouth, and not because they have studied and concluded that the lower river from Forestville to Duncans Mills is bad habitat for the fish BECAUSE of the high flows. In fact, they have virtually done the opposite in regards to the Chinook (noted below). What is absolutely clear is that there needs to be scientific justification for the assumption that there is “too much” water in the river. (Also please see discussion on pages 8-10 following.)
The Estuary and the Closed Lagoon….
The Biological Opinion theorizes that a closed lagoon will provide valuable habitat for primarily steelhead populations. (According to the BO, the Chinook are supposedly not affected by this project.) NMFS’s main interest is in providing a barrier to maintain a closed lagoon between May 15 and October 15, a time when the Estuary is normally open (according to our information). It is unclear to us how a closed lagoon will be sustained in such a dynamic environment, or what the impacts will be to other species. (Seals usually disappear when the mouth is closed.)
It is interesting that the BO seems to falsely claim that the river mouth closed in the late spring to early fall in many years. It states on pages 91-92, (top) “Given the information available, NMFS expects that prior to dams and diversions in the Russian River watershed, the estuary was likely open to ocean tides for several months between late fall and early spring in nearly all years, and then closed to ocean tides sometime during the late spring through the early fall of most years. This pattern of open estuarine conditions in the late fall, winter and early spring, followed by estuary closure to ocean tides in the spring, summer or early fall, remains evident today. (emphasis added) For example, the bar at the mouth of the estuary closed in the spring (April-June) in 8 out of 12 years for the period 1996-2007 (Table 26 in Effects Section) this occurred even with inflows augmented by the dam releases.”
We have several comments about this paragraph:
• First, when you go to the “Effects Section” and Table 26, it’s a Table on flows as measured at the Hacienda Bridge between 1947 and 2005, not opening and closing of the river mouth.
• Secondly, they gave no evidence that we noticed about closings BEFORE the two dams were constructed. The examples they allude to are of recent openings and closings. We don’t think that any implications can be drawn from this information about flows prior to Coyote Dam before it’s construction.
• Finally, and most important, is that we have evidence that contradicts their statement about mouth closings.
Historical river flows at Hacienda…..
In introducing the topic of historical flows, the BO states (page 177): “To understand the effects of SCWA’s flow management at WSD and CVD on main stem flows during summer and early fall, we began by examining USGS stream gauge records for the upper and lower Russian River before and after construction of the dams and after implementation of D1610.”
Tributary stream flows have been greatly influenced in the last twenty years by the burgeoning wine industry along the Russian River, both in Mendocino and Sonoma Counties. Flow data at Hacienda is greatly influenced by flows from the tributaries, so analysis about past and present flows in relation to one another is bound to be questionable, since no one has adequate information on how much legal or illegal water is being used by the vineyards. Combined with the recent significantly lowering of Eel River diversions, there is simply far less water available in the system now than in prior years.
Furthermore, it is very interesting that the average of the median daily flow went down after Lake Sonoma came on line. Table 26 (page 180) lists the median daily flow (July 1-September 30th) in three sets of years. We took an average of medians and came up with a number for the three groups as follows:
Years before Lake Mendocino: 1947 through 1958 daily median flow at Hacienda averaged 157 cfs.
Years after LM but before Lake Sonoma: 1965 through 1976 daily median averaged 195 cfs
Years after both LM and LS: 1988 through 2005 daily median flow averaged 178 cfs. (years during which great expansion took place in the wine industry)
We cannot help but wonder if that change in flow proves our point and indicates the uncertainty of any flow predictions. Furthermore, it was only in 2001 and 2004 that the daily median average was less than 125 cfs until last year when flows stayed around 70 cfs most of the summer because of the drought. Everyone can understand shortages when no one has much water. It’s when water is abundant that people will really feel deprived if these low flows are adopted.
Flows and closing of the river mouth…..
Above, we noted the statement in the BO (page 91-92) that the mouth was very likely closed in the late spring through early fall before construction of both dams. They go on to say that it is evident that the situation remains the same today. They give BO claims as evidence that the mouth closed in 8 of 12 years between 1996 and 2007. We think that the conclusion about conditions being similar today to what they were before is not scientifically established and therefore should not be made.
(On page 91 the BO states: “NMFS has inferred historical estuarine habitat conditions by combining information on current conditions, limited historical and present day information about river flow and bar closures in the Russian River and other California estuaries, and information from the hydrologic study conducted by the Russian River Estuarine Task Force (RREITF) in 1993.”)
We have different information. Our information is from daily observation by Mrs. Elinor Twohy who lives above the mouth of the Russian River and who has made detailed records and photographs of the opening and closing of the mouth and the number of seals since 1987. (Attachment #7) We have a graph of the opening and closing of the mouth between 1973 and 2008 based on her information. SCWA also developed a list of breaching events 2004 and 2008, that also indicates that the mouth was open most summers. (Both are attached)
In regards to summer mouth closings, the chart seems to indicate that during all those years, while there were closings in most years during the summer months, they were generally of short duration, especially in June, July, and August, and especially since the year 2000. There may be a correlation between drawdown of water supplies by agriculture during the summer months and decrease of Eel River supplies, as a significant and uncontrollable cause of lowered flows. Yet in spite of these lowered flows, THE MOUTH STAYED OPEN MOST OF THE TIME. RRWPC realizes that the conditions that determine whether a mouth will open and close are extremely dynamic and complex. Nevertheless, the BO and this application draws the comparison between the open and closed mouth and measured flows, so we could only respond.
Low flow alternatives…..
It’s hard to visualize what the sand barrier will look like, in terms of the changed landforms needed to provide a closed lagoon. We do know that much lower summer flows are required upstream to make this happen (as per this petition). The BO states that, on page 243 in regards to the Estuary, “Relatively high discharge also disrupts the normal processes of lagoon formation in the Russian River Estuary, thereby exacerbating the potential for flooding of low-lying properties, and increasing the frequency of mechanical sandbar breaching.”
NMFS promotes the idea of a sand barrier as the first priority for establishing the closed lagoon. A second possibility being considered is removal of all or part of the jetty. The final possibility is to raise a relatively small number of houses out of the flood plain so flooding would not be a factor in closing the lagoon. In a recent meeting with NMFS staff, RRWPC representatives were told that in this latter case, lower flows might not be necessary at all. But it appears as though the second two options would only be considered if the first one fails. Since it would take many years to determine this, we could be stuck with low flow for a very long time.
So now the issue becomes, for those of us concerned about the impact to many river miles and hundreds of properties, would it be cheaper and easier to either raise the floodable structures or just buy them out. A study of the feasibility would seem to be in order.
What we have obtained from SCWA is a list of properties (we think as far as Duncans Mills, but were not given a map of the parcels listed) that are subject to flooding. (Attachment #8) Many of the parcels listed are empty; some have “unknown structures”, and some have “buildings” of unknown substance. We believe that further study is needed. We don’t know at what level houses flood if flows are sustained at 125 cfs. This should be determined and a map devised showing all houses and substantive structures on both sides of the river that would be affected by those flows. With the current data, it appears as though 19 houses are affected at flood levels of 4.5’ to 7’, and 15 houses at levels of 7’ to 9’. After that point, the numbers become insignificant. We include a picture of Jenner houses near the mouth. We wonder if many of those properties on the list are further upstream and would not have to worry about flooding.
As we write this segment on May 8th, we had just received The “Notice of Preparation of an Environmental Impact Report from the Sonoma County Water Agency”. (Attachment #10) While it notes that flows into the Estuary need to be managed to create the lagoon it is unclear to what extent this will be addressed in the EIR. We know that the Agency plans a separate EIR for the Decision 1610 process, but nonetheless, since Estuary management relies on lowered flows upstream in order to work, it must be addressed in this EIR as well, along with water quality, recreational, and other issues upstream. We are concerned about bifurcation of the process.
SCWA also recently came out with their “Water Supply Strategy Action Plan” that outlines and prioritizes their planned water related projects for the coming years, and are just beginning the public input process. In it they mention that they will be complying with the Biological Opinion, but fail to include the Estuary Project on their list. (The Dry Creek and D1610 projects are described however.) This may be an oversight. Nonetheless, we are concerned about how they will meet the demands of their contractors while sustaining minimum flows throughout the Russian River system, at least until they have better access to Lake Sonoma water supplies. In any case, more water from Lake Sonoma won’t help the lower river at all if 70 cfs limits are in effect.
Narrow Scope of Biological Opinion bypasses important issues….
Lowered flows are requested for all reaches, even where not specifically necessary for the river section through which flow is being transited. In other words the BO requests lowered diversions and flows to only serve the needs of the reach between Lake Mendocino and Cloverdale, the Dry Creek corridor from the dam to the confluence with the Russian River, and the Estuary. Page xii of the Executive Summary of the BO states: “The project’s proposed flow management at WSD and CVD during late spring, summer, and fall has a clear adverse effect on the availability of rearing habitat for steelhead in the 14.1 mile segment of Dry Creek, in 34 miles of the upper Russian River, and in the river’s estuary.” During a normal year, SCWA is requesting minimum flows of 70 cfs for the lower river downstream of the Dry Creek confluence (from the current 125 cfs), strictly for the purpose of managing the Estuary. (While the BO allows flows as high as 85 cfs, in regards to impacts, 70 cfs is supposedly the “worst case” in a normal year and should be fully addressed.)
To compound the lack of attention by NMFS in the Biological Opinion to the river segment between Forestville and Duncans Mills, is the lack of necessity by SCWA to attend to water quality problems in that very same stretch, given as their water contract infrastructure responsibilities pretty much terminate at that point. We believe that this may be the “Achilles’ Heel” of this project. To exacerbate severe water quality problems in one area, in order to “improve” another is not defensible and is probably contrary to the Clean Water Act.
RRWPC attended numerous meetings on the Biological Opinion headed up by SCWA and NMFS staff, and also has met privately with NMFS staff, including the authors of the BO, and they emphasized the experimental nature of the Estuary Project and also ascertained the importance of assuring the protection of water quality. In these meetings, they consistently expressed uncertainty about the exact minimum flow for the lower river needed to accomplish their goals. They directed us to page 244 of the BO where it states (middle of page) that the flow changes MAY accomplish their goal of enhancing salmonid rearing habitat. They have stated privately and publicly that numerous scenarios need to be studied before a final flow limit is determined. A primary goal is to maintain a closed Estuary, and if properties in the Estuary that normally flood can be raised out of the flood plain, they assured us it would be possible to maintain a higher flow in the lower river.
They have also stated that they share our concerns about the potential for unintended consequences of permanently lowering flows, such as major impacts to water quality and recreation. They stated that they want to see those issues fully addressed. In fact, there is a huge complexity of issues affecting the lower river that need to be addressed before instituting this very significant change.
Much has changed in the area since Decision 1610 was first created. In an April 30, 2009 letter to Vicky Whitney of the State Board from Dick Butler of NMFS states: “The human populations of Sonoma and Mendocino have grown considerably since 1977. With that increased population there is increased potential pollution to the river from both rural and urban development. Therefore, reducing flows to critically dry levels will increase pollutant concentrations and possibly degrade water quality to the detriment of fisheries and other public uses. (e.g., swimming, boating, etc.)” (He then goes on to state the importance of conservation to preserve water supplies stored in Lake Mendocino.) Although his comment refers to lower flows than 70 cfs, we believe that it similarly applies to our concerns about water quality problems that may result from permanently lowered flows. (Attachment #11)
Chinook Salmon not considered in D1610 Petition…..
Consideration of Chinook salmon in the D1610 Petition was dropped by NMFS. As they explain in the BO, (p. xiv) “Because adult fall run CC Chinook salmon primarily migrate downstream to the ocean during the following spring, flow management at SWD and CVD does not have significant adverse consequences for this species. Migrations of adult Chinook salmon appear to actually benefit from the elevated regulated flows during fall months, and rearing juveniles do not contend with the artificially high summer flows that limit available rearing habitat for the other Federally listed salmonid species.” And, “We conclude that, if the proposed project is implemented, critical habitat for Chinook salmon would remain functional to serve the intended conservation role for this species.” (emphasis added)
In the document, “Review of Flow Proposal in the Russian River Draft Biological Assessment (2004)”, it states on page 15, “The periodicity charts show that juvenile Chinook generally completed their outmigration to the Pacific Ocean or the estuary by the end of June. In wetter years, juvenile Chinook would stay longer in the upper mainstem and tributaries, thereby adding to their size before embarking on their seaward migration. In drier water years, the role of the estuary probably gained importance. Each Chinook life-history strategy, therefore, could have been the best strategy under different water year conditions.” (Attachment #12) The Petition should address this situation.
Two pages earlier, the BO stated (page xii), “Juvenile Chinook salmon rear in freshwater only until late spring or early summer when they then enter the ocean environment. For that reason, regulation of late spring and summer flows has much less effect on rearing juvenile Chinook than the other two species.” Since summer does not officially begin until about June 20th, then “early summer” can mean as late as the end of July. But the BO also states (page 235) that, “ ….the project will maintain the same conditions that have supported recent growth of the Chinook salmon population.” Our concern is that the BO seems to treat all water years alike and assumes conditions will always fall within an acceptable range to make this project viable.
Further definition of the fluctuating buffer seasons in late spring and early fall is in order here. Conditions can vary considerably at those times depending on whether late spring or early fall rains occur. In fact, there is a whole complexity of situations from May 15th to October 15th that are not fully addressed. (Project low flows run from May 15 to Oct. 15) Furthermore, what will happen during wet years when the reservoirs fill and yet releases are minimal to maintain low flows and the reservoirs stay full until later in the fall and things become out of balance? Shouldn’t reservoirs be relatively empty right before the rainy season? How will reservoir management in the spring protect the river from flooding late in the rainy season?
According to the Petition, the 70 cfs limit in the river from Dry Creek to the mouth will start during “normal water supply conditions” and no date is given. It appears as though neither the BO nor the Petition considers various flow scenarios in regards to weather and rain patterns, but only in regards to storage. In regards to juvenile Chinook, the BO seems to assume that because the Chinook numbers have been relatively high, they can count on their staying that way under this new flow scenario. We wonder if there are cumulative impacts that could undermine this assumption?
On July 22, 2004, NMFS provided written comments to the State Board regarding SCWA’s requested urgency change petition. (Attachment #13) In this document, they state, “If operations with a dry year criteria result in sustained closure of the lagoon at Jenner, or cumulative passage of adult salmon is very low through September 30, then SCWA will immediately consult with NOAA Fisheries and DFG regarding possible measure to facilitate upstream movement of salmon.” What would those measures be? What if it is still warm at that time and recreation is still occurring. It seems as though there are many variables that need to be considered here. What triggers inmigration? We always thought it was the first major storms. If flows are increased during warm and sunny weather to open the mouth and facilitate migration, what happens if water temperatures are still too warm and conditions aren’t right? Does SCWA automatically increase releases on October 16th? How will this work?
The April 20, 2009 letter to the State Board from Charles Armor of DFG regarding storage conditions last year indicate numerous dangers for Chinook. (Attachment #14) “The difference between current conditions and 2007 conditions may be significant. This year, the amount of water available may not be sufficient to sustain cold-water enhancement flows throughout the Chinook spawning season. A substantial reduction in cold water flow after the start of fall migration could result in high mortality of Chinook due to a combination of pathogens, high water temperatures, adverse water quality, and high fish densities. Similar conditions resulted in the 2002 fish kill in the Klamath River in the early fall. During this time river flow and the volume of water in the fish-kill area were atypically low. Combined with the above average run of salmon, these low flows and river volumes resulted in high fish densities. Fish passage may have also been impeded by low flow depths over critical riffles or lack of cues for fish to migrate upstream. Warm water temperatures in the river created ideal conditions for pathogens to infect salmon. The presence of a high density of hosts and warm temperatures caused rapid amplification of pathogens, which ultimately results in the mortality event.”
The BO and the Petition need to offer contingencies for various flow/storage/temperature scenarios that would require appropriate measures for the specific circumstances. According to a recent “Year One Major Milestones” document, SCWA is just measuring and counting Chinook. All of their other efforts are geared towards coho and steelhead.
Temperature is indeed a serious concern. Last summer, up until about October 1st, temperatures at Johnson’s Beach averaged about 22 to 24 Celsius. In fact, the high temperature on October 1, 2009 was 27.31 Celsius. On Oct. 2nd, it was 13.96 C. We have no idea what might have accounted for the big drop in one day and there was no other data available for that location for the rest of the month. (Attachment #15).
On September 24, 2004, Prunuske Chatham, Inc. submitted a report to the Sonoma County Community Development Commission entitled: “Review of the Flow Proposal in the Russian River Draft Biological Assessment (2004)” (Attachment #12) This document was compiled and written by the following experts, Daniel Malmon, Ph.D., William Murphy, Ph.D., Bill Trush, Ph.D. and Liza Prunuske. Fred Euphrat, Ph.D. and Dan Wickham, Ph.D. assisted with local expertise.
While the BA was different than the BO, we found some interesting information contained within that applies to this situation regarding Chinook. The document raises numerous substantive issues. One of the most significant was the focus of BA on temperature calculations. The means of calculating temperatures is addressed on pages 22-26, and concern is indicated about representing temperatures as medians of averages, arguing that this does not convey the true picture. The problem is that fish may thrive in “average” temperatures, but average medians could have them dying from the heat at the top end of the temperature spectrum.
If flows are low and the stream backs off from protected riparian, and the surface is fully exposed, the water will get heated up. And that’s exactly what happens in the lower river, except the water was hot in the deeper areas behind the recreational dams as well. We alluded above to temperatures at Johnson’s Beach getting as high as 27.31 C. And that’s at the beginning of October (during a relatively cool summer) when things start to cool off anyway. Salmonids cannot survive in those temperatures. (And warm water predators can prevail.)
Fish and Game protest of new water rights application for Windsor and Occidental Community Services District….
This was a very interesting case (Protest dated 4-27-’07) where SCWA proposed three new points of diversion and “….no diversion rate or annual diversion quantity limitation has been described in the SCWA change petition request for diversion/rediversion.” (Attachment #16) Also, DFG had protested a prior Windsor water rights application. DFG was requesting full disclosure of the amount of water that would be used.
We bring this up because of the parallel issue with impacts to beneficial uses by perpetual loss of water every summer as a result of going from 125 cfs to 70 cfs on a permanent basis. What will happen with the concentration of pollutants? What impact will that have on the environment and public health and the fish? What will happen to riparian vegetation as a result and the consequent impact on water temperatures? How will this circumstance in turn affect nutrient levels and subsequent dissolved oxygen levels with more biomass available, especially over time?
In this letter (signed by Charles Armor, Acting Regional Manager), DFG makes some interesting comments, made more interesting by the fact that they were addressing a much smaller project than the current proposed diminution of flow.
“Changes in flow patterns within the system, from adding new points of diversion or increasing the amount of water use, may result in direct and cumulative adverse impacts to the listed species as well as other aquatic resources. DFG does not dispute the petitioner’s right to beneficial uses of water to the extent that it has been developed to date under its permitted authorizations. However, absent the implementation of appropriate protective conditions, any alteration in the flow regime within the system as a result of an expansion in use and expansion in points of diversion may result in direct and cumulative adverse impacts to aquatic resources.” (emphasis added)
The letter goes on to question the impacts of taking additional water during a dry year when storage in Lake Mendocino is an issue. The relevance here is that assurance is requested that all beneficial uses will continue to be served. The letter asks that several issues be fully addressed and several are pertinent here, including the following:
“1) The complex public trust protection issues related to direct and cumulative effects of increased diversion within the system” (read as decreased flow)
“2) (Give) an accounting of existing appropriative and riparian diversion with an assessment of the quantity of water available for beneficial uses that includes ensuring resources within the Russian River basin are protected.”
“Additionally, the original protective terms provided in D1610 can no longer be relied on to protect the fisheries and updated studies must be utilized to ensure that mitigation is appropriate for current watershed conditions.”
The BO is focused on a very narrow concern and should not operate in a vacuum. 70 cfs flow in the lower river was selected strictly in order to keep the mouth closed all summer season. Thus far, there is no reason to believe that it is protective of other beneficial uses.
Water Quality Issues….
RRWPC is most concerned about the water quality impacts that will result from decreased flows. Wouldn’t it be ironic, if in the desire to improve habitat in some areas, it is destroyed in others, and the fine intent of the project is thereby undermined, if not destroyed? The issues here are highly complex and there is no way we can address them all here. We will highlight the main issues and provide some evidence, but provide more details during the environmental review process. Our overall concern is that the Biological Opinion is driving this train, with inadequate concern for the other cars on the track. We would have more respect for this process if it acknowledged in a meaningful way, all of the factors contributing to the demise of these great salmonid species.
The Biological Opinion focuses narrowly on SCWA and ACOE operations of the water supply system. While there is frequent mention of “fish habitat”, that mostly seems to apply to stream flow and not other perimeters such as temperature. There is barely any discussion of temperature, even though this is a key element for the health of the fishery, and even though low flows generally exacerbate warm temperatures. We assume that, since most low flows will occur when fish are not migrating, temperature problems are considered minimally important by the BO. It’s as though higher winter flows during migration are the cure all for problems created by high temperatures, assuming all the key assumptions actually occur. (Please see write up on Prunuske-Chatham “Review of the Flow Proposal in the Russian River Draft Biological Assessment (2004)” on page 14 of this protest.)
We are also very concerned about toxins, a subject never considered in the BO. Nutrient pollution is a very serious concern as well, along with invasive plants (Ludwigia), pathogens and sediments. We will review them briefly, with the intent of going into more detail during the environmental review process.
All of last summer, RRWPC and friends took weekly photographs at Monte Rio Beach (both sides), Vacation Beach, Johnson’s Beach, Steelhead Beach, and several beaches from the Hacienda Bridge. (Attachment #17: Enclosed pictures are just a sample of the hundreds we have on file.) Most of the pictures were taken on weekend afternoons, so we could estimate the amount and kinds of recreation taking place. We also received testimony from numerous people and we will continue to ask for testimony describing people’s experience of the river. (Many put their “river stories” on their Protest forms.) In addition, we circulated a protest form, most of which you have already received but we include some additional ones with this protest.
Many canoeists complained about the fixed and floating, black and green and blue-green algae pervasive in the river last summer. The Ludwigia is outcropping everywhere. It has been reported by many that water quality conditions are much worse in the last several years, as flows were already much lower than they used to be. In speaking with Regional Board staff recently, we learned that nutrient monitoring conducted by SCWA last summer was totally inadequate due to excessive detection limits, that the Regional Board is gearing up to study nutrients in the Laguna and river, set numerical standards, seek a 303(d) listing under the Clean Water Act, and eventually change the Basin Plan to address the new standards.
Also, we ran across a preliminary report from USGS that we think was done in 2005. I am fairly certain I have seen a more recent one, but was unable to locate for these comments. I will continue to look during the EIR process. (Attachment #18) I don’t think 2005 was a very low flow year, but this will serve as a comparison when we look at the data for 2009. It is our strong belief that no decisions should be made until the monitoring review is complete. Also it would be important that the scientific experts make a peer review evaluation of the likely impacts of following through with this project on a permanent basis.
The Russian River is listed under the Clean Water Act 303(d) as impaired for sediments, temperature and, in some locations, pathogens. We have been informed by staff that the Regional Board has expanded their study of pathogens to the entire lower river and the Laguna, because of intensive recreational use, rather than the small segment formerly designated. (Healdsburg Beach and the area from Guerneville’s Fife Creek to Monte Rio’s Dutch Bill Creek) It is believed that there are many sources for the pathogens including urban run off, wastewater discharges, agricultural and dairy operations, wild animal and pet waste, human waste including failing septics, and contaminated soils.
We have a copy of a protest letter submitted by Laura Wilson, owner and operator of Johnson’s Beach in Guerneville. (Attachment #19) She stated that last summer there were 14 positive bacteriological tests for enterococcus between June 15th and September 30th. (I counted 13 on the SCWA chart enclosed. Attachment #20) Before 2009, during ten years of testing, she state that there had only been one positive sample in all those years and it happened after a sewer spill upstream. Laura stated that no one could give the reason why there had been so many high readings throughout the river this year.
Monte Rio had none at the down river beach until early September, after which they had 11. The Kid’s Swim area upstream had ten readings, but some of them were extremely high. That was also the area where toxic blue green algae tested positive in early October. It is also the location where the nasty algae photographed on page 9 in our pack of river photos (Attachment #17).
As we mentioned above, there are many possible sources for this contamination, including sediment disturbance, and upstream activities. It is also the closest monitoring place to the downstream discharge location of the Russian River County Sanitation District (RRCSD), which is about a mile upstream. It is possible that bacteria from the discharge has bound with the sediments and is being released when disturbed. It is also less than a mile downstream of the golf course, which irrigates all summer with wastewater (as does the RRCSD site 300 yards upstream of the golf course). There are many possibilities, including that of a failing septic or two.
Several people said they won’t swim in the river anymore because the algae is so “gross”. Some said their kids and/or dogs got sick after swimming in the river. In one case, a person’s dog died the day after swimming in the river. Regional Board staff reported to us that the Monte Rio kid’s beach (where the algae picture #9 was taken) also tested positive for toxic blue-green algae last September. We have been asking for more monitoring for this dangerous algae.
For years, Ukiah, Geyserville, Healdsburg, Windsor, Santa Rosa, Graton, Forestville, Guerneville, and Occidental have been discharging treated wastewater either directly into the Russian River or into its tributaries. While required to meet certain water quality limits for numerous constituents, there were still many opportunities for these systems to pollute our waterways. In many cases the discharge limits were inadequate, non-existing, unenforced, or violated during accidental spills. The City of Santa Rosa discharged about 15 times more than the discharges of all the others combined, although discharges were only allowed to occur from Oct. 1st to May 15th. (Discharges seldom happened in October however.) They had many violations over the years.
But Santa Rosa was allowed to discharge into the Laguna de Santa Rosa at a rate that was based on flows at the Hacienda Bridge, about 12 miles downstream. (That only recently changed. After about 35 years, the City is now required to base discharge on flow at the discharge point.) Also, constituents such as bacteria met their limits at the treatment plant, before the wastewater sat in ponds where re-growth could occur. We have never seen documentation on this issue. At any rate, before the Geyser’s project, Santa Rosa’s discharge could comprise of as much as 90% of the Laguna flow.
The Laguna is currently listed as impaired under the Clean Water Act 303(d) Section for nitrogen, phosphorus, temperature, dissolved oxygen, sediments, and mercury. It is due for consideration of a total daily maximum load (TMDL) process by the Regional Board that has recently begun. It is believed that the contaminant sources come from wastewater discharges, irrigation run off, urban runoff, dairy and agricultural operations (runoff), damaged and destroyed riparian vegetation, and failing septics. It is one of the most impaired water bodies on the North Coast.
In 2000, RRWPC was partially responsible for initiating a study of phosphorus in Santa Rosa’s wastewater. It was written by Dr. Daniel E. Wickham and Robert Rawson entitled, “Phosphate Loading and Eutrophication in the Laguna de Santa Rosa”. (Attachment #21) It was this study that helped justify listing the Laguna for phosphorus under the Clean Water Act in 2002.
As previously mentioned, SCWA data indicated no results for Total Phosphorus because their detection limit was too high (1.0) (See Attachment #20-back page) The report identified phosphorus as the limiting nutrient for plant production in a fresh water system and claimed that wastewater discharges were a major source. They postulated that Santa Rosa’s wastewater was adding large amounts to the Laguna, causing a great deal of eutrophication to occur.
On page 7 of the report, it states, “…typical concentrations of phosphate (as P) in most natural water bodies are less than ranges from 0.005-0.1 mg/L.” The detection limit for SCWA monitoring was 1.0 mg/L. As mentioned, Regional Board staff found that to be unsatisfactory. It is probably fair to conclude that lowered flows will have a significant impact on this situation and that much more stringent monitoring will be required in the coming year. We will revisit this issue in more depth during the EIR process.
Laguna waterways are filled with Ludwigia and other invasive plants. The Ludwigia in places totally blocks the channel (see picture: Attachment # 17). It is a very prolific plant that is almost impossible to remove completely. The Laguna Foundation conducted a three-year removal effort, spending about $3 million, because of North Marin-Sonoma Vector Control District’s concern about West Nile virus. After bringing in many experts and interviewing people from all over the world about the problem, they were only able to treat a few areas, which filled in rapidly within two years after the end of the program. (Final Report: Attachment #22)
Ludwigia has invaded the Russian River as well. RRWPC and friends have taken many, many pictures from last year. There are outcroppings throughout the lower river. They die off and are covered by the river in the winter, but they come back in full bloom every summer. They are almost indestructible and provide habitat for vectors, bacteria, etc. They are a real health hazard to the public and affect water quality for fish due to their impact on the nutrient cycle and dissolved oxygen. Shade, velocity, and water depth and speed of flow, are factors determining whether it proliferates. Our two favorite photos are entered as Attachment #23.
Low (and slow) flows will narrow the channel width and enhance those conditions under which Ludwigia thrives. Obviously as the channel narrows, shade is less available, temperatures rise, and the water becomes shallower. Several of the photographs demonstrate these conditions. Also, dissolved oxygen becomes more of a concern, and nutrients also become more problematic.
RRWPC has always experienced frustration at the slow acknowledgement by wastewater dischargers and other officials and scientists of the impending and existing impacts from unregulated and under-regulated toxins and compounds. We have submitted volumes to the State and Regional Boards and officials who oversee wastewater discharges. The City of Santa Rosa has held several workshops on the topic. But for one time when they invited me to speak, all of their presentations came from people who seemed to minimize the risk involved with spreading these toxins throughout the environment. One very important reference to the topic, is a video by Theo Colburn on endocrine disruptors entitled “The Male Predicament”. (We enclose this video by email. Attachment #24)
We have found that the Biological Opinion and fishery groups usually ignore this topic. Dr. Colburn has worked in this field for about 30 years and is to the field of endocrine disruptors what Rachel Carson was to pesticides. She was (and still is) a key scientist bringing together the information about what has been happening to cause reproductive and neurological problems and birth abnormalities both in humans and the environment (including aquatic life) and has worked incessantly all that time to educate the public and policy makers and to shape public opinion about the seriousness of the issue.
The scientists she represents are discovering that exposure to many different chemicals does not only affect the person exposed by causing cancer, birth defects, and other difficult health problems, but the exposures can alter the reproductive capacity of the fetus in the womb that transfers on to future generations in a way that can make many of the future unborn males sterile. These same chemicals have been demonstrated to have a devastating effect on wildlife, even in very small doses.
Chemtrust is a United Kingdom environmental group that published a report a few years ago entitled, “Effects of Pollutants on the Reproductive Health of Male Invertebrate Wildlife-Males Under Threat” by Gwynne Lyons. We enclose the section on Fish. (Attachment # 25: pages 5-8) It states, “Fish may be particularly affected by pollutants, because their exposure is not only via the diet, but also via the gills and skin……In fish, the following effects have been particularly noted: abnormal secretion of VTG in males (a feminine hormone); altered spermogenesis; eggs developing in testes (ovo-testes/intersex); intersex genital apparatus; and poor reproductive success.”
There is great concern now for all the pharmaceuticals and personal care products being discharged into the waste stream. They become bioavailable to aquatic life in very small doses and can prove devastating to all life forms. There has been a great deal of research on this topic. We don’t want to go into great detail here, but we are very concerned that the low flows will exacerbate the problem. There is cause to fear that these substances might bind with the fine sediments and be reintroduced into the water when stirred up.
The President’s Cancer Panel recently released the 2008-2009 Annual Report. As a sample, we copied the pages on Pharmaceuticals in the water. (Attachment # 26 pages 74-75) It notes that not all drugs are removed from the waste stream during the treatment process. There are unknown effects, especially when they are mixed together with other chemicals and drugs. There are no established limits and/or regulation of these substances and the problem is expected to get worse over time.
Finally, as a result of the work of Linda Sheehan and others on the State Water Policy, a special expert panel was set up. Their first report was just released on Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CEC’s). We will get into that during the EIR process. We have not had a chance to look at it yet, but we add it as an electronic Attachment #27)
The State has been heavily promoting the summertime use of recycled water to offset potable water use. They recently approved a Recycled Water Policy and a General Recycled Water Permit for landscape use. Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Windsor, and Healdsburg are in the throes of increasing their recycled water use. RRWPC is deeply concerned and has commented extensively on this issue, especially with the City of Santa Rosa, who is in the middle of construction of a Pilot Recycled Water Project.
Linda Sheehan, Executive Director of California Coastkeeper Alliance, Mark Gold, Executive Director of Heal the Bay, and Layne Friedrich, Lawyers for Clean Water, together wrote two commentaries dated March 27, 2007, and October 26, 2007, on the State’s Recycled Water Policy (Attachment #28 sent electronically as one file). The same three groups also wrote comments on the State’s Statewide General Permit for Landscape Irrigation Uses of Recycled Water, dated June 26, 2008. (Attachment #29 sent electronically)
These three letters express our concerns in a way and at a level that we never could about the risks with spreading partially treated wastewater all over during the summer when the creeks are low and less able to assimilate toxins, human use is high (exposure greater), and people who irrigate are prone to allow what has been termed, “incidental runoff”. This issue has been a deep concern of ours since long before the Biological Opinion was released.
We will turn to these letters extensively during the environmental review process, but we will quote one paragraph here to give a flavor of what we are talking about: (Page 14 of the Landscape Irrigation letter of June 26, 2008)
“We agree that reuse water has the potential to alleviate strain on our already over-taxed water resources, reduce the costs associated with transportation of potable waters, and possibly even improve water quality in the source watersheds if potable water is allowed to remain instream. However, we caution the State Board not to oversimplify the cost-benefit analysis and fail to account for both the current and long-term impacts of allowing treated municipal wastewater to be spread throughout our entire environment in landscape irrigation projects, with unknown potential impacts. California has learned with experiments such as MTBE that allowing the spread of environmentally-persistent and toxic contaminants without full information and awareness of potential impacts can create enormous overall societal costs. The State Board must give appropriate consideration to the benefit to be gained by keeping these chemicals out of our waters in the first place when considering the maximum benefit to the people of the State of using recycled water for landscape irrigation.”
“Incidental Runoff” in Rohnert Park….
Santa Rosa is responsible for the Subregional Wastewater Treatment System, which serves Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Cotati, Sebastopol, and South Park. Santa Rosa has irrigated agricultural fields for many years. They have also have a contract with Rohnert Park (since 1993) under their NPDES Permit for using recycled water in the urban area. Since my son lived in Rohnert Park for many years, I had occasion to view frequent incidences of over-irrigation, though I thought it was potable water at the time. Even highly treated wastewater can have large amounts of phosphorus remaining. Putting that together with the extensive problems with Ludwigia and other invasive plants in the creeks just west of Rohnert Park, I became very concerned that there was a connection.
Last year I took my camera to Rohnert Park early in the morning on three different occasions looking for signs of over irrigation to photograph. I saw a great deal of wet pavement at 7 in the morning, but only found a few places that were actually watering and that water was running off into the gutter. It turns out that a few of the locations were indeed using wastewater, and doing so very carelessly. I have since learned that many of Rohnert Park’s schools and parks irrigate with wastewater.
Most wastewater irrigation occurs at night “to avoid human contact”, and Santa Rosa has a contract with Rohnert Park forbidding many of the practices witnessed. Santa Rosa’s Reclamation Permit clearly holds them responsible for Rohnert Park’s irrigation program, so RRWPC submitted a complaint to the Regional Board and provided pictures. Staff has subsequently wrote a Notice of Violation letter to the cities about three months ago, and is working with both cities to assure this does not happen again. (Complaint packet and pictures: Attachment #29, Notice of Violation letter: Attachment #30) Recently the Regional Board promulgated very stringent irrigation requirements as part of the City of Healdsburg’s new NPDES Permit. It is expected that similar requirements will be instituted for the other irrigators. Until then however, we are concerned that the water continues to run off.
The Regional Board also went through a Storm Water Permit process recently, which included a definition of the circumstances where wastewater irrigation could occur and the definition of “incidental runoff”, now allowed by the State. A local study was commissioned by a group called Russian River Watershed Association, a group of local dischargers in Mendocino and Sonoma Counties, called, “Storm Water and Watershed Awareness Tracking Survey”, and was a follow-up of a previous survey a few years back. (Attachment #31)
In a nutshell (summary attached), the survey concluded that many people are not environmentally aware, and do not understand how to protect the environment when they are washing their cars or fertilizing their lawns. Some simply don’t care. At least, most know not to throw their car oil down a storm drain, yet 47% of the population does not know that water going down gutters and storm drains ends up in the creeks and river.
The process of lowering minimum summer flows should consider the possibility that more toxic pollutants will become concentrated in the diminished flows and will possibly cause great harm to people, pets, and wildlife, including the fish of course. Just because most of the threatened fish are not in the waterway during summer, does not mean they are unaffected by the circumstance.
Throughout these 22 pages, the background story has been about recreation. In all our weeks of photographing last summer, we saw thousands of people enjoying the river. Mostly, we saw people sun bathing, getting their feet wet, canoeing and kayaking. We saw dogs frolicking and families hanging out. We saw kids playing. We didn’t see much swimming however. We didn’t see a lot of people submerging themselves, even in places where they could. Most of the deep water under the bridges seemed dirty, and there have been many reports of the slippery (and slimy) river bottom. We also noticed that there weren’t too many people over 40 getting wet. Those people who took the time to write their stories of the river often had sad stories to tell.
The river is obviously sick. The disappearing fish (and other species such as amphibians) are signs of a sick, and maybe dying river. Without working on a cure for the whole thing, we don’t believe that piece-meal approaches will ultimately help much, including moving sand dunes to block the water, which could turn into a water quality nightmare after time as the estuary provides a sink for all the toxins (most of which are not being monitored) coming from upstream. (There is a great deal of monitoring of conventional pollutants going on now; but that only tells us what is happening today, not will happen in the future after years of a closed mouth, especially in regards to toxic chemicals.)
We are told that before the dams, flows were much lower than 70 cfs in the summer time. Some talk about restoring old flows to a “natural” state. We counter with the supposition that the river was much cleaner then, wastewater discharges were minimal, toxins were limited, sedimentation was not a problem and probably nutrients weren’t either. Riparian vegetation hadn’t yet been cut back everywhere, and all in all, the population using the system was much smaller.
Unfortunately, some people seem to think that recreation is less important than saving fish; perhaps, they believe, it is not on the same scale as survival of a magnificent group of species. A healthy ecosystem is important to everyone, whether they admit it or not, just as a healthy society is based on finding a way to meet people’s basic human needs.
We estimate that most of the people recreating in the Russian River are hard working people looking for a way to restore themselves, so they can continue to lead productive lives year round. Getting out in nature can raise Vitamin D levels, vital to a healthy, well functioning body. It provides exercise for our muscles and bones; it helps children grow and learn, it keeps our hearts beating regularly, and it can give us inner peace so we can cope with all the difficult demands in our everyday lives. Without a healthy environment that includes healthy fish and other wild and aquatic life, we are robbing the future for generations of unborn, not to mention those of us who are still here.
A few years ago, Santa Rosa was planning to put a discharge outfall at Steelhead Beach in Forestville. The community was outraged and thousands signed petitions to stop it. We had a team of people who visited Steelhead for signatures and I personally paid numerous visits to the beach. At certain times, the parking lot was always full. It was a place where hundreds walk their talks every day and beach bath in huge numbers. Because it is hidden from the street, I had no idea it was as popular as it was. Needless to say, Santa Rosa ultimately dropped their plans and this popular beach was saved.
Finally, we refer to Norma Jellison’s letter (and probably others as well) giving numbers on recreational use of Goat Rock State Beach at the Estuary. It’s in the millions. We strongly support Norma’s (and others) concerns for the seals; we did not write about that topic because we knew others would and we don’t have a lot of expertise on that. Nonetheless, summers without the seals is unthinkable for many. There are promises to protect them during this project, but for most of us, we don’t have much faith that this will all work.
What it will take for RRWPC to drop its protest….
We would drop our protest:
• When a sediment study of the Estuary fully evaluates the existence of a multitude of toxic chemicals including mercury, a range of pharmaceuticals, personal care products, pesticides, and other endocrine disrupting chemicals, and they are shown to be at insignificant levels,
• When a full blown nutrient total daily maximum load is complete by the Regional Board and the potential impacts of low flow are determined,
• Similarly, when extensive studies of temperature and sediment excesses are completed as overseen by the North Coast Regional Board and are shown to be manageable, so as to not cause long range impacts;
• When there is a full study of the houses subject to inundation under 12 feet in the Estuary area and it is shown to be viable to raise the houses and/or buy properties,
• When it is demonstrated that seals would not be harmed by this project,
• When cumulative impacts from this project are fully identified and shown to be minimal,
• When recreational and economic impacts upstream in the lower river are studied and shown to be minimal,
• And, finally, when it can be demonstrated that the environment, economy, and recreation will not be harmed to the upstream environment and communities as a result of this project
We know these requests are a tall order, but necessary to truly have a healthy river environment where all species can thrive.
In closing, we want to say that we respect the good will and intelligence of all the Agency people we have worked with on this issue. We like them as people and believe they are sincerely trying to do a very difficult job in difficult times. We realize our demands are asking a lot, but there is a great deal at stake. Unfortunately, we are now dealing with problems that have been ignored for decades and have grown to the point where they can no longer be ignored. We are the generation that gets to “bite the bullet” and come up with a plan for the future that will truly address the river’s ills. If any of our comments seem heavy handed, it is because we are passionate about the lower river and want to see it remain the very special place it is.
Russian River Watershed Protection Committee
P.O. Box 501
Guerneville, CA 95446
Submitted 5-13-10 by Brenda Adelman
• Most attachments mailed in advance to Alan B. Lilly: received on 5-12-10
• Comments and attachment list emailed to Mr. Lilly and Grant Davis on 5-13-10
• Attachments #5,6,12,22,24,27,28,29 emailed to Mr. Davis and Mr.. Lilly on 5-13-10
• Packet including comments, attachments, and extra petitions but excluding emailed attachments delivered in person to SCWA on 5-13-10
List of Attachments for:
PROTEST REGARDING: NOTICE OF PETITION REQUESTING MODIFICATION TO WATER RIGHTS PERMITS FOR SONOMA COUNTY WATER AGENCY BY MODIFYING THE MINIMUM INSTREAM FLOW REQUIREMENTS: PERMITS 12947A, 12949, 12950, AND 16596 (APPLICATIONS 12919A, 15736, 15737, AND 19351)
#1: “New water policy raises concerns about process” by Frank Robertson, Sonoma West Times and News, 9-2-09
#2: “Santa Rosa ready to sue for more water”, by Mike McCoy, Press Democrat, 9-2-09
#3: “Take us to the river” graphic, Press Democrat, 8-24-06
#4: “Pilot Study- UPDATE ON DEVELOPMENT OF PROPOSED TEMPORARY CHANGES IN MINIMUM FLOW REQUIREMENTS FO RTHE RUSSIAN RIVER AND DRY CREEEK IN SONMA AND MENDOCINO COUNTIES…”, Letter to Victoria Whitney from General Manager Randy Poole of SCWA, 5-28-04
#5: Biological Opinion, N.M.F.S., 9-24-08
#6: RRWPC Comments on FOER Petition, Brenda Adelman, 3-22-10
#7: Figure 3. “Inlet closure record for RR from 1973-2008”, Behrens, et.al. and “Russian River Estuary Barrier Beach Breaching Events from 2004 to 2008, SCWA
#8: RRIFR Russian River Estuary Flood Risk Management Feasibility, List of properties subject to inundation
#9: Jenner photograph by Carol Sklenicka taken 1-19-10
#10: “Notice of Preparation of Environmental Impact Report”, SCWA, 5-2010
#11: Letter to Jeanine Townsend, Clerk to SCWCB from Dick Butler, Supervisor, NMFS, 4-30-09
#12: “Review of the Flow Proposal in the Russian River Draft Biological Assessment (2004), Prepared for Sonoma County Community Development Commission by Prunuske-Chatham and Scientific Review Panel Members, Daniel Malmon, Ph.D., William Murphy, Ph.D., and Bill Trush, Ph.D. 9-24-04
#13: “Comments of the National Marine Fisheries Service at the State Water Resources Control Board Public Workshop concerning Sonoma County Water Agency’s Petition for Temporary Urgency Change of Permits governing minimum flow releases at Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma during Late Summer and Fall, 2004”, 7-22-04
#14: “Notice of State Water Resources Control Board , Division of Water Rights Order Approving a Temporary Urgency Change Petition by Sonoma County Water Agency”, Charles Armor, Regional Manager, Dept. of Fish and Game, 4-20-09
#15: Johnson’s Beach Monitoring Data for 10-1-09 and 10-2-09
#16: “Protest of Petitions for Change in Points of Diversion and Rediversion for Water Permits…..of the Sonoma County Water Agency from the Underflow of the Russian River…. (for Occidental Community Services District and Camp Meeker Recreation and Park District) by Charles Armor, Acting Regional Manager, CA Department of Fish and Game, 5-2-07
#17: Packet of pictures of Monte Rio Beach, Johnson’s Beach and upstream, and Hacienda area, Brenda Adelman, June-September, 2009, plus picture description
#18: “USGS Geological Survey-Sonoma County Water Agency Cooperative Study: Water Quality in the Lower Russian River Basin, Sonoma County, CA”, 2005
#19: Letter and Petition Protest; Laura Wilson of Johnson’s Beach and Resort, 4-30-10
#20: Russian River Low Flow Enterococcus Results, Total Phosphorus, Temperature, 6-4-09 to 10-3-09
#21: “Phosphate Loading and Eutrophication in the Laguna de Santa Rosa”, Dr. Daniel Wickham and Robert Rawson, 1-28-2000
#22: “Ludwigia Irradication Project: Final Report” Laguna Foundation, 2-08
#23: Photograph, west of Steelhead Beach, contributed by Larry Hanson, 2009
#24: “The Male Predicament”, Video, Theo Colborn: TEDX, notice received
#25: “Effects of Pollutants on the Reproductive Health of Male Vertebrate Wildlife—Males Under Threat”, Gwynne Lyons, CHEM Trust Report
#26: “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now”, President’s Cancer Panel, 2008-2009 Annual Report
#27: “Monitoring Strategies for Chemicals of Emerging Concern (CECs) in Recycled
Water: Recommendations of a Scientific Panel”, Final Report, 4-15-10
#28: Comment Letter for SWRCB Meeting of 3-27-07 on Item #8, Development of Statewide Recycling Policy, CA CoastKeeper Alliance, Santa Monica BayKeepers, and Lawyers for Clean Water AND
Statewide Water Recycling Policy: Comments to SWRCB by California Coastkeeper Alliance, Santa Monica BayKeeper, San Diego CoastKeeper, Lawyers for Clean Water, Russian RiverKeeper, 10-26-07
#29: Comment letter to SWRCB on Statewide General Permit for Landscape Irrigation Uses of Recycled Water, CA CoastKeeper Alliance, Heal the Bay, Lawyers for Clean Water, 6-26-08
#30: Photographic Report on Rohnert Park Irrigation, Brenda Adelman, August, 2009
#31: “Notification of Permitting Requirements for Construction of New Ponds; Notices of Violations regarding unauthorized recycled water discharges from Sonoma State University and from Rohnert Park, Sonoma County; 13267 (b) Order Requiring Submission of Technical Reports” to Miles Ferris, Director, Santa Rosa Utilities Dept. from Regional Water Board, 2-22-10
#32: “Storm Water and Watershed Awareness Tracking Survey”, Russian River Watershed Association, Data Instincts, 1-28-10