Estuary Project Final EIR Released!
By Brenda Adelman
The Estuary Project Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was released on July 28, 2011. This is the project that plans to close the mouth of the river every summer to supposedly provide Steelhead habitat for the threatened fish. While it is incredibly important to do everything we can to save the fish, those of us who have studied the proposal believe this project will cause more harm than good.
Fishery agencies should focus on keeping adequate flows in the tributaries in the winter spawning season; they should focus on improving temperature conditions in the entire watershed year round; they should find ways to eliminate toxics (especially copper discharged in the treated sewage) and preventing the accumulation of nutrients as evidenced by pervasive and excessive algae blooms. They should work on stopping illegal water diversions and support programs to foster cooler water temperatures with the restoration of riparian habitat. All of these are critical watershed problems that negatively impact the fish.
Furthermore, for the last three years, Sonoma County Water Agency has attempted and failed to make this project work. Ocean forces determine when the mouth will close for the first time, which is the trigger for outlet channels to be constructed, and usually there are few closures until mid or late September. The hope that the mouth will close early on in the summer season has not materialized.
Other problems with this project (As of the time of writing this article, we have not seen the final document because it was released so close to the paper’s deadline; we don’t know and can’t comment on how they have responded to our concerns.):
- The project impacts are separated into two EIRs and the studies for the changes to Decision 1610 (low flow) are very relevant to this project but are not being considered as part of this process;
- The project relies on lowering river flows for its implementation, but does not adequately address resulting water quality impacts past Duncans Mills, even though the water will back up as far as Vacation Beach;
- The closing will back up water in Monte Rio area to cover beaches, increase stagnant water and possibly create health and safety issues on lower river beaches;
- The project calls for closing the mouth most of the summer, but allows for breaching when a very few buildings are threatened with flood; the impact on recreation, water quality issues, and other concerns when this happens, has not been adequately addressed;
- There are no goalpost measures to determine whether the project has succeeded in saving fish;
- There is no trial period after which the project can be abandoned if it does not work and/or causes harm;
- The project will heavily impact recreational use of the State Parks beach at the mouth of the Russian River, one of the most popular areas on the Sonoma County Coast,
- The project will affect migratory birds and seal haul out area and may cause the abandonment of the Jenner haul out area by harbor seals, who are easily disturbed.
These are some of the reasons why most Russian River stakeholders and Russian River Watershed Protection Committee oppose approval of this project at this time.
The Board of Directors of the Sonoma County Water Agency (Supervisors) will certify this Final EIR and select the project at their meeting on August 16, 2011, at 10 AM at the Board of Supervisors’ Chambers at 575 Administration Dr. in Santa Rosa. We hope many of you will attend. (See announcement elsewhere in this paper.)
While Supervisors are not required to respond to comments, if you oppose this project or have concerns, you should let decision makers know. You can email your protests (or support) to Supervisor Efren Carrillo at firstname.lastname@example.org or his staff, Susan Upchurch at email@example.com
You can view Final EIR at local libraries in Guerneville and Occidental or obtain at their website at www.sonomacountywater.org/estuary-eir. Call agency at 547-1900 for a CD of the document available for $5.
Finally, please support Brenda Adelman and RRCSD in our effort to address the problems with this project. We need your help and also financial contributions. (If a legal challenge is to occur, it must take place within 30 days of project selection. ) We welcome sign ups to our mailing and email lists. Please send contact information to firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to stay informed.