Newsletter, September 2011: FEIR Lawsuit

September, 2011
Dear RRWPC Supporter:

We have a great deal of news to share with you this month and will jump right in to inform you about our current activities.

Water Agency Directors approve Estuary Project…..
The Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) Board of Directors (County Supervisors) approved the Estuary Project on August 16, 2011. They allowed only 18 days for citizens to study the lengthy Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) before certification. On August 15, 2011, RRWPC submitted a 21-page letter expressing our concerns. Supervisors also received about ten other letters on the day before the meeting. SCWA provided no formal response to comments, as they were not legally required to do so.
The long and short of it was that National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) staff literally threatened Supervisors with being in violation of the Endangered Species Act if they did not certify the EIR and approve the project. They implied sanctions would be taken against anyone who opposed this project. Two Supervisors expressed strong reservations (Shirley Zane and Mike McGuire) about approving the project without a more thorough review of comments received right before the meeting. By certifying the EIR, Directors certified that no new information had been received that would change EIR findings, and thereby ignored the content of all letters coming in before the decision.

Notice of Determination sets legal clock ticking…
Immediately after certifying the document, SCWA staff submitted the Notice of Determination (indicating their action from earlier in the day) to the County Clerk. This immediately started the clock ticking on a lawsuit. In other words, anyone wanting to file a petition challenging this action had until September 15, 2011, to do so. Although this letter is being taken to the printer the day before our filing deadline, it is our full intent to file an action, which is essentially ready to go, by that time.

There is much more information about this project in the brochure included with this mailer and the full petition will appear on our new website. We hope you will find the brochure helpful. We would like to give it broad distribution in West County, but it was extremely expensive to print. We would like to get more, but need to raise adequate funds to cover the expense. We hope you will give generously. (If you want to help fund more copies and have questions, please contact Brenda at

RRWPC’s Letter to Press Democrat Editor….
RRWPC focused on a significant project oversight in their Press Democrat Letter to the Editor, published on September 6, 2011. It stated in part: “The Russian River Watershed Protection Committee’s critique of this project established (using Water Agency fish counts from 2000-04) that there are significant numbers of Chinook salmon passing the Mirabel water facility during the summer project period. Yet the environmental report ignored low flow and high temperature impacts to salmon.

The report failed to address low-flow requirements as not being connected to the estuary project. Yet the biological opinion published by the National Marine Fisheries Service says low flow is essential to sustaining the freshwater lagoon without breaching. Too frequently breaching undermines the project by allowing saltwater into the lagoon. River temperatures, already too high for salmonids in the summertime, increase during low flows. High temperatures severely stress and/or kill salmonids at current levels during regular summer flows. So this project is likely to take some threatened fish to save others.”

RRWPC files lawsuit challenging Estuary Management Project…….
On September 14, 2011, RRWPC filed a lawsuit against the Sonoma County Water Agency demanding that the Court rescind approval of the EIR and require a recirculation of the document. Some critical allegations include the following:
• Respondents relied upon an inadequate and unlawful project description by bifurcating the Estuary Project from the Temporary Urgency Changes and Fish Flow Project. As a result, Respondents failed to evaluate all of the potential impacts of the whole project.
• Respondents failed to adequately disclose impacts to recreational users and the environment throughout the lower Russian River areas affected by the project, including areas up to Monte Rio and Vacation Beach. Impacts that were not addressed in these areas include but are not limited to, health and safety risks, bank erosion, water depth increase, loss of beach front areas, hazardous swimming conditions, degraded water quality impacts resulting from prolonging the presence of a lagoon, and increased presence of invasive species.
• Respondents failed to adequately disclose the impacts of low flow conditions in the river resulting from the Temporary Use Changes Orders and the Fish Flow Project, including the potential of increasing pollution levels of nutrients, mercury, heavy metals, bacteria, and temperature and potential impacts to Chinook salmon present in the river.
• Respondents failed to adequately disclose the Project’s impacts on pinnipeds and the conclusion that impacts to pinnipeds is less than significant with mitigation is not supported by substantial evidence.
• Respondents’ references to an undisclosed adaptive management plan improperly defers mitigation. The DEIR does not disclose the details comprising the Adaptive Management Plan. DEIR also refers to monitoring and updating of the plan, but does not inform decision makers what the plan is, what triggers plan implementation, and what monitoring would take place.

RRWPC opens new website…..
On September 12th, RRWPC went public with our new website. We invite you to log on to and see a multitude of wonderful river photographs. You can also access our 2009 photo project with many pictures and descriptions of the impact of “low flow” on our river. Read text of our current lawsuit. Also reread past newsletters, articles, and commentaries on subjects such as the Estuary Project, multiple water quality issues, Urban Water Management Plan issues, and more.
The site will expand both into the future and back to the past. We will keep postings of important new issues, along with additions to our archives with issues past, especially the Santa Rosa Wastewater saga. We hope you will come visit us.

More than ever, RRWPC needs your help!
Enclosed with this letter is a brochure we recently published on the Estuary Project. It gives many details we were unable to print in this letter. Printing in color is very expensive, and we are hoping that your generous donations will help us print more of them so they can be circulated all over the West County. Significant funds are also needed to move forward with the above described legal action. Please give as generously as you can, and also pass this information on to other interested parties. RRWPC does not sell or loan our mailing list to anyone. You are welcome to contact Brenda with questions at .