Newsletter, November 2011: Lawsuit Update and Septics

Dear RRWPC Supporter:

My friend Sherrie visited the Russian River Estuary recently and shared her impressions of the natural scene: “John and I kayaked out at the mouth yesterday and it was extraordinary. The pictures don’t even begin to capture it.  The mouth was open and there were more birds than I have ever seen, including all sorts of gulls, scooters and pelicans.  We could also see dozens of harbor seals resting on the bank.  It was like life soup out there.  The weather was perfect, hardly any wind, bright, sunny and warm.  We keep reminiscing on this wonderful field trip, and wonder why we haven’t put in at the mouth before.  It was so fantastic and teeming with life!”
In stark contrast, the Estuary Project will utilize bulldozers on the Goat Rock State Park Dunes as many as 36 days a summer between May 15th and October 15th, in order to construct an outlet channel that allows river water to flow out, but forms a barrier to keep salty ocean water from coming in.  The goal is to develop a fresh water lagoon that provides fresh water habitat for Steelhead and Coho juvenile fish to grow fatter before their lengthy sojourn in the ocean.  There are many problems with altering this natural phenonomen for two species, including increased water quality degradation, possible loss of seals who leave area when mouth is closed, limited beach access during channel construction and maintenance, permanently lowered summer river flows, etc.  The worst part is that this is an experiment, and no one knows if it will work as intended.
These issues were outlined in the brochure we circulated with our last mailer.  You can view it again and read our project commentaries on our new website at

RRWPC develops possible settlement terms……
As described in our last mailer the County of Sonoma certified the Estuary Management Project on August 16th and RRWPC filed our lawsuit on September 14th.  The first step of the process was to prepare for and participate in a court required settlement conference. We are not allowed to discuss the substance of the settlement conference, but merely say that we have put forward a serious proposal containing many conditions.  If these conditions are agreed to by the Sonoma County Water Agency, we would settle the suit.  In the meantime there is a great deal of negotiation that must occur before that happens. A settlement could have a good outcome for the river in terms of providing benefits that would not have occurred without our suit.  If we do indeed settle, then afterwards we’ll provide a full disclosure of what was decided. If we cannot agree on settlement terms with this project, then we move forward with the legal action and court review.
Not being able to share details makes it more difficult to raise money to fund this action.  There are many issues concerning water quality, recreation, seal impacts, etc. that are very problematic if they don’t get properly addressed.  While our legal costs have been very reasonable thus far, including a generous amount of work produced for every hour charged, none the less, this action will not only take many lawyer hours, but we will also need to raise a considerable amount to develop the case record, which would be very expensive.  This would include copying and certifying perhaps hundreds of documents.
The long and short of it is we hope you will help us out.  We know these are tough times for many of you, but any sized donation would mean a great deal to us.  Some of you have not donated in quite awhile and we ask that you think about the importance of this cause.  If you did donate recently but can afford to give more, that would be greatly appreciated as well.  This is our treasured Russian River, including the estuary mouth and coast and we need your help protecting it from this major disruption.  Please give!

Upcoming West County sewer issues….
There are three different related issues involving septic concerns that have been heating up all year.  We have not written about them up to now because not much information was coming out.  We can only give a short description, but promise to write about them more fully next year.
Regional Board bacteria listing and further actions….
The Regional Board has established that the Russian River is excessively contaminated with pathogens between Guerneville and Monte Rio.  They have established a major testing program that will attempt to determine the sources of the contamination.  They may also expand the area of concern to cover the whole lower river.  We are tracking this closely and will give you more information as it becomes available.
AB 885 Policy presented in early November by State Board….
This new regulation has been in the works for ten years.  At a big meeting three years ago the public was so outraged, the proposed regulation was extensively revised.  They have established five tiers of compliance.  Most of our area will fall in Tier 3, which has more difficult compliance issues, especially for those properties within 600’ of an impaired water body (Russian River for pathogens).  We will write about this in more detail in future mailers.
Monte Rio and Summerhome Park will receive special focus by regulators….
The Monte Rio Task Force, meeting monthly under County Community Development Department has been tracking this situation closely.  Their meetings are usually at 6:30 pm at the Monte Rio Community Center on the third Monday of the month.  Stay tuned.

RRWPC thanks our supporters this holiday season….
This is the time when we thank all who have supported us this past year, including our Board of Directors (Sherrie Althouse, Nichae Blume, Dave Blanchard, Dennis O’Leary, and Brenda Adelman), our numerous mailer volunteers, and all of you who contribute to sustain our efforts.  We thank Diane Spain and the Senior Center for allowing us to use their space.  We thank Mary Anne Sobieraj, Rick Gann, and Dave Blanchard for their help setting up and maintaining our beautiful new website.  Please visit us at to view our work and a large display of river photographs.
We also thank publisher Vesta Copestakes for her beautifully formatted community newspaper that regularly publishes our work and other community members.   The entire paper can be read online at, including past issues. It is because of the Gazette that people far and wide know about life in our community and water issues in our environment.
Last, but certainly not least, the enclosed donor list acknowledges those who have given $20 or more between November 1, 2010, and October 31, 2011.  Because of limited space we could not list everyone’s name, but RRWPC is grateful to all for your loyal support.  Your generosity demonstrates to us how much you care about our work focused on protecting the Russian River.  You make it possible for us to sustain our efforts. Those donations that came in after Oct. 31st, will appear in next year’s donor list.

RRWPC needs your support!
RRWPC has taken on numerous challenges this last year in addition to the Estuary Project and “low flow” and we anticipate that next year will be very demanding as well.  As already stated, we are in need of donations of any size. Please give as generously as you can.  Also, please pass this information on to other interested parties.  Some of you who only get our mailers annually, can receive our bi-monthly updates if you send any sized donation with the enclosed card and state that you want to be on our regular list.   You can contact us at for further information.

Have a wonderful Holiday Season and a very happy New Year!