Newsletter, January 2012: Lawsuit, Santa Rosa Wastewater

Dear RRWPC Supporter:

It’s been a strange, almost waterless winter so far. As I write this in mid-January, we’ve gone over six weeks with no rain. When spring comes, we may be biting our tongues, wondering why we didn’t appreciate the cold, sunny days? In recent years, February and March brought big storms and brimming reservoirs. Let’s hope we see that again this year, especially since late rains assure decent river flows most of the summer. RRWPC will be tracking numerous issues in the coming year. Here’s a summary.

Estuary Project Legal Update…

Of course our legal action on the Estuary Project continues. We are still taking part in court ordered settlement negotiations and were informed by our attorney that we cannot speak about it. We will look forward to telling the story when things get resolved.

In the meantime, the Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA), in charge of the Estuary Project has several permits pending. We have been tracking the State Lands Commission Permit which will be taken up for review at the end of this month. We submitted comments on that, but have no idea where things stand. For those of you who contribute this month, we will send an update in our thank you letter, otherwise we will let you know how things are going in our March mailer.

State Parks has granted a limited one year permit (SCWA was asking for a 13 year permit to cover the entire project period.) which will need to be renewed annually. The North Coast Regional Board is expected is issue a notice next spring announcing their draft 401 permit proposal, with three weeks to comment. We are on notice to receive that also and intend to comment on it. The Coastal Commission permit is also on our radar screen. They first considered the issuance of a revised breaching permit but then determined that a new permit will be required and would be subjected to full public review. SCWA’s prior Coastal permit did not consider the new management program that will attempt to maintain mouth closure for as long as possible over the summer.

Sometime next summer the Environmental Impact Report for the Fish Flow Project (low flow) will be released. Once it comes out, that will be taking up a major amount of our time. We intend to comment on it extensively, and give testimony on the details. We will probably ask you to sign and submit target letters in response at that time.

Santa Rosa’s new permit and wastewater irrigation program….

Santa Rosa will be updating its new discharge permit this year with the North Coast Regional Board. There will be many new requirements which we will track closely. One of the main issues is their contribution of nutrients into the Laguna. For many years their discharge was based on a percentage of river flow measured 12 miles downstream. Now it is based on flows at the point of discharge, Santa Rosa Creek. These flows are a minute percentage of river flow and they now discharge a tiny fraction of what they used to when they discharge at all. Nevertheless, Santa Rosa is not allowed to add additional nutrients since the Laguna is so badly impaired. We fought long and hard for that designation and are greatly pleased to see it now enforced. There will be other aspects to the permit we will track and keep you informed.

Another aspect of the permit has to do with their wastewater irrigation program. Santa Rosa constructed a pilot project along Stony Point Rd. between West College (Finley Center) and Highway 12. There are strict rules for the application of wastewater and you can find their 106 page book of guidelines on their website in the Utilities Department section. As you probably recall, RRWPC has been concerned about irrigation runoff for a very long time. We won’t go into great detail here, but we discovered, on five different occasions in the month of December, signs of excessive irrigation runoff on Stony Point at a time when temperatures were between 32 and 40 degrees and frost covered the grass. We found pools of wastewater near a bus stop, benches and parked cars saturated with wastewater, and illegal wastewater going into the street drain (leading to the creeks). We took many pictures and will be writing a report. Please send us an email if you are interested in this report.

Redevelopment goes kaput…..

It is with mixed feelings that we heard that Redevelopment in Sonoma County is being closed down by February 1, 2012. Our local program was a mixed blessing. We got some very useful public buildings out of it including the Monte Rio Community Center, Rio Nido Fire Station, and the Guerneville public bathroom. (Thank you Lenny Weinstein, John Uniack, and Cary Krueger and anyone else who helped.)

But we were always concerned that these funds were being taken away from local schools and the Russian River Fire District, which subsequently had to win an election to add badly needed assessments to our tax bills. (Any chance that can now be rescinded?)

Another loss will be the Monte Rio Task Force, which was hoping to obtain $1.2 million dollars in grant money to plan a new sewer system. Some residents will celebrate its demise and others will be considering new options. Stay tuned for new developments on this very interesting topic. (You can read our latest Gazette article on this in the Sonoma County Gazette.

Regional Board Programs…..

The Regional Board is currently working on studies of bacteria, nutrients and temperature in the Laguna and downstream. We are especially concerned about nutrients and bacteria when summer river flows are low. High nutrient content, along with high temperatures provide more algal blooms which in turn feed bacteria. There is also a concern about toxic blue green algae that can make people and pets very ill. Low flow conditions can easily exacerbate the problem. Stay tuned for regular updates.

RRCSD fees set to increase next April….

Towards the end of every February, SCWA notifies ratepayers of the Russian River County Sanitation District (RRCSD) of a hike in fees by about 5%. For years RRWPC has been alerting residents that they can stop these hikes if enough people sign protest forms sent out (usually on bright orange paper) annually. Just sign one for every property you own and mail them back to the return address. If owners of about 1300 properties did this, the County could not raise the fees. We are currently charged almost $1200 a year. 5% would add another $60 to the bill. Aren’t you sick of these yearly increases?

RRWPC needs your continued support!

RRWPC will continue to take on difficult challenges this year. It’s hard to believe that we have been doing this for 32 years. We are not getting younger and in many ways, the work is getting harder. We greatly appreciate your loyal support. As usual, we are in need of donations of any size for the lawsuit and mailer expenses. Please give as generously as you can, especially if you have not given in awhile. Also, please pass this information on to other interested parties. You can contact us at RRWPC for further information.


Our last mailer included our annual donor list. Unfortunately, our computer somehow combined two names into one. In the “Donors” portion of the list (bottom of first page), the name Cynthia Vandersteen should have read Cynthia Urbina and Tony Vandersteen. We apologize for the mix up and have no idea how it happened.