Newsletter, March 2012: Incidental Runoff, Endocrine Disrupters, and RRCSD Fee Increase

March, 2012

Dear RRWPC Supporter:
As the drought continues, there is more and more concern about this summer’s river flows. Already the Sonoma County Water Agency has declared the month of March to be critically dry, based on low runoff into Lake Pillsbury. This designation in turn triggers greatly decreased releases from Lake Mendocino all month. It’s not a huge cause for concern just yet, since releases are recalculated monthly until June, but if we don’t get significant rainfall soon, it can be a harbinger of things to come.

RRWPC files complaint on Santa Rosa’s “incidental runoff”……

Lower river flows provide far less dilution while concentrating pollutants in shallow summer streams. Because of our great concern about the potential significant impacts of incidental wastewater irrigation runoff, Russian River Watershed Protection Committee posted a report of Santa Rosa’s recent irrigation runoff spills on our website at ( Numerous pictures taken between mid-December and mid-January accompany the report and graphically illustrate the problem.

Based on regulatory definitions of incidental runoff, we believed that Santa Rosa’s runoff was illegal and we thereby submitted a formal complaint to the Regional Board. At the time photos were taken, on five different occasions, there had been no rain for many days. While we never photographed actual irrigation spray, the wet patterns and flow on the sidewalks and streets could be easily recognized as irrigation runoff. Irrigation obviously occured very early in the morning when temperatures were too cold for the vegetation to absorb the application and evaporation did not occur.

The definition of “incidental runoff” has been the most controversial aspect of policies developed to govern the use of recycled wastewater for irrigation. The North Coast Basin Plan was recently changed to allow such “discharges” under very specific circumstances such as unexpected breaks in irrigation lines or sprinkler heads, etc. The State Recycled Water Policy describes it as follows: Water leaving a recycled water use area is not considered incidental if it is part of the facility design, if it is due to excessive application, if it is due to intentional overflow or application, or if it is due to negligence….” Irrigating when there is no possibility that the vegetation could uptake the water is totally inappropriate.

Santa Rosa’s new urban wastewater irrigation system….

As mentioned in our last letter, Santa Rosa completed construction of an irrigation pipeline last year to bring wastewater to a pilot project area on Stony Point Road between Hwy. 12 and West College Ave. While the wastewater irrigated by Santa Rosa is highly treated, treatment processes are sometimes imperfect and subject to human error. Relatively few chemicals (125) of over 80,000 on the market are monitored and/or regulated on a consistent basis. Also, very little is known about toxicity resulting from interactions between those chemicals.

Runoff to our creeks and streams also carries off soil amendments, pesticides, and herbicides applied to landscapes for rapid vegetative growth and pest control. These can all exacerbate toxic effects, not to mention problems with nutrients as well. We have special concern for children who may play on lawns irrigated with wastewater since their evolving systems are far more sensitive to chemical toxicity. (We recently learned that Finley Center has been irrigating with wastewater for over 6 years.)

While it is true that sewage treatment has greatly improved in the last 27 years, it is also true that we simply don’t know the full effect of chemical residuals remaining in the treated wastewater. Currently, the State is looking to encourage extensive wastewater reuse statewide, moving more closely to a toilet to tap philosophy, while giving what we believe is inadequate consideration of the many warnings from scientists concerned about endocrine disrupting chemical effects, pharmaceuticals, and the voluminous evidence of the dangers of pesticides and herbicides both to humans and wildlife.

Europe is currently gearing up to expand regulations on many endocrine disrupting chemicals and have included regulations for the first time on 15 pharmaceutical products. Those selected are believed to cause cancer, birth defects, autism, Parkinson’s disease, immune disorders, etc., as well serious harm to aquatic life.
Sources of information on endocrine disruption

For an excellent source of information about endocrine disruptors and public health effects go to TEDX or you can view the list of 870 possible endocrine disrupting chemicals with documented scientific studies showing effects on endocrine system at: These toxins impact many of our organ systems and can attack reproduction, fetal development, nervous sytems and behavior, immune and metabolic systems, liver, bones, other glands and tissues. We also highly recommend viewing the video of Theo Colborn speaking this topic at: She explains in a very clear way (easily understood by non-scientists) why minute exposures to these chemicals during critical life development stages (such as in the very early months of pregnancy) can have lasting and multi-generational effects.

Finally, there is a article in the recent Mother Jones magazine (January/February 2012) called the “Frog of War”, page 44. This is the story of atrazine and the studies of well known Berkeley scientist, Tyrone Hayes. Dr. Haye’s vast research chronicles the sexual alterations to frogs whereby trace amounts of the top-selling herbicide causes changes in the frogs’ reproductive organs resulting from minute exposures to this widely used chemical. This information is highly relevant to understanding this problem.

Estuary Project Legal Update…….

We have nothing to report this month, but are waiting for a response from the Sonoma County Water Agency regarding our settlement proposal. Hopefully we will have more news in our next mailer coming out in mid-May.

RRCSD notice for fee increase to arrive soon….

Any day now, Russian River County Sanitation District (RRCSD) ratepayers should be receiving a bright orange notice about the 2012 fee hike, which will probably surpass $1200 next year. You can help stop these hikes by signing protest forms for every property you own and mail them back to the return address on the form. If half of the parcel owners did this (plus one), the County could not raise the fees. Please help stop these yearly increases. (You just have to sign, you don’t have to give reasons for opposing increase.)

RRWPC needs your continued support!

RRWPC will continue to take on difficult challenges in the coming months. We greatly appreciate your loyal support but donations have declined a great deal of late and we are deeply concerned about our ability to continue our work at current levels. As usual, we are in need of donations of any size for the lawsuit, mailer expenses, and other costs. 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. For further information you can contact us at Also, our new website can be viewed at where you can access all of our most recent work.