Newsletter, July 2012: Updates on Estuary Plan, AB 2398 and Recycled Water Plan Amendment

Dear RRWPC Supporter:

Summer is here….
The dams are in, the temperature is heating up, river flows are very low, beaches are crowded, the algae is starting to bloom, and summer on the lower Russian River has truly begun. And, according to test samples, the river has been mostly free of bacteria.
Once again the Sonoma County Water Agency received permission from the State to lower minimum flows as far as 70 cubic feet per second (cfs) and on July 6, 2012, river flows as measured at the Hacienda Bridge were already down to 114 cfs. That’s extremely low at this point in the season, especially when we have not had any major heat waves lasting more than a day. Normally, the Water Agency would start releasing more water from the dams to bring flows back up to 125 cfs.
Because of low flow demands by the Biological Opinion however, the amount of flow released from Coyote Dam is now 13 cfs less than 2009 when there was 14% less water stored behind the dam. On June 28, 2009, a draught year, flows at Hacienda were 150 cfs, and on June 30, 2011, flows were 358 cfs. In fact, the last two summers, flows in the river remained fairly high and seldom went under 125 cfs for the entire summer. While we are not in a draught now (plenty of water behind the dams for Santa Rosa and other agency customers), flows are even lower than when we were in draught conditions.
There isn’t anything we can do about this now, since Federal law has mandated that it occur, which leads us into the status of the Estuary Project. By the way, within the next few months a new environmental impact report (EIR) will be released to deal with permanent changes to Decision 1610, which governs flows in the river. The ironically called “Fish Flow Project” will study the proposal to permanently lower flows in the Russian River. We assume there will be another big battle when the time comes.

Estuary Management Plan update…..
As you know, RRWPC filed a lawsuit on the certification of the EIR on this project. It has been in a settlement process for eight months now. We anticipate that issues will be resolved in the near future. By our next mailer, we hope to be able to tell you we have an agreement and what’s in it. Until then, we are not allowed to say anything.
We can tell you however that the project cannot begin until the mouth of the river closes at which time the Water Agency can begin formulating a channel on the northernmost part of the beach. We suspect that they have been lowering flows to assist in that process. The mouth has been unpredictable however, opening and closing frequently. The river’s been meandering like a giant S, forming huge round loops before it hits the ocean, also unusual. The last few years the river has opened at the north end, but now has migrated further south down to the jetty, which also hasn’t occurred in a long time.
As you can tell, the mouth of the river is a very dynamic and mysterious place. There are things that happen in the ocean that govern where the mouth is located and where the berms form that close the mouth. It’s hard for us to imagine that this wild scene can be controlled, and we watch with curiousity to see if they can ever do this project. (The goal is to build a channel, once the mouth closes naturally, that allows some fresh water to leak slowly into the ocean while not allowing salt water in. This will encourage a lagoon to form that is somewhat higher and deeper than the estuary is now, and supposedly will benefit juvenile Steelhead as they prepare for their sojurn in the ocean.) Thus far, over the last three years and for various reasons related to natural causes, the Agency has not been able to implement the project.

AB 2398 is dropped for now…..
For the last three months, RRWPC has actively opposed State legislation to allow wastewater irrigation runoff that we believe would be inadequately regulated, as the Bill considered declassifying tertiary wastewater as a waste even though this same product is highly regulated during winter discharges, a time when it does far less harm.
Many of you sent letters to Assemblyman Huffman and Supervisor Zane. We unsuccessfully tried to connect with Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro. (He and Huffman strongly supported the Bill.) We appeared at a hearing, wrote numerous letters, provided information, including a new study about the extensive evidence of impacts from low dose exposures to endocrine disrupting chemicals, and facilitated a letter writing campaign. The legislation appeared to zoom through the Assembly nonetheless, and passed with a significant margin in early June. Our concerns were never addressed.
We learned that it would then go to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water, in which our Senator Noreen Evans participates. I contacted her aide about the Bill and set up an appointment to talk to him. When I called back, he claimed he hadn’t read it. We prepared to have people send letters to Senator Noreen Evans. It was later suggested that I should contact the committee staff, which I did, and learned the Bill would not be on the agenda of their next meeting but that I should keep checking back.
To make a long story short, we only found out about the “death” of the Bill when a friend sent me an email notice that had been sent to him from Huffman’s office saying the Bill was no longer being put forward this year. Then I got a hard copy letter from another friend saying basically the same thing. Both of these people live in Marin. No one in Sonoma County informed me of receiving such notices. So much for public input. To these legislators even care? We’d be interested in learning whether any of you who sent letters in received notice about the fate of this legislation? (

A new issue: the Recycled Water Policy Amendment……
RRWPC has not said much about this up to now, because it was so highly technical, we were unable to address it at first. The State had tentatively passed the Recycled Water Policy about three years ago. One of the major unresolved issues was about the risks of irrigating with recycled water that may contain endocrine disruptors.
To make a long story short, the State determined that monitoring for endocrine disrupting chemicals in irrigated wastewater was not necessary because it occurred in low amounts. This finding failed to acknowledge the work of many scientists indicating that very low doses of these chemicals are implicated in obesity, cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s Disease, autism, birth defects, and much more. RRWPC submitted extensive comments and persuaded the lead author of a major recent study on this to submit comments as well (enclosed). You can find RRWPC comments and links to other information at our home page on our website (see below). Please take a look.

RRWPC needs your continued support!
RRWPC needs funds for our on-going advocacy work. 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. View our website at to access our most recent work. You can also donate through PayPal at the site if you prefer.
Finally, RRWPC would like to develop an email action list to send out target letters to supporters on issues that come up between mailers. We would not do this often, but we’d like to know if you want to take part. Send us an email at if you do. Or put your email address on a donor card and put words “Sign me up for action” on it. This would help us in situations when we need to take action quickly.