Newsletter September 2012: Estuary Settlement; Nutrient Offsets; Monte Rio Septic Meeting

September, 2012

Dear RRWPC Supporter:

Well finally, the day has come when we can talk about the Estuary Management Project and the settlement of our lawsuit.  It’s been almost a year since we filed our challenge of the plan to raise fresh water levels in the estuary lagoon in order to assist the growth of juvenile steelhead preparing for their ocean sojourn.

There were many reasons why RRWPC elected to settle the lawsuit rather than continue our battle, but the main reason was that a second environmental document will be released this October on ‘low flow’ that will address many of the water quality and recreational issues we were most concerned about.  This settlement brought substantial help for the lower river that never would have occurred without our challenge.

We believe that a fair negotiation process occurred.  Our attorney, Michael Lozeau did an outstanding job representing RRWPC in this action and our consultant, John Short, made it possible for us to obtain agreement on meaningful studies of Estuary sediment toxicity.  To the best of our knowledge, this type of test has never been done here before.

Terms of Settlement Agreement….
While there were 23 terms listed in the agreement, we will highlight the ones we believe are of greatest interest to the public.

1. SCWA agreed to not close the Estuary Mouth artificially without reopening the environmental review process.  As it stands now, the project won’t begin until the mouth has initially closed any time after May 15th and before October 15th.

2. SCWA will evaluate joint water quality impacts of the Estuary Project and the Fish Flow Project (low flow) in a special section of the Fish Flow Project EIR. Water quality assessments shall include pathogens/bacteria, nutrients, temperature, DO, and turbidity.  Furthermore, water quality impacts up to Vacation Beach will be addressed, rather than only to Duncans Mills.

3. Fish Flow Project will study whether a higher minimum flow at Hacienda would meet the goals for steelhead habitat in the Estuary.  They will look at least two regimes over the 70 cfs flow, such as 90 cfs, 100 cfs, or 110 cfs.

4. SCWA will model changes in storage at Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma resulting from lower minimum flows under various hydrologic scenarios.

5. For the next five years, SCWA will hold annual community meetings in the lower river area each spring.  These meetings will provide updates on what was learned about fish and habitat the previous year, plans for the upcoming lagoon management season, and will describe any proposed changes to the outlet channel adaptive management process.  Members of the public will be allowed to ask questions and comment on plans in a town hall style meeting.
6. SCWA shall implement a sediment monitoring program for the Estuary. This is important part of the agreement because it requires sediment testing that has not been done before.  About 34 metals and chemical compounds will be monitored and analyzed in at least three study series over a five year period.

7. SCWA will fund $5000 for replacement of interpretive and warning signs on Goat Rock State Beach.

8. Seal Watch Program will be provided four new sets of binoculars.

9. SCWA will pay up to $25,000 to Department of Parks and Recreation for a project promoting access to a state beach located in Sonoma County where opportunities for surfing exist.  They will also designate an additional $10,000 over five years for maintenance.

10.   RRWPC attorneys are to be reimbursed $48,380 for fees.

11.   Because this is a stipulated judgment, the court retains authority over the execution of this agreement.  Brenda Adelman and SCWA staff will work together to assure that all terms of the agreement are met.

12.   Finally, in exchange for all of these terms, RRWPC has agreed to not make comments to the California Coastal Commission or the North Coast Regional Board on SCWA permit applications to conduct this project.  RRWPC is the only group bound by these terms.  We still retain total freedom in commenting on the Estuary Project in relation to the Fish Flow Project, and also total freedom in commenting on the upcoming Fish Flow Project EIR.

RRWPC Board of Directors approved this agreement and feel that it is a fair resolution of this matter and contains many benefits for the river and coast, even though it does not include everything we asked for.

RRWPC submits comments on Salt & Nutrient Management Plan….
The Recycled Water Policy requires that entities planning to conduct large wastewater irrigation projects must study the impacts of salts and nutrients in the wastewater and its impact on ground water.  Santa Rosa recently released such a study.  Our major concerns were that the study was based on inadequate information, it was too general and didn’t adequately analyze problem areas.  The plan projects future increased levels of groundwater nutrients, but doesn’t offer solutions for addressing the problem, and merely concludes that levels will be below the limits.  Actually, salts and nutrients, especially nitrates, can be very dangerous to the health of newborns, and levels should not be allowed to increase at all, since they are difficult and expensive to clean up.

RRWPC submits comments on Santa Rosa’s nutrient offset project….
Santa Rosa’s discharge permit does not allow them to discharge any nutrients into the receiving water (Santa Rosa Creek and Laguna) without offsetting the amount with a project to remove a comparable amount of nutrients.  We believe that the project proposed by Santa Rosa has limited value.  With the help of experts, RRWPC has submitted comments to the State that are critical of this project.

Monte Rio public meeting on new septic regulations coming up in October…… New State septic regulations have just been approved and they are likely to have a major impact on our area because the Russian River is listed as impaired for pathogens/bacteria.  There will be a big meeting on this topic on October 20, 2012, at 9:30 AM at the Community Center in Monte Rio.  Many State and local officials will be present to explain what this new law will mean to County septic owners. 

RRWPC needs your continued support!
RRWPC depends on your financial support 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.