August 2014 Newsletter: The Drought Continues

Drought worsens…..Our May mailer reported that El Nino conditions were expected for the coming winter, including forecasts of extensive rain, but this prediction has since been changed to one that is much more uncertain.   Forecasts are decidedly unclear now about what rain can be expected this winter.

In the last twelve months, Santa Rosa saw less than 18” of rain, when normal is 32”. In the last two years, Santa Rosa received a little over 40” of rain, when normal would be 64”. (Data not available for all of Sonoma County.)

There are two major reservoirs on the Russian River whose summer water supply pool is managed by Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA).

  • At the time of our last mailer, in mid-May, Lake Sonoma was at 226,036 Acre Feet (AF) or 92.32% capacity. It is currently at 160,336 AF or 65.4% capacity, down about 27%.
  • Lake Mendocino was at 59,459 AF in mid-May (53.57%) and in mid-August is now at 36,505 AF or 32.8% (down about 20% in three months).
  • In the past, 30,000 AF needed to be reserved for Chinook fall migration, to start about a month from now. To accomplish this, SCWA will request a severe lowering of minimum flows in the very near future from the State Water Board. Flows at Hacienda have been averaging around 100 cubic feet per second (cfs) and are expected to go down to 60 cfs.

Water contractors rely on Lake Sonoma…..SCWA provides water for the 8 major water contractors listed below, with Marin Municipal having a special contract for up to 14,000 AF of ‘off peak’ water. SCWA currently has water rights to 76,000 AF, and draws most of their water resources from Lake Sonoma. Last year, Marin Municipal purchased about 5,000 AF of ‘off peak’ water.

RRWPC has been tracking contractor water use for the last two years, during which time the Water Agency first promoted the ’20 gallon challenge’ and then the “Turn off the Tap” Campaign. (This was in conjunction with the governor’s call for voluntary reductions in water use of 20%.) We compared SCWA water sales for those two years.

RRWPC called for mandatory conservation all along, including much higher charges for high water users. Contractors didn’t want to go there and insisted they could accomplish the same thing with a voluntary program. In comparing this water year with last (July 1-June 30) contractors as a whole saved about 3%. Here are individual savings accomplished:

  • Santa Rosa: reduced Russian River water use by 8.46% in 2013-14 over 2012-13.
  • Petaluma: reduced Russian River water use by 2.33%
  • North Marin: INCREASED water use by almost 14%
  • Rohnert Park: decreased water use by a little over 10%
  • Cotati: INCREASED water use by almost 26%
  • Windsor: reduced water use by 6.5%
  • Sonoma: reduced water use by less than 1%
  • Valley of the Moon: reduced water use by a little over 2%.

Urban wastewater irrigation projects….RRWPC has been photographing wastewater irrigation sites in Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park over the summer. Most of the time, we see lush landscapes with no water running. (Irrigators have been instructed to water at night when they can’t be seen.) Yet once in awhile, we come upon a site that is running their system and wastewater is flowing everywhere. In every case, we have seen wastewater on the streets and sidewalks flowing freely, spray blowing significant distances and watering anyone going by, parks and schools where children play have oversaturated the ground, people walking their pets or jogging are unknowingly sprayed with wastewater because either required signs don’t exist, or are not displayed where and how they can be easily seen.

Some of this wastewater ends up in our creeks and streams causing nutrient, salts, and toxic chemical pollution problems that the public is unaware of. Sites are usually inspected when water is turned off. Corrections are made to big leaks, but not much is done about over-spray which looks like ordinary water. While highly treated, the water still contains substances of concern, even when in small amounts. While this is supposed to be illegal, because it is termed ‘incidental’ runoff, it is usually not enforced.

Lower Russian River Water Quality….As summer temperatures increase and flows diminish, excessive nutrients cause major algae blooms and invasive Ludwigia proliferates (lush green plants with small yellow flowers, mushrooming out from the banks growing both up and out). This is the perfect environment for increased bacterial counts as well. The algae provides a welcome habitat for the bacteria and can sometimes result in toxic algae growth. For this reason, it is always wise to shower well after spending time in the river and try not to get your face in the water, especially if you have a compromised immune system.

Very important meeting coming up……The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Board) has been studying pathogens throughout the lower river for the last several years. These studies will become the basis for new septic rules that will be developed and implemented by 2016. A very important public meeting will be held (especially important if you have a septic tank near the Russian River and/or you recreate in the Russian River) on August 28, 2014, 5:00 pm – 8:00 pm at : Regional Water Board Offices, 5550 Skylane Blvd., Suite A, Santa Rosa, CA 95403.

Questions regarding this meeting should be directed to Charles Reed, at 707-576-2752 or by email at or to Rebecca Fitzgerald, by phone at 707-576-2650 or email at   Staff has also posted a number of technical documents

During the public meeting, Regional Water Board staff will explain evidence of impairment of the water contact recreation of the Russian River and its tributaries, identify probable sources of bacteria believed to be contributing to the impairment, and discuss proposed load allocations (including septic contributions and their possible control). Public notice for meeting can be found at

RRWPC needs your continued support….In order for RRWPC to continue our very unique and long standing independent Russian River advocacy work, we need your continued support. Even if you can’t afford to donate much now, all donations are very much appreciated. They inform us that you support our work and want to keep receiving our mailers. We are a small group and depend exclusively on these mailers for our fiscal support. Please donate what you can. Also, for those who have not shared their email address as yet, we occasionally send out announcements and important information between mailers. Please submit your email address if you want to be on our list.