May 2011: Sewer fee increases

Dear RRWPC Supporter:

While the cost of living reaches skyward as incomes and work opportunities go downhill, increased utility costs that offer no opportunity to limit service, are becoming more and more of a burden to average citizens.  Those of us in County Sanitation Districts have no control over the size of our bills.  For the convenience of the County, everyone pays the same flat fee, no matter the size of their households, the amount of water used, or wastewater generated.  What follows is a case in point.

Ratepayers in the Russian River County Sanitation District (RRCSD) recently received an orange notice announcing fee increases for the coming year.  Sewer charges on the 2011 tax bill will go up to $1,153 for each E.S.D. (equivalent single-family dwelling).  Those of you who own more than one developed District parcel should have received one notice for each of your parcels and will have to pay that amount for each one.

How to protest fees….
RRWPC urges you to protest this fee hike by mailing the protest form by May 20th. (After that time, you may hand deliver to the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors by 5 pm on May 23rd)

The back half of the orange notice sent to all RRCSD ratepayers is a protest ballot to submit to the Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA).  To object to the fee increase, just cut the orange paper in half, sign the form and print your name below your signature.  Fold it so that the District/SCWA address is showing and put a $ .44 stamp on it.  Do this for each orange announcement received.  (Send one form for each parcel.) If you lost your announcement, contact the Agency at (707) 521-6200 and request another.

The Agency cannot raise rates if 51% of the mailed forms are returned.  Even if they don’t receive that many, the more they receive, the more they will know that ratepayers are tired of high rates, which are higher than most Sonoma County cities.

The hearing on sewer fees for all County districts will be held at the Board of Supervisor’s Chambers on May 24, 2011 around 10 AM. (575 Administration Dr. in Santa Rosa) where you may express your concerns to the Board of Supervisors directly.

Informational flyer missing information…..
Included with the orange announcement was a flyer entitled, “Understanding Your Sanitation District Budget and Fees”.   The last section is entitled, “Where the Money Goes”.

The brochure fails to mention the Disinfection Project, which will begin soon and will take a year to complete.  There may be other projects planned this year as well.

The RRCSD’s current proposed budget indicates that the outstanding loan amount for the Disinfection Project is $3,656,030.  The outstanding loan amount for the prior treatment plant expansion is currently $2,852,046. Almost $1 million is stilled owed on the original Revenue Bond.  It is expected that the planned storage basin project would cost around $4.5 million. All of those add up to $12 million for 3300 hookups, not counting interest.  The amount needed for the expanded irrigation project is unknown.

The brochure does not mention that the system also needs expanded storage and irrigation capacity to serve current ratepayers. Except for this one opportunity to vote, local citizens have NO say in the management of this system.  We are not told what attempts have been made to control costs.  Meetings should have been held in the District to explain what is happening now and what future costs are anticipated.

Russian River Watershed Protection Committee has been requesting a Master Plan to address all anticipated uses of this system.  We are concerned that the Agency has added oversized components, while failing to conduct adequate environmental review of potential expansion of the District.  In spite of improvements made thus far, the system still pollutes the river during very high flows. Furthermore, that section of the river is polluted by nutrients.  The RRCSD may be a contributor to the problem.

PLEASE SEND IN YOUR ORANGE FORMS.  While comments are not required, we suggest that you request periodic meetings in the District, full disclosure of future plans for the system that includes a Master Plan for the District, and comprehensive review of any expansions that includes examination of cumulative and growth inducing impacts.

Certified letter challenges standing of low flow protesters….
Many of you were surprised to receive a certified letter (costing $5.54 to mail) from the State Water Board recently.  They sent out about 375 of them. The letter implied that those who submitted protests on the “low flow” project might be disqualified from the process if their forms were incomplete, but the letter was unclear about what details might be missing.  Mailing delays left protesters only five days to respond. The State ultimately added five more days to the due date.  Forms were due at the end of March.

RRWPC obtained the list of protesters and immediately initiated and mailed a letter describing the situation to those on the list. We provided a response letter that hopefully will maintain the status of those who sent it in. Even though the deadline is past, we suggest you send second protest letter in if you have not done so already.  If you did not receive certified letter or mailing, you are not considered a “protester”.

The Fish Flow Project EIR addressing “low flow” won’t be out for about 16 months.  (It’s a long and complicated process.)

Where do things go from here?
The Final EIR on the Estuary Project is expected to be out in June or July and will include all comments and consultant responses to comments. Many comments received were form letters and there will be one response for all.  Sentences or segments of the document may be changed in response to comments, but major changes are usually avoided, since they would then need to re-notice and re-circulate the new document.

Supervisors are not required to hold a special meeting on this project.  They will probably meet on this item during their regular calendar to certify the document and probably approve the project at the same time. People will be allowed to give brief comments at that meeting, but it is unlikely that any changes will be made at that point. It would be expected that a majority of Supervisors would approve the project.

After EIR certification and final project approval, we would have 30 days to legally challenge their decision.  Of course, we would have to evaluate the wisdom of that move after we have seen the Final EIR.  We do need to prepare however, by raising funds for such a challenge.  We hope you can donate soon for this purpose.

RRWPC needs your help!
Funds are needed to prepare for possible legal action on the Estuary issue and would appreciate donations of any size for this purpose. Since we would have only thirty days to file an action after the project is approved, we have to be prepared to move quickly.

Please give as generously as you can, especially if you have not donated in awhile, and also pass this information on to other interested parties. The month and year of your last donation is next to your name on the label. RRWPC does not sell or loan our mailing list to anyone.  You are welcome to contact Brenda with questions at