August 2015 Newsletter

The Russian River appeared broad and full as we photographed from the Monte Rio Bridge recently, facing downstream, however there were clues that it was not. A man was standing with his daughter in the middle of the river; the water came barely to their ankles. The green algae sparkled in the sun beneath the shallow surface of the water.   Many people hung out at the Monte Rio Beach on this hot summer day, but only the dogs could swim there. Then, viewing the river from the upstream side of the bridge, we could see canoes floating among the mats of algae drifting on the water’s surface. In close up, it was not a pretty sight.

Current downstream river conditions and the Estuary Project…..Monte Rio water levels rise when the mouth is closed, but as of mid-August the mouth had been open for almost two months, allowing very low flows. This condition was supposed to contribute to summer mouth closures, but it hasn’t, and the Estuary Management Project required by the Biological Opinion (BO) to create a fresh water environment for juvenile steelhead fish, has not been successfully implemented since BO’s release in 2008. Nevertheless, in spite of excessive phosphorus pollution in the lower river (along with warm water and low flows contributing to possibly toxic algal overloads), the Water Agency moves forward in demanding a permanent 35% lowering of minimum summer flows in the lower river. They have also expressed little concern for toxic chemical pollution, since fishery agencies ignore toxic exposure impacts to fish.

Instead, the Water Agency has applied for Temporary Urgency Change Petitions that allow for seasonal minimum flow reductions on an ‘emergency” basis. (Flows are 68 cfs now at Hacienda and can go down to 50 cfs). For eight years, the State has authorized lower flows annually without environmental review by simply declaring no harm occurs. (They are doing much the same thing with new drought regulations, as merely declaring a drought allows them to regulate however they want, apart from public input or consideration of further environmental harm.)

State goes easy on vineyard water use….While many State actions are justified, great inequities have occurred in application of new conservation regulations. For instance, individual residences on four local tributaries, dependent on groundwater, recently had new restrictions imposed by the State Water Board to strictly conserve by following specific rules, while vineyards and wineries are still allowed to use as much water as they want, even while agriculture utilizes far more of the available supply.

Fish Flow Project on the way…..In the next few months the Water Agency will release the environmental document addressing permanent changes to Decision 1610: State law governing minimum Russian River flows. RRWPC will continue to track that closely. The water supply pool in Lake Mendocino is currently at 42% and Lake Sonoma at 78%. The main justification for reducing flows in the lower river is to accommodate the Estuary Project. But if lowering flows provides no benefit and there is enough water in Lake Sonoma to keep minimum flows as they are, is this really all about growth? Because our mailers go out only four times a year, and the next one won’t be until mid-November, please send us your email address, if we don’t have it already, so we can keep you informed. We will probably ask supporters to send in letters we will prepare and put on our website at  It is critical now that we be able to communicate between mailers.

Rohnert Park: 4300 new units coming on board….Councilman Jake Mackenzie exaggerated Rohnert Park’s water conservation accomplishments in a “Close to Home” piece in the Press Democrat on Aug. 6th. Our calculations estimate that Rohnert Park’s new 4300-unit project will use about 800 acre feet of water a year which is likely to offset any savings they have made. While many city residents probably deserve credit for extensive conservation efforts, we are concerned that their water savings are being transferred to an increased number of new residents. Furthermore, much of their conservation can be attributed to excessive wastewater irrigation, allowing runoff that probably ends up in the river and contributes to the river’s extensive nutrient pollution. While the City does inspect their systems, enforcement of runoff incidents is very weak, and the same properties over-irrigate for years with impunity from our view. (Mailer includes letter to editor we recently wrote to Press Democrat.)

More on Rohnert Park….A new contract recently separated Santa Rosa’s (SR) oversight role from Rohnert Park’s (RP) wastewater irrigation use. Up to now SR was legally in charge of assuring that RP abided by legal constraints in the discharge permit. That meant that SR was in charge of compliance and reported to the Regional Board. SR now sells the wastewater to RP for disposal, but it’s a little unclear how the permit will be overseen and enforced. It’s likely to make our job a bit harder and we are concerned that compliance may fall through the cracks. (We documented many run off incidents on numerous occasions in RP.)

Testing for endocrine disrupting chemicals to begin soon….At RRWPC’s urging, the Regional Board has convinced the State to conduct Russian River pilot program to study whether endocrine disrupting chemicals are present in river sediments. No details yet, but it will probably commence next spring. Please read recent article (noted below) about pharmaceuticals found in wastewater (Many are endocrine disruptors and those that aren’t can combine with benign chemicals to become so.) We urge you to read this article: “Drugging the Environment” by Megan Scudellari, The Scientist Magazine, August 1, 2015: Environment/

RRWPC has published comment letter in Environmental Health Perspectives….We were recently honored by the publication of our comment letter in the very prestigious environmental health journal (Environmental Health Perspectives: June 2015 edition). It is only available on the web, but we have included a copy with this mailer. The citation of the article on toilet to tap reuse of wastewater, to which we were responding is also in there. (third reference down) We further suggest you look up the citation from the article on Wastewater Irrigation on Farms Contaminates Food by N. Naik in 2014 (6th reference down).

Bacteria TMDL on fast track……Regional Board staff will probably release the draft TMDL (total maximum daily load) for bacteria (precursor to new septic rules) sometime in August. There will be a public hearing expected for November. After that is approved, an advisory committee will be set up by the County to discuss options for septic compliance. Please sign up to get emails if you want us to alert you to notices and meetings on this issue.

RRWPC needs your continued support….Over the past 37 years, RRWPC has ceaselessly advocated for the health of the lower Russian River. We successfully instigated many changes over the years in river management through our writings, presentations, and advocacy. For example, as a result of our efforts with the Regional Board, the Russian River will soon be studied for endocrine disruption chemicals. RRWPC needs your continued support. All donations are appreciated. We depend exclusively on mailers for funds and especially appeal to those who have not donated in awhile. Thank you for caring about the Russian River.




























(Recreational dams at Guerneville and Vacation Beach cause water to back up past Rio Nido. Depth at Johnson’s Beach had been averaging about three feet.) As we viewed the river at both Monte Rio and Hacienda on August 6th, flows at Hacienda were around 68 cubic feet per second (cfs). The river at Hacienda was 1.5’ deep. But it is important to know that the river varies widely in depth, some places going 10’ deep or more, and care must be taken in unfamiliar areas.




























Before the dams were installed in mid June, we had photographed huge swaths of bright green algae and Ludwigia (bushy plant with yellow flowers extending into the river and along the banks). Since then, algae outgrowth areas downstream of Vacation Beach and in Rio Nido have mostly been covered up by a dammed river, although the Ludwigia still protrudes above the water surface in some locations.