Dry Creek Habitat Enhancement Miles 2-6 Draft EIR, August 24, 2015: RRWPC Comments to SCWA

August 24, 2015: submitted by Email

Dear Mr. Cuneo:

Thank you for the opportunity to enter comments into the record for the Dry Creek Habitat Enhancement Project Draft EIR. For the most part, we believe that this project is worthwhile, although we wish the degradation making this project necessary had not occurred in the first place. We would also have preferred that property owners who inflict damage to the environment over the years and who create the need for such projects, would be held accountable and required to pay for their own mistakes (or at least contribute). But that is not at issue now.

Our comments will focus on four main issues that we believe were not addressed in this EIR. They are the issues of dam releases and creek flow as they affect the lower Russian River, and the potential release and resulting transport of toxins, nutrients, and bacteria into the Russian River. We mentioned most of these in brief at the hearing before the Board of Supervisors on August 11, 2015.

Once again, SCWA has chosen to draw a box around a project in order to contain the realm of impacts, and focused their attention on only those things that appear in the box. We can sympathize that it becomes very difficult to examine all potential impacts in the universe, but we believe this EIR cuts off some critical concerns that should be addressed at some level, if not in full. In any case, we raise those issues that are of greatest concern to ourselves, and our downstream community.

It is also understandable that to some extent the ‘box’ has been foisted upon you by the federal agency National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in that they require you to make changes to flows in the whole Russian River (subject to a separate EIR of which this one should have been a part). If the Fish Flow EIR had been released first, or at the same time, it may have been appropriate for you to separate from this one, but unfortunately, that was not the case. It is also a problem that they don’t care about anything but the fish and ignore toxins that might affect the fish, while just focusing on habitat concerns. But there is a great deal of science on these toxicity issues that is being ignored.

We are concerned that recommended lower flows in the Biological Opinion (85 cfs at Hacienda) are assumed for this document. Low flows have been implemented through Temporary Urgent Change Petitions and Orders, which have not been subjected to environmental review. We wrote the following recently:

The proposed flow decrease was directed by the Biological Opinion (BO), entered into the Federal Register as law by National Marine Fisheries Service, and received no public review. SCWA was directed to carry out its requirements that were handed down on September 24, 2008. While the State Water Board is the only entity with jurisdiction to change Decision 1610, (State Law governing Russian River flows), and the final decision is theirs, the federal agency is quite clear that they expect to have this BO fully implemented. We are seeing signs that this may be a ‘done deal’ before the EIR is even released

This situation with the scope of the project is similar to what happened with the Estuary Management Project where the study area ignored impacts to and from the river upstream of Duncans Mills, the defined limit of the ‘box’ for that project. RRWPC’s legal settlement with SCWA brought the impact area up about five miles to Vacation Beach. It made some sense to do that because the summer dams at Johnson’s and Vacation Beaches artificially raise flows each summer. We are here asking you to address flow impacts from this project at least as far down the river as Hacienda, location of the USGS gauge.

Dry Creek Flows as they impact lower Russian River…..

Project area….This EIR (p.3.8-1) defines the project as covering the 14 miles from Lake Sonoma down Dry Creek to the confluence with the Russian River and includes the creek, the floodway, terraces, and riparian areas that lead to that waterway.   It also includes tributaries that drain into that section of Dry Creek. It goes on to mention three major Russian River reaches, the lower two of which include Dry Creek and the area roughly between Healdsburg and Forestville (middle section) and the lower section from Forestville to Jenner. While these segments can be divided geologically, they are unified by one Russian River travelling throughout and uniting all. Furthermore, the lower Russian, especially upstream of the dams and downstream of the Wohler water facility, is the recipient (victim?) of upstream flow management activities as well as potential pollution deposits.

Dry Creek flow management analysis needed….The lower river is reliant on Dry Creek releases for summer flows as measured at Hacienda. Decision 1610 as it stands now requires your agency to provide flow for recreation, fisheries, and health and safety water needs for the lower river. It is clear we cannot expect water supply from Lake Mendocino, especially in drought, and in fact SCWA has said on many occasions that Lake Sonoma is source of our supply.

There are many references in the Dry Creek EIR to the Biological Opinion and its requirement that the main goal of this project is to slow flows in order to protect juvenile salmonids from fast moving water. The intent is to slow the water to protect the fish and also provide areas where adults can successfully procreate. And yet, one of the main drawbacks of this EIR is that there is no in depth analysis of what the flows are now, how they are managed, and no description of how they might change as a result of this project.

This is covered slightly (p. 3.8-6) but little detail is given, other than to say that fairly consistent flow is provided during summer, although that was not the case prior to the dam being built. More detail should be included so that the project might be evaluated. The BO assumes the water is going too fast for fish on the one hand, and indicates it needs to be slowed so as to not harm juveniles, while not evaluating what flow changes should be anticipated and acting as though nothing will change. Where is the consistency here? Also, one needs to think in terms of other kinds of impacts, and not just those that affect the fish.

The EIR (p. 3.8-6) states that the mean Dry Creek flow as measured at USGS Gauge is 390 cfs and 100 cfs between May-October, which are stated to be consistent with Dry Creek Flows. Over the last year, we have seen Lake Sonoma releases noted in Press Democrat as low as 68 cfs and as high as 128 cfs during summer months. Maybe you can average those to come to 100 cfs, but it doesn’t tell you what the impacts might be on the outer edges. Please address this.

Furthermore, the water supply capacity of Lake Sonoma is around 78% full, yet SCWA persuaded the State Water Board last May (2015) to bring Hacienda minimum flows down to 50 cfs. RRWPC is still waiting for response from the State Board to our eight-page comment letter on this decision (Temporary Urgency Change Order of May, 2015). This is an outrageous circumstance where these kinds of drastic changes are made without benefit of public input. We need this EIR to address what will happen downstream when extreme actions such as this are taken in the future. In the meantime, we are dealing now with toxic blue-green algae, which are aggravated by low flows.

This document makes certain assumptions without fully explaining their basis in fact. (p. 3.5-32) It assumes travel time and water velocity is the same before and after project, even while the project is intended to slow the flow. It is also expected to be the same in the side channels, but rapid enough to prevent sedimentation flows. How was this determined? Where is back up information? (There are resources at the end of each chapter, but we didn’t see citations on individual issues which would have been very helpful.)

We ask if you can provide analysis of the factors determining your Lake Sonoma releases, how this project may change those releases, and how it will impact flows as measured at Hacienda for the lower river? Do current releases account for drought, global warming, and growth? Rohnert Park is currently building at least 1500 new units and has over 4000 more already approved. They anticipate serving about 11,000 new residents if all of these are built. What flows will be needed to accommodate these? How will this project impact SCWA’s ability to provide water for new growth under all drought scenarios?

By the way, we saw nothing in the Appendices on flow and releases from dam. The analysis provided in Section 9 was general and historical. There was information on joint management with USACE and flood versus water supply management (winter vs. summer), but no information on impact of project on how project might effect down stream water supply. (It’s hard to imagine that you can slow water and not have an impact on supply.)

Project impacts on transport of nutrients and bacteria…..It is our concern that construction of the project and the movement of banks and stream sediments may possibly help accumulate and disburse nutrients and bacteria, about which I saw little mention. There was a comment that it is common for nutrients to build up during low flow periods but no information on the fate of those nutrients. (Nutrients reside in sediments and can be transported to distant areas during high flows. What is expected from this project and why in regards to this circumstance?) In many places it was stated that because impacts were temporary, they were insignificant. There was some analysis on turbidity and temperature and dissolved oxygen (D.O.), but I don’t recall anything on bacteria and nutrients. There are almost no problems in the lower river with turbidity and D.O. and it’s hard to imagine that temperature impacts by Dry Creek Project could further impair levels in lower river which are already astronomically high in summer.

Only three day’s ago, the North Coast Regional Water Board released their Draft TMDL for bacteria (attached), which is considering designation of the whole lower river (and possibly whole river) as impaired for that constituent. The bacteria TMDL is currently their top priority and is intended to protect public health of the recreating public. Some of the sources that may occur in Dry Creek area are runoff from irrigated lands to which fertilizers and soil amendments have been added, runoff from areas that have animal waste on them in any form, discharges from onsite wastewater systems, discharges from homeless and farmworker encampments, etc. Dry Creek project will stir up sediments during construction and it is conceivable that some can wind up in the main stem Russian River and go downstream (especially during rain events). How will this be addressed?

We are just as concerned about additional nutrient loads to the river, especially phosphorus. There is more and more information lately about the advent of toxic blue-green algae. Only days ago the Dept. of Health Services released a warning that this algae has been found in the Russian River (They did not state where.) and the Press Democrat wrote a prominent article about it. This is a first for that agency, although we believe we identified it many years ago and have extensive photos going back several years. (see RRWPC website at www.rrwpc.org ) We have seen similar algal growth upstream also and it’s been a significant problem in the Eel and Klamath Rivers and Clear Lake as well.

We have learned that the factors generating toxic algae are excessive phosphorus, (well documented by SCWA in their monitoring of the lower river for several perimeters from May 15th through Oct. 15th, where 100% of the samples exceeded EPA guidelines for that constituent), high water temperatures, excessive sediments, and low flows. Since the Biological Opinion has ignored the impacts of low flows on the health and safety of people who recreate in the river, it is a major issue of concern for those of us who live downstream of ALL contributors to our major problem.

Pollutant impacts from project including endocrine disrupting chemicals & mercury…..We believe there are abandoned mercury mines in the project area. Also mercury has been found in the abandoned gravel pits along the river. It is a problem countywide because it is naturally occurring in our area; USGS studies have found that the Laguna has some of the highest Mercury readings in the nation. Since it is such a toxic chemical, we believe that it’s existence and potential for harm should be analyzed in this document. Furthermore, we have heard that methylation is more likely to occur in the presence of sulphur, which I understand is used extensively by vineyards for pest control. We request that you address this issue.

Chemical pollutants and endocrine disruption (CEC’s)…..Many, if not most pesticides, herbicides, and other similar chemicals are frequently used by agriculture and commonly have endocrine disrupting properties. Pesticide and herbicide use is tracked by the Ag Commissioner’s office. There was a report done in 1995 by an outside group that found many vineyards use those products extensively. We doubt that that has changed much. There is a vast amount of scientific literature on this topic that is growing every day. To refer to them as ‘constituents of emerging concern’ (CEC’s), as many do, is not to do them justice, as it does not acknowledge the vast amount of scientific information, based on peer review studies, that has occurred.

Up to now risk assessment has assumed that the ‘dose makes the poison’ and a higher dose causes more risk. Therefore studies have involved uncovering the dose at which harm does not occur. With endocrine disruption, it has been found that extremely small amounts, sometimes in the parts per trillion range, can cause gender bending changes in aquatic life. What’s more, this alteration is unpredictable in its occurrence and does not happen (or not happen) reliably. It has also been discovered that these effects can be transferred to future generations and applies to both humans and the smallest creatures in the environment. What is particularly sad is that fish are most definitely affected by such exposures and NMFS, to the best of my knowledge, does not even acknowledge the possibility of a problem. So all this money and effort going into this project could be for nil because of this oversight. We urge you to consider this issue in your response to comments. (We have a vast amount of information on this but will not burden you with it now. We can provide if you request it. We do refer you to the following website for the list of endocrine disrupting chemicals and some of the best information on the topic:

The Endocrine Disruption Exchange: http://www.endocrinedisruption.org/

Accumulation of nutrients and toxins in new backwaters…..Finally, this is also an issue of concern. Since our time to submit this is running out, we merely ask you to assess whether nutrients and toxins can accumulate in sediments near the water and then cause impacts during high flows? If so, please analyze their impacts in light of previous concerns mentioned. Thank you.

Submitted by Brenda Adelman