February 2016 Newsletter

What a relief! Our reservoirs are almost full….. Because our weather future is so unknown, we could still use more rain, but for now we can breathe a sigh of relief. Currently the river at Hacienda is energetically flowing at 1770 cfs. As of February 7th, Lake Sonoma was at 95% capacity, and Lake Mendocino at 107%. (The latter number is tricky because the ‘water supply pool’ gets much larger in April and the percentage reserved for flood control drops considerably then.) In order to protect against downstream property damage from floods, Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) reserves part of Lake Mendocino’s winter reservoir capacity for storage of floodwaters. (See SCWA’s website for more information.)

State Revving up Recycled Water Use Programs….The State Water Board is now taking comments on their Draft Water Reclamation Requirements for Recycled Water Use. According to the Notice, “The proposed General Order is intended to further encourage recycled water projects by: (1) acknowledging recycled water as a resource through water reclamation requirements; (2) allowing recycled water programs that are implemented in… Regional Water Board boundaries to be permitted by the State Water Board”.

RRWPC has numerous concerns about these new requirements, which are not very stringent, although we do support the appropriate use of recycled wastewater under the right conditions. Those conditions would require very low, weak sprays (drip irrigation would be better) that don’t allow wastewater to fly all over the place and run off into areas where it can enter the storm drain and go into a creek. (We have such pictures on our website.) Government officials are using public concerns about drought to convince people that recycled wastewater is almost drinkable and perfectly safe. That is so far from the truth. The exact same wastewater undergoes extensive review in discharge permits, as much as 200 pages in length, to allow low-level wastewater release into more heavily flowing streams. In summer, less stringent rules apply and the same wastewater is suddenly viewed as very safe. (There is still some reluctance to put wastewater directly into a drinking water supply, but local public relation consultants are working to convince the public that it’s okay.) Low flows make summer the worst time for this discharge!

Over the last six years, RRWPC has provided the State Water Board with many comment letters and appeared at meetings in Sacramento to give testimony related to the issue of endocrine disrupting chemicals in wastewater and their low dose effects. We persuaded an east coast scientist who is expert on this topic to write a letter which beautifully explained the problem (See Laura Vandenberg’s letter to Board on our website www.rrwpc.org under headings Commentaries/Recycled Wastewater/Recycled Water Documents). But the State Board ignored the issue and passed the Recycled Water Policy Amendment, which failed to address the problem. They continued to avoid this issue since and pretend that a lot more study is needed; claiming it’s an emerging problem that needs to have standards set before they can do anything. The real issue is that their scientific assumptions about chemical safety are based on the theory that low dose exposures are safe, which in the case of endocrine disruption, are not.

The truth is that this is a similar story we have heard about the Toxic Substances Control Act, which Congress has not been able to update for 40 years now. There are about 80,000 untested and unregulated chemicals on the market now and many of them end up in wastewater. At least 1000 of them are endocrine disruptors and are responsible for causing many serious health problem, sometimes at very minute exposures, which we cannot go into right now. If you are comfortable using the internet however, just plug the term ‘endocrine disrupting chemicals’ into your browser and see what comes up. You will find it very interesting.

Written comments are due Monday, February 22, 2016 at noon, but we can’t get this mailer out before February 16th and the earliest anyone would receive it is Feb. 17th. Since that is not enough time, we plan to send a sample comment letter by email to those who have given us their email address (about a third of you receiving this letter). The rest of you can either find the letter on our Home Page of our website at www.rrwpc.org or send us an email at rrwpc@comcast.net and we will send it to you as an attachment. We hope you can help us out on this; we strongly believe that we need to keep speaking out on this issue. If you mail letter it should go out by Thursday.

Fish Flow Project really coming out soon….Soon the Water Agency will release the long awaited Fish Flow Project Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for public comment. This is intended to address issues resulting from proposed permanent flow reductions of 40%. Fishery agencies claim this project will benefit the steelhead, now greatly diminished in numbers, because of land use practices that dewatered tributaries and degraded habitat so the fish can’t thrive, not to mention the toxic pesticides used by some.

Yes, we have mentioned this EIR repeatedly for quite some time now, but they keep putting it off, though we think they are serious this time. The Estuary Project, intended to sustain a closed lagoon at the mouth between May 15th and October 15th, (once it closes naturally), is anticipated to provide beneficial habitat for steelhead. This is the ONLY justification used by National Marine Fisheries Service for reducing flows by 40% in the lower river, as they believe lower flows will impede the mouth from opening naturally in summer.

Yet their idea hasn’t worked but once in seven years as the mouth has remained open most summers even when flows were very low. (Mouth closures tend to occur in mid September on and off through the winter and early spring when the ocean becomes more active and creates sandbars along the shore. When the river rises with heavy flows, it eventually breaks through the barrier and will often stay open when the river is high.) National Marine Fisheries Service, State Fish and Wildlife, and the County of Sonoma are the key supporters of this questionable plan. It’s an expensive project; it’s unpredictable and could have unknown unintended consequences on the lower river environment and certainly on recreation and the lower river economy. We believe that Mother Nature should control the mouth of the Russian River. We hope you agree.

Finally, there are very serious nutrient issues in the lower river that manifest in large masses of invasive plants, such as ludwigia, and nasty algal blooms that are sometimes toxic. A dog died last summer from the exposure to some and the lower river beaches were posted with “DANGER” signs most of the summer. So far, the Regional Board has not taken the nutrient problem seriously enough and we keep pushing for more consideration. Until then, please help us by getting the letter on Reclamation Requirements in before the Feb. 22nd deadline.

RRWPC needs your continued support….Over the past 37 years, RRWPC has ceaselessly advocated for the health of the lower Russian River. We successfully influenced many changes in river management through our writings, presentations, and advocacy on water quality and flow. You can view our work over the last 8 years at our website: www.rrwpc.org RRWPC needs your continued support. All sized donations are appreciated. We depend exclusively on our four annual mailers for funds and especially appeal to those who have not donated in awhile. As we get up in years, we can’t be as active with fund raising as we used to be, so we deeply appreciate your help. Please feel free to pass our information around. And thank you for caring about the Russian River.