November 2010: Incidental runoff, Low Flow & Monte Rio Sewer Meeting


November, 2010

Dear RRWPC Supporter:

Sonoma County water issues continued on the front burner throughout 2010.  Recent local election results indicate that things may get even more intense in 2011.  With two brand new and two relatively new Sonoma County Supervisors, and critical budgetary cuts to be made, it is easy to predict that vast changes in County governance will occur at all levels.  One change may be new leadership of and a possible restructuring at the Sonoma County Water Agency.   That Agency is in charge of summer dam releases and river flows; they manage the water system for about 500,000 people in mostly urban areas, and are in charge of County sewer districts.  We will keep you informed.

Healdsburg Reclamation Permit and “incidental runoff”…..
The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board recently authorized the first Reclamation Permit to be issued since the new Storm Water Permit had been approved.  Reclamation permits regulate wastewater reuse for irrigation, and are intended to prevent runoff of toxins to waterways and groundwater. Irrigation occurs in the summer, when flows are low and assimilative capacity can be very poor. “Incidental runoff” will become especially problematic if “low flows” become permanent.

RRWPC has tracked this issue for years at the State and local levels.  We had been concerned all along about allowing “incidental runoff” of wastewater, since even highly treated wastewater contains unregulated toxins. Any “incidental” runoff occurrence should be precisely defined and carefully regulated.

Healdsburg’s permit was the first to be reviewed by the Regional Board since the new regulations went into effect.  The first draft was well done, but the City complained that it was too stringent and they would not be able to sign up users under the suggested new rules. We don’t have the space to go into detail, but the new version that was then approved was considerably more lenient.  It allowed users to “self report” spills of up to 1000 gallons, and is a perfect example of the “fox guarding the chicken house”.  We believe that this is how they now define the term “incidental”, but we don’t see 1000 gallons as “incidental” at all.  In fact, they have now established a precedent, which Santa Rosa is watching carefully.  Their new permit process will begin next year and we will be very interested to see how it evolves.  We will keep you informed.

RRWPC Russian River Picture Project and “low flow” update….
We have continued to take pictures of the Russian River in the summer although not as many as we took last year.  For the most part, flows were much higher this year and the nutrient and pathogen pollution, but for a period in June at Monte Rio, was far less of a problem.  Over the months June through September, flows at Hacienda averaged 263 cfs., and never declined to the very low flows promised.  The Water Agency has begun the environmental review process to permanently lower flows. (Please see article in the current Sonoma County Gazette on page one:

Estuary Project EIR about to be released….
Any time now, the environmental impact report (EIR) will be released by the Water Agency for the Estuary Project.  While this project relies on lowering river flows as required in the Biological Opinion, the Estuary Project is nonetheless being considered separately.  The intent of the project is to maintain a closed fresh water lagoon at the mouth of the river without flooding low-lying properties in the Jenner area.  The plan is to build a “barrier beach” to extend the river to the north and keep the mouth closed so the predominantly fresh water habitat could better serve the needs of threatened Steelhead Trout.  The Agency has attempted a few times to construct such a “barrier”, but it hasn’t worked.  We are very concerned they will change the law to lower flows, but won’t be able to carry out this plan anyway.  We will keep you informed.

Russian River County Sanitation District (RRCSD)….
Russian River Watershed Protection Committee recently settled our legal action against the RRCSD.  District Directors (Supervisors) had approved the storage basin project in March, 2009. Expert geologists working with RRWPC expressed concern about potential geological and water quality problems.  We were also concerned they would use the project to justify selling capacity to other communities without adequate environmental review, and we challenged potential impacts to Neeley Rd. that now must be addressed if and when the project moves forward.  More details appear in our article on page 24 of the current issue of Sonoma County Gazette.  (see paragraph above for link)

Monte Rio Sewer Meeting….
On October 16th, the Monte Rio Task Force held a five-hour community meeting to inform people of anticipated new septic rules and various sewer options available. Information was presented on septic standards and how septics function when working properly.  They informed attendees about public health issues and why standards are necessary.  They discussed problems with siting septics in porous soils and on steep slopes and especially near a floodplain.  They discussed the history of attempts to bring sewer to Monte Rio and the problems incurred.  They described alternative solutions implemented in other communities with presentations on alternative systems that might work for Monte Rio.  The presentations were intelligent, thoughtful, and very helpful.

RRWPC thanks our supporters this holiday season….
This is the time when we thank all who have supported us this past year, including our Board of Directors (Sherrie Althouse, Nichae Blume, Dave Blanchard, Dennis O’Leary, and Brenda Adelman), our numerous mailer volunteers, and all of you who contribute to sustain our efforts.  We thank Diane Spain and the Senior Center for allowing us to use their space and we thank Mark Wiley for helping to set up our new computer. 

We also thank publisher Vesta Copestakes for her beautifully formatted community newspaper that regularly publishes our work and other community members.   The entire paper can be read online at, including past issues. It is because of the Gazette that people far and wide know about life in our community and water issues in our environment.

Last, but certainly not least, the enclosed donor list acknowledges those who have given $20 or more between November 1, 2009, and October 31, 2010.  Because of limited space we could not list everyone’s name, but RRWPC is grateful to all for your loyal support.  Your generosity demonstrates to us how much you care about our work focused on protecting the Russian River.  You make it possible for us to sustain our efforts.

RRWPC needs your help!
RRWPC has taken on many challenges this last year and we anticipate that next year will be very demanding as well.  We are in need of donations of any size. Many of you on our list did not contribute yet this year. Please give as generously as you can; we welcome donations of any size.  Also, please pass this information on to other interested parties.  Those who only get our mailers annually, can receive our bi-monthly updates if you send any sized donation with the enclosed card and state that you want to be on our regular list.   You can contact us at

Have a wonderful Holiday Season and a very happy New Year.