June 2016 Newsletter

June, 2016

Dear RRWPC Supporter:

So many Federal, State, and County decisions will be made this year concerning the Russian River; it’s hard to know where to start our report.  Public input has not been welcome lately, as indicated by emergency declarations that eliminated environmental review for many State Orders by Governor Brown. Nevertheless, the water supply crisis on the North Coast has subsided for the time being, and conservation measures at least are now back under the control of local officials.

Recycled Water Use Order to be adopted soon….RRWPC has been tracking the Proposed General Order for Recycled Water Use that will be discussed on June 7th by the State Water Board.  RRWPC believes current regulations are too lax as they allow extensive wastewater irrigation of schoolyards, parks, playgrounds, etc., where young children can be exposed to unregulated contaminants that might affect their health and development.  Extensive runoff into drainages has been witnessed repeatedly in our area, potentially causing toxicity in streams and harming aquatic life, especially when the runoff carries pesticides, herbicides, soil amendments, etc. with it.  Runoff ends up in the Laguna and other Russian River tributaries during low flow periods when creeks are least able to assimilate it, potentially affecting water quality downstream.  Energetic enforcement might resolve most of the problem but the State is not going in that direction.

Santa Rosa’s urban wastewater irrigation won’t be expanded…..Santa Rosa won’t be expanding their urban irrigation program in the next five years.  Several years ago they spent around $30 million on a Phase I irrigation system along Stony Point between Hwy. 12 & West College Ave.  The City had anticipated off-setting 900 acre-feet of potable water with wastewater irrigation annually, but the amount they actually irrigated between 2010 and 2015 averaged 140 acre-feet per year.  Obviously it was not a cost effective project, something that RRWPC suggested, but was ignored, when first proposed.  Furthermore, in summer drought, when the water is most needed, there is not much irrigation water available, since most of it is under contract to the Geysers for reuse.  The City claims they saved far more water through creative and energetic conservation programs and will stay with that approach.

Urban Water Management Plan (UWMP) Assesses Water Needs for next 25 years…..This is a State required plan, due every five years for all water districts having 3000 hookups or providing 3000 acre feet of water annually.  UWMP’s typically describe water supply sources, historical demand, and comparison of supply and demand during normal, dry, multiple dry years.

One of the most contentious declarations in Santa Rosa’s Plan was that their calculations assume they will have access to water amounts stated in their contract with SCWA.  Unfortunately, the contract was written when the Agency anticipated a one third increase in their water rights, which never occurred.  SCWA figures that if the water isn’t there, they are not obligated to deliver it.  It’s a complex story that will probably end up in court one day, but at the present time, Santa Rosa doesn’t really need the extra water anyway.  Our main concern is that they will use the numbers to rationalize extensive new development that can become a very serious problem when the next big drought occurs.

 Toxicity testing and low dose effects…..RRWPC has frequently mentioned concern in our writings about low dose effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals, many of which remain to some extent in treated wastewater.  Most toxicity testing that does occur considers low dose exposures safe. Yet chemicals affecting the endocrine system (at least 1000 identified so far), can unpredictably cause profound impacts at minute doses, especially on gestating embryos or fetuses, when a pregnant woman is exposed during a critical time of development.  Most governmental scientists have failed to incorporate this well-researched scientific information into chemical safety risk assessments.  Most consumers assume that products used have been tested for safety, but in most cases they have not.  In fact, it is believed that many put human health at risk.

Recently the State Scientific Panel recommended that Constituents of Emerging Concern (CEC’s) be further studied to learn to what extent they exist in our environment and the potential harm they may cause to water quality.  Several of the test chemicals selected for study are endocrine disruptors.  RRWPC had been asking the North Coast Regional Board to conduct studies for quite some time, and eventually they agreed to test the Russian River for these contaminants.  The State SWAMP program recently published a newsletter denoting their progress.

Update of Toxics Substance Control Act…..This Federal legislation has not been through a major revision for the last 40 years, although the number of potentially toxic chemicals in our day-to-day lives has almost doubled to about 84,000.  Up to now EPA was required to either prove risk on a very short timeframe, or require no safety testing at all. Proposed new legislation, many years in the making, soon to go to President Obama for his signature, now requires manufacturer’s to assure safety before they go to market.

We are surrounded by disease causing chemicals (including pharmaceuticals) in our everyday lives.  No one knows the synergistic effects of all the toxins we wear, apply on our bodies, absorb in our skin, breathe, eat, and more.  We really don’t know which products are safe, or which the most dangerous.  Unregulated toxic chemicals are found in our food, our clothing, our personal care products, our drinks, our housing materials and furniture, our kitchen ware, baby toys, and much more.  Hopefully this new legislation, when approved, will eventually cause a big decrease in the amount of toxins to which we are exposed on a daily basis.  Manufacturers and chemical companies will soon have increased motivation to switch to safe chemicals in the manufacture of their products, that don’t cause disease or health problems.

Congress was on the verge just days ago to approve the modernization of the law that would give EPA the power to actually regulate these toxins.  After approval by both houses (House by 403 to 12), Senator Rand Paul put a hold on the bill, to give Senators more time to read it even though the final version has been complete for several weeks.  (Several environmental groups and public health advocates are not supporting it because it is too friendly to the industry and doesn’t go far enough in protecting public health from dangerous chemicals.  Others figure it’s a vast improvement over what we had, and that further changes can occur later on.)  We look forward to its resolution.

Fish Flow Project EIR probably coming out this summer….

Mother Nature should control the mouth of the Russian River!   As we have written many times in past mailers, the Biological Opinion requires the Sonoma County Water Agency to develop an EIR and conduct a public review process before certifying the project document. After waiting about two years, we expect it to be released in mid-summer.  The document will consider impacts of a permanent 40% decrease in minimum summer flows between May 15th and October 15th of each year.  The purpose in the lower river is to minimize the number of Estuary breachings during that period.  The theory behind the project is that threatened steelhead juvenile fish will thrive in the Estuary lagoon during mouth closures as they prepare for their sojourn in the ocean.  The project also requires the creation of a channel at the mouth that will allow fresh river water to seep out, but not allow ocean water in, so as to create a mostly fresh water estuary, until of course, the mouth breaches naturally.

We have examined the Water Agency’s data on river mouth breachings over the last twenty years.  There have only been two August breachings in that time and only five in July during the same period.  That means, if permanent low flows are authorized, that summer flows during highest use recreation period will be kept to a very low level that is bound to affect the area’s economy, and also exacerbate conditions that could cause the proliferation of algae and possibly even toxic algae, which thrive in warm water with high levels of phosphorus and low flow.  All of these conditions do and will exist if this project moves forward.  (See last page of mailer for information on toxic algae.)

We will advocate that flows NOT be lowered during those two months.  (For the other complete months, there had been 10 breachings in June over 20 months and 13 in September.  Generally the ocean starts to roil up in September, pushing sand around to form the barrier that closes the mouth.  And in fact, October has the second highest number of closings at 30 (November highest at 36).  It would make sense to limit project to May 15th through June 30th and Tuesday after Labor Day through October 15th. That could serve the needs of the fish and public and business.

Furthermore, because of natural circumstances, the project has only been completed once in the last seven years.  Conditions have seldom (almost never) been right for establishment and maintenance of the lagoon habitat.  Please stay tuned on this: if the document comes out before our next mailer, we will send alerts by email to those of you on the list.  There will be a 60-day comment period and we expect we can mail information before the end of that period.

As for this summer, flows will be maintained at about 75 cfs (normally 125 cfs) according to the Temporary Urgency Change Order by the State.  This is again according to the Biological Opinion and devoid of environmental review.  The State authorized the Water Agency’s petition in about two or three weeks and made the finding that no harm would come of low flow, totally ignoring that toxic algae was a real concern in the river last summer.  In past years, RRWPC has made extensive comments, to no avail.  It’s getting harder and harder to deal with the State bureaucracy on water issues.

Learn about toxic algae and how to protect yourself….RRWPC has been photographing serious algae in the lower river for years.  At our website, on the Home Page you can see our Photographic Report for 2009, a very dry year.  The toxic algae is impossible to identify by just looking at it.  We provide information and resources on what to do and how to avoid problems while in the river on back page of this mailer.  Dogs are the most vulnerable and last year a healthy dog died within two hours or less after exposure.  Learn how to protect your family, friends and pets when you come to the river and all should be fine.

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, many of which you can view at our website: www.rrwpc.org RRWPC needs your continued support; all sized donations are appreciated.  We depend exclusively on our mailers for funds. For about the last 20 years, Brenda has received very minimal compensation for her dedicated service, and even then, only when funds were available.  Because the cost of conducting our river efforts always takes priority, we have fallen way behind in supporting her.  Please help in whatever way you can so we can begin to catch up.  Thank you for caring about the Russian River.