August 2016 Newsletter

Fish Flow Project (low flow) is about to begin….The long awaited Fish Flow Project Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR), will be released   Friday, August 19, 2016, and include a 60-day comment period ending on October 17, 2016. Subsequently, staff will respond to comments before a final version is approved.  The project proposes to lower Russian River summer flows up to 50% and will be in effect each year between May 15th and October 15th through 2023 and probably extended through 2040.

The National Marine Fishery Service’s (NMFS’s) Biological Opinion (BO), includes a requirement that Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) reduce lower river minimum summer flows to as low as 60 cubic feet per second (cfs).  In the past, minimum flows* between 1986 through 2008 were usually 125 cfs during normal rain years.  The Biological Opinion, released in September, 2008, has regulatory powers and neither considered environmental impacts to the river between Forestville and Duncans Mills, nor was ever subjected to public environmental review.

 The only justification for diminished flow is to conduct an experimental project that allows the Estuary to be artificially managed as a fresh water lagoon for juvenile steelhead, even while it may result in unintended consequences such as toxic algal blooms, and other detriments.

Minimum flow’ refers to situations where natural flows go below the minimum and SCWA releases water from Lake Sonoma to return to minimum.  So if minimum is 125 cfs and goes down to 110 cfs, they would have to release water to bring flow back up to 125 cfs. If minimum is 60, then they must make sure it doesn’t go below that. Where minimum flows are above required limit, they don’t have to do anything.)

Scheduled public meetings short on public involvement…..The EIR document will be posted on their website ( ) along with other details about the project. (Contact Ann Dubay for more information: )  SCWA Directors will conduct one hearing during comment period on September 13th (Tuesday) at Board of Supervisors’ Chambers in Santa Rosa at 3 pm.  This is inconvenient for many of you, but it is of such critical importance, we hope you will find a way to attend.  This project is likely to cause water quality degradation to the lower Russian River.

Agency staff have scheduled “Open House” at the Monte Rio Community Center on August 24th, only five days after document’s release. Staff will meet and greet people one on one to discuss project, but there will be no group interchange.  We encourage you to show up at 5:30. If many show up at once, they might be persuaded to switch to a real meeting.  We also encourage you to contact Ann Dubay by email to request a real community meeting in Monte Rio in September, when local citizens can hear presentations about the project, ask questions, and hear responses as a group. Copy Supervisor Carrillo: 

Urban Water Management Plan (UWMP) Assesses Water Needs for next 25 years…..The Sonoma County Water Agency’s primary purpose is to sell river water to their contractors.  They are required by law to analyze water availability to serve the needs of their contractors.  UWMPs typically describe water supply sources, historical demand, and compares supply and demand during normal, dry, multiple dry years.  The requirement to lower flows will leave more water in their reservoirs.  The UWMP assumes that water will be available to sell to contractors.

Water Agency’s 2015 Urban Water Management Plan projected water availability based on many factors to assure adequate supplies for Urban contractors’ general plan growth projections, as is their legal obligation to do. (Contractors include: Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Cotati, Windsor, City of Sonoma, Valley of the Moon, Petaluma, North Marin Water District, and Marin Municipal Water District.)   SCWA water sales will benefit by low flow water savings in the lower Russian River.

UWMP concluded, “….adequate water supplies are available in Lakes Mendocino and Sonoma to meet in-stream flows, system losses, and demands for average and multiple dry year scenarios through 2040.” And, “… water stored in the reservoirs (especially in Lake Sonoma) is typically greater than the supply needed to meet demands.” (page 5-9)  And also, “The evaluation of future Russian River supply availability is based upon…assumption that proposed changes to…minimum instream flow requirements….set forth in….Biological Opinion are implemented….Water savings from low flow can be stored and then sold to contractors.

The UWMP assures adequate water supplies in Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino will serve all General Plan Growth projections to 2040.  Contractors have recently bragged about what good shape they are in with water supplies as they anticipate a new housing boom and more funds from water sales (at increased rates), while conservation cutbacks are now the norm. (Contractor water use in June, 2016, was significantly higher than prior conservation use.)

Mother Nature should control the mouth of the Russian River!  The Biological Opinion’s only justification for diminishing flows in lower river, is to minimize summer Estuary breachings to maximize fresh water fish habitat in constructed lagoon, allowing threatened steelhead juvenile fish to thrive in Estuary during mouth closures.  The project requires a constructed channel at river mouth allowing fresh river water to seep out, and prevents ocean water in, so as to create a mostly fresh water estuary, until mouth breaches naturally.  For various reasons, SCWA has failed to implement the project, but for one time, during six years of attempts.  Most years the mouth is open during the months of July and August.

SCWA’s breaching data indicates there have been only two August breachings in the last 20 years and only five in July during same period. In other words, if permanent low flows are authorized, summer flows during busy recreation period will be kept at a very low level that is likely to exacerbate conditions that encourage proliferation of toxic algae and affect the area’s economy.  Since the river is already too warm for cold water fish during the summer months (according to Water Quality Control Board) and monitoring studies indicate excessive high levels of phosphorus throughout the lower river, taking away summer flow will guarantee problems with algal blooms.  Toxic algae has been found at low levels recently and beaches will be posted with warning signs this summer. (see

Until this environmental review for more permanent flow changes is complete, flows this summer will be maintained at about 75 cfs according to the State’s Temporary Urgency Change Order.  This is also according to the Biological Opinion and devoid of environmental review.  As usual, the State authorized the Water Agency’s petition to lower flows very quickly and included the finding that no harm would come of low flow, apparently ignoring that toxic algae was a real concern in our river. Urgency petitions have no environmental (public) review either.

RRWPC needs your continued support….RRWPC has consistently advocated for the health of the lower Russian River over the last 38 years.  We successfully influenced many changes in river management through our writings, presentations, legal actions, and advocacy regarding water quality and flow. In light of the situation described in this mailer, we must initiate a fund raising effort to engage our attorney’s help.  RRWPC needs your continued support; all sized donations are appreciated. We depend exclusively on our mailers for funds. Also please contact Supervisor Carrillo and Water Agency Staff (Ann Dubay in this case:  Please help us and thank you for caring about the Russian River.