RRWPC February 2017, Newsletter

Strong response thus far to letter signing campaign….
RRWPC is so very grateful to all who signed and/or helped submit over 600 protest letters (so far) to the State objecting to permanent lowering of summer flows in the lower Russian River.  Special thanks to those who gathered multiple signatures.  We are not done however, as the State deadline for protest letter submissions was extended to March 10, at 4:30 PM.  If you have not yet signed, a copy of the letter was included in our December mailer. It was also sent out several times via email.  If you haven’t done so yet, please sign and send to RRWPC at our Guerneville address. We will see that it is forwarded to the State and a required copy sent to Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA).  By the way, the only requirements for signing are that person needs to be able to read letter, print, and sign their name.  There are no age or residence requirements.

The letter included with this mailer is a different letter addressed to the Water Agency regarding the adequacy of the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) and needs to be submitted to that agency by March 10th also.  It is a new letter addressing the adequacy of the environmental document which is Water Agency’s responsibility.  After all comment letters are received, then staff will begin the process of responding to all comments.  When this is complete, probably towards the end of the year, they will release the final document that includes all comments received and their responses.  The Directors of the Water Agency will then determine what changes may be needed, if any, and authorize it as complete in one meeting or wait until after changes are made.  After this process is completed (maybe by the end of this year), it is sent on to the State for water rights permit changes.  (RRWPC will submit a comment letter that will go into more detail and also include a letter from our attorney on legal issues identified in this case.)

Please send all signed letters to us, so we can keep track of those submitted. You can contact us at rrwpc@comcast.net if you have any questions about the letters, the comments, or the process.  If things seem confusing and backwards, the sequence set up by the State’s water rights permit process has required early submission of protests, even though their consideration of water diversion permit changes won’t take place until AFTER SCWA completes DEIR review.  They also made us go through this in 2010 when the project was first proposed, and then disqualified 2010 protests last year because the project had changed.  We don’t think this will happen again.

New Issue: Occidental Raw Sewage Trucking Project to Guerneville….Those of you on our email list recently got a notice about this project. Here’s the background.  Occidental has been out of compliance with their wastewater discharge permit off and on for over 20 years now.  They are about to run out of time on a Regional Board deadline, and will be forced to pay high penalties for not solving their problem if they don’t come up with a quick solution.  Because they have relatively few hookups, and most are used by downtown businesses, they have never been able to come up with an affordable project that is acceptable to the Regional Water Board and the community.  So now the Sonoma County Water Agency whose directors are the Sonoma County Supervisors have devised a very controversial approach.  There is a very sparse Initial Study (watered down environmental document out for comment).

The short version of the project description is that they want to truck 4 to 15 round trips carrying raw sewage (using 30’ trucks carrying about 4000 pounds or more) down Bohemian Hwy and then to Russian River County Sanitation District’s (RRCSD) Main Pump Station on Hwy 116 where it would be put in the pipe to cross the river to the treatment plant.  This would be a permanent situation five days a week all year long.  The Project’s Initial Study focuses on changes to the pump station area, located in a residential neighborhood, and needed to facilitate the project.  The document says little about the potential for spills into Dutch Bill Creek (Cars have run off the road at times and people injured.), the condition of the road and surrounding environs (landslides are common and the road feels like a roller coaster in some places), the dangers of sending so many trips down a hilly, curvy road that is in great need of many repairs, etc.  They also say almost nothing about the impacts to the Guerneville Plant and how they will deal with inadequate irrigation area in summer and whether Occidental would pay their fair share.  (In winter they will sometimes send sewage to Airport treatment plant and either use Occidental Road or Graton Rd. to get there.)  It is not clear what the triggers would be in place to designate switch from RRCSD to Airport and back again.

DEADLINE FOR COMMENTS IS AT 5 PM ON FEBRUARY 24, 2017.   Please request a complete environmental impact report.   Meeting will be held Thursday, Feb. 16th at Monte Rio Community Center at 6 pm.

Email addresses needed for better communication…We still encourage people to share their emails with us.  Approximately 50% of our supporters now receive information from us between mailers.  We will email RRWPC comment letters on project soon after comment period ends.  We will also put comments on our website where you can also access them, if not on our email list.  I understand that some of you don’t do email, but RRWPC can communicate by emails, website, and bi-monthly letters only.

RRWPC needs your continued support….RRWPC has been working on the low flow project with attorney Michael Lozeau (website: http://www.lozeaudrury.com/bio_michael-r-lozeau.html). He helped RRWPC challenge the Estuary Project in 2012 and has studied the low flow proposal.  Michael will write legal comments regarding whether the DEIR meets environmental legal requirements.  He has over 20-years’ experience and his fees are fair, but working with this lengthy and complex document has taken many hours so far, and more will be needed. We need extra funds to pay for his services. If you can afford to give generously, it would help, but all sized donations are appreciated.   We are a small group and must depend exclusively on mailers and emails for funds. PayPal is set up on our website at www.rrwpc.org for those who prefer that mode of contribution.

Donor List for last year included with this mailer….Normally RRWPD includes a list of donors for the prior year with our November mailer.  As we prepared the last mailer for the printer, we had computer problems that could not be resolved before mailer was scheduled to go out.  We now enclose that list with this mailer.  Please be aware that this list is for donations received between 11-1-15 and 10-30-16.  Many new donations have come in since Oct. 30th, and they will appear in the November, 2017 list.  We try to keep careful track of all donations.  If you ever find an error on our list, we would appreciate correction.  Computers do mysterious things sometimes.

The document slices the river into three parts, upper, lower, and Dry Creek. For us, the relevant sections involve impact analysis of lowering minimum streamflow during normal and dry rain years as measured at Hacienda.  The ONLY justification given for this recommendation is to accommodate the Estuary Project, which has been mostly unsuccessful for the last six years and of little help to the fish.  During critically dry drought periods, current law now allows flows to go as low as 35 cubic feet per second (cfs), and that will not change. In normal rain years, minimum flows will be reduced from 125 cfs to 70 cfs between May 15th and October 15th, although late spring natural tributary flows usually keep it over 125 cfs in May and June.  For moderate dry periods, summer flows will go from 85 cfs to 50 cfs, even though the Biological Opinion only requires reduction to 70 cfs. Permanently lowering minimum flows will cause unmitigated harm to the river environment, recreation, and the economy, and must not be allowed.

Toxic algae may proliferate with lower flows…..

Our most serious concern, and the one that will be most potentially damaging, is stated in the document itself, in plain words and in open view: EIR: Chapter 1- Page 1-20: Impact 4.2-4: “Changes to minimum instream flows could result in a violation of water quality standards of waste discharge requirements or otherwise degrade water quality relating to bio-stimulatory substances in the Russian River.”  There is no mitigation available for this impact, except for maintaining higher flows. (Bio-stimulatory substances are nutrients such as phosphorus, of which there is an abundance as documented by SCWA’s extensive monitoring of the area.)

There are many forms of algae in the river and most are not harmful to humans or pets.  (See the Sonoma County Department of Public Health website for more information: http://www.sonoma-county.org/health/services/bluegreen.asp) Algae is not good for aquatic life however, as it can lower necessary oxygen from the water, and also provide a home for many viral and bacterial pathogens. We don’t know how long toxic algae has been in the river, but samples taken at Monte Rio Beach in 2009 by Regional Board staff indicated it was present at low levels, and summer river conditions are likely to make it worse, especially in late summer.  (2009 was a drought year when flows were very low. Toxic algae was also present in late 2015 when two dogs died and in early 2016.)  The river already suffers from excessively high temperatures in June through September, and is bound to get worse with lowered flows.  Also samples taken by Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) indicate that excessive phosphorus is consistently present at all lower beaches, and the combination of low flows, phosphorus, and high temperatures are likely to exacerbate the spread of these toxins.

When no mitigation is available for a significant impact, Directors of the Water Agency (Supervisors) would need to make a finding before approving the EIR that provides overriding considerations to justify decision to allow degradation. In other words, in spite of the potential harm, and in spite of the potential violation of water law, the project could move forward. It would be hard to fathom (but not impossible) that decision makers would justify selection of a dubious project over legally mandated clean water requirements.

We don’t see how the State Water Board could approve a change in flows that is in violation of State Law.  After this EIR is certified by SCWA Directors, it must go to State Water Board for change in water law that allows lower flows.  We don’t see how they can approve a flow change that would be in violation of our Basin Plan, but it may be a big battle convincing them.