Email Update on RRWPC issues, January 1, 2018

RRWPC wishes you a very happy, healthy, and prosperous new year.  We appreciate your loyal support and believe the river would be in far worse shape without our strong advocacy and your help.  There is much work to be done however, and the major fire last October greatly complicated things.  Here’s a brief report on where things stand from our perspective and the projected direction of our work in 2018.

Fish Flow Project….
The environmental comment period ended March 10, 2017.  At first, we were told that responses to comments (next step in process) would be released by the end of the year.  For the last several months we were told they would not be ready by then and no schedule was being anticipated.  In the meantime, we found out that some Supervisors and Agency folk were concerned that the Biological Opinion had not considered the tributaries in their analysis of low flow impacts in the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) and that was a major fallacy.  This was also one of numerous concerns expressed in the 77 pages of comments by the State Water Board (responsible for determining and approving flow changes) and the Regional Water Quality Control Board.

We heard a rumor that the document is on hold, but we don’t know exactly what that means. It could just be a temporary delay.   In any case, the State has said that once Supervisors approve the DEIR, if they do, it would be years of further comments, meetings, hearings, etc. before the State would approve.  In the meantime, the feds have been cutting off funds, or simply not approving them, for many environmental projects, and it is likely that further funding will also become a major issue.  The fire has set things back as well, since many or most staff were called on to drop what they were doing, and work on recovery (see below).  The County has also lost funding because of decreased property tax revenue and the feds are not helping much with disaster recovery in California.  We are tracking this carefully and will periodically send updated information.

Bacteria/Pathogen TMDL…This project, along with the Laguna TMDL, have been put on hold also.  The story is similar to the one above.  We were told that it will be revived next May or July (2018) and brought back for Board approval.  RRWPC and other groups and individuals have written extensive comments on this project.  It will implement new septic system requirements for properties close to impaired water bodies (river and tributaries).  Most of Monte Rio and Camp Meeker would be affected.  RRWPC requested assurance that no one would lose their homes because of new rules and that funding be obtained to help low income people attain new requirements.  We do support taking action, however, especially with those properties in close proximity to impaired waterbodies.  We will continue to track this issue as well and keep you informed.

California Water Plan: Russian River…RRWPC was invited to take part in the State’s Water Plan Process for 2018 that has targeted the Russian River.  We have attended two half day meetings and will comment on the final written report.  Other participants included agency representatives, consultants, nonprofit environmental groups, Supervisors and other government representatives (several participants from the Regional Board), etc.  We were honored to be included in the process.


The Tubbs Fire…The Tubbs Fire had the biggest impact on the lower Russian River and did the most damage in Northeast Sonoma County (including Santa Rosa).  Approximately 5300 houses were lost mostly in the Coffey Park, Mark West Creek, and Fountaingrove areas.  The fire burned hot and moved very fast.  Many trees were burned at the bottom but the tops are still green; it is possible they will survive.  Our fingers are crossed.  The heat of the fire (or lack of it) determines whether soils get damaged and how vegetation burns.

The Coffey Park area almost looks like an eerie moonscape with only chimneys, burned cars, and appliance shells surviving.  The ground is covered with toxic ash.  (Most people don’t realize how many toxins are used in all our telephones, recorders, computers, copiers, etc. that winds up in that ash.)  EPA cleared out most of the dangerous debris such as batteries, gas tanks, and things that could ignite and/or explode.  Army Corps also helped clear large debris such as cars, large appliances, etc.  At some point, private contractors were hired under a government contract and I believe using federal FEMA funds.  We understand they are paid $100,000 for each property clearance.  We assume that also includes disposal costs.

We have heard that large dump trucks can wait in line at the Sonoma County waste facility for up to a day, waiting to dump their load.  The County recently opened two new cells at the site for future disposal, and now it looks like all the fire debris may use up those two cells and more may be needed.  According to reports, only about 25% of the non-toxic debris has even been cleared.  What is left has to be stored either on site or in containers.  This whole process is becoming a difficult problem because people want to get on with their rebuilds, and can’t do anything before everything is completely cleared and permits are issued.

There has been a great deal of work by Santa Rosa staff, clean water volunteers, Regional Board staff, and many others to protect creeks and the river with placement of waddles and other devices to stop toxins from getting into waterways.  We have heard reports that it seems to be working so far, (toxins are blocked) but this is a process that needs to be managed for the next year or two.  Some experts say that the danger isn’t over where debris flows, landslides, and erosion are concerned.  It’s the sediments that often carry the toxins into the streams.  We will keep you informed about all this as time goes on.  In the meantime, the lack of heavy rain is a big help.  Here is a link for extensive information on the Tubbs fire.

RRWPC has been taking part in a series of meetings of experts, agency personnel, etc. to develop a report for Supervisors on long and short term plans for fire recovery.  There’s been a draft written with many of the County’s environmental experts involved (apart from what is noted above).  We attended a few meetings but most of the work needs to be on the land rather than directly on the waterways, so our expertise is limited.    It has been interesting however, and there is so much to know about what fire does to the landscape and plant life.  We never realized how complex it is.

Recycled Water Plans…The State has been moving forward on wastewater and storm water reuse.  RRWPC’s concern has been the lack of monitoring and regulating over 83,000 of the 84,000 chemicals on the market.  Traces of toxins have been found in food and drinking water.  There are links between human and animal health problems and even minute exposures to endocrine disrupting chemicals.  (About 1400 chemicals have been identified as endocrine disrupting or affecting our hormonal system, but it is suspected that many more will be found.)  These chemicals have been implicated in cancer, heart disease, reproductive anomalies, low sperm counts, Parkinson’s, autism, obesity, and diabetes, and more.  It is known that very low dose exposures (down to parts per trillion for some) can trigger these problems, especially for fetuses. (see information below)

RRWPC has written extensive comments on this problem which you can find on our website under Recycled Water 

We also include here links to some other information on this very important topic:
Almost every human being is now contaminated in a worldwide flood of industrial chemicals and pollutants – most of which have never been tested for safety – a leading scientific journal has warned.


Over the years, public health protection has stagnated – despite mounting scientific evidence that many chemicals are damaging whole classes of organisms, say report editors Liza Gross and Linda Birnbaum.


“We still have safety data on just a fraction of the 85,000-plus chemicals now approved for use in commerce. We know from field, wildlife, and epidemiology studies that exposures to environmental chemicals are ubiquitous,” the researchers say. (European estimates put the number of proposed new chemicals worldwide at over 145,000.)


The report underlines a recent finding by The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health which concluded nine million deaths (or 16% of the total) every year worldwide are due to diseases caused by the human chemical environment – 15 times the number killed in wars.


Dr. Pete Myers talking about the history of endocrine disruption science. Environmental Health News’ founder and chief scientist Pete Myers has been working on endocrine disruption issues for more than two decades.   Myers is featured on a new episode of the Science History Podcast talking about how the field of endocrine disruption came to be and why he’s devoted so much time and effort to science communication.

RRWPC continues to track all these issues and will keep you informed.  Please feel free to respond with questions or comments.