Russian River issues changing rapidly and becoming far more complex….
The fire, the drought, atmospheric rivers, a warming environment and sea level rise, along with strong motivations for expansive economic growth, are all conditions currently demanding dramatic changes in water policy. Similarly, a history of poor groundwater management, and problematic land use policies have created urgent situations that need to be addressed. This letter describes some of the forces at work.
Strong pressure for new housing….
• There is strong pressure for increased housing development in Sonoma County due to a dire housing shortage. More and more apartments are being built that will accommodate more people in smaller units. Water demand will greatly increase during summer, when far less water is available. Stringent conservation will be critical and stricter regulations on water use will become the norm.
Beyond this, some County Supervisors have informally expressed a desire to build 30,000 new housing units over the next ten years. We are concerned about the changes to quality of life if that occurs and how it will affect the economy, traffic, water and wastewater utilities, air quality, the natural environment, etc.
Potential loss of Potter Valley Project would diminish supply….
• The potential for increased water demand will come at a time when Russian River summer flows may diminish significantly if PG&E sells the Potter Valley Project that diverts flows from the Eel River into the Russian, as they recently announced their search for potential buyers. As their power generation license must be renewed by 2022, and there are extensive scientific studies that must be done beforehand, and because Humboldt County recently announced they would prefer to decommission the dam and return flows to the Eel River, Lake Mendocino’s supply could become very uncertain.
Cities in southern Mendocino and northern Sonoma County are concerned about significant potential water loss, although they may not have the funding to do much about it. (SCWA would potentially be able to raise the funds, but we were told privately that they are not interested. It was also suggested that PG&E may not REALLY want to sell it, but may merely be flushing out reactions of potential buyers to their offer.)
This is an extremely complicated issue that involves four counties, Native American groups, PG&E (owner), and Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC) and is of high interest to fishery groups and other agencies. RRWPC has not been involved, but we track important developments by attending Eel-Russian River Commission meetings in Ukiah and Santa Rosa.
Potential project to raise Coyote Dam getting serious consideration….
• One possible solution to this flow loss scenario may be raising Coyote Dam 36’. This would increase capacity by 25 billion gallons at a cost of about $320 million. (Feasibility study alone would cost over $5 million.) The high cost would cover fully addressing seismic issues and dam safety, but could solve water supply issues for the 75 miles between Redwood Valley and Healdsburg. However, it could take as long as 20 years to build and costs could escalate.
While it’s only a first step, Congressman Huffman recently arranged for the potential project to be listed as a prioritized future project on the Army Corps list. (as yet no funding promised however) RRWPC has never been able to discover whether dam releases make it to the lower Russian in summer, but it’s probably safe to assume that very little of the water makes it to our area, especially during low flows and high temps . We rely on natural flows and Lake Sonoma releases.
Greatly expanded wastewater reuse….
• There is great motivation to reuse more and more treated wastewater to offset potable water use. It must be carefully monitored however, to assure wastewater is applied agronomically (limited to what plant can consume). Wastewater is not intended to reach groundwater or surface water; it’s not supposed to pond on the surface or run off into waterways.
Tertiary wastewater does not remove all toxins, and many toxins are inadequately regulated. We have witnessed and photographed extensive landscape irrigation in urban areas that allows wastewater runoff into impaired streams, often carrying applied pesticides and herbicides with it. (It troubles us greatly this often occurs in parks and school settings where children come in contact.) A recent State study commissioned by the Regional Board, indicated that some of these toxins may be ending up in fish tissue, which could be a result of over-irrigated wastewater that runs off into waterway. Scientists gave assurance that it was safe to eat the fish but failed to determine whether it affects fish health.
New groundwater regulations may affect surface water supplies….
• For the last four years, new state law entitled Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) has developed in Sonoma County. Agencies identified 14 groundwater basins and sub-basins, three of which were at risk and considered high priority. A formal administrative process was established with the appointment of decision makers, technical advisors and community leaders and reports were written about the status of the basin, implementation time lines, and development of a groundwater sustainability plan. At this time, there is no effort to actually regulate groundwater use; no monitoring of water levels or water use is required. Supposedly this will work with voluntary compliance.
Part of the groundwater management plan is to utilize winter surface waters to recharge groundwater. This may work during very wet years, but could cause unintended environmental consequences to surface waters during years when rainfall is modest. Furthermore, storage in aquifers could be risky, since numerous natural toxins (such as mercury) could be in the soils. While limited controls on groundwater use would be better than nothing, nevertheless, more vigorous controls will probably be necessary. (Agricultural use of groundwater will not be limited under current proposals.)
One of our major concerns about this effort is that there will be no consideration of potential impacts to the Russian River downstream of the Laguna, either from winter surface water drawdown, loss of rainwater roof collection, retention basins, and other means that change the natural drainage. We have no problem of rehydrating the Laguna if it is done in such a way that downstream impacts are carefully considered. Further, we wonder if the addition of surplus water to Laguna aquifers could impact flooding downstream? (In winter, the Laguna serves as a sink to hold lower river flood waters.)
Laguna impairments get lower priority….
• While the Laguna de Santa Rosa is impaired for about seven substances under the Clean Water Act, (phosphorus, nitrogen, dissolved oxygen, mercury, temperature, sediments, and bacteria plus one or two others) Regional Board has indicated that they may only regulate phosphorus. The Clean Water Act requires that the regulatory agency determine Total Maximum Daily Loads for those entities contributing specific pollutants causing impairment, and to what degree, and then individual contributors would become responsible for off-setting or eliminating their ‘load’. Yet regulators are now claiming that it may be impossible to determine this for several constituents. A phosphorus trading program is being established, while other impairments may be addressed through environmental project programs that provide incentives for polluters to address impairment issues. We doubt that this would be adequate.
Update on Fish Flow (low flow) Project……
• This is strictly conjecture on our part, but it’s looking possible that permanent lowering of flows won’t happen anytime soon. In a few years, fishery agencies will begin work on a new and revised Biological Opinion. The Estuary Project as originally conceived has pretty much been a flop. We don’t think they have totally given up the concept of a fresh water lagoon (Estuary Project), but it would be impractical to permanently lower flows before revising the document.
An Army Corps official told us privately that it was a mistake to exclude the tributaries when planning habitat improvements for the listed salmonid fish. We could be wrong about our belief that the State won’t approve a permanent low flow designation, but it would make sense that they not. The State wants an EIR that incorporates ‘adaptive management’ but apparently, the agencies involved can’t agree on what that means. The Water Agency can’t address the issue adequately in a revised EIR until there is agreement as to what it should include and that is complicated.
Update on New Septic Regulations….
• About 25 property owners spoke at the Board of Supervisors’ Hearing on May 22, 2018. Most were opposing the new septic regulations as proposed and expressed concern about what they considered overly restrictive new requirements, such as requiring a soils engineer to design dispersal systems. The lack of consideration for the ability of severely constrained lots to comply was also a great worry. People questioned why no plans were coming forth to address other sources of pathogens such as homeless encampments and big holiday events attended by hundreds of people. Attendees questioned why the State is holding off on authorizing the Pathogen TMDL and yet requiring immediate approval of the LAMP. The meeting’s outcome was that the Supervisors agreed to request a six-month reprieve from the State. They did so and it was fairly rapidly granted.
In the meantime, the Citizens Advisory Group (CAG) had its first meeting. Most of the time was spent on introductions, discussion of future meetings, citizen input, role of Sweetwater Springs Water District manager who was in attendance, and general views of each member regarding some of the issues.
State Parks presentation: Tour new lifeguard tower at Goat Rock State Beach…
• On Saturday, July 7th, at 10:30 AM, State Parks lifeguards will speak about the new tower at the Jenner Beach. We urge all our friends and supporters to attend. This is the first such tower in northern California and help save lives in a very dangerous area. RRWPC’s legal settlement provided $15,000 of their $40,000 settlement towards the tower. (Remaining settlement covered trail repair at Salmon Creek, Seal Protection signs at Jenner, safety signs at North Salmon Creek, and administrative costs for program management.) Event will be held at North Jenner Beach. Park in the north parking lot and walk to the beach. The tower should be visible as soon as you go over the dune at north end of parking lot.
Meeting on Russian River County Sanitation District Laterals….
• Sonoma County Water Agency will hold important meeting concerning Russian River and Occidental Sewer Districts’ new Ordinance to be proposed for private property sewer laterals. Community meeting to be held on June 26, 2018, from 6:30 to 8:00 PM at the Monte Rio Community Center. This meeting will explain need for an ordinance aimed at preventing sewer overflows that occur during heavy rains. Brochure states:
“The ordinance would provide the Water Agency the ability to inspect, and if necessary, require the repair of sewer laterals that are failing and contributing to pollution and sewer overflows. The proposed ordinance would not include mandatory inspections or repairs at this time, but would allow the Water Agency to require repairs if faulty laterals are detected during their own scheduled inspections. The ordinance is proposed in five Sonoma County sanitation zones and districts managed by the Water Agency.”
“The proposed ordinance is intended to reduce “inflow and infiltration,” the process through which storm water enters the sewer collection system during storms. During a heavy rain, storm water from cracked or improperly connected private laterals can overwhelm the sanitary system, resulting in sewer overflows. These overflows pollute creeks, and can damage private property and result in fines to the zone or district.” (For more information contact: Ann Dubay at: Ann.DuBay@scwa.ca.gov Also contact Ann concerning other meetings for Sea Ranch, Geyserville, & Airport-Wikiup-Larkfield)
More on Russian River County Sanitation District (RRCSD).…
• An announcement recently went out from Water Agency about their plan to raise funds for two RRCSD projects. These are: Headworks and Life Stations Assessment and Improvement Project and The Force Main System Assessment and Improvement Project. “These projects will prioritize efforts to avoid pipeline failures and sewage spills, which endanger the health and safety of the public and environment in surrounding areas.” As part of the funding application process, and to qualify for grants, there will be a confidential Household Survey conducted by an outside agency to determine community’s average income to qualify for best funding.
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