RRWPC Newsletter, November 2018

RRWPC is beginning to see positive institutional changes involving the Russian River. Several projects had been in the works for quite a while, and since the fire seem to be turning in a better direction. The fire was a wakeup call forcing local agencies to deal with environmental devastation on a massive scale that taught hard lessons about the fragility and the resiliency of the natural environment. That experience seems to be informing their programs in a positive way.

Fish Flow Project EIR update…..The Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) released the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Fish Flow (‘Low Flow’) Project in August, 2016.  Comments were due

on March 10, 2017. While the Water Agency had been working behind the scenes on their responses to comments since then, finalization of the response to comments was being held up by questions regarding the 77-page comment letter submitted by the State and Regional Boards.  It took a while for SCWA to get together with State Board staff (along with other agency personnel) to obtain clarification on many of the State’s comments and requests for more studies.

That has finally occurred, and Agency staff recently reported to a meeting of water contractors that major revisions of the EIR, including a new project description are being considered, and will likely require recirculation of the document.  Recirculation indicates that major revisions to some sections are necessary and would need to be subjected to public review, including the acceptance of new comments, and we guess at least one additional public hearing before final certification of the EIR can be given.  SCWA will announce their decision early next year but the fact that they even brought it up at a formal meeting probably means it is likely to occur.

Permanent lowering of minimum river flows in the lower river were only recommended to serve the Estuary Project, which has had a total lack of success over the last ten years.  In our view, the Estuary Project can NOT serve as a rationale for permanent low flow changes in the lower river.

Russian River Regional Monitoring Project (R3MP) Summary:

(Regional Board Staff explanation of current limitations of their monitoring requirements)

The current monitoring of water and habitat in the Russian River watershed is focused on individual management and regulatory actions that cannot always be compared to each other, or over time, due to inadequate standardization of monitoring methods and inadequate access to monitoring data.  The net cumulative effect of these actions (monitoring) on overall watershed health is therefore unknown…..

The scope of this project is to establish a governance structure and founding organizational elements for the R3MP.  The purpose of the R3MP is to help assure that….environmental monitoring conducted…..is adequately standardized, coordinated, and accessible to cost-effectively answer watershed management questions shared by the agencies most responsible for watershed health.”

RRWPC took part in some recent meetings on this topic and we are very hopeful that it will ultimately bring positive change to inadequate monitoring protocols, which often don’t provide needed information about important water quality issues.  The resulting conversation among knowledgeable experts regarding the definition of a healthy river has been profound, and varied according to the perspective and interest of the person speaking.  RRWPC asked that toxics be one of the categories considered, and later learned that none of the experts in the room had included the topic when the list was first developed.  It is now on the list.

RRWPC recently uncovered a document put together by the late Kathy Wyrick for the PUC and in opposition to Citizens Utilities. (2-15-84)  One attachment was entitled Development of a Toxic and Hazardous Substances Control Program for the Russian River. (Regional Water Quality Control Board 6-30-83) On page 7 it states, “The threat of “toxic substance” discharges into the Russian River water is of immense concern to the residents of Mendocino and Sonoma County. (Numerous agencies, businesses, individuals, etc.) who withdraw water from the river have publicly requested the Regional Board to take positive action to prevent the discharge of all hazardous and toxic substances….” But, over the years, a relatively small number of toxic substances have been monitored, usually infrequently, and that agency has failed to seriously address the problem, but for a special study completed last year on Constituents of Emerging Concern (CEC’s).  CEC’s are currently being studied by the State, but it requires a great effort, since the number of dangerous toxins in our environment have greatly increased over the intervening years.  We will continue to press them on this issue.

Regional Board Pathogen TMDL:

For several years, Regional Board has had several scheduling setbacks regarding new pathogen regulations and associated new regulations on septic systems.  RRWPC has been keeping supporters informed on meetings regarding this issue.  If you are not on list, please inform us of your email address and we will add you on.  We are supportive of this scheduling change.

On August 7, 2018, the State Water Resources Control Board adopted new statewide water quality objectives for bacteria for the protection of Water Contact Recreation (REC-1), including implementation options….The new water quality objectives establish Escherichia coli (E. coli) as the indicator of pathogens in freshwater and Enterococci as the indicator for estuarine waters and ocean waters and reflect a risk protection level of 32 illnesses per 1,000 recreators.”

With these new standards in mind, the Regional Water Board has decided to postpone the date of the public hearing to consider adoption of the Russian River Watershed Pathogen TMDL to Spring 2019 so that staff can reassess the extent of the pathogen impairment in the Russian River watershed considering the new statewide E. coli and Enterococci standards, which will replace the fecal coliform bacteria standards currently set forth in the North Coast Region’s Basin Plan. Whatever the results of this re-assessment, Regional Water Board staff will recommend that at a minimum, the Regional Water Board adopt and incorporate into the Basin Plan a program of implementation to address known pathogen impairments and/or pathogen pollution in the Russian River and its tributaries, including provisions to correct pollution from cesspools and failing septic systems.”  (quote from Regional Board staff announcement on scheduling change)

We believe that the basis for this extension relates to the lack of summer E. coli exceedances in the lower river.  We agree that other evidence has been developed and that cesspools should eventually be eliminated, but a more thorough analysis considering all factors is called for.

RRWPC thanks our supporters this holiday season….This is the time when we thank all who have supported us this past year, including our Board of Directors (Brenda Adelman, Nichae Blume, Dave Blanchard, Dennis O’Leary, and Sherrie Althouse), numerous mailer volunteers, including Wayne Gibb, John Uniack, Lisa Vasse, Jean Marquardt, Dale Jenkins, Cynthia Strecker, and all who contributed funds to sustain our efforts between Nov. 1, 2017 and Oct. 31, 2018. (see donor list). We also thank Russian River Senior Center for allowing us to use their space to assemble our mailers.  We thank Mary Anne Sobieraj for website upkeep, Dennis O’Leary for serving as Secretary and Sherrie Althouse for serving as treasurer over many years. Mark Wiley and Dave Blanchard helped with computer problems.

Please join our action email list!

Those who already shared their email addresses with RRWPC are participating in our action list and receive important announcements on issues coming up between mailers, such as sending letters of support when time is short.  We do not share email address lists and use them exclusively for important announcements and calls to action.  If you want to take part, please put email address on a donor card, or just send email to rrwpc@comcast.net asking to be on list.

RRWPC needs your support!

RRWPC needs your continued support to sustain our river protection work. For those who have not yet donated this year, we appreciate any sized donation annually so that we know you remain interested in receiving our mailers and supporting our work.  RRWPC relies exclusively on six mailers a year for our entire fiscal support.  Those who have not responded for over two years will be removed from our list at the start of 2019 (see date on mailer envelope). Contact us at rrwpc@comcast.net for further information.  Thank you and have a wonderful holiday season!