RRWPC Newsletter, March 2019

Sixth biggest flood for Russian River…February’s flood this year was at least 3’ lower than the highest ever recorded in February, 1986, yet the devastation seems as great.  Viewing Rio Nido Road from the Fire House around the time of peak flows, it appeared inundated to nearly the same level as the 1986 flood (almost 49’), about 20’ from the structure.  The river hit 45.4’ on Wednesday night (Feb. 27th) and an estimated 2000 buildings flooded. Nearby streets were approximately 5’ to 7’ deep during the flood.   About 3500 people had been told to evacuate.

Guerneville’s Post Office got tagged by building inspectors, forcing Guerneville and Rio Nido box holders to drive to Occidental to get their mail (excluding those with regular delivery)  Mail distribution will move to the Guerneville parking lot March 12th, where it will be distributed until building repairs are complete.  We send our very best wishes to those of you with big cleanups, relocations, and/or reconstructions ahead.

Russian River County Sanitation District Sewage Overflow…..RRWPC has tracked problems with this system since its inception in 1978.  While the system has had many upgrades and is in much better condition than it was originally, and under most conditions seems to function well, nevertheless it was not built to process all flows when the river exceeds 40’, and it is getting old.  When houses get inundated in the flood plain, if their system is not closed off, flood waters can enter the system.  Sometimes there is too much water in the pipes from infiltration and inflow and the pressure builds and blows the lids.  Conditions can be much worse at the Vacation Beach pump station, about one mile east of the Treatment Plant, where flows from the river’s north side of Guerneville come from across the river and meet up with some (all?) flows from the Neeley Road and Drake Road areas. It’s an area that has had major spills in the past.    A supporter wrote this recently:

I live a few houses down from the (Vacation Beach) pump station. The sewer manhole on the street started pouring out raw sewage on Tuesday afternoon before it flooded and it did not stop until sometime Saturday, after the flood waters receded.  There was a lot of raw sewage flowing and they set up cones and diverted it to our neighbors drain pipe which goes into my neighbors back yards. My neighbor’s home is directly across the street from the pump; he got sewage in his garage and inside his home. It was very oily and sludge-like and smelled like feces. It seems like every time the river rises in the past few years, we get raw sewage overflowing on our street. The rain is helping clean it off, but I’m upset they have not bothered to at least come clean  our street. This sludge is all over our cars, shoes etc.  I am feeling fed up and want to know what I can do about it. 

RRWPC has been helping to check into this and will give an update in our May mailer.

Santa Rosa also experienced high flow levels….As you may know, the Laguna de Santa Rosa provides space for the Russian River to reside during floods.  The water backs up into the lowlands and predominantly following the Laguna, forms large lakes from River Road to Stony Point and sometimes beyond.  Recently, local roads around the Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant facility become unpassable and treatment plant operators faced challenges getting to work.

Santa Rosa claims to have had the largest flows ever into the Treatment Plant; up to 105 million gallons resulting from a record breaking 5.66” of rain in one day alone in late February.  The City ended up storing a portion of the sewage in ponds, waiting to be fully treated later.  Over several days, they discharged 250 million gallons (mg) of treated wastewater to the Laguna and Colgan Creek, tributaries to the Russian River.  While we understand that they performed pretty well under dire circumstances, RRWPC has a few questions.  We wonder what kind of shape their pipes are in?  How much infiltration and inflow occurred? Were there any sanitary sewer overflows? (In other words, has their maintenance been adequate?)  They claimed they discharged 250 mg, but didn’t really account for Laguna flooding.  Where did the discharge go?  Did any of it end up exacerbating downstream flooding? (Maybe they need more storage.)  We do know that in 2006 the Treatment Plant flooded for the first time.  It didn’t seem to happen this time, but it wasn’t clear how close it came.

Normally a significant portion of their wastewater goes to the Geysers.  It sounded like none went this time.  Why not?  They are legally allowed to make river discharges when necessary and as a last resort, but they couldn’t do any monitoring, so we really don’t know what they discharged.  How can they make sure this doesn’t happen again under similar circumstances?  Finally, the Regional System’s discharges have grown from 17 million gallons a day (mgd) to 19 mgd, even though they lost 5% of their housing stock.  We have seen a huge amount of development in the city over the last two years and we’re concerned they will go back to river discharges.  We will pay attention to future reports and meetings and keep you informed.

Regional Board’s approval of pathogen TMDL coming up in mid-April….This is an issue we have been tracking closely for a long time.  While the County and State is talking about studying many different sanitation treatment options, all indications is that their intention is to hook Monte Rio and Villa Grande up to Russian River County Sanitation District (RRCSD).  Given that the system has some serious inadequacies (see item on spills) including the need for much more storage and irrigation land, we would possibly be trading small, local septic system exceedances, for large discharges that may be inadequately treated,  going directly into the river (during winter).  While the costs would be spread among more people, centralized sewer system upgrades could also be very expensive.

We have pushed the agencies to find funding to help people, but it appears that funding sources may only want to fund large central sewer systems.   We will help keep you informed, but if you will be affected by this, we strongly recommend you educate yourself about what is happening and what your options will be.  The TMDL meeting has been pushed back to August, but other notices may need to be sent, and we can only inform those who have given us their email addresses.  If you want to get notices between mailers, please send your address on the enclosed card.  If you already get emails from us, you are on our list now.

Brenda receives ‘2018 Water Quality Stewardship Award’ from Regional Board staff…I was honored to receive this award from the Executive Officer at the Regional Board meeting last February 20th.   I highly respect this Agency and their staff (though I do challenge them occasionally).  Their Board is the finest in the 40 years I have been involved.  You can read an article about my work written by Carol Benfell in the Sonoma County Gazette (March issue: www.sonomacountygazette.com )  Included is a picture of me, my award and my two sons taken by my friend, Norma Jellison).

The Board has new video equipment and you can view the short item as follows: meeting is archived at:

http://cal-span.org/static/meetings-RWQCB-NC.php   Click on link.  Then click on video icon in box labeled February 20, 2019.  Then you will see a video square encircled by a black rim.  On the bottom rim there is a turquoise dot on a bar.  The dot represents the start of the meeting.  If you move dot to the right, a little box pops up showing the time.  Slide the bar to 46:00 and you will see the start of the item where they give me the award. (Speaker giving the award is Matt St. John, executive officer of the Board)   I then speak for a few minutes after the award is given.  The item is ten minutes long.

RRWPC needs your continuing support!  RRWPC counts on your continued support to sustain our river protection work. Some of you have not donated for a while.  We would love to hear from you so that we know you continue to be interested in receiving our mailers and supporting our work.  Any sized donation is appreciated. We rely on six mailers a year for our entire fiscal support. Also, we encourage you who have not shared email addresses to sign up if you don’t want to miss important messages we send out in between mailers as important meetings come up.