SCWA Separates Low Flow and Estuary Projects for EIR
by Brenda Adelman
Low Flow Back Again….
Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma are the fullest they have been in years and everyone is sighing relief at the expectation of having normal water supplies this year. Folks are grateful that this will be a summer when gardens can be watered without guilt. But sorry, the lower river is expected to get low flow again anyway!
This article is being written as the Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) waits to hear from the State Water Board about their Temporary Emergency Petition to lower flows between May 1 and October 15, 2010. The Biological Opinion (BO) required filing the Petition. In fact, the BO requires that they file for a temporary petition every year until the permanent change to Decision 1610 is approved, which may be seven or more years from now. SCWA had filed “emergency” petitions in 2002, 2004, 2007, and 2009.
Very Important Meeting…
Expecting to hear soon, the Water Agency scheduled a very important meeting in Guerneville on June 9th (Wednesday) at 6:30 pm at Odd Fellows Hall, just up the street from the Vets Building. SCWA will explain to the community the necessity for the temporary, but annual, low flow petition, which encourages flows to stay around 70 cubic feet per second (cfs) but will vary as high as 85 cfs. They hovered around 70 cfs most of last summer.
The intent is to allow the mouth of the Russian River to remain closed all summer while not flooding any properties in Jenner. The Agency anticipates that a closed lagoon will create conditions that will nurture threatened juvenile steelhead.
Because of the “emergency” status, there is no requirement for environmental review or examination of environmental impacts. In fact, the Emergency Petition boldly asserts that low flows will occur, “…without injury to any lawful user of water”, and, “…..without unreasonable effect upon fish, wildlife, and other instream beneficial uses.”
In other words, they claim that increased bioaccumulation of toxins in the low and slow moving river will not cause any harm; all of the nutrients and pathogens will not proliferate in heated waters, no recreationists and/or their children and pets will get sick or harmed as a result, and no significant impact on either water quality or public health will occur.
Unintended consequences of low flow….
Last year, many canoeists complained of fixed and floating, black and green and blue-green algae pervasive in the river last summer. (RRWPC has many pictures of this algae.) Large outcroppings of invasive Ludwigia were widely evident. We heard numerous reports of people and pets getting ill from playing in the river and have concerns that this is not being adequately considered in this process.
According to Regional Board staff, nutrient monitoring conducted by SCWA last summer was substantially inadequate due to excessive detection limits, that the Regional Board is gearing up to study nutrients in the Laguna and river, set numerical standards, seek a 303(d) listing under the Clean Water Act, and eventually change the Basin Plan to address the new standards.
Recent Estuary Project Meeting in Jenner
A recent Water Agency meeting in Jenner was promoted as an opportunity to learn about the Estuary Project and also serve as an environmental impact scoping meeting. Scoping meetings are meant to provide an opportunity for the public to express their concerns about the project and have their questions recorded by the lead Agency for later response. There is no requirement that the lead Agency hold a scoping meeting, but certainly if one occurs, there should be a record of the questions asked. While the Agency asked people to write questions on cards, there was no recording of their verbal comments. Furthermore, they had displays set up around the room and they expected people to walk around to various booths and talk to staff about the project. We learned that here would be no recording of their questions or comments while at these booths. Many citizens who attended this meeting described it as a “dog and pony” show.
At that meeting we learned that impacts resulting from mouth closure and the low flows required to facilitate it, would be considered in separate environmental documents, even though lower flows were essential for the project to occur. This is illegal according to our understanding of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The Agencies explained that the permanent change to Decision 1610 that governs river flows will take too long and therefore they have to consider the EIR for the permanent change separately. This may be more convenient for them, but not the way things are supposed to be done.
For the record, Russian River Watershed Protection Committee (RRWPC) recently sent out a mailer where we stated that the lower river was the ONLY section to get a decrease in stream flow. At the meeting, it was mentioned that the upper part of the river would be reduced from 185 cfs and 150 cfs to 125 cfs and not remain the same as we had stated. Nevertheless, we believe that 125 cfs flow does far less damage to water quality and recreation than the 70 cfs we will probably experience. These cuts represent a 32% and 17% cut for the upper river, and about a 45% cut for the lower.
Letters on Gazette Website to send to Agencies…
RRWPC has developed new letters bout this send to State Water Board and Water Agency that you can find on the Gazette’s web site (www.sonomacountygazette.com). Please download, sign, and send in as addressed on the letter. It would be very helpful if you could write your personal river stories on the back.