RRWPC Newsletter, April 2020: What’s Coming Next

It feels like almost an ice age ago since RRWPC last communicated via email. We are currently a month late in getting RRWPC’s second mailer out for the year and it’s looking like it will be another month or two before we can catch up. But we know you understand since it is likely that, like us, you have been consumed by the Coronavirus situation with its many impacts to family, fiscal affairs, work responsibilities, housing matters, health concerns and health insurance, shelter in place, mask creation and designs (N-95 or bandanas?), constant hand washing, six foot separations, diving stock market crashes, meteoric advances and new crashes again, impeachments, elections, and more.

Meetings and appointments have been canceled left and right and we are learning new ways of communicating while staying in place. Unheard of a very short time ago, we are now learning to use Zoom, a tool for having virtual meetings while everyone sits in their houses. On TVs and smart phones, we see heroes and scoundrels on a daily basis. When the whirlwind finally stops, nothing will be the same as when it started.

I turned 80 last year. It was a year that began with two knee collapses a week apart. Later in the year, I spent that birthday in the hospital having my left knee replaced; it was my fourth joint replacement. In early 2020, arthritis moved to my arms and shoulders and I wondered if the universe was playing some kind of joke? The saying ‘getting old is not for sissies’ has become my mantra!

More recently, because of a tiny virus that no one could see, the YMCA closed, Armstrong Woods’s parking lot was barricaded (favorite exercise places); therapeutic massage, physical therapy, and eye appointments were cancelled because of the viral risk. (And new eyeglasses will have to wait; hopefully the new prescription, good for one year, isn’t voided by the time I get to purchase them.) I wager that each of you reading this has your personal version of this basic story.

We hope you have all avoided tragedy and find the resiliency to meet this challenge of our times. After all, we get to live in paradise and feel gratitude for the many blessings we share. For us, this is expressed through the river protection work to which we have dedicated ourselves since 1979, and will continue as long as we are able, hopefully for many more years. While we have had to cut back on some of our organizing work, we continue to track regulatory activities on dedicated issues that impact the lower river community and we aim to keep you informed. A brief review of where things stand follows.

Russian River County Sanitation District (RRCSD) issues:
• Over 1 Million Gallons of raw sewage spilled during February, 2019 floods and illegal discharge of treated wastewater occurred after May 15th cutoff for such discharges. Raw sewage discharges into the River are illegal all the time. RRWPC’s goal has been to push authorities to study the causes and begin the process of correcting the situation. While at first they seemed to ignore our pleas, we eventually learned the following:
o Managers of RRCSD, the Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA), at the request of the Regional Board has begun the process to hire a consultant to assess the needs of the pump stations, force mains, and other aging infrastructure that may require repair or replacement. (Repeated failures during major floods make this a high priority now.) Because of the potential for significant cost to the District, great care is being taken to develop a work plan. RRWPC will continue to track the progress of an anticipated report due by the end of the year and will keep you informed. Our major concern is that there don’t seem to have any district funds set aside to actually do the work.

• Prop 218 notice on fee hikes for RRCSD
o For those of you who are ratepayers in the sewer district, you should have received a Proposition 218 Notice a few weeks ago giving information on the system and the new rates that will appear on your property tax bill ($1,706) that comes out next October. Because expensive repairs are anticipated in the not too distant future, we recommend that you state any concerns you have on the form they provide. Annual fee hikes generally increase by about 5% each year. The hearing for this year’s increase will take place on May 19, 2020 sometime after 8:30 AM at Board of Supervisor’s meeting room at 575 Administration Dr. in Santa Rosa.
o About 1300+ protests would be needed (one for each parcel owned) in order to override the fee. (If you owned 5 parcels in the District, you would probably get 5 notices and have 5 votes on whether to approve fee increase or not.) While we would encourage people to protest, based on past experience most people don’t sign the form. Those who do NOT sign are seen to be in support of the fee increase. If you do protest, please feel free to include questions when submitting form. (Return address to Water Agency is on form.)
o There will be a tour of the Treatment Plant on Saturday, May 30, 2020 at 10:00 AM. Register online at www.sonomawater.org/tours if you want to take part.

• Bacteria TMDL and CAG Update:
o Last November the North Coast Regional Board approved new regulations that would prohibit the release of fecal matter into waterways. They also required that special attention be paid to septic systems located within 600’ of an impaired waterway. What follows is a very general description of what is going on that leaves out many details for now.
♣ The County Planning Department, responsible for adopting and overseeing the septic system program has written and adopt new guidelines for systems located in these special areas of concern. While the requirements were written, there are concerns about implementation that need to be worked out. The Regional Board may require changes that then need to be approved by the supervisors.
♣ It turns out that special requirements include hiring an expert’s determination that the planned system would allow no fecal matter to reach either the waterway or the groundwater. Depending on site considerations, this could be an expensive proposition, but one in which the Board is determined to insist on.
♣ The State Board will have to give it’s stamp of approval before new regulations are initiated and this is likely to occur sometime this summer, although things may be slowed down because of the Coronavirus situation. After this occurs, the Regional Board will send out letters to identified parcels about the new requirements.
o A ten member Citizen’s Advisory Group (CAG) had been established to assist in the development of a project to address these new requirements. The test project will occur in the Monte Rio/Villa Grande area, and if successful, will be replicated in other communities.
o CAG has been meeting for almost 2 years and have found the situation very unclear, since various other agencies are also involved as part of a separate but connected group that includes the Water Agency, the Planning Department, Supervisor Hopkin’s office, and North Coast Regional Board. LAFCO is also playing a role, since a septic management district may need to be set up and its formation is turning out to be rather controversial.
♣ Various other agencies that may help with funding and management activities are involved as well. Right now, things are very unclear. They are looking for funding to hire consultants to develop a plan and a ‘project’, but all the perimeters of the project have not yet been determined. There have been some separate meetings of the County staff and reports made back to CAG, but at this point, things are unclear and confused. We will keep you informed when some clarity is achieved.
♣ There are three projects being considered:
• Septic management district based on individual septic systems.
• Hook up some or all properties to Russian River County Service District (RRCSD)
• Community septic systems where groups of septic systems are managed in small or large groups.
♣ Establishment of a governmental or quasi-governmental entity to manage whichever district type is decided on.

• Biological Opinion/ Fish Flow update:
o As you may recall, comments were submitted to the Water Agency on the Fish Flow Project EIR in mid-March, 2017, three years ago. The Agency has been working behind the scenes since then on a major rewrite which will require reissuing a comment period allowing for new comments on the revised document. The last we heard, it may happen in the late summer or early fall or late fall of this year. We continue to track this and will let you know if a formal announcement ever goes out.

Santa Rosa Wastewater Issues:
• Santa Rosa’s proposed discharge permit is out for comment now and that document is expected to be addressed by the North Coast Regional Water Board at their August meeting. RRWPC is currently reading and writing comments on that document, especially in regard to irrigation runoff issue and also the following:
o Santa Rosa is currently allowed to discharge 21.9 million gallons a day (MGD) dry weather flow and higher amounts under certain conditions. If certain improvements are made to the system, they will be allowed to discharge up to 25.9 MGD. The City is anticipating the initiation of that process. We will be getting more details later and will keep you informed.
o Generating more wastewater probably means they will be using (buying) more Russian River water. Using more water means anticipating more development beyond what was lost in the fires. Recently Santa Rosa was the only contractor of nine voting ‘no’ on a modest rate hike for water delivery. (RRWPC is concerned about impacts to the lower river resulting from increased water withdrawals and possible summer discharges.) While Santa Rosa has placed a great focus on reclamation, we want to be assured that illegal runoff is not occurring and lower summer flows and resulting nutrient pollution do not pollute the river. We will be tracking this carefully.
o RRWPC will track development by the Regional Board (in progress now) on the revised discharge permit and will provide comments on any inadequacies we identify. Comments are due by April 29, 2020, and there will be a hearing before the revised permit is approved.
Here is link to proposed permit: Proposed Waste Discharge Requirements Order No. R1-2020-0012

• Landscape and other Irrigation regulations are inadequate to control illegal summer irrigation runoff and we will work with staff to assure that existing problems are addressed by Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park.
o RRWPC supports wastewater reuse through irrigation, but over the years, we have witnessed a lot of careless practices that allows runoff which results in summer discharge into our impaired waterways that is totally illegal. We have photographed many examples of wastewater going down the drain into creeks and submitted them to regulatory staff, seemingly to little avail. There will be a separate General irrigation permit to address irrigation practices in detail. We will keep pushing for more stringent irrigation practices. We are in close contact with the key person working on this.
o Regional Board Staff will be preparing a special general permit for those two entities that will address prevention of irrigation runoff in summer (with sub-regional system’s treated wastewater). RRWPC will provide input into that process.

RRWPC’s appreciates your help:
RRWPC knows that many of you may be having financial hardships at this time and we want to let you know that we don’t take anyone off our list for not contributing unless we haven’t heard from you in two years or more. All sized donations are appreciated. (If you contact us and tell us you cannot contribute but would like to stay on our list beyond the two years, we will keep you on for another year. We encourage supporters to donate at least $10 a year to demonstrate that you remain interested in our work.)

If you are able to contribute more however, that would be very welcome. There are two ways to donate:
• You can write a check to RRWPC and mail to P.O. Box 501, Guerneville, CA 95446. We will take care of filling out the donor card when we receive it.
• You can go to our website (www.rrwpc.org) and contribute through PayPal.
• Finally, you can also help us by forwarding this letter to friends and/or family who might be interested in supporting our work protecting the lower Russian River.
Many of you have been generous contributors for twenty years or more. We are so grateful to all of you for the support you have shown over the years for our work. We wish you all many blessings in 2020 and hope you come through these challenging times without too much difficulty.


PS: I have tried to squeeze a lot of complicated information into minimal space. Please don’t hesitate to send me your questions about anything we have written. We will do our best to respond quickly. We prefer messages via email as our media skills are quite limited.