RRWPC Newsletter, May 2020: Fee Increases, Discharge Permit, and COVID

Prior to three months ago, the term COVID-19 was not in our vocabulary!  The first heading of RRWPC’s January newsletter rhetorically asked, “What’s in the cards for 2020?”  The letter then went on to mention that recent worldwide earthquakes and fires, including our own record setting firestorms of recent years, major local floods, and more, has shaken our collective beings. It seemed appropriate at the time to follow with the query: What’s next? What we were really thinking however, was that we had had enough of disasters and were done for a while.  The words “novel coronavirus” and, COVID-19, did not yet exist in our vocabulary.

The coronavirus, it’s effects becoming actively noticed only a month later in February, 2020, has gone on to wreak havoc with our social, financial, educational, political, familial, and recreational lives. 

It has disrupted almost all of the activities that give us respite from a difficult world, including the temporary elimination of most professional team sports, rescheduling of the 2020 Olympics, cancelation of large musical and entertainment events, local fairs and parades, and most venues where large numbers of people gather.

It has created the greatest unemployment numbers since the great depression, and in a far shorter time period.  It has closed restaurants, but for take-out, exercise facilities, parks and beaches (now slowly opening a little), beauty salons, department stores, malls, and much more. (Not to mention the crimp it’s putting in the election process.)  If these are changes that will continue over the next 3 months, dare we ask what’s next?

RRWPC sends everyone our best wishes for a reprieve from any difficulties you may be having now.  We suggest getting out in nature when possible (alone, or in very small groups) and to appreciate the good things in your life and this incredible environment we live in.  And, remember to be kind and careful, as so many are suffering now.

RRWPC submits comments on Santa Rosa’s revised discharge permit….Our comments this time were not nearly as detailed as those submitted on prior permits.  There had been extensive improvements to the system since RRWPC first started commenting in the late 1980’s after the big spill of 1985, and our main goal (to get Santa Rosa’s discharges out of the river) has been accomplished.   We say in our comments, “….to read in a discharge permit that ‘…increased capacity must not rely on increased discharge to the Russian River’ is music to our ears.”  The reliance is now on wastewater reuse instead. (2012 comments can be found on our website.)

Gradual system improvements over the years, for which many of us had lobbied extensively, have been incorporated into the system.  The most dramatic had been the decision in the late 1990’s to select the Geysers steam fields as the destination for Santa Rosa’s wastewater.  This came about partly as a response to the Endangered Species Act listings of three Russian River salmonid species.  The City went from pushing for the ability to discharge wastewater at up to 20% of Russian River flow as measured at the Hacienda Bridge, to focusing on wastewater reuse through Geysers discharge and agricultural and landscape irrigation reuse.  (Largest river discharge allowed up to then was 5% as measured at Hacienda.)  The Geysers Project began operation in late 2004.

In 2019, the Subregional Treatment Plant treated 7.48 billion gallons which came to an average of about 20.49 million gallons a day (mgd).  Approximately 12-13 mgd of that was sent to the Geysers where it generated enough electricity for about 100,000 households for the entire year.  Most of the rest of Santa Rosa’s wastewater was used for agricultural and urban landscape irrigation.  They have won many awards for managing a system that reuses almost all of its treated wastewater.

RRWPC concerns about urban irrigation runoff….RRWPC supports wastewater reuse through irrigation, but over the years, we have witnessed a lot of careless practices that allow runoff that results in a summer discharge into our impaired waterways and is totally illegal.  For many years, I tracked, photographed, and filed complaints regarding over-irrigation by Santa Rosa’s urban landscape reuse participants.  Not much came of it from our perspective.

Currently the Regional Board is processing new General Irrigation Permits for Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park.  RRWPC will be making recommendations for setbacks and more stringent rules for operating irrigation systems so as to prevent runoff. We are especially concerned about urban landscape irrigation, which uses far more water per acre than agricultural use.   In the past, the City decided to irrigate at night when no one can properly assess whether there is runoff or not, and the extent to which it is occurring.  We aim to request more specificity in the permit to prevent this practice.

Reminder for ratepayers in Russian River County Sanitation District….Those of you who are property owners in the Russian River County Sanitation District should have received a brochure about a month ago from the Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA), operators of the system.  In this brochure is a Rate Protest Form which you can fill in and send to protest the new fee (to be included in your next property tax bill that comes out in October) of $1,706 per parcel.  You should have received a form for each property you own in the District.

RRWPC requests that you fill out the form and send it in.  We cannot get you this mailer before the May 19th deadline, but they will probably have to renotice that deadline, so we suggest you send it in anyway.  We are going to contact the Agency about the meeting date and try to get them to send you information about a new date.  Because of the coronavirus, they have not been having the public attend their meetings.  Yet this notice requires a public meeting, so it’s unclear how they will deal with this. There is nothing to lose by submitting your protest(s).

It would send a message to the Supervisors that you protest.  They need to hear from people about this.  Every year they raise fees by about 5% which next year would come to an $85 increase, pushing the fee close to $1,800.  Only Occidental has fees higher than that in this County.  Please fill out and mail a form for every property you own.  You can also call the Clerk of the Board’s office at (707) 565-2241 and ask about how you can partake in the Meeting on fees May 19th or whether they rescheduled?

RRWPC wishes you well and requests your continued support!  We hope that none of you are suffering from COVID-19 positive tests, tell-tale symptoms or stressful doctor visits. In the event that is not the case, we wish all a rapid and easy recovery.

For those living in Sonoma County full time, we are proud of the way our community is dealing with this difficult tragedy.  Most people are staying home as much as possible and almost all are wearing masks when out.  Our sympathy also goes with those suffering from fiscal difficulties, but we urge you all to remain as sheltered as possible, until the all clear is sounded.

RRWPC needs your continued support to sustain our river protection work. For those who have not donated for a while, we appreciate any sized donation so that we know you remain interested in receiving our mailers and supporting our work.  RRWPC normally relies exclusively on six mailers a year for our entire fiscal support.  You may contribute by check with envelope and donor card provided, or via PayPal at our website  address above.  We certainly understand if you can’t contribute at this time and will keep you on our list, unless you decline. Stay well!    Brenda