RRWPC Newsletter, November 2020: Yearly Update & Silver THP

Well another year is soon to end, and while most of us won’t miss it, we won’t forget it either.  No point in rehashing details here, you get the idea.  Yet we have to note that our work has been profoundly affected by this new COVID reality that includes meetings via Zoom, wearing masks wherever people congregate, and working from home most of the time.

(Conversing with mask-wearers is especial fun for those of us who are hearing impaired, and thankfully Zoom presentations and comments on media devices are much easier to hear, one doesn’t need to wear a mask in private, and we can dress very comfortably.)  But even with Zoom, staying healthy has become an anxiety provoking responsibility.  It’s a rough year for all, but like you, we persevere.

In general, we have also found it more difficult to work with some agencies these days as their staff are often less accessible, not always able to focus on the specific issues we are tracking, and have spent much of their time this year dealing with fire and health emergencies and their own health and safety concerns.  We won’t even mention the election that just took place and the associated antics that already follow.  Instead, we provide an update here of some of the important issues we have considered and weighed in on this year and will continue into 2021.

Low Flow about to heat up again….For the last four years, we have been hearing that the (low flow) Fish Flow Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was being rewritten and will be released to the public in the near future. Formerly, Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) kept moving up the release date. This time they said release would take place in early spring (2021) and we are fairly certain they mean it this time.  They are planning workshops for the public and more details will be provided at a later date.  This EIR deals with permanent changes to the flow regime that could take away much of our summer flow forever. SCWA is especially concerned about the possible (probable?) loss of Eel River diversions and are focused on assuring long term water resources for their customers.  Lower flow requirements would serve well their interest of compensating for the loss.

RRWPC did an analysis of water sales to contractors over the last eight years.  We divided the main contractors into two groups: 4 contractors (Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Cotati, Windsor) are in-basin water users located within the watershed, and 5 are outside (Petaluma, Sonoma, Valley of the Moon, North Marin, and Marin Municipal Water District).  We discovered that on average, out-of-basin contractors purchased 3,000 acre feet more water per year than in-basin contractors.

Most of these users have demonstrated they are successfully conserving water compared to 2013, but they are also looking for sources to allow for new development.  SCWA is currently initiating the state mandated five year plan for urban water management where these issues will be analyzed in detail.  We plan to track this closely and will keep you informed. (Because we can’t get mailers out quickly, we will rely on email to send out important announcements.  If you are not on our list and want to be, please send us your email address.  We will also get a mailer out as soon as possible after we find out meeting schedule and document availability.)

Brief update on Temporary Urgency Change Orders and lower river….As you recall, SCWA requested that the State allow flows this last summer to go as low as 40 cfs. RRWPC responded that they should not be allowed to go below 70 cfs.  Actual flows went below 75 cubic feet per second (cfs) only one or two times briefly this summer and never the 40-50 cfs anticipated and approved, even though the river had just been through the third driest winter in recorded history. (Most flows stayed between 80-85 cfs which is in line with dry year levels.)

Of course, if it’s dry again this coming winter, all bets are off for duplicating these flows next summer.  Also, we had been alerted to massive amounts of a new algae that people have never seen before.  We intend to comment on this new situation in the low flow EIR to be released next year and provide the pictures submitted to us. We would greatly appreciate more river pictures of algae or other significant signs of pollution that you witness giving time and location of photo. (You can send via email.) Finally, it is important to mention that there were no reports of toxic algae this last summer.  It seems as though the toxic algae arrives with very low flows and hot temperatures.  If we don’t get much rain this winter, we will have lower flows next summer.  Say your rain prayers!  (Rain is being forecasted for late in the second week of November.)

Update on RRCSD Treatment Plant upgrades….The Sonoma County Water Agency, operators of the RRCSD, have received funds to hire consultants to analyze collection system failures during high flows.  Their focus is on the force main pipe that crosses the river near Vacation Beach, and will eventually also assess needs for upgrading 11 pump stations.  They have completed the interview process and selected a well known consultant to produce the assessment.  It is expected that sometime in December the Board of Directors (Supervisors) will approve a contract.  Their highest priority will be to determine whether the pipeline can be repaired or whether it needs to be completely replaced.  Of course the latter would be far more expensive.  They have obtained a grant for the assessment and will prioritize construction on the force main, which causes problem with surging manholes that allowed over 1M gallons of raw sewage to escape into the Russian River during the last flood.  They aim for final design by next year and completion by 2022.  The community will need to pay 25% of the construction cost, which is unknown at this time.

Silver Property Timber Harvest Plan…..RRWPC doesn’t have expertise about timber harvest plans, but this one involves tree cutting on the property where Russian River County Sanitation District’s treatment and irrigation occurs. The property has been rented for 100 years from the land owner who has reserved the right to cut timber.  Since we have concerns about the location, we wrote a six page letter noting some of them. The letter can be found on our website on the home page side bar.   The Treatment Plant is at the end of Neeley Road and the Burch family owns the property and has reserved their logging rights (They own a sawmill up in Cloverdale.)  There is a new citizen’s group called Guerneville Forest Coalition and they have an informative website at www.guernevilleforestcoalition.org where you can find more information if interested.  Some of the issues are as follows:

  • Tree cutting on irrigated lands could affect the amount of the land’s absorption of the treated wastewater and affect the viability of the system for which the District could get penalized if permit violations occur from runoff and inadequate spray area.
  • Roads to and from the sites are in bad repair and fragile and are relied upon by local home owners.  Safety is an issue as the road is narrow with poor visibility in some places.  There is a need for detailed traffic review regarding logging truck traffic and large treatment plant vehicles servicing the plant and also garbage trucks, etc.
  • There is fire risk from logged properties as noted in the RRCSD Hazard Mitigation Plan.

This is a landslide prone area and adequate safety measures need to be addressed. The Timber Harvest Plan and other comments and information can be found at the Coalition’s website noted above.  There is still time for written comments.  You can also read other comments and documents on the website.  Deadline for comments has not been determined yet.

RRWPC thanks our volunteers this holiday season….RRWPC thanks all who have supported us this past year, including our Board of Directors (Brenda Adelman: Chair, Dennis O’Leary: Secretary, Sherrie Althouse: Treasurer, Nichae Blume, and Dave Blanchard), mailer volunteers including Wayne Gibb, John Uniack, and Lisa Vasse, and all who contributed funds to sustain our efforts between Nov. 1, 2019 and Oct. 31, 2020. (see donor list). We also thank Russian River Senior Center for allowing us to hold meetings at their facility.  We thank Mary Anne Sobieraj for website upkeep.  We had to adjust our meeting schedule because of COVID and have sent out fewer mailers than in the past.

RRWPC needs your continued support!  RRWPC needs your continued support to sustain our river protection work. For those who have not donated recently, we appreciate any donation so that we know you remain interested in receiving our mailers and supporting our work.  RRWPC relies exclusively on six (or fewer) mailers a year for our entire fiscal support.  Those who have not responded in the last two years may be removed from our list at the start of 2021 (see date on mailer envelope). You may contribute via check by mail or PayPal at our website.   Thank you.