Sonoma County Gazette, April 2010

Protest alert for permanent river low flow!

by Brenda Adelman

Over a year ago, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued a Biological Opinion (BO) to institute management changes in the Russian River that would protect three fish species of concern: Coho and Chinook salmon and Steelhead Trout.  While many support efforts to save the threatened and endangered species, the Order did not address many project impacts, such as water quality, recreation and the local economy.  Furthermore, much of the project is a long-term experiment and results may not be known for many years.

Because of very low storage levels in Lake Mendocino, Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) was permitted to temporarily lower flows from 125 cubic feet per second (cfs) to between 35 and 70 cfs in 2002, 2004, 2007, and 2009.  SCWA was also ordered by the Biological Opinion to apply to the State Water Board for PERMANENTLY lowered flows in the Russian River, which they did on September 23, 2009.  The State determined that protests are due by April 12, 2010, BEFORE they conduct environmental review.  There is also a study of water quality by U.S.G.S. that will be released AFTER the protest period has ended.  People are urged to ask for more time to express concerns.

For your reference, SCWA petition is entitled: “Petition for Modification of Water-Right Permits” and with State Water Board notices, can be found at the State Water Board’s website at

Lower flows to become permanent…..
It is being recommended that minimum flows in the lower Russian River be permanently decreased from 125 cfs to 70 cfs.  As recently as 2006, summer flows were commonly running about 200 cfs.  We do not believe that the State is required to adopt these changes as is, but before they reject or alter them, they must have good cause.  We hope Russian River lovers will protest this project. The DEADLINE for PROTESTS is APRIL 12, 2010.   To have a big impact, a lot of people need to respond.

Full environmental review should occur BEFORE the deadline for comments and AFTER all water quality studies and analyses are released to the public.  There are many unanswered questions about what impacts will result from this action.  The process is backwards.

Long range impacts of low flows are unknown….
There are large gaps in information about the long-range impacts of lowering flows permanently.  NMFS is making this demand on the lower river for the sole purpose of keeping the Estuary closed all summer in order to provide habitat for steelhead.  They did not adequately address impacts to water quality, other species (including the listed Chinook salmon), water supply, recreation, or other beneficial uses.  We don’t know what will happen to the seals, the sea birds, and we don’t know why the frogs have all but disappeared.  We want something done about polluting nutrients, sedimentation, toxins, (including emerging contaminants such as pharmaceuticals) and temperature problems.   All of these factors affect the fish and human use as well.  We also wonder about long term impacts on recreation and the local tourist economy.

In the Biological Opinion, NMFS did require limited water quality monitoring for conventional pollutants such as temperature, pH, turbidity, specific conductance, bacteria, and limited nutrients.  The tests for phosphorus (a nutrient) were improperly done and the results are meaningless.  Although the excursions of bacteria at lower river beaches were quite numerous (You may have noticed warning signs on the beaches.), they are being characterized as no worse than previous years during higher flows.  There has been no analysis of the data, so we don’t know on what basis they are drawing those conclusions.  Many believe that low flow has and will make pollution worse.

All of last summer, when lower-river flows averaged about 70 cfs, volunteers took weekly pictures at several points along the lower river.  Many canoeists reported and photographed gross algae blooms.  We saw large amounts and many kinds of algae; we saw extensive blooms of invasive plant species, and we saw many instances of canoes scraping bottom.  We took pictures of people and pets standing ankle deep in the middle of the river.  We heard second hand stories of pets getting very ill right after playing in the river.   And, at our request, the Regional Board tested a few sites for toxic blue-green algae, which they found at one of the popular local beaches. It may also be occurring at other places.

Send protests to State Water Board, SCWA, and RRWPC….
PROTEST FORM CAN BE FOUND AT SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE WEBSITE AT: Protest should be sent to the State Board at the address listed on the form.  (Please mail by April 9th, to make sure they get to the State in time.)  Copies MUST also be sent to Sonoma County Water Agency C/O Grant Davis, General Manager, P.O. Box 11628, Santa Rosa, CA 95406, and if possible, also to  RRWPC at P.O. Box 501, Guerneville, CA 95446.

Please write letter  about your own river experiences and why you are concerned about lower flows.  If you have photos to include, please do so, but make sure you send to both the State Board (address on form) AND SCWA (address above). You can use form as a template for your own letter or just fill out form directly.  Please circle the ways in which you personally utilize the river.

Please tell us your stories about the river….

Russian River Watershed Protection Committee will be providing our own protest to the State Water Board.  It would help us if we could submit your stories about the river.  Please send information to address listed below.  Your name and the date should appear on the letter and also note approximate date you were in the river.  We would like to hear about how very low flows will affect your business, the local tourist economy, recreation and your use of the river.

We wonder if any person or pet you know had health problems resulting from contact from the river? Did you notice any changes in water quality last year from prior years (even if it was a long time ago)?  What did the water look like, how has it changed, and what did you see floating in and around? Did anyone you know have stomach distress of any kind, skin rashes, eye, ear, throat, or nose problems, or anything else?  Was it necessary to visit a doctor?  How long did symptoms last?   Where in the river were you located after which the problem occurred?  How soon afterward did you or someone you know exhibit symptoms?  Please share whatever details you can.

Email Brenda and/or RRWPC at with questions or comments or if you want to be placed on our mailing list.  Please mail stories to RRWPC, P.O. Box 501, Guerneville, CA 95446