March 2010: Low Flow

March, 2010

Dear RRWPC Supporter:

THE RUSSIAN RIVER NEEDS YOUR HELP!! Please send enclosed protest to State Water Board before April 12, 2010. Copies must also be sent to Sonoma County Water Agency.   Here’s the story; directions follow.

As you know, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued a Biological Opinion (BO) about 1.5 years ago to institute management changes in the Russian River that would protect three fish species of concern: Coho and Chinook salmon and Steelhead Trout.  While RRWPC supports efforts to save the threatened and endangered species, the Order was very limited and did not examine all project impacts.  Furthermore, much of the project is a long-term experiment and results may not be known for fifteen years.

Because of very low storage levels in Lake Mendocino, Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) obtained permission 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 then ordered by the BO to apply to the State Water Board for a PERMANENT lowering of flows in the Russian River, which they did on September 23, 2009.  RRWPC has been tracking the Petitions in regard to the Hacienda and Dry Creek monitoring points since 2004.

Lower flows to become permanent…..
Based on the Application from SCWA, the State Board subsequently issued a public notice asking for protests on the proposed PERMANENT lowering of Russian River flows. As part of this application, SCWA is requesting that minimum flows in the lower Russian River be permanently decreased by the State from 125 cfs to 70 cfs in normal years (about 45%) and from 85 cfs to 70 cfs during dry years.  Critical dry years would remain at 35 cfs.   As recently as 2006, summer flows were commonly running 200 cfs.  We do not believe that the State is required to adopt these changes, but before they reject or alter them, they must have good cause.  RRWPC supporters, have an important role to play in this processThe DEADLINE for PROTESTS is APRIL 12, 2010.

RRWPC believes that full environmental review should occur BEFORE the deadline for comments and BEFORE flows are permanently changed.  There are many unanswered questions about what impacts will result from this action.  The process is backwards.  Furthermore, we don’t oppose some change, but since so much is unknown, flows should be lowered in stages as negative impacts are studied and mitigated over time.

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, 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 as well.

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.

All of last summer, when lower river flows averaged about 70 cfs, RRWPC volunteers took weekly pictures at several points along the lower river.  We also received calls from people who canoed the river and experienced gross algae blooms.  We saw large amounts of 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 the Monte Rio kid’s beach. We don’t know if it is also occurring at other places.

Send protests to State Water Board, SCWA, and RRWPC….
Protest should be sent to the State Board at the address listed on the enclosed letter.  (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 RRWPC at P.O. Box 501, Guerneville, CA 95446.

SCWA petition is entitled: “Petition for Modification of Water-Right Permits” and, along with State Water Board notices, can be found at the State Water Board’s website at (no spaces) if you want to read. It.  Use back of the protest to write about your own river experiences.

Please tell us your stories about the river…
RRWPC will be providing our own protest to the State Water Board.  It would help us if we could submit your stories about the river.  Brief comments about your river experiences can be written on the back of the enclosed card or if lengthier, in a letter.  We need name and date on the letter and also approximate date you were in the river.

What we need to hear from you is whether 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?  We need as many details as you can give about your experience(s). 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.

Please support Deb Fudge…..
RRWPC and Brenda Adelman have endorsed Deb for 4th District Supervisor.  You can visit her website at to read our endorsement.  Please support her financially if you can.  She is an experienced professional with deep understanding of Sonoma County water and environmental issues.  Even if you don’t live in her district, she can use your help.

RRWPC needs your help!
RRWPC has been taking on many demanding challenges this year. As usual, we are in need of donations of any size.  Please give as generously as you can, especially if you have not donated in awhile, and also please pass this information to other river lovers. If you prefer donating electronically, you can access PayPal at   We hope to hear from you soon.  Email us at with questions.