November 2008: New Steelhead Beach Group and UWMP Lawsuit

November, 2008

Dear Russian River Supporter:

Demands for Russian River resources have proliferated over the last several years at the same time all signs indicate that its impairments are getting worse. RRWPC is a very small group, but we do our best to maximize our influence through our consistent presence on these issues. We can’t cover all of them, we have to pick and choose carefully, so we usually go where we think the greatest need exists, often where few others are paying attention.  This final mailer of the year gives a partial review of our work and also gives some projections of next year’s watershed challenges.

New group forms to protect Steelhead Beach…
2008 saw the formation of the ad hoc group, Friends of Steelhead Beach.  Because of their efforts, and because of your very strong response to our last mailer, we collected over 4300 signatures on our petition to save Steelhead Beach (and not all signatures are in yet).  We are extremely grateful to all who helped and we are sorry that we don’t have space to list all of your names. The petition will be turned into Santa Rosa’s Board of Public Utilities (BPU) on Dec. 4th at 1:30 in the City Council Chambers, when they will make their final river discharge project selection.  The public is welcome.

This new group evolved from RRWPC’s efforts to keep Santa Rosa from devastating Steelhead Beach with a major wastewater discharge facility. The very successful petition called for stopping this project. We had made the case repeatedly that the Steelhead Beach discharge project, to cost as much as $265 million dollars, is unnecessary.  Nonetheless, City consultants made last minute major changes to the project description without adequate impact analysis.  In the Final report, they had moved the pipeline one half mile down River Rd. in a very sensitive flood area without public review.  We interpreted this as a sign that they were seriously considering this project and that a strong community response was necessary.

RRWPC challenged the Board of Public Utility’s certification of the environmental document to the Santa Rosa City Council because of this last minute major change.  We received a call from the Deputy Assistant City Manager asking if we might like to negotiate an agreement.  After much back and forth, RRWPC agreed to drop the Appeal if the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) would conduct further environmental review and respond to additional public input if the Steelhead Beach project is selected.  We also preserved our right to file a lawsuit on those changes should it become necessary.

At the recent BPU meeting, they approved this agreement.  They also gave an informal indication that they now have no intention of selecting this project, mainly because of its projected high cost.  Instead they will upgrade their existing Laguna system. This will be formally decided on Dec. 4th (see above), but we are fairly confidant they will not select the Steelhead Beach option at this time. RRWPC is strongly committed to assuring that Santa Rosa minimize ALL of their wastewater discharges to the greatest extent possible. We are dedicated to continue working for long-term Laguna protections as well.

RRWPC thanks supporters….
We enclose our donor list for the year with this mailer. It includes the names of all people who contributed $25 or more between the dates of Oct. 15, 2007 to Oct. 31, 2008.  (Checks received after that date will go on next year’s list.)  We are grateful to all of you for your continued support, since you are the sole source of all our funding.  This allows RRWPC to maintain our independence while speaking truth to power.  We base our positions on review of the information, attendance at meetings of decision-making and advisory bodies, and involvement with other environmental advocates.  For example, we are very active in the 33 group Sonoma County Water Coalition (SCWC), the largest, most knowledgeable and effective coalition we have ever worked with during almost 30 years of environmental advocacy.

SCWC wins legal action on Urban Water Management Plan…
Only two weeks ago, SCWC got word that 14 litigant groups connected with the coalition, including RRWPC, had prevailed on the lawsuit organized against the Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) and the County of Sonoma concerning the Urban Water Management Plan.  The court’s opinion now requires the County to provide adequate details on the existence of sufficient water supplies needed for new development.  Reasonable projections of population growth, anticipated conservation measures, and availability of backup water sources must now be analyzed in detail.  Until this decision, the Agency has relied on projected increased water supplies (“paper” supplies) for which they have no permit as yet, and for which they may not have a permit for years to come. We are very proud to have taken part in this worthwhile effort.

Current and Future Issues…. Incidental runoff…
The Regional Board recently released its proposed Storm Water Permit for Sonoma County.  We don’t have room for much comment here, but we support the permit’s strong winter runoff controls. RRWPC is concerned however, about provisions allowing “incidental runoff” from irrigation that could get into our waterways during the summer recreation season.  We have included a target letter with this mailer that we hope you will sign and either return to us or send directly to the Regional Board staff as addressed.  We think it is self-explanatory and hope that you will help by sending it on.

Biological Opinion and “low flow”…..
The Biological Opinion has just been released.  It is an extremely complicated document kicking off a ten to fifteen year process by Sonoma County Water Agency to limit the impact of their operations on threatened and endangered fish species in the Russian River. One of the main issues is the document’s insistence that the State permanently lower summer river flows.  There will be future public hearings on this. We will write more about this issue in our next mailer and keep you informed.

Statewide revised septic regulations (AB 885)…
These new regulations have been anticipated for a long time.  We got notice of this only a few days before writing this mailer.  We will study this issue and write more in future mailers.  There will be a meeting on this January 27, 2009 at the Wells Fargo Center at 7 PM.  You can get the documents and more information at the State Water Board’s website at issues/programs/septic tanks/.

RRWPC needs your help!
RRWPC has taken on many challenges this last year and as you can see, it looks as though next year will be even more demanding.  We are currently very much in need of your help.  Please give as generously as you can, especially if you have not donated in awhile, and also please pass this information on to other interested parties.  Those of you who have not donated since 2004 or earlier will be put on our annual list if we don’t hear from you soon.  We only request a small donation for expenses to keep you informed.

Have a wonderful Holiday Season and a very happy New Year!