Sonoma County Gazette, March 2008, #2

Water and Wastewater Views of 5th District Candidates

By Brenda Adelman
(This is the second article in a two part series that explores Fifth District candidates’ positions on important West County water and wastewater issues.  This month’s article completes the review of candidate responses and also makes recommendations.)

Seven Fifth District Candidates, who had declared their candidacy by mid-January were invited to respond to questions focused on West County water and wastewater issues.  Four candidates submitted responses: Rue Furch, Maddy Hirshfield, Tom Lynch, and Dan Kahane.  We thank these candidates for taking the time to respond to our long questionnaire.

Summer flow requirements…
Decision 1610 requires minimum stream flows at the Hacienda Bridge.  We asked whether candidates would protect current levels or support change as is now being proposed by the Sonoma County Water Agency?   Our concern is that Agency contractors want to take more water while leaving less for summer recreational flows.

Tom and Maddy indicated strong opposition to lowering the minimum flows.  Dan stated that flows of 75 cfs (cubic feet per second) to 95 cfs appeared “to work for fish and recreationists alike”.  This level is really much lower than Decision 1610 allows now, so we assume he would support lowering current limits.

Rue indicated that Decision 1610 is based on outdated assumptions about urban demand, ag uses, groundwater levels, etc. and that those assumptions should be reevaluated based on current variables and then “…see the implications for how much water flow is available at what locations with what reliability.”

Summer irrigation and “incidental” discharges…
We asked whether a Basin Plan Amendment allowing “incidental discharges” of irrigated wastewater in the summer should be approved.  This would in effect allow summer discharges (now prohibited) by Santa Rosa’s urban reuse program.  Dan said that the Regional Board should decide and as Supervisor he would not have the authority to control it.   Rue supports irrigation but is concerned about unregulated pollutants such as pharmaceuticals.  She indicated she would be more comfortable if the wastewater was more highly treated, such as with reverse osmosis.  Tom strongly opposes the Basin Plan Amendment to allow “incidental runoff” and supports continuing the prohibition of all summer discharges.   Maddy didn’t specifically say that she opposes such an amendment, but she does call for extensive reuse in new development, higher treatment to protect against unregulated contaminants and management that would limit opportunities for run off.

Possible new wastewater discharge locations for Santa Rosa…
We asked whether candidates supported a new Russian River direct discharge at Healdsburg or Forestville.  Tom would rather have a discharge in Healdsburg than the Laguna, where it is now.  He believes that more thoughtful treatment and monitoring would occur if the discharge were located above water supply intakes.  Maddy opposes river discharge completely unless the water is much more highly treated.  Dan does not want to see any discharge; he would support reusing all of it.

Rue does not support new discharge locations if they involve “mixing zones” (areas of allowed pollution).  She states, “I am opposed to adding any additional discharge points, but would be willing to examine relocating or consolidating discharge points if there are advantages relative to water quality protection.”  She opposes long pipelines and prefers that wastewater be managed close to the source.

Septic systems and West County wastewater issues…
We asked how they would resolve West County wastewater issues including how to make pollution control affordable, whether to regionalize and Russian River County Sanitation District, what role the Sonoma County Water Agency should play, and how to resolve the issue of problem septic systems.

Maddy advocates studies to determine the exact problem and which septics need repair.  She wants affordable solutions that fit the local situation such as in Graton.  She does not support regionalizing the Russian River County Sanitation District (RRCSD) and supports local control, although she believes that the County should assist communities in making this happen.  Dan didn’t address this issue other than saying it needs to be dealt with.

Rue believes that small communities can’t afford large pipeline projects.  She would like to work with County and Regional Board staff to identify failing systems and possibly provide low interest loans for system repairs.  She does not favor forcing communities to combine their systems and has concerns about pumping sewage long distances.  She also states, “Sewer solutions should not be allowed to increase density, justify zone changes or necessitate expansion of other infrastructure.”  Failing systems causing health problems should be addressed on an individual basis.  In regard to the myth that centralized systems spread the costs, Rue states, “Any temptation to add growth potential to reduce costs per household or business rarely considers the unintended consequences to costs associated with fire services, water supply and other necessary social services.”

Tom supports a community leach-field system for Occidental and Camp Meeker and is also open to tying them, along with Monte Rio, into the Guerneville system.  But then he also says that he does not support regionalization of the Guerneville treatment system. He seems to define “regionalization” as something beyond hooking up Occidental, Camp Meeker, and Monte Rio.  He feels the local economy is in trouble, and would like to see some development in the area.

Recommendation for 5th District Supervisor…
I have promised to evaluate these responses and make a recommendation based on them.  These comments are strictly my own and do not reflect those of any group.  I have struggled hard to be very fair in my assessment and I value the input of all candidates.   In my years of experience, I have come to appreciate how very complex these water and wastewater problems are.  There is no one simple solution and there are many interest groups whose needs must be considered.  Dealing with pollution problems, even when we do so inadequately, has become outrageously expensive.  We need someone in office who understands these complexities.

In their responses to this questionnaire, I felt that Rue and Maddy had much deep understandings of how government works and all the interests at play.  Maddy worked particularly hard in bringing herself up to speed on issues that she was not intimately familiar with.  She is a highly capable candidate and would probably make an excellent supervisor.

However, I have to give top honors to Rue Furch, not only on the basis of her responses to this questionnaire, but my long term familiarity with her work on behalf of the environment.  Among other things, Rue gave considerable help in fighting Santa Rosa’s plan to discharge 20% into the Russian River.  I watched her tackle the mountain of documents on the Sonoma County General Plan and was a persistent advocate for waterway protections during Planning Commission Hearings. No one worked harder than she did.  She is deeply knowledgeable about the issues, knows how to work with opposing viewpoints, and is deeply committed to protecting our incredible place.   On this basis, I support Rue for 5th District Supervisor.

Brenda can be reached at