About UsRRWPC’s specific purpose is to serve as a civic association concerned with public interest issues related to the Russian River and its watershed. Our primary focus is on the lower river watershed and it’s major tributaries. What follows is a mini version of RRWPC’s 30 year history.
River Citizens Sewer Committee is Born… In the mid-1970’s, after two elections failed to authorize the bonds needed to fund the Guerneville sewer, County officials arranged to change the law to require a majority vote for approval rather than the customary two thirds. This time, having been under a building moratorium for ten years, Russian River County Sanitation District (RRCSD) property owners finally approved a $3 million dollar bond to fund the project. Total project cost was supposed to be about $13 million, with the remainder being funded through grants from the State and Federal Government. Years later, the cost of the system ballooned to about $30 million. It’s unclear how much additional was paid by ratepayers.
It’s impossible to convey this sewer saga in a simple paragraph, but it was an intriguing story of cost overruns, lawsuits between County and contractors, engineering negligence, lack of oversight and inspections, caving trenches, unanticipated redwood stump removal (although Guerneville’s nickname was Stumptown.) etc. Citizen hands were tied; they had approved this fiasco. River Citizens Sewer Committee (precursor to Russian River Watershed Protection Committee) was founded in 1980 to stand up for citizen rights in this matter. We ultimately passed three initiative petitions that won by landslides and gave some protections to the Community. We probably saved the community millions because of our presence during the near-demise of this project, which proved to be one of Supervisor Ernie Carpenter’s worst nightmares during his 16 years in office.
RRWPC advocates for Sewer Master Plan… For the last 15 years RRWPC has called for a Sewer Master Plan to address all potential impacts of possible expansion of the District to serve other communities. The expansion of sewer, and subsequently extensive new development on vacant parcels, could have major impacts on traffic, schools, drainage, water quality, slides, tree cutting, etc. that must be comprehensively addressed.
In 2002, RRWPC submitted extensive environmental documentation on the Occidental/Camp Meeker pipeline project intended to hook those communities up to RRCSD. In 2006, the lead Agency (Camp Meeker Recreation and Park District) ultimately denied certification of the EIR based on the system’s inadequacies, extensive environmental impacts, and the $22 million dollar projected cost.
Since 1995, RRWPC similarly has played a major role in stalling County plans for regionalizing the Guerneville Treatment Plant. The Agency’s goal was to use this facility to treat a significant amount of West County sewage including Occidental, Camp Meeker, Monte Rio, communities along Bohemian Highway, Highway 116, River Road, Forestville, and Graton were all considered, even though the treatment and disposal system was not adequate for the job. A fully vetted Master Plan would have accomplished a lot in addressing our concerns.
Furthermore, RRWPC filed a lawsuit in 1999, when the County proceeded to expand the treatment plant in a piecemeal fashion using a 23 year old environmental document to address the impacts. While we lost the suit and they expanded three of the system components, the plant still has inadequate disinfection (a new system is currently under construction), storage, and irrigation capacities. It cannot meet its discharge permit obligations during most high flow events and has been penalized almost yearly for discharge violations since 1995.
Santa Rosa’s illegal 800 Million Gallon Spill into Russian River… In 1985, the massive, almost 800 million gallon illegal dump of Santa Rosa’s secondarily treated wastewater caused a huge furor in the lower river community. For much of the ensuing 25 years RRWPC closely tracked Santa Rosa’s wastewater discharges. The City was not only minimally punished for the spill, but fought tooth and nail for increased legal discharges of 1% to 5% and then even 20% calculated on high river flows 14 miles away from the point of discharge. (We noted that on one day over 130 million gallons were discharged into the Laguna de Santa Rosa.) Since the City normally generated around 15 to 30 million gallons a day, this signaled that there were many leaks in their system and inadequate storage was available to equalize flows during big storms. Since then, those problems have been addressed, partially in response to our persistent complaints.
In the mid-1990’s it looked very much like the 20% option would prevail when numerous forces came together to persuade the City to send their water to the Geysers steam fields. In the years since 2004, when the project went on line, there have been several winters where there has been NO discharge into the Russian River. Instead Santa Rosa’s award winning system is now generating electricity. The City’s Board of Public Utilities recently awarded Brenda Adelman a pin acknowledging her 25 years of work on this issue. They now happily brag that they are one of few cities in California not having trouble meeting increased water quality regulation.
Water Quality issues are top RRWPC concern… Throughout this entire time, RRWPC tracked many water quality issues at the Regional Water Quality Control Board and State Water Board. We commented on discharge permit applications, administrative orders and penalties, Basin Plan amendments, listings of impaired water bodies, etc. As a result of a legal settlement around 1998, RRWPC provided the Regional Water Quality Control Board with a report on phosphorus levels contained in Santa Rosa’s wastewater, written by Dan Wickham and Robert Rawson. Ultimately, the information in this study led to the listing of the Laguna de Santa Rosa on the Clean Water Act List for impaired water bodies. Santa Rosa officials persuaded the State Board to rescind this listing in 2002, but the listing was later reinstated by the EPA.
RRWPC has worked extensively on the issue of endocrine disrupting chemicals and other unregulated toxic substances. In 1995 we put on a major all day conference on this issue, with Theo Colburn, Lou Guillette, and other major leaders in the field. We were one of the first in our County to publicize this information. Everyone attending the conference, expressed gratitude for the presentations.
RRWPC has been deeply concerned about this issue ever since, and especially with the recent State Recycled Water Policy and the Regional Board’s Basin Plan Amendment and Storm Water Permit that allow “incidental runoff” of wastewater in summer. This is the time when creeks are low and assimilation of toxins is greatly diminished. There is also greater opportunity for public exposure and aquatic life problems. No one knows what the cumulative impacts may be from this toxic mix, or how the individual toxins interact with one another to form more potent and dangerous toxins. For now, the jury is out on this issue, but we will continue to follow new developments. (RRWPC had documented extensive over-irrigation in Rohnert Park a little more than a year ago and reported it to the Regional Board. As a result, their wastewater irrigation methods have been greatly improved.)
Fish flow project promotes low flow… Recently, RRWPC has taken up the cause of opposing the modification of minimum Russian River flows. This is in response to demands of the Biological Opinion calling for a 44% reduction as measured at the Hacienda Bridge (The document requires other reductions, but it is the Hacienda one we are most concerned about.) We are also challenging the Estuary Project that intends to maintain closure of the Russian River mouth for most of the summer (to provide habitat for Steelhead). It is our determination that more harm than good would come from both of these proposals. We have documented through words and pictures (see 2009 Photo Report) the apparent relationship between low flow and both algal blooms and bacteria levels in the lower river.
RRWPC continues to work with many ad hoc committees, councils, groups, and individuals concerning these matters. We study critical documents, write commentaries, attend hearings and provide testimony. We write regularly for the West County Gazette and we have also contributed articles to numerous publications including the Press Democrat, Sonoma West Times and News, and other periodicals. We are active members of the Sonoma County Water Coalition. We hope our record of accomplishment will continue to expand for many years to come.
Russian River Watershed Protection Committee (RRWPC) is a nonprofit public benefit corporation organized under State and Federal law as a 501 (c) (4) tax exempt organization. RRWPC’s funds are generated exclusively from our six or seven annual mailers to individual supporters. (We do not sell or loan our mailing list to anyone.) We have received numerous honors for our work. They are listed separately in this section.