Tag Archives: Russian River

Fate of Russian and Eel River flows rests in big fight over small hydroelectric project

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Even the record rainfall that dowsed the North Coast this winter, filling reservoirs and streams, will not be enough to head off a looming clash over the water that courses down two of the region’s largest rivers, the Russian and the Eel.

Together, they drain a swath of territory, including cities, forests and vineyards, that stretches from central Sonoma County to Fortuna, in Humboldt County — an area larger than Connecticut.

A key link between the two rivers, a small powerhouse more than 100 years old, is now the focal point in a fight over the water that flows down these rivers. It’s a standoff with many of the main players in western water wars — farmers, environmentalists, water districts serving urban customers and fishermen. And it raises many of the same questions: Who benefits and who loses from water taken for decades from one river — at over 20 billion gallons a year — and funneled into another river?

In this case, it is the Eel River that has been tapped, its water sent down a milelong tunnel through a mountain in Mendocino County, into a PG&E powerhouse and ultimately into a fork of Russian River, which flows down through Sonoma County.

Water drawn from the Eel River sustains Lake Mendocino, the main source of drinking water for residents along the Russian River from Redwood Valley down to Healdsburg.

Turning off that supply could devastate agriculture and diminish that primary water source for thousands of people, according to interests on one side of the tug-of-war.

The vast majority of the more 600,000 North Bay residents who depend on the Russian River for drinking water are unaware of the plumbing arrangement and the controversy that has long swirled around it and two related dams on the Eel River, where once-prolific runs of salmon and steelhead trout have dwindled amid various human impacts, water diversion among them.

But for the partisans — the water managers, environmentalists, public officials, ranchers and scientists — the dilemma of parsing out this water between competing interests, between people and fish, between town and country, is revving up again over the relicensing of the PG&E powerhouse, called the Pottery Valley Project.

“It’s a critical moment,” said Rep. Jared Huffman, the San Rafael Democrat whose North Coast district spans the adjacent watersheds.

Read more at: Fate of Russian and Eel River flows rests in big fight over small hydroelectric project | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water, Wildlife

Russian River’s future draws diverse crowd to conference

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The supervisor’s goal in drawing together diverse interests from the public, private and nonprofit sectors is to “drive toward creating a one-watershed plan,” he said.

Environmentalists, bureaucrats, public officials, Native Americans and a patron of the arts gathered Friday to plot a future for the Russian River, the waterway they all consider a foundation for communities throughout the North Bay.

The river, which snakes 110 miles from the Mendocino County highlands near Willits to the Pacific Ocean at Jenner in Sonoma County, is a magnet for boaters, bird-watchers, swimmers and anglers, a water supply for 600,000 North Bay residents and the main artery of a 1,500-square-mile watershed.

It also faces a host of challenges over poor water quality and competing demands to support endangered fish, tourism, water storage, flood control and human needs ranging from raw thirst to pure inspiration.

Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore convened the Russian River Confluence, which drew about 220 people Friday to Santa Rosa Junior College’s Shone Farm, located about 2 miles east of the river in the Forestville area.

Read more at: Russian River’s future draws diverse crowd to conference | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water

Russian River Fish Flow Project EIR public review extended

SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

The DEIR and the errata sheet are available online at http://www.scwa.ca.gov/fish-flow/.

The Sonoma County Water Agency has extended the public review period for the Fish Habitat Flow and Water Rights Project (Fish Flow Project) Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) to 5 p.m., March 10, 2017. The 204-day review period began on August 19, 2016.

The comment period was extended to allow for additional time to review a recently released errata. The errata was issued after resource agency staff asked a question about a specific water temperature figure in Appendix G to the DEIR, which resulted in Water Agency staff reviewing the figures again. The errata corrects temperature and dissolved oxygen figures in the appendix of the modeling results. The errata does not change the DEIR impact analysis. The DEIR errata do not add significant new information or data regarding the project or environmental setting and would not substantially increase the severity of an impact or create a new significant impact.

“Because there are a large number of pages in the errata, we felt it was appropriate to provide agencies and the public with additional time,” said Water Agency Environmental Resources Manager Jessica Martini-Lamb. “By extending the comment period end date to March 10, we are providing people more than a month to review the errata.”

The Fish Flow Project would lower minimum instream flow requirements in the Russian River and Dry Creek to benefit threatened and endangered juvenile salmon, change the hydrologic index to better reflect watershed conditions and secure the existing rights to 75,000 acre feet of water used to provide drinking water to 600,000 residents in portions of Sonoma and Marin counties. The DEIR describes the proposed Fish Flow Project, the purpose of the project, why it is necessary and the potential environmental impacts of the project.

The DEIR and the errata sheet are available online at http://www.scwa.ca.gov/fish-flow/ and at Sonoma and Mendocino County libraries. Hard copies of the DEIR are available for purchase at (707) 547-1900 or at the Water Agency’s administrative office.  All written comments can be sent to fishflow-eir@scwa.ca.gov or to Sonoma County Water Agency, Attn: Fish Flow DEIR., 404 Aviation Boulevard, Santa Rosa, CA 95403 by 5 p.m., Monday, March 10, 2017.

Photo Comparison of the Russian River flows from Upper Russian River to Lower Russian River 

Source: Russian River Fish Flow Project EIR Public Review Extended

Filed under Water, Wildlife

Dry Creek Rancheria seeks to restore Russian River tributary for fish, water supply

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Tucked away among rolling green hills off the road leading up to the River Rock Casino near Geyserville, a once-beleaguered creek is springing back to life.

Situated at the bottom of a slope ravaged by a landslide in the 1980s, part of the creek bed and its immediate surroundings were for years covered with asphalt and used for parking. Now, with recently planted shrubs and trees taking root, the area is a testament of what could be in store for the entire mile-and-a-half-long waterway running through the Dry Creek Rancheria and into the Russian River.

The Dry Creek Band of Pomo Indians has already begun restoring one segment of the creek and applied for about $3.5 million in state grant funding to extend its work to the rest of the unnamed tributary to the Russian River. The tribe hopes to make the creek more hospitable to steelhead trout, a threatened species, while improving the health of the Russian River watershed and fortifying the water supply.

“Of course it’s important for us to be good stewards of this land,” said David Delira, the tribe’s public works manager. “Our stumbling block has always been funding.”

The tribe’s creek restoration dovetails with another project, on Dry Creek, where the tribe has been involved with efforts led by the Sonoma County Water Agency to restore a six-mile stretch of fish habitat, a multimillion dollar bid to ease effects tied to dam development and other human-caused harm to Russian River salmon and steelhead.

Read more at: Dry Creek Rancheria seeks to restore Russian River tributary for fish, water supply | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water, Wildlife

Public hearings set for Russian River low-flow plan

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Public hearings:

Wednesday, Cloverdale Veterans Hall, 205 W. First St. at 6:00pm.

Thursday, Guerneville Veterans Memorial Building, 16255 First St. at 6:00pm.

More information: scwa.ca.gov/fish-flow/

Written comments can be submitted until 5 p.m., Feb. 14, to fishflow-eir@scwa.ca.gov or to the Sonoma County Water Agency, Attn: Fish Flow DEIR, 404 Aviation Boulevard, Santa Rosa, 95403

People who want to give feedback about a plan to cut summertime flows in the Russian River and Dry Creek will have two opportunities to do so in person this week at public hearings.

The sessions, in Cloverdale on Wednesday and Guerneville on Thursday, are being hosted by the Sonoma County Water Agency, which is in the midst of environmental review for a series of proposed changes to water releases from Lakes Mendocino and Sonoma.

The proposals, if approved by state water regulators, would permanently drop stream flows during summer to improve habitat for imperiled juvenile coho salmon and steelhead trout.

But summer is also peak season for river recreation, raising fears about the impact on business and tourism, particularly among communities on the lower river, where seasonal flows would be cut by nearly half, even in wet weather years.

Many critics also believe reducing reservoir releases will contribute to the kind of warm, stagnant conditions that have produced toxic algae blooms in the Russian River and other water bodies around California during the past two summers. Low-flow conditions can also concentrate pollutants from runoff and other sources, reducing water quality.

Among those challenging the wisdom of the proposed changes is the Russian Riverkeeper advocacy and stewardship group, whose leaders contend that even cutting the river flow will not be enough to keep the river estuary closed for young salmon in summer, given ocean dynamics that shift the sand bar at the river’s mouth so often.

Read more at: Public hearings set for Russian River low-flow plan | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water, Wildlife

New $12 million Russian River fish ladder offers glimpse of salmon recovery efforts

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

[The new viewing gallery] will host visits by about 3,000 school children a year, and the Water Agency will offer free tours of the Mirabel facility from 9 a.m. to noon Nov. 12 and Nov. 18. People can register for one of the tours at www.scwa.ca.gov/tours.

A massive concrete structure, built to withstand floods and earthquakes beside the Russian River near Forestville, is the latest step toward restoring the river’s beleaguered salmon and steelhead populations.

The 600,000 Sonoma and Marin county residents who get their drinking water from the river paid for most of the $12 million fish ladder, which includes both a video monitoring system so scientists can count the migrating fish and a viewing gallery that will give the public a glimpse as well.

Grant Davis, general manager of the Sonoma County Water Agency, which developed the facility, said it offered a unique, submarine vantage point in California to watch wild salmon make their way upstream.

“This is open-heart surgery that we accomplished in our river system,” he said.

At a formal ribbon-cutting attended by about 150 people Wednesday, state Sen. Mike McGuire hailed the fish ladder as “a legacy project.”

“The Russian River is who we are in Sonoma County,” he said, noting that the river’s once-abundant salmon and steelhead long fed the region’s Pomo Indian tribes.

Chuck Bonham, director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, lauded the project as a pivotal one for salmon recovery in California.

Describing the annual migration of river-born fish to the ocean and back to their own spawning grounds, Bonham said, “What journey is more inspiring than that one?”

Read more at: New $12 million Russian River fish ladder offers glimpse of salmon recovery efforts | The Press Democrat

Filed under Habitats, Wildlife

River float brings ideas to surface

Tony Landucci, SONOMA WEST TIMES & NEWS

Almost 100 people took part in the Splash Mob event over the weekend, the conclusion of a nine day trip down the Russian River, starting at Lake Mendocino. Conservation nonprofit LandPaths and Russian Riverkeeper hosted the Headwaters to Ocean Descent with Supervisor James Gore.

In the cool morning air at the beach in Monte Rio the first half of the two-day Splash Mob launched kayaks and several canoes into the chilly water as vacationers and beach goes watched. On Sunday, many faces were familiar but new people replaced the ones who could not ride for the whole paddle.

The stream of about 40 boats cruised the water down to Casini Ranch  Family Campground in Jenner where many camped before the final day of paddling to mouth of the river. While the trip was almost entirely manageable for beginners, strong winds pushed back on paddlers as they powered their way under the Coast Highway bridge near where Highways 1 and 116 meet. The day went without incident and everyone made it to the shore safely.

Along the way, conversations were held as long as boaters could stick together. As skill levels and stamina were tested, the groups mingled, drifted apart and came back together. Backgrounds varied but many on the trip were in someway connected to the river through their jobs and education or were just interested in what the event had to offer. Biologists answered questions about ecology while water district workers explained regulations and policies, among other conversations.

Read more at: River float brings ideas to surface – Sonoma West Times and News: News

Filed under Local Organizations, Water, Wildlife

Sonoma County signals possible extension for comment on Russian River flow plan 

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Interested parties appear likely to get the extra time many have requested to review and comment on some 3,600 pages of study for a plan to permanently reduce summertime flows in the Russian River and Dry Creek to benefit imperiled fish species.

Sonoma County officials announced Friday they would discuss an extension at the Oct. 4 Board of Supervisors meeting and may schedule additional public hearings on the flow rate in lower and upper river communities.

The plan has raised concerns among some business representatives and river residents about the reduced flows’ effects on recreation and water quality.

Board Chairman Efren Carrillo said Friday he’s “highly confident” fellow supervisors will agree to additional time for public feedback.

“We still need formal action,” Carrillo cautioned. “I don’t want to be presumptuous.”

The notice came three days after a standing-room-only crowd appeared before the Board of Supervisors to address a six-volume draft environmental impact report that envisions significant changes for how Russian River flows are managed by the Sonoma County Water Agency.

Read more at: Sonoma County signals possible extension for comment on Russian River flow plan | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water, Wildlife

Critics of proposed low-flows for Russian River blast supervisors 

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Critics of a permanent plan to curtail summertime flows in the Russian River blasted Sonoma County supervisors Tuesday, with many saying the long-anticipated shift in water management would devastate lower river communities and economies dependent on recreation and tourism.

A string of speakers implored county officials to rethink their strategy or risk increased nuisance and toxic algae that could severely impact quality of life throughout the county. About 80 people attended the public hearing at the supervisors’ chambers, the only one planned as part of an environmental impact report scheduled for release later this year.

Others Tuesday night challenged the science behind the move, questioning the rationale of a 2008 federal opinion by the National Marine Fisheries Service that instructed the Sonoma County Water Agency to reduce artificially elevated summertime flows in the river and in Dry Creek as a way to improve habitat for threatened and endangered salmonid fish. At issue is a proposed overhaul of the agency’s management under which releases have been made from Lake Mendocino into the Russian River and from Lake Sonoma into Dry Creek, which joins the river near Healdsburg. County supervisors serve as the agency’s board of directors.

“Nothing good will come out of a low-flow proposal,” said Linda Burke, whose family has operated Burke’s Canoes in Forestville for two generations. “This is draconian. It’s unheard of. It’s sad, and it’s disgusting.”

The plan is informed by the 8-year-old federal decision that deemed existing operations a potential threat to the habitat and survival of struggling coho salmon, chinook salmon and steelhead trout, all of which are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Federal fishery experts say juvenile fish need low-velocity streams in order to thrive while feeding, resting and building up strength to go out to the ocean. It’s also believed reducing flows would encourage maintenance of a freshwater lagoon at the river mouth near Jenner, enhancing the survival of young steelhead trout.

Reserving a cold water pool in Lake Mendocino for release each fall also would benefit migrating chinook salmon adults as they come in from the ocean and head upstream to spawn, agency personnel said.

Read more at: Critics of proposed low-flows for Russian River blast supervisors | The Press Democrat

Filed under Habitats, Water, Wildlife

Russian River plan calls for lower summer flows

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Environmental Impact Report and related information are available online at scwa.ca.gov/fish-flow, and the comment period ends October 17.

A long-awaited report outlining plans to permanently reduce summertime flows in the Russian River and Dry Creek to benefit imperiled fish species was unveiled Friday, kicking off a public comment period that’s expected to feature ample disagreement and controversy.

The blueprint formalizes water releases that have already been made for years at Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma, the region’s two main reservoirs, which supply drinking water to more than 600,000 and maintain year-round river flows for people and fish.

The new, six-volume environmental impact report is meant to bring the region’s water management into official compliance with federal guidelines for the Russian River’s beleaguered salmon and steelhead trout species.

But it also would nearly halve minimum summertime flows in the lower river — even during the rainiest years — a policy that triggered questions and angst well before Friday about potential impacts on recreation, water quality and other aspects of the watershed’s health.

“Our community is concerned about the state of the fish habitat, but also concerned about any impacts making low flow permanent will have on our water quality, our tourism industry, and of course on the health of our residents and pets,” Monte Rio Community Alliance President Chuck Ramsey said. He alluded to the death of a dog, which last year ingested toxic algae during a trip down the lower river. Such algae can develop in still, warm and shallow water — conditions that can accompany low flows.

“There needs to be a balance that allows us to achieve the best outcomes possible,” Ramsey said.

Read more at: Russian River plan calls for lower summer flows to protect fish | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water, Wildlife