Tag Archives: water quality

Bucolic Valley Ford faces water problems linked to dairies

Paul Payne, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Restaurants in bucolic Valley Ford serve up local seafood and farm-raised beef. But don’t ask for local water.

Anything that makes it to the table in one of this town’s several eateries is trucked in from Petaluma because water from Valley Ford’s main well has been deemed unfit to drink.

That could soon change. Officials in the town of about 125 people near the Sonoma Coast hope to complete a multiyear effort this fall to pipe in clean water from a new well. It will put an end to mounting transportation costs and delivery problems connected to winter storms.

“It’s a bummer to have to truck in water,” said Geoff Diamond, manager of Estero Café on Highway 1, as he tended a small breakfast crowd Thursday morning. “It would certainly be an asset to the rest of the town to have clean water coming through.

”Some in Valley Ford — a longtime dairy town with a cluster of tourist-friendly businesses including the iconic Dinucci’s Italian restaurant — say the change can’t come soon enough. Restaurants are barred from serving well water but residents still get it when they turn on the tap.

Warnings of high nitrate levels associated with surrounding dairy ranches have prompted many to drink, cook and even bathe with bottled water. The State Water Resources Control Board issued a warning last month that pregnant women and infants younger than 6 months should not consume the well water. Additionally, the warning cautioned against boiling, freezing or filtering the water.

Read more at: Bucolic Valley Ford faces water problems linked to dairies | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Water

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

Russian River trippers to check on River’s condition on multi-day trek

Bureaucrats, property owners and environmental activists will float down the Russian River next week to check on the River’s condition and imagine what it might look like in the next 150 years.

“It’s a pretty ambitious event,” said Healdsburg resident and Russian Riverkeeper Executive Director Don McEnhill, who will be one of the invited paddlers when the planned 10-day River trek begins next Wednesday at Lake Mendocino in Mendocino County.

The group of attendees includes federal, state and regional policy makers, Native American tribal representatives, and stakeholders from business, agriculture, energy, timber and the arts all floating down the River from Mendocino to Jenner in three separate trips over the next eight weeks.

Called the Russian River Confluence, next week’s paddle is limited to invitees only but a public participation is scheduled for October when the paddlers will travel from Forestville to Jenner on Oct. 7, 8 and 9. A middle reach trip from Cloverdale to Forestville is scheduled for Sept. 7, 8 and 9.

A key goal of the confluence effort is to get the Russian River and its tributaries off a federal list of water bodies whose beneficial uses are designated as “impaired.”

Russian River impairments include pollution from urban and agricultural run-off, and high bacteria counts attributed to sources including dairy waste, residential septic systems and homeless camps.

The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board is currently drafting a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) action plan that will target pollution sources and impose regulations to restore and protect the River’s beneficial uses as a source of drinking water, irrigation and recreation.

“There are many water bodies around the country that have undertaken similar actions and have gotten removed from listings, which is a laudable goal,” said Healdsburg’s Fourth District County Supervisor James Gore. “It gives you an achievable mission,” said Gore, who has spearheaded the watershed confluence gathering that will culminate with a one-day summit meeting next May.

The River trip and the May summit will bring together “not just the fisheries and the water quality aspects and the water supply but the idea of idea of arts and culture and the different components of the River and the watershed itself that we need to celebrate if we want to regenerate it,” said Gore.

“We need to have a plan to remove, through active conservation, all the impairments throughout the Russian River,” said Gore. “If we can do that we can say we have a clean river.”

Representatives from county government entities such as the Economic Development Board, Regional Parks, the Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, and the Sonoma County Water Agency are invited next week along with non-governmental groups including Russian Riverkeeper and LandPaths, the nonprofit that is providing the boats.

Public participation opens on Oct. 7 “with hundreds if not a thousand people floating together out to Jenner,” said Gore.

“The goal is to storytell with a wide variety of people to bring out those lessons of where we are currently as a river system and as a watershed and where need to be,” said Gore.

Source: Russian River trippers to experience watershed on multi-day trek

Filed under Local Organizations, Water

Toxic algae alert issued for Russian River

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County public health officials are urging caution while swimming in or being near the Russian River after tests this week revealed the presence of a harmful toxin produced by blue-green algae near four public beaches.

Officials are not advising people to avoid swimming in the river — at least, not yet. But they are asking people to take precautions, especially with children and pets. Both are more susceptible to being harmed by the toxin.

“I think it would be better not to bring the dog to the river,” Dr. Karen Holbrook, the county’s deputy health officer, said Thursday. “If they do bring a dog, they need to monitor him or her very closely.”

The warning was issued after tests revealed the presence of Anatoxin-a in the water near the four beaches. The naturally occurring toxin attacks the central nervous system of mammals and can be so lethal that it’s earned the scary moniker “VFDF” — short for “Very Fast Death Factor.”

Under new state guidelines, any amount of the toxin found in waterways is enough to trigger health warnings. Officials began putting up signs Thursday at all ten of the Russian River’s public beaches encouraging people to be mindful of the algae and to follow recommendations to minimize risks from exposure.

The suggestions include not ingesting river water or using it for cooking, keeping pets and children away from algae and showering with fresh water after getting out of the river.

Read more at: Toxic algae alert issued for Russian River | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water

Extra-low summer flow in the Russian River proposed by Water Agency

Brenda Adelman, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

Ready, set, go! Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) is off and running towards permanently lowering minimum Russian River summer flows forever. Once this occurs, the risk of water quality degradation that includes increased algae and possibly toxic algae, is a virtual certainty, along with all the other problems that entails. The river now suffers from excessive temperatures and excessive phosphorus and the only condition holding algae somewhat in check is summer flows.

Yet the Biological Opinion requires minimum flows in the lower river to be cut by as much as 50% between May 15th and October 15th. Minimum summer flows at Hacienda were historically set at 125 cubic feet per second (cfs); the proposed change can bring that down as low as 60 cfs.

Not only is algae likely to increase at that level, but any other unmonitored and unregulated toxins in the river can become more concentrated and also provide greater risk.

Biological Opinion set the stage…

The Biological Opinion was released by National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in 2008. It described Russian River habitat changes needed to compensate for possible degradation caused by Sonoma County Water Agency’s water supply operations from their two dams and reservoirs (Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma) and other operations.

Two salmonid fish species had been named in the late 1990’s as threatened (Chinook and steelhead), a third as endangered (coho), and as a result, the Endangered Species Act kicked in and the Biological Opinion is Federal Law. To our knowledge, it never considered other laws, such as the Clean Water Act, that govern water quality.

The Biological Opinion was never released for public input and response, nor addressed project impacts on the lower river between Dry Creek confluence and Duncans Mills. It was a result of a multi-year consultation between The Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE), the Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA), California Fish and Wildlife, and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). It was released and no changes were possible. We assume that any impacts addressed in this document will be mitigated without significant change to required flow reductions.

Fish Flow Project EIR…

While this current EIR by SCWA does give the opportunity for input, and comments will be responded to, and Directors (Supervisors) will ultimately decide on the adequacy of the EIR, we are not sure if there is a way to stop the project, as SCWA has virtually indicated that fulfilment of the requirements is mandatory in order to continue their operations and water sales.

Their Urban Water Management Plan states on page 1-4, “The Water Agency must implement the following general categories to avoid jeopardy and maintain the “Incidental Take Statement” provided in the Biological Opinion: Modifying minimum instream flows in the Russian River and Dry Creek.” (other items were also listed including changes to Estuary Management).

Yet, in the last seven years, SCWA attempts to implement the Estuary Project (create a fresh water lagoon for juvenile steelhead) barely succeeded once.

NMFS has failed to manage tributary flows needed by salmonids…

Rather than try to control the ever dynamic mouth of the Russian River, NMFS’s intentions may have been better served by focusing on the historical culprit for fish habitat loss, property owner draw down of summer creek flows (especially vineyards), where salmonids liked to spawn. (Many spawning creeks such as Mark West now dry up in summer.)

Instead, NMFS proposed a habitat management plan to create a fresh water lagoon in the Estuary by lowering flows throughout the lower river and establishing a channel that somehow blocks sea water from getting in and allows fresh water to slowly seep out. For seven years, the project has mostly failed, yet they are moving forward to permanent status anyway. (Conditions are seldom right to construct the channel appropriately.)

Saved water will serve new development in urban areas…

This proposal will allow more water to be stored in the reservoirs for water contractors to fulfill their general plan projections for new development. In fact, the recent 2015 Urban Water Management Plan stated that flows must be lowered or SCWA can be held responsible for takings of the fish (see above) and could lose their water rights as a result. We can’t help but wonder what consideration has been given to those laws that protect water quality.

Schedule of meetings and due dates…

Only one of the three listed species will benefit from the Estuary project (steelhead trout) and the Chinook may even suffer further decline from the lowered flows during their juvenile migration in spring (downstream) and adult migration in fall (upstream), because of higher temperatures, and excessive phosphorus. We hope many people will participate in this process.

Here’s the meeting and comment schedule: 

  • August 19th, Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) will release Environmental Impact Report (EIR)
  • August 24th there will be an “Open House” (information available but not a group meeting) at Monte Rio Community Center from 4-8 pm and in Cloverdale at Vets on August 22nd at same time.
  • September 13th is the big hearing before the Directors (Supervisors) in their Santa Rosa Chambers beginning at 3 pm. Please try to attend. This will probably be only opportunity to express concerns directly and give oral comments on document.

Source: Russian River Flow and Fish

Filed under Water, Wildlife

Report pending on lower Russian River flows: project will permanently cut summertime flows by about 40 percent

Frank Robertson, SONOMA WEST TIMES

A long-awaited report on what might happen when the Russian River has less water flowing down it in the summertime will be released Aug. 19, Sonoma County Water Agency officials announced last week.

Many lower River residents remain unconvinced that a permanent lower flow will help habitat for endangered salmon and steelhead trout, Russian River Watershed Protection Committee founder Brenda Adelman cautioned County Supervisors last week. A federal “Biological Opinion” issued eight years ago that called for a reduced flow “totally ignored the lower River,” said Adelman.

The Russian River Instream Flow and Restoration (RRIFR) project will permanently cut summertime flows by about 40 percent between Healdsburg and the River’s mouth at Jenner.

Anglers, swimmers and boaters are expected to be looking closely at what conditions they’ll have to live with when summer flows are cut every summer from 125 cubic feet per second (CFS) to about 75 CFS in a normal rainfall year.

The National Marine Fisheries Services Biological Opinion “never had public review, public comment or agency review that I’m aware of,” said Adelman. “It totally ignored the lower River from about the confluence of Dry Creek down to Duncans Mills. I really feel like the lower River has been neglected, especially in terms of water quality impacts,” said Adelman. “I hope that that will be corrected through this process.”

Underscoring the far-reaching challenges of the new low-flow regime the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors last week took the unusual step of announcing the Environmental Impact Report’s release four weeks in advance of the actual day when the public gets to see the report.

Copies of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) will be available digitally and on flash drive or to download from the Water Agency’s website. Paper copies will also be available at the Sonoma County Public Libraries in Guerneville, Windsor, Healdsburg and Cloverdale, and from the Water Agency for a fee.

Read more at: Report pending on lower Russian River flows – Sonoma West Times and News: News

Filed under Water, Wildlife

Toxic redux?

Read more at: Toxic Redux?

Filed under Water

A chaotic mess: State Water Board suspends delta tunnels deadlines

Dan Bacher, DAILY KOS

Water Board documents

The State Water Resources Control Board announced on March 29 that they are suspending the upcoming deadlines for the California Water Fix/Delta Tunnels water rights change petition in response to a request by the state and federal water agencies to extend dates and deadlines for the scheduled hearing, along with a number of other requests either to dismiss or delay the petition.

On March 28, 2016, the Water Board hearing officers for the California WaterFix  water right change petition hearing received a letter from the Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation requesting a 60-day continuance of all dates and deadlines associated with the hearing.

On the same day,  the hearing officers also received a request from several parties to dismiss the petition. Then on March 29,  the State Water Board received additional requests to delay and stay the hearing, pending resolution of several matters, according to a letter from Tam M. Doduc and Felicia Marcus, State Water Board WaterFix Co-Hearing Officers.

In their March 29 letter, ten representatives of environmental, fishing and farming groups called on Doduc and Marcus to dismiss the petition, stating, “We believe there are much better uses of everyone’s time, such as spending the necessary time to update the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan to adequately protect current beneficial uses.”  (fishsniffer.com/..). In response to the various requests, the upcoming deadlines are suspended.  “A ruling will be issued in the near future formally addressing the requests and providing additional information about the hearing schedule,” said Doduc and Marcus.

Read more at: A Chaotic Mess: State Water Board Suspends Delta Tunnels Deadlines

Filed under Sustainable Living, Water, Wildlife

Contaminated water found in Rohnert Park subdivision 

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Blaise Turek looked forward to taking a hot shower after he and his wife returned home from vacation in mid-December. But when he turned the faucet on, brownish water with a putrid stench flowed out.

“The smell was off the charts,” he said.

Almost a month later, the Tureks and more than a dozen other property owners in the Canon Manor West neighborhood just east of Rohnert Park are still dealing with fallout from contamination in their water wells.

County health officials this week revealed that 17 of 31 residential wells tested in the development south of Sonoma State University are ridden with potentially harmful bacteria, including E. coli in seven of the contaminated water sources. Besides ordering residents to discontinue using the wells, officials will be sending letters to every property owner in the 257-acre development warning them of the problem and urging precautions.

“I think it’s an urgency,” said Karen Holbrook, the county’s deputy health officer. “People should be aware that they are potentially drinking water that’s not safe.”

More than a public health concern, the well contamination in Canon Manor West highlights longstanding disputes in several Sonoma County neighborhoods over water rights and responsibility for ensuring that the water is safe.

Holbrook on Wednesday said the consensus among county officials and those from the city of Rohnert Park — which maintains a sewer line in Canon Manor West — is that failing septic systems and surface water contamination are to blame for the well problems.

Several residents, however, accuse the county of using the current crisis as an excuse to enforce an ordinance requiring Canon Manor West residents to hook up to public water and sewer lines, abandon and destroy septic systems and to discontinue well use for domestic purposes.

Read more at: Contaminated water found in Rohnert Park subdivision | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water

E. coli contamination in wells near Rohnert Park prompts alert

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County officials fanned out in the Canon Manor neighborhood east of Rohnert Park this week warning dozens of residents that water drawn from private wells may be contaminated with E. coli and fecal coliform bacteria.

Two wells outside homes in the neighborhood near Sonoma State University already have tested positive for what county officials called “extremely high” levels of the two strains of bacteria. The county ordered the property owners to discontinue using the wells, which are in the 1700 block of Lynn Drive. The owners have subsequently hooked up to a system operated by the Penngrove/Kenwood Water Co.

County health officials stressed that there have been no reports of anyone being sickened from drinking or using water from contaminated wells in Canon Manor. Symptoms of E. coli infection include abdominal distress and headaches. It’s unknown whether the contamination also includes potentially deadly strains of the bacteria as the county’s lab tests are not that specific, according to Karen Holbrook, the county’s deputy health officer.

“We’re acting out of an abundance of caution,” she said.

The county first received a complaint about sewage odors emanating from a well Dec. 18 from a property owner on Lynn Drive. Tests of wells on two adjacent properties revealed the presence of more than 2,419 colonies of E. coli and fecal coliform in a 100-milliliter sampling of water. There are no safe levels for either bacteria.

Read more at: E. coli contamination in wells near Rohnert Park | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water