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>> Art (c) 1999 by Eve Monrad <<

Articles include links to info more recent than the publication date of this issue.

Lawsuit Filed Against
Sonoma County Water Agency's Water Grab

                                        more recent links at end of article

Environmentalists, Native Americans, and sports and commercial fishermen seek to overturn a plan by SCWA to increase its diversions from the Russian River to fuel growth in Sonoma and Marin Counties.

In January 1999, a broad coalition of organizations, including Friends of the Russian River and spearheaded by the Friends of the Eel River, filed suit in Sonoma County Superior Court challenging both the merits of Sonoma County Water Agency's Water Supply and Transmission System Project, which would increase by 50% the take of water from the Russian/Eel River systems, and the adequacy of the SCWA's Final Environmental Impact Report. One target of the suit is the Potter Valley Project, a complex of dams, tunnels and powerhouse that since 1908 has diverted nearly the entire summer flow of the mainstem Eel River to the Russian River. "The Sonoma County Water Agency's plan to continue diverting the Eel Rivers flows to stimulate unsustainable growth in Sonoma and Marin Counties is akin to robbing Peter to pay Paul," explained the President of the Friends of the Eel River, Nadananda. "The Water Agency's plan to keep the Eel River dry and further degrade the Russian River, one of North America's most endangered and threatened rivers, in order to facilitate inappropriate development in Sonoma and Marin Counties means everyone loses," added Fairfax Town Councilmember Frank Egger, an individual plaintiff in the suit.

The FERC Connection in Potter Valley

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is now analyzing the Potter Valley diversion to consider whether or not to reissue the facility's license. Already, the US Fish & Wildlife Service has recommended that the Potter Valley project be decommissioned--that is, shut down. This project is unnecessary and destructive--even PG&E tried to sell the power plant a few years ago, because it doesn't generate enough electricity to be worth keeping on line.

Currently, nearly the entire summer flow of the main stem of the Eel River is diverted out of its natural course into a tunnel bored through a mountain, through the hydroelectric power plant, and into the Russian River. In summer, 340 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water are diverted out of the Eel, leaving only 5 cfs left in the Eel to support native fish and wildlife. After the Eel River water leaves the Potter Valley Hydroelectric Plant, where PG&E uses it to generate power, the Sonoma County Water Agency grabs this water, which is considered abandoned.

With the listing of Steelhead Trout and Coho Salmon as Threatened species in the Russian River, there is growing concern that current practices are leading what was once one of the world's most prolific salmonid fisheries to the brink of extinction. The Potter Valley Diversion was a bad idea 80 years ago; it's still a bad idea. The water from the Eel River only accounts for 1% of the Water Agency's total available water. The water isnt needed; in fact, the Agency has a large supply of water from Warm Springs Dam that it never uses. But the Agency makes millions of dollars taking the abandoned water and selling it: in effect, raking in profits at the expense of both the Russian and Eel Rivers.

For more detail on the suit and related issues INCLUDING current issue status, visit the excellent and informative FOER Web site.

Sonoma Supes Approve Vineyard Ordinance

Ordinance chronology (includes items before and after this newlsetter's publication)

Regulates planting, creates stream setbacks

On May 11, 1999, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance to regulate vineyard development, requiring public notification by vineyard developers of their plans, requiring erosion control plans on steep slopes, and providing setbacks from all streams shown on USGS maps.  The ordinance is the first significant local effort to regulate land use practices by grapegrowers in Sonoma County.

The ordinance was crafted after environmentalists, including Friends Of the Russian River president Joan Vilms and director Russian R Tule PerchMark Green, negotiated for nearly a year with representatives of grower organizations to develop mutually-acceptable provisions for regulation of vineyard development.  Growers feared that environmentalists would qualify a much more stringent ordinance for voter approval; environmentalists wanted to pursue a cooperative approach before committing to the effort and expense of an initiative campaign.  The ordinance approved by the Supervisors closely follows the recommendations of the negotiating team, which included representatives of a broad range of environmental organizations and all the major grapegrowers' groups.  It includes tough enforcement provisions to prevent landowners from ignoring or circumventing the ordinance, and will allow the public unprecedented access to information about vineyard developers' plans.  Setbacks from streams will be required:  25' from the top of the bank on slopes under 15%, and 50' on slopes from 15-50%.  Development of slopes over 50% is now prohibited.

The ordinance does not address all concerns, particularly issues of forest habitat loss.  It is, however, a significant step, and FORR will continue to work towards appropriate controls on land use to ensure the future health and diversity of the Russian River watershed.

Cal Freshwater Shrimp


Next time you paddle a canoe downriver from Healdsburg, you may get a shock. Syar Industries, which mines gravel from the river terraces below Dry Creek, has completed plans for a giant concrete-armored weir to be constructed along the riverbank. This monster will be 500 feet long; it's basically an engineered spillway designed to protect the slopes of Syar's Phase I and Basalt pits from erosion damage when the river overtops the "levee" separating the pits from the river. This concrete band-aid is Syar's way of dealing with the problem of its unengineered narrow levee, which has ruptured in recent floods,sending millions of gallons of Healdsburg wastewater into the river.

There won't be any public hearings on this structure: these are just construction details of the mis-named "reclamation plan" approved some time ago...

This isn't the only concrete going in on terrace-mined lands. Kaiser Sand & Gravel is building two smaller concrete weirs on its pit lands on the east side of the river. One will be 100 feet long, the other 200; both will be built into pit berms away from the river itself, so you won't see them on your paddling trip. They were designed in consultation with NMFS; because their tops will be lower than the berm height, they'll supposedly help prevent fish from being stranded in the pits after a flood.

Once all this concrete is poured, it won't come out--removal is not part of the reclamation plans. These will be the first permanent structures constructed in the terrace pit lands.

IN OTHER GRAVEL NEWS: Syar and Kaiser both had new terrace mining applications approved in 1998. Syar's Phase 4, 33 acres, was approved in July, and Kaiser had two expansions of existing pits approved in December for a total of 42 new acres of mining. Kaiser projects a "yield" of 3.5 million tons of gravel from those 42 acres. It's worth at least $15 a ton; you do the multiplication!

In August 1998, in a suit filed against the County by the Russian River Task Force, Judge Lawrence Antolini set aside an Alexander Valley instream mining permit and reclamation plan granted to Jerry DeWitt pending certification of a supplemental EIR to evaluate the project's effects on threatened fisheries. To quote from the ruling: "...the Court finds no substantial evidence to support the County's finding that it has adequately analyzed the threatened fisheries issue..." The Board of Supervisors' response? It has appealed the ruling.


A broad-based group composed of people from Sonoma and Mendocino Counties, and from federal, state and county agencies has been meeting since June 1998 in an effort to create a Russian River Watershed Council.

steelhead trout

Putting the council on its feet has been a long and frustrating process. The glue that holds us together is the love and responsibility people feel for the river.  At a very deep level, we know that the state of the Russian River, as signaled by the state of its wild salmon and steelhead fishery, is our canary in the coal mine.  Our health and the economic and environmental health of our region are intricately connected to the health of the Russian River and its watershed.

Finally, at the March 27, 1999 meeting, an historic event occurred:  the interim council agreed by consensus to seat the council formally at its next meeting, under the following Mission Statement:

The mission of the Russian River Watershed Council is to protect, restore, and enhance the biological health of the Russian River and its watershed through a community-based process which facilitates communication and collaboration among all interested parties.

Our primary goals are:
1)  To ensure recovery of the Russian River and its watershed to a condition such that the native wild anadromous fishery recovers to healthy and sustainable levels.

2)  To ensure a strong, healthy and diverse economy in the Russian River Region.

3)  To promote stewardship of the Russian River and its watershed by developing an informed and engaged citizenry.

The following operating principle was adopted in spirit, but will be further refined to clarify its intent: 

That nothing done to implement the mission and goals of the Watershed Council shall be done at the expense of other watersheds.

Now we can roll up our sleeves and get started!!!

The Hydro...and the Aquapus
from Fred Euphrat's "Native Sonoma", on KRCB-FM

So many projects, so little time so much permanence.  Decisions can be considered, but they are final when they are cast in concrete.

The water projects of the Russian River and the Eel River, too, for that's what Russian River projects are, are being cast, in concrete, with paper forms and public process.

I think of the pipes, the channels, the ponds and the river all connnected... An aqua-pus.  And the process which creates it, a multi-headed monster.  The Hydro.auquapus

And I remember that, to people, water is the breath of life.  In goes the good water, out goes the bad water.

In goes the good water...

In process now is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission plan to approve continued diversion of 140,000 acre-feet of water from the Eel into the Russian.  Alternatives may range from no change (Sonoma County Water Agency's choice) to no water.

Out goes the bad water...

The Water Agency's drafted an Environmental Impact Report for two ponds at Sweetwater Springs, dams to 115 feet tall, to hold a half-billion gallons of wastewater.  These ponds will be connected to a network of wastewater lines... the Aquapus...from a centralized facility on the lower Russian to "anchor reservoirs" on, and for, vineyards, to Windsor, to Healdsburg, to Santa Rosa and south, with an ability to go to the Geysers, too.  A comment period on the final EIR will open soon.   Comments will be taken on the dams only.

In goes the good water...

There's the Water Agency's expansion project to increase facilities to pump nearly double the water from the river and its gravels, to meet projected increased demand.  The EIR's been turned down by the planning Commission, but was certified, meaning approved, by the Water Agency's board---the Board of Supervisors.  Self-certification is part of the California Environmental Quality Act...shocking, but true!  Got comments?   Better call a state agency.  Final comments, and with it the right to sue, closed a month ago.

Out goes the bad water...

There are ongoing Section 7 meetings regarding coho.  That's section 7 of the Endangered Species Act, and the meetings are part of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Army Corps, the Water Agency and National Marine Fisheries Service.  Basically, this is where the Water Agency explains how their operations don't damage the endangered Coho in the Russian.  Talk to NMFS, in Santa Rosa, or the Water Agency to find the next point of public input.

In goes the good water...

There have been individual water appropriation requests from some large vineyards to reduce flows in specific tributaries.  The State Water Resources Control Board Staff is considering how little water streams really need.  Some people say fish passage and adequate depth for spawning are critical.  SWRCB staff seems more interested in satisfying equations and allowing withdrawals. Public process is limited to case-by-case input.

Out goes the bad water...

The gravel industry has permission to dig 4 million tons per year out of the Russian River aquifer. With every ton removed, that's more need for water from the Eel and Warm Springs Dam.  Enforcers of the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act have found our ordinances aren't up to national criteria.  Hearings and public process are supposed to start, soon.

In goes the good water...

The Watershed Council - a state-federal-community hand-holding group...may continue to meet if the state and feds find money for it.  They haven't decided on the shape of the table yet, but may be focusing on the needs of fish in the river system, and land use.

Out goes the bad water ...

With every development, the land is re-drained, from the roofs to the sewers to the flood control channels, to reduce the now-aggravated local flooding.  Greywater use is not included in the plans... the developments are the source for wastewater, to feed the aquapus.

Within this Hydro of projects, the big picture, and the big impact, is lost.

Development increases water use;  and water use makes wastewater;  more wastewater is consumed by vineyardization, and more Graping of the landscape.  This is good for developers, who get to profit, and vineyards,who get to expand.  And this is great for the water agency which grows with facilities, staff and revenues.  But is it good for you?

The problem with fighting Hydras is they always sprout more heads.  Maybe we need one plan, one process, and one, fair fight.

...Otherwise, its like wrestling an Aquapus.

Fred Euphrat's "Native Sonoma" can be heard on KRCB-FM Wednesdays at 6:35AM, 8:35AM, and 6:30PM,and Saturdays at 1:00 PM.
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