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Spring 2001
Friends Of the Russian River's
C U R R E N T S

Table of Contents

President's Greeting
by Dan Wickham

As the new board president for the Friends of the Russian River I extend my greetings and my gratitude for working with a unique group of people, all dedicated to the care and restoration of one of California's authentic natural treasures.

I feel embarrassed that I could have lived for 30 years in Sonoma County without really appreciating the Russian River. My eyes were opened two years ago, when my wife Dee and I moved to a riverfront house in Duncan's Mills. Like so many people, I had the subliminal sense that the River was a stricken, polluted watercourse passing through communities on the edge of collapse. Thank our cynical Press Democrat for shaping my view.

What a pleasant shock to walk down to Duncan's Mills shore, dive into crystal water and gaze up and downstream to natural vistas usually reserved for national parks. I have now had the chance to canoe through the stunning Alexander Valley to Healdsburg stretch and the intriguing meander to Forestville. But I am in my own special Eden when I canoe in the supernatural midnight silence through the sublime stretch from Duncan's Mills to Jenner.

The message I would like to get to residents of the Redwood Empire is complex. First, the River faces serious and continuing threats to its health and vitality. Poorly regulated logging, virtually unregulated gravel strip mining, vineyards pushed through crucial riparian habitat to the very edge of the water, pesticides, fertilizers and sewage discharges, and worst of all, urbanization and traffic beyond the River's capacity or our tolerance.

Where are our salmon and steelhead, our bald eagles? When will we finally clean up the Laguna de Santa Rosa, source of virtually all of the pollution in the lower river? When will we control the thousands of tons of silt our activities generate?

All are important issues that FORR members engage in daily. But the real message is not how bad our River is. It is how beautiful and vibrant the river is. How worthwhile our efforts to preserve the river intact and restore the impacted area.

Don't despair but, rather, rejoice that we still have the chance to preserve this treasure. But we must act now or that chance is gone forever. The pressure to strip this natural resource so a select few can establish their dynasties is on us with an almost maniac frenzy.

FORR is pushing on virtually all fronts, but some special programs are in the making that will help us focus our energy. The most exciting to me is our RiverKeeper Project, with board member Don McEnhill at the lead as our new RiverKeeper.


Russian RiverKeeper Project
by Don McEnhill

In the middle of the night someone dumps barrels containing solvents...someone, without a permit, bulldozes a creekbed...an irrigation line breaks and spews pesticide-laden water on the ground...urban runoff efficiently carries trash, toxics and homeowner-applied herbicides or pesticides into a tributary, a state agency writes a permit that increases the amount of treated effluent a municipality is allowed to dump, a timber harvest creates a huge sediment flow smothering juvenile Salmon fry in a tributary.

It is a public right and the law of the U.S. and California that the Russian River and its wildlife be protected and preserved. The river is a Public Resource that also provides drinking water and recreational opportunities to our region, which, like the wildlife, are protected under law. With three species of Salmonids listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and one of them, Coho Salmon, virtually non-existent, it is time to bring major efforts to bear on protecting the Russian River. That is why we are establishing the Russian RiverKeeper Project. When someone fouls the Russian River or a tributary, it degrades the water quality and incurs a cost for people, government and businesses in the watershed. It costs taxpayers money to clean up problems and address declining wildlife populations. It's an unfair advantage over other businesses when one business cuts corners or breaks the law and, again, taxpayers usually foot the bill for mitigation. When someone makes a decision based solely on self interest, they have to account for each decision's impact on the community. That is why we have the federal Clean Water Act, Department of Fish and Game regulations, Endangered Species Act and planning and zoning laws.

Just as a neighborhood watch program seeks to supplement the police in fighting crime, a full-time FORR's Russian RiverKeeper Project will supplement the efforts of public agencies, private organizations and responsible businesses to protect, enhance and restore the Russian River. We intend to be living, breathing witnesses who don't work for government or industry, who represent the public interest, collecting evidence, monitoring the health of the Russian and what people are doing to it. Not just taking pictures or sticking test tubes in the water, but saying: "Here's the bad guy, here's what he did, the date he did it on, and why it's illegal," and presenting that evidence to authorities. We do not intend to put anyone out of business, just put people out of the pollution and habitat degradation business. We will always employ cooperation over confrontation with offenders and public agencies, reserving litigation as an absolute last resort.

We have been working on this project on a strictly volunteer basis for the last six months; our goal is to employ a full-time person to run the program. Your continued support of Friends of the Russian River will make this happen. We are currently looking for any volunteers with the following experience and capabilities: research and report writing, grantwriting, water quality sampling program design. In the future we will need volunteers who will learn how to analyze and comment on pollutant discharge permits and streambed alteration permits, water quality sampling, data input and reporting and other areas.

Russian RiverKeeper Project promises to be an exciting way for Friends of the Russian River and our community to help address the problems and threats to our most valuable public natural resource, the Russian River, and ensure we pass it to the next generation in more healthy, abundant and sustainable condition.

Our work over the next year will include:

On Land

  • Survey public agencies and existing private organizations for input on program focus and unmet needs
  • Perform data gap analysis on water quality information in the Russian River watershed and prioritize needs
  • Create a project plan to address water quality monitoring needs
  • Participate in Basin Plan update by North Coast Region Water Quality Control Board and attend their board meetings
  • Create a web site for pictures and documentation of pollution sources and riparian destruction as well as well-preserved or restored riparian habitat; try this link and bookmark it for future reference: www.russianriverkeeper.org
  • Work with national Waterkeepers Alliance and local SF Bay/DeltaKeeper to maintain currency of approach

On Water

  • Create methods and procedures for river patrols focusing on pollution detection and riparian habitat protection
  • Acquire a boat for RiverKeeper
  • Establish a volunteer water quality sampling program

To assist, support or participate, please write info(at)russianriverkeeper(dot)org.


Gravel mining threatens the Russian River
By Thérèse Shere
[Check subsequent event(s): EC Notices or EC Issues/Topics ]

Aggregate mining production from instream bars and floodplain pits along the Russian River in Sonoma County averaged 2 million tons per year during the 1990s, about half of total aggregate production in the county. Mining occurs only along a 40-river-mile stretch from Cloverdale downstream to about 7 miles south of Healdsburg. Instream mining is concentrated in the Cloverdale and Alexander Valley Reaches, and floodplain mining (officially called "terrace" mining in Sonoma County) in the Middle Reach below Healdsburg, where there exist about 900 acres of deep pits in the seven-mile long Russian River Valley.

Although mining actually occurs along only 40 miles of river, its impacts are far-reaching. Instream mining removes gravel directly from a river system already starved for sediment. Channel incision has been serious in the Russian. Riverbed level dropped up to 12 feet in the Alexander Valley since 1940. In the Middle Reach, where deep gravel dredging in the riverbed itself was the preferred mining method in the 1950s and 1960s, downcutting since 1940 is as much as 20 feet. Large amounts of sediment coming into the Russian River system are trapped behind the Coyote and Warm Springs dams, further reducing the sediment supply in the Sonoma County reaches. Sonoma County's Aggregate Resources Management (ARM) Plan claims to limit instream mining each year to "sustainable" levels--the amount of gravel naturally replenished the season before-but this requirement does not apply to the first year of mining, and there is a great deal of controversy about how to reliably measure what that "natural replenishment" amount is each year.

The impacts of downcutting from decreased sediment supply extend far up- and downstream of mining locations. They include bank erosion, tributary downcutting, and drops in groundwater levels, affecting wells. Tributary downcutting makes streams wider, shallower, and warmer, making them inhospitable to threatened salmonids. Spawning gravels are frequently scoured out under these conditions as well. And downcutting can mean fish passage problems too. Water level drops cause losses of riparian vegetation, which in turn raise stream temperatures.

Floodplain pits are up to 60 feet deep, their bottoms well below the riverbed level. In most cases they are separated by narrow unengineered earth "levees"-simply strips of unmined earth left in their original locations. In high flows, these separators can easily be breached suddenly, which can cause sudden, extreme downcutting up- and downstream. Salmonids may reach the pits during high flows and remain trapped there when flows recede, to be preyed upon by resident warmwater species. Some pits are used for wastewater deposition, and breaches mean sudden release of large amounts of minimally-treated wastewater into the river. Pit mining can also affect groundwater levels and flows, threatening aquifer recharge and well water supplies (including wells of the Sonoma County Water Agency and the City of Windsor) and removing the natural filtration capacity of the mined gravels.

The threat of gravel mining is not going away. Sonoma County's 10-year ARM Plan adopted in 1994 specifies a 10-year phaseout of "terrace" pit mining, the aggregate production slack to be taken up by hardrock quarry mining, granted some minor incentives in the Plan. However, since 1994 the quarries' production share has increased very little, and quarry expansion projects have so far not been approved and encounter serious opposition. In spite of the listing of Coho and Steelhead under the ESA, instream mining continues, albeit with conditions imposed by NMFS. The problem of how to achieve "sustainable" instream mining has not been solved. The ARM Plan makes it a priority to fulfill local aggregate demand with local production, and there is heavy development pressure in Sonoma County which is likely to mean heavy aggregate demand in the future. Several current or possible major infrastructure projects such as Highway 101 widening and construction of the Geysers wastewater pipeline will consume huge amounts of gravel.

The Russian RiverKeeper Project program can help address these threats best by publicizing them. Riparian lands along the Russian are almost entirely privately owned, and what is out of sight is out of mind for most people. The constant presence of an advocate who can be on the river much of the time, see what is going on and document it, bring other people onto the river, and communicate what they are seeing will be of inestimable value. The public awareness this can bring is a necessary prerequisite for public policy changes to reduce the threats posed by mining and other destructive land use practices. Also, the County program to monitor gravel mining operations is weak. Inspections are supposed to be done on every 60 days, but in practice that doesn't occur. The Russian RiverKeeper Project will be in an excellent position to see any violations and report them to the County.

[Photo courtesy of Scott Hess. See Scott's RiverGuardians web pages for additional photos, text and diagrams that show how the regions's greatest gift of nature: a productive acquifer that supplies half a million people, is being sacrificed for private short-term gains from gravel mining.]


Letter from Marty Griffin

Most North County residents are fed up with Santa Rosa's LA style of rampant growth. Its sprawl depends on degrading our Russian River resources with wastewater discharges, gravel mining, water diversions, oily urban runoff, and poisoning the Laguna de Santa Rosa with phosphates, heavy metals, and chemicals. Santa Rosa's treated wastewater is proving to be of inferior quality, potentially unsafe for native plantlife and salmon.

Now we are faced with the doubling of Santa Rosa's Geysers pipeline capacity to 40 mgpd, with branches to distribute and store wastewater along 75 miles of pipelines and on 22,000 acres of sensitive watershed lands extending from near Guerneville to Cloverdale. This ecocide is to be done without a current EIR on the entire project, under the guise of reuse and Geysers recharge.

We are led to believe that disposal in the North County will save our creeks and salmon. But the reverse is true. Each gallon exported out of the Santa Rosa basin into North County watersheds allows Santa Rosa to reach its goal of 20,000 new households by 2020. This growth requires more storage reservoirs in steep canyons, which leak, killing aquatic life downstream.

The availability of cheap wastewater will encourage North County farmers to subdivide into 100 acre vineyard estates with superb views of the Geysers.

We invite citizens to join our legal crusade and help force Santa Rosa and the Water Agency to stop segmenting its Geysers project and disclose in a new EIR exactly where and how much wastewater will be stored, discharged into the river, sprayed, irrigated, or used for Geysers recharge. There are alternatives to the North County disposal scheme, such as: aggressive water conservation, tiered water prices, recycling wastewater in the central county, limiting population growth, limiting growth to available water, double piping and low flush toilets for all.

To Join: Healdsburg Area Citizens for Wastewater Reform, Please send name and address to: Treasurer, 531 Jachetta Ct. Healdsburg, CA 95448


CEQA Suit Update
By Don McEnhill

Since our last newsletter, the Friends of the Eel River-led CEQA case against the SCWA Water Storage Transmission and Supply Plan (WSTSP) EIR went to trial for the first two of four causes of action. FORR is a petitioner in this suit. The WSTSP seeks to increase diversion from the river system by 40%. The Court ruled against the first two causes last summer (2000), and used Sonoma County's recommendations almost word for word in its judgement. FOER plans to appeal but has to try the remaining causes of action before proceeding to appeal on the first two. The third and fourth causes pertaining to the damage caused by the Potter Valley Project's diversion of Eel River water to the Russian over the last ninety years will be tried this summer. The surprise resurrection and approval of amendment 11 by Petaluma has spurred the SCWA to plow ahead with the WSTSP despite the ongoing legal proceedings against it. During this time, FOER has filed a timely protest to SCWA's application for the water rights pursuant to the WSTSP. Based on FOER's protest SCWA has twice requested an extension of time, but will surely be blocked or rejected.

For more detail on the suit and related issues, see:

[Table of Contents]


A View from Inside RRWC
by Tim Derry

In February the Executive Committee for the Russian River Watershed Council met for the first time. This committee consisted of representatives of the USACOE, State Resource Agency, Sonoma and Mendocino counties, and the three caucuses from the RRWC. The purpose of this meeting was to gauge the level of support by all participants. From my perspective, although continued support was promised, it was clearly a mediocre response. The indication was that the RRWC could be a successful gateway for public approval of restoration projects in the watershed, but that little more in terms of watershed management policy should be expected. Meanwhile the RRWC continues to struggle with its identity with the debate presently being whether to incorporate into a non-profit or not. What I see is that presently the RRWC is successful at bringing a diverse group of stakeholders together to discuss the complex issues of this watershed but continues to follow and be manipulated by the money for restoration projects.


AB 38 and AB 679
by Susan Emblen-Richtsmeier

Have you ever thought the Sonoma County Water Agency has too much power in its hands with its "Water Agents" also acting as Board of Supervisors? You don't need to look too closely to see that the obligations of servicing development and stewarding resources might regularly be in conflict with one another, and that stewardship suffers as a consequence.

Assemblywoman Virginia Strom-Martin is trying to alter this situation, and has authored two bills related to returning some of the control of Russian River water back into stakeholders' hands. She finds it unfortunate that, while 95% of California Water Boards are directly elected, Sonoma County's Water Agency officials happen to obtain this position as an add-on when they are elected to the Board of Supervisors.

AB38 would, "require the Board of Directors of the Sonoma County Flood Control & Water Conservation District to be an elected body whose members shall be elected on a districtwide basis".

AB679 would require: implementing a more open SCWA plan review process, quantifying the instream flow that satisfies current Agency obligations, identification of all water service contracts, a 50% conservation plan, and public access to all SCWA plans via their posting on a website.

As ratepayers for SCWA-managed water, we deserve to have our representatives paying more attention to resource concerns instead of empire-building through unsustainably exploitating resources. We deserve to have a healthy watershed, as do the Mendocino residents deserve a healthy Eel River. The SCWA wearing two hats is inhibiting viablity of natural watershed systems in Northern California. We need to eliminate the Board of Supervisor's dual power of controlling development and water resources, and, for the health of our communities, reassign the latter to directly-elected representatives.

I urge you to get involved with these measures right away. We need widspread public support of bills such as these if we are to make a significant difference in politics as usual in Sonoma County. Take a bold step and get involved. Let's shake up the new good ol' boy network!

FORR supports AB38 and AB679. I urge you to write your representatives today about AB 38 and AB 679. For your convenience, our State Representatives and Assembly member contact information is listed below.

  • John Burton, Senator 3rd District
    Ph#(415)479-6612, Fax#(415)479-1146
    3501 Civic Center Drive, Room 425
    San Rafael, CA 94903

  • Wes Chesbro, Senator 2nd District
    Ph#(707)576-2771, Fax#(707)576-2773
    50 D Street, Suite 120A
    Santa Rosa, CA 95404
    E-mail Senator Chesbro

  • Joe Nation, State Assembly 6th District
    Ph#(415)479-4920, Fax#(415)479-2123
    3501 Civic Center Drive, Room 412
    San Rafael, CA 94903
    E-mail Assemblyman Nation

  • Virginia Strom-Martin, State Assembly 1st District
    Ph#(707)576-3536, Fax#(707)576-2297
    50 D Street, Suite 450
    Santa Rosa,CA 94504
    E-mail Assemblywoman Strom-Martin

  • Pat Wiggins, State Assembly 7th District
    Ph#(707)546-4500, Fax#(707)546-9031 50 D Street, Suite 301
    Santa Rosa, CA 95404
    E-mail Assemblywoman Wiggins
**Thanks to Susan Emblen-Richtsmeier for making this issue of Currentshappen, on paper and online!**