Brenda Adelman, RUSSIAN RIVER WATERSHED PROTECTION COMMITTEE
Anyone regularly reading the Press Democrat knows they have been running many articles on both water issues and the need for new housing lately while hardly ever putting the two together for a meaningful analysis of the issues.
Conservation and drought have been leading issues for the Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) for several years now, and reading the Press Democrat on May 9, 2015 indicated that the general manager’s view of conditions appeared to depend on the audience to whom he was speaking. The lead article that day (page 1 of A Section), was titled “Housing Squeeze: At summit, a call for new construction” written by Robert Digitale, and reported a conference for North Bay business leaders held Friday May 8th, where some presenters called for new development of as many as 7500 new units a year.
Press Democrat investor, Doug Bosco, also a former Congressman, told the 250 conference participants that, “The effort to build more housing must resemble the years long campaigns to build Warm Springs Dam…” he said, and “Until now….the housing issue often has suffered from a lack of community focus.” There were about 15 speakers at the conference discussing housing deficits and what can be done about it. (Anyone regularly reading the Press Democrat knows they have been running many articles on both water issues and the need for new housing lately while hardly ever putting the two together for a meaningful analysis of the issues.)
Conference attendees were assured by Grant Davis, general manager of Sonoma County Water Agency and one of the speakers, that in spite of four years of drought, “….we’ll have enough water, so that’s not an excuse to say we can’t build affordable housing.” (And what if there are way MORE than four years of drought to come?) At one point, Doug Bosco called for establishment of a housing czar to be responsible for building 1000 units. Now, while these statements were a projection of future outcomes, which anyone is free to make, in terms of water supply, they appeared to be based on nothing.
Water Agency contractors (Santa Rosa, Windsor, Cotati, Rohnert Park, Petaluma, Sonoma, Valley of the Moon, North Marin Water District, Marin Municipal Water District) have been basing development projects of water availability on paper water for years that had been promised by SCWA long before the drought. And seldom do they consider environmental impacts on lower river water quality caused by their actions. The power behind the Temporary Urgency Change Orders is that, while they require river monitoring, CEQA can be suspended and public review of projects is avoided.
But the coup de grace was in another PD article that same day (page B1) entitled “Water supply worries over remote lake….As Lake Pillsbury drops to less than 55% of capacity, affected agencies strategize” by Guy Kovner. Much of the water filling Lake Mendocino comes from Lake Pillsbury after having been released into the East Fork of the Russian River north of Ukiah. (Lake Mendocino’s water supply pool is only about 58% now, which is very low for this time of year.) Because of the need for repairs at the Potter Valley Project, PG&E will be requesting further decreases of flow to allow for this work that would cut normal releases of 75 cfs to 30 cfs, with half of that serving Potter Valley.
Grant Davis said that this is an “unprecedented situation” at a different meeting with agency heads the same day as the conference noted above. While we agree that this may be an unprecedented situation, we feel that under the circumstances his comments at the housing conference should have been much more circumspect.
While it is true we have many citizens in need of affordable housing, it is also true that our water supply shortages probably won’t end any time soon, if climate change has any credibility. It would also be great if we could rely on the promise of affordability if we do get more new housing. There was a third story in that same edition of the Press Democrat (p.A4) about San Francisco demonstrations going on now because low income people are being given five day notices to move from their homes so owners can greatly increase rents, and dwellers have no where affordable to go. Can it be that the affordable factor is merely a ruse to justify more development? And how would the term be defined? Affordable for whom?
We also are concerned that up to now, agriculture has not adequately controlled their water use; required monitoring of ground water use is still fiercely opposed; cities have not yet instituted strict mandatory conservation requirements nor shrunk their general plan projections to address what appears to be repeated water shortages; and inadequate measures are in place to assure that irrigation with wastewater does not become regular discharge into streams. Rather, housing shortages have stimulated the call for a lot more growth at a time when water supplies are greatly diminished.
Russian River Watershed Protection Committee
P.O. Box 501
Guerneville, CA 95446
RRWPC Website: www.rrwpc.org