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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

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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

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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

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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

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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