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Santa Rosa proclaims flood emergency after 250 million gallons of treated sewage released into streams

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa officials said Tuesday that managers at the city’s wastewater plant have been forced to release at least 250 million gallons of treated sewage into two creeks and the nearby Laguna de Santa Rosa amid record inflow to the facility that began in last week’s storm.

The three-day deluge pushed more than five times the normal flow of wastewater and runoff into the city’s Laguna de Santa Rosa plant, City Manager Sean McGlynn told the City Council on Tuesday. It was the highest inflow ever recorded at the site, according to the city.

To avoid overwhelming the Llano Road facility, managers began last Wednesday releasing fully treated sewage into Santa Rosa and Colgan creeks and the rain-swollen Laguna, which overtook city blocks on the eastern edge of Sebastopol, including the upscale Barlow shopping and business district.

The emergency release is ongoing, city officials said Tuesday. All three waterways drain into the Russian River.

McGlynn’s report came as the City Council affirmed a local emergency declaration he made last week at the end of the storm. The move is meant to ensure the city has both the flexibility and legal protection to alter operations at its wastewater plant, where flows have abated but remain higher than normal.

Partially treated waste also was diverted last week into storage basins, with plans now underway to fully treat that sewage. That diversion took place from late Tuesday to Thursday afternoon and has not impacted nearby waterways, according to the city.

The plant has enough remaining storage space to handle the extra volume from this week’s rain, Santa Rosa Water officials said. They have yet to discover any damage at the plant stemming from the past storm, which dumped a one-day record of 5.66 inches of rain on Santa Rosa.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9353682-181/santa-rosa-city-council-proclaims

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Santa Rosa wastewater plant releases treated sewage following deluge

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Overwhelmed by record rainfall this week, Santa Rosa’s regional wastewater treatment plant has released about 22 million gallons of treated sewage into two creeks and the Laguna de Santa Rosa since Wednesday, and the discharge will continue indefinitely with another storm on the way, officials said Friday.

All three waterways drain into the Russian River.

It was further evidence that the deluge, which swamped Russian River communities and displaced thousands of residents this week, had far-reaching impact.

The releases began Wednesday, a day after Santa Rosa received 5.66 inches of rain, a record for one-day precipitation dating back to 1902.

It took about a day for the added volume of sewage mixed with runoff to reach the plant on Llano Road, which treats wastewater from about 230,000 customers in Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, Cotati and Rohnert Park.

The record-breaking rain from an atmospheric river that stalled over Sonoma County “put a total strain on the system,” said Emma Walton, interim director of Santa Rosa Water.

Santa Rosa’s was at least the second municipal treatment plant overwhelmed or knocked out by this week’s storm. Healdsburg earlier this week declared an emergency stemming from problems at its own flooded facility.

Rainwater seeping into Santa Rosa’s far-flung sewage collection system boosted the flow arriving at the plant to as much as 105 million gallons a day this week, the largest flow ever recorded.

Normal wintertime inflow is 19 million gallons per day, city spokeswoman Adriane Mertens said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9339767-181/santa-rosa-wastewater-plant-releases

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Cotati neighbors discover surprising fact about Laguna de Santa Rosa

Yvonne Horn, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Website for Headwaters of the Laguna de Santa Rosa

Shortly after Jenny Blaker and her husband moved to Cotati in 1996 they were approached by the city with a request to acquire a creek- bordered strip of land behind their house so that an existing bike trail might be extended. The couple agreed.
Upon completion, Blaker was pleased with the trail, but not with how the project left the creek. “Bulldozed, bare of vegetation,” she described it.
Gathering together a few friends and neighbors, they approached the city and the Sonoma County Water Agency for permission to plant native species along the creek’s edges.
At the same time, Blaker began to be curious about the creek itself, which she describes as looking more like a ditch than a wandering waterway. Where did the seasonal water running through it originate, and where was it going?
Research and maps revealed that the creek’s flow began southeast of town, made its way through a 3-mile stretch of the city and continued northwest through a series of confluences to end up in the magnificent wetlands mosaic that embraces the eastern edge of Sebastopol — the Laguna de Santa Rosa. And then the heady news. Much to Blaker’s surprise, because of its location in the southeastern extremity of the Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed, Cotati’s watershed is in fact the acknowledged headwaters of the Laguna.
Meanwhile, with permission granted, Blaker’s small gathering of friends and neighbors set about improving the stretch behind her house with the goal of turning it into a more natural looking creek area.
So began the Cotati Creek Critters, a loose-knit assembly of friends and neighbors guided by Blaker, Maria Alvarez and others, in association with Cotati’s Community and Environment Commission. In the years to come the Critters grew from a half-dozen or so people showing up for twice-a–month “stewardship” days to as many as 60 pruning, mulching, planting, weeding, removing invasive species and collecting trash along the path-bordered creek.
Read more at: Cotati neighbors discover surprising fact about Laguna de Santa Rosa

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Santa Rosa open to new composting operation at Laguna wastewater site

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Santa Rosa is open to a large-scale composting operation on city-owned property near the Laguna Road wastewater treatment plant, an option that could provide curbside garbage customers some monthly savings.
The Sonoma County Waste Management Agency has been looking for a new site for an organic composting facility since a longtime operation atop the Central Landfill west of Cotati was shut down by regulators in 2015 over water pollution concerns.
Since then curbside customers have been paying millions of dollars to have their organic garbage hauled out of the county, an expensive, wasteful process that local officials want to end.
The county waste agency invited composting companies to submit proposals for a new facility in late May. As part of that process Santa Rosa made it known it might be willing to allow such an operation on surplus property north of the treatment plant.
The city interviewed potential operators, reviewed their plans, and winnowed the list to four companies it felt would be the best fit, said Emma Walton, water refuse engineer for the city.
The four finalists were San Diego-based BioMRF, the multinational firm Sacyr, StormFisher, which is headquartered in London, and a Petaluma-based venture called Renewable Sonoma, which appears to have partnered with SCS Engineers in Santa Rosa.
Read more at: Santa Rosa open to new composting operation at Laguna wastewater site

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Sonoma County to spearhead plan to restore Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
After living along the Laguna de Santa Rosa for decades, Joe Aggio and his family have grown accustomed to having their land swamped with water, as has been the case this year, the waterway swollen to its greatest extent in more than a decade.
But the floodplain around their dairy farm also has become much more of a nuisance over the years.
Aggio, 32, said the wetland around his farm between Occidental Road and Guerneville Road used to be manageable and clean, flooding in the winter before draining off so his family could grow crops to feed their cows. But the waterway has become increasingly plugged with sediment, invasive Ludwigia plants, garbage and other discarded items like shopping carts and couches, he said.
“It no longer flows. It no longer drains. It’s just a stagnant mess,” Aggio said. “We’ve lost crops because of it. We haven’t gotten crops in because of it … It’s become increasingly difficult to farm the land.”
So Aggio’s hopes were raised recently when Sonoma County Water Agency officials secured a grant to move forward with plans that could eventually help alleviate the challenges faced by his farm and other landowners along the 22-mile waterway.
With funds from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Water Agency and environmental groups are embarking on a massive planning effort to revitalize the watershed that stretches from Cotati north to Windsor and takes in rural areas east and west of Santa Rosa.
The watershed, which includes Mark West and Santa Rosa creeks and many other smaller streams and wetlands, has been altered significantly over generations by agricultural and urban development.
One result of its transformation is the Laguna now fills with more sediment than it once did, at times hampering its ability to drain floodwaters into the Russian River.
“If this happens over a very long period of time — we’re talking hundreds of years — that eventually will get to a point where it could back up drainage back into Santa Rosa, Cotati and Rohnert Park,” said Mike Thompson, assistant general manager of the county Water Agency. “This is well beyond our lifetimes, but if it keeps filling up like that, the storage and flood protection of the Laguna that naturally occurs is being taken away.”
Armed with $517,000 in state grant funds, the Water Agency and other groups expect to spend the next three years developing a comprehensive restoration plan for the watershed. Project partners include the San Francisco Estuary Institute and the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation.
Read more at: Sonoma County to spearhead plan to restore Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed | The Press Democrat

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Laguna de Santa Rosa docents dedicated to waterway

Ariana Reguzzoni, PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation’s mission is to “restore, conserve and inspire,” but people involved in it say it does much more than that. The 22-mile waterway is the main artery in a 254-square-mile watershed that starts in Cotati and extends to Forestville and the Russian River. While some people in Sonoma County are just discovering the reach and value of the Laguna, there is a dedicated band of volunteers who return year after year to steward the important ecosystem.
“There are so many reasons to love the Laguna: the plants, wildlife, birds, but I find so often that I am fulfilled by the connections to the people who care about the land,” said Christine Fontaine, director of education programs for the Laguna Foundation. “It’s the people coming together that keeps sustaining me in my work.”
Longtime Sonoma County residents Steve and Suzanne Abrams are two members of what Fontaine refers to as the “Laguna people.” The retired parole agent and teacher, respectively, moved to Santa Rosa over 40 years ago, but didn’t really know about the Laguna until recently. In 2012, they decided to volunteer as Laguna guides, inspired in part by the death of a friend who had led hikes through the area. The couple said they love learning about the Laguna’s cultural and natural history but, echoing Fontaine’s sentiments, meeting and educating the community stands out most for them — especially the people who are born and raised nearby.
“Surprisingly, a lot of people who are from this area have no knowledge of the Laguna,” said Steve Abrams. “It flabbergasted me!”
Read more at: Laguna de Santa Rosa docents dedicated to waterway | The Press Democrat

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New Laguna de Santa Rosa trail shows an ecosystem in recovery

Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A group of two dozen people on Saturday got the first official look at a multimillion-dollar restoration effort along a 1.7-mile stretch of the Laguna de Santa Rosa, the broad freshwater wetland that flows into the Russian River.
A guided morning hike of the new Southern Laguna Discovery Trail outside Rohnert Park revealed a renewed ecosystem that is showing signs of recovery after decades of abuse and neglect. Steelhead trout and river otter populations are recovering, native plants and saplings are taking root and natural predators are returning.
“Check this out, it’s bobcat scat,” said Kevin Monroe, executive director of the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation, as a group of hikers gathered around him and cheered the discovery. “Seeing a top predator in this habitat is just wonderful. We still have much further to go, but this is a sign that some health and functionality is being returned to this ecosystem.”
Spearheaded by the foundation, and the Sonoma County Water Agency, restoration efforts along the middle reach of the Laguna de Santa Rosa have been underway since 2012. Just four years ago, the waterway that flows from Cotati and past Sebastopol before spilling into the Russian River was surrounded largely by grassland. Most of the native trees and shrubs were ripped out during the early 1970s, and the meandering waterway was straightened to help prevent flooding in Rohnert Park.
Runoff from urban areas and dairy farms led to other problems, spurring an explosion of invasive plants that choked off oxygen in the waters, leading to significant declines in wildlife populations.
Some of those issues have been stemmed by conservation efforts.“It’s a big experiment, but all of the plants and animals are starting to come back,” said Wendy Trowbridge, director of restoration and conservation science programs for the foundation. “And 20 years from now, this will be like walking in a lovely forest.”
Read more at: New Laguna de Santa Rosa trail unveiled outside Rohnert Park | The Press Democrat

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Proposed Dairyman Winery and event center corked for now

Krista Sherer, SONOMA WEST TIMES
The contentious Dairyman project hit an obstacle in September with the response from the Sonoma County Regional Parks denying access across the Joe Rodota trail for the project.  Residents and community groups throughout Sonoma County have opposed the project from the beginning, voicing that the large-scale winery and event center would not only violate zoning to the trail drastically effecting traffic, harm the ecosystem to the Laguna de Santa Rosa and negatively influence the overall character to the rural charm of West County.
In a Sept. 17 letter from Sonoma County Regional Parks (SCRP) Director Caryl Hart to Permit and Resource Management Department’s (PMRD) Supervising Planner Traci Tesconi, Hart wrote that the land owner currently has no legal rights to cross the trail and crosses at the county’s sufferance.
Read more about this project at: Proposed Dairyman Winery and event center corked for now – Sonoma West Times and News: News

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Laguna de Santa Rosa now drains freely 

Martin Espinoza, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Imagine someone throwing old rubber tires, glass and plastic bottles, tennis balls, a television and a vehicle transmission into your bathtub. It probably wouldn’t drain very well, would it?
That’s a point local conservationists and Sonoma County officials drove home Thursday afternoon during an event that marked the end of a major garbage cleanup of an important local waterway.In this case, the bathtub is the Laguna de Santa Rosa and its “drain” is a key two-mile stretch of water that, over the years, has been choked off and obscured by wood debris, sediment, gravel and garbage.
Thanks to a multi-agency partnership and the hard work of at-risk youth, the waterway between Guerneville and River roads, one mile west of Olivet Road, is flowing freely again, feeding the Russian River and Pacific Ocean and attracting small fish and the unique birds eager to eat them.
“The most important part of a bathtub is the drain,” said 4th District Supervisor James Gore during the event that celebrated the end of a $50,000 cleanup. The eight-week effort was spearheaded by a number of organizations, including the Sonoma County Water Agency, the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation, the county Human Services Department and Social Advocates for Youth, or SAY.
It was funded by the Water Agency and the Occidental County Sanitation District as part of a settlement of fines levied against the water agency by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.
The money went to the Sonoma County Youth Ecology Corps, which contracted with SAY youth to do the work.“We found transmissions of cars, we found water heaters,” said Anthonie Vasquez, 19, who has been with SAY for two years. “This kind of work is really hard.”
Read more at: Laguna de Santa Rosa now drains freely | The Press Democrat

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Dairyman winery proposal faces challenges from community

David Abbott, SONOMA WEST TIMES
A massive winery proposed by a Napa County winemaker near the crossroads of Highway 12 and Llano Road east of Sebastopol will now be subject to a full environmental review, but opponents of the project are still pulling out all the stops in hopes of stopping it.
The applicant, Joe Wagner, a second-generation vintner from the Caymus winemaking family, agreed to a full environmental impact report (EIR) early this month for his Dairyman project after receiving significant backlash from the community.
Opposition to the proposed winery and event center that envisions 500,000 cases of wine production a year, 250,000 gallons of distilled spirits, as well as about 60 events a year and wine tasting, became official at a Feb. 4 Sebastopol city council meeting.
Although the 68-acre property is outside of Sebastopol’s jurisdiction, council voiced opposition to the project and solidarity with members of the public that showed up in force once the winery application became public in late January.“
After (the council meeting), we met with a number of people and decided we needed to mobilize,” Ruben Weinzeg said.
To that end, Weinzeg joined a group spearheading the creation of Neighbors to Preserve Rural Sonoma County (PRSC), which is working in partnership with the Rural Alliance, a local grassroots organization “working to preserve the natural resources and rural character of Sonoma County.”
PRSC believes it has discovered a technicality that could throw a wrench in the works, as the winery will need to get an easement to cross the Joe Rodota Trail for access to the property.
The groups are encouraging the Sonoma County Parks and Recreation Department to deny the easement, citing precedence when the county denied an easement to Santa Rosa Junior College for a 20-acre parcel on Highway 116 to the north of Sebastopol that abuts the JRT.
That property now belongs to Sebastopol Independent Charter School, which is in talks with the county Regional Parks Department.But the Dairyman process is still in its infancy, as the EIR will take at least a year and has not even officially begun as yet.
Read more via: Winery proposal faces challenges from community – Sonoma West Times and News: News