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Occidental sewage transfer may be stalled by legalities

Frank Robertson, SONOMA WEST TIMES
A county plan to truck Occidental’s sewage to Guerneville for treatment and disposal appears to be stopped up for now owing to neighborhood opposition and possible legal issues.
Guernewood Park neighbors near the site where sewage would be unloaded at a Russian River Sanitation District pump station met with new Fifth District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins last week to vent their concerns about neighborhood truck traffic, potential odors and other compatibility issues if the sewage plan goes forward.
A sympathetic Hopkins told neighbors there may also be a legal problem if proposed pump station improvements, including a new paved driveway under the redwoods at the site, constitute an expansion of the sewer system onto vacant residential property next door.
“I don’t see how we can say that’s not an expansion,” said Hopkins, regarding a proposed new turnaround that sewage trucks would need on the property next to the lift station located between Highway 116 and Riverside Dr.
Sonoma County acquired the neighboring property in the 1980s as part of a legal settlement with the owner; a condition of the sale included an agreement that the county would not expand sewage system operations onto the neighboring property, said Hopkins. The previous owner had a house on the property that was in the path of a prevailing breeze carrying the lift station’s smell. The county demolished the house.
The deed restriction only surfaced last week after neighbors began asking questions about the Occidental sewage transfer plan that seemed to have been formulated with numerous discussions among Occidental Sanitation District residents but little or no dialogue with Guerneville residents whose properties would be impacted by the sewage transfer process involving from five to 15 daily truck deliveries of raw sewage arriving at the Riverside Drive lift station.
A Sonoma County Water Agency environmental review of the plan last year concluded it would have “no significant impact” on the Riverside Drive environment, but neighbors last week said they were never told about the project and are prepared to challenge the environmental finding in court.
Read more at: Occidental sewage transfer may be stalled by legalities – Sonoma West Times and News: News

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Russian River Fish Flow Project EIR public review extended

SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

The DEIR and the errata sheet are available online at http://www.scwa.ca.gov/fish-flow/.

The Sonoma County Water Agency has extended the public review period for the Fish Habitat Flow and Water Rights Project (Fish Flow Project) Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) to 5 p.m., March 10, 2017. The 204-day review period began on August 19, 2016.
The comment period was extended to allow for additional time to review a recently released errata. The errata was issued after resource agency staff asked a question about a specific water temperature figure in Appendix G to the DEIR, which resulted in Water Agency staff reviewing the figures again. The errata corrects temperature and dissolved oxygen figures in the appendix of the modeling results. The errata does not change the DEIR impact analysis. The DEIR errata do not add significant new information or data regarding the project or environmental setting and would not substantially increase the severity of an impact or create a new significant impact.
“Because there are a large number of pages in the errata, we felt it was appropriate to provide agencies and the public with additional time,” said Water Agency Environmental Resources Manager Jessica Martini-Lamb. “By extending the comment period end date to March 10, we are providing people more than a month to review the errata.”
The Fish Flow Project would lower minimum instream flow requirements in the Russian River and Dry Creek to benefit threatened and endangered juvenile salmon, change the hydrologic index to better reflect watershed conditions and secure the existing rights to 75,000 acre feet of water used to provide drinking water to 600,000 residents in portions of Sonoma and Marin counties. The DEIR describes the proposed Fish Flow Project, the purpose of the project, why it is necessary and the potential environmental impacts of the project.
The DEIR and the errata sheet are available online at http://www.scwa.ca.gov/fish-flow/ and at Sonoma and Mendocino County libraries. Hard copies of the DEIR are available for purchase at (707) 547-1900 or at the Water Agency’s administrative office.  All written comments can be sent to fishflow-eir@scwa.ca.gov or to Sonoma County Water Agency, Attn: Fish Flow DEIR., 404 Aviation Boulevard, Santa Rosa, CA 95403 by 5 p.m., Monday, March 10, 2017.
Photo Comparison of the Russian River flows from Upper Russian River to Lower Russian River 
Source: Russian River Fish Flow Project EIR Public Review Extended

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Occidental eyes inexpensive wastewater treatment plan

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Occidental district has been under water board orders since 1997 to quit storing treated wastewater in a pond next to the treatment plant and discharging it into Dutch Bill Creek, a coho salmon spawning stream.

Twenty years of headaches over handling wastewater from the tiny west county community of Occidental appear to be nearing an end with a relatively inexpensive, although admittedly inelegant solution: Truck it down the road for treatment in Guerneville.
After scrapping plans to upgrade the Occidental treatment plant and pipe the effluent to a storage pond on a nearby vineyard at a price tag of up to $6 million, county officials settled instead on a $1.4 million project that depends on existing facilities and a pair of 5,000-gallon water trucks.
“It’s the most economical solution we could find,” said Cordel Stillman, Sonoma County Water Agency deputy chief engineer.
Cost has always been a factor, since the Occidental sanitation district, which serves about 118 parcels clustered along Bohemian Highway, already has the highest rate in the county — and among the highest in the state — at $2,086 a year per equivalent single-family dwelling.
A subsidy of about $400,000 a year from the water agency’s general fund has offset rate hikes, and the bargain-priced project won’t cause any increases, Stillman said.
Under the new plan, the trucks would haul Occidental’s wastewater, which averages 17,000 gallons a day in dry weather and up to 100,000 gallons during rainstorms, from the lift station on the Occidental Camp Meeker Road about nine miles to the Guerneville treatment plant, also operated by the water agency.
As a backup plan, when wastewater volume is high or roads are closed, Occidental’s wastewater would be trucked — in the opposite direction — to another one of the water agency’s eight treatment plants located next to the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport.
Both the Guerneville and airport plants provide tertiary treatment of wastewater, the highest level of sewage processing.
Read more at: Occidental eyes inexpensive wastewater treatment plan | The Press Democrat

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New $12 million Russian River fish ladder offers glimpse of salmon recovery efforts

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

[The new viewing gallery] will host visits by about 3,000 school children a year, and the Water Agency will offer free tours of the Mirabel facility from 9 a.m. to noon Nov. 12 and Nov. 18. People can register for one of the tours at www.scwa.ca.gov/tours.

A massive concrete structure, built to withstand floods and earthquakes beside the Russian River near Forestville, is the latest step toward restoring the river’s beleaguered salmon and steelhead populations.
The 600,000 Sonoma and Marin county residents who get their drinking water from the river paid for most of the $12 million fish ladder, which includes both a video monitoring system so scientists can count the migrating fish and a viewing gallery that will give the public a glimpse as well.
Grant Davis, general manager of the Sonoma County Water Agency, which developed the facility, said it offered a unique, submarine vantage point in California to watch wild salmon make their way upstream.
“This is open-heart surgery that we accomplished in our river system,” he said.
At a formal ribbon-cutting attended by about 150 people Wednesday, state Sen. Mike McGuire hailed the fish ladder as “a legacy project.”
“The Russian River is who we are in Sonoma County,” he said, noting that the river’s once-abundant salmon and steelhead long fed the region’s Pomo Indian tribes.
Chuck Bonham, director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, lauded the project as a pivotal one for salmon recovery in California.
Describing the annual migration of river-born fish to the ocean and back to their own spawning grounds, Bonham said, “What journey is more inspiring than that one?”
Read more at: New $12 million Russian River fish ladder offers glimpse of salmon recovery efforts | The Press Democrat

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River float brings ideas to surface

Tony Landucci, SONOMA WEST TIMES & NEWS
Almost 100 people took part in the Splash Mob event over the weekend, the conclusion of a nine day trip down the Russian River, starting at Lake Mendocino. Conservation nonprofit LandPaths and Russian Riverkeeper hosted the Headwaters to Ocean Descent with Supervisor James Gore.
In the cool morning air at the beach in Monte Rio the first half of the two-day Splash Mob launched kayaks and several canoes into the chilly water as vacationers and beach goes watched. On Sunday, many faces were familiar but new people replaced the ones who could not ride for the whole paddle.
The stream of about 40 boats cruised the water down to Casini Ranch  Family Campground in Jenner where many camped before the final day of paddling to mouth of the river. While the trip was almost entirely manageable for beginners, strong winds pushed back on paddlers as they powered their way under the Coast Highway bridge near where Highways 1 and 116 meet. The day went without incident and everyone made it to the shore safely.
Along the way, conversations were held as long as boaters could stick together. As skill levels and stamina were tested, the groups mingled, drifted apart and came back together. Backgrounds varied but many on the trip were in someway connected to the river through their jobs and education or were just interested in what the event had to offer. Biologists answered questions about ecology while water district workers explained regulations and policies, among other conversations.
Read more at: River float brings ideas to surface – Sonoma West Times and News: News

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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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Santa Rosa water restrictions end for city residents 

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Santa Rosa residents are out from under local water-saving mandates imposed two years ago in the grip of a nagging drought, thanks to an abundant water supply behind Warm Springs Dam at Lake Sonoma, officials said Wednesday.
Based on assurances that the reservoir behind the taxpayer-funded, $360 million dam west of Healdsburg can sustain 600,000 Sonoma and Marin county residents for three more potentially dry years, the City Council rescinded, effective immediately, the mandatory curbs on outdoor water use adopted in August 2014.
The council’s action followed last month’s ruling by the State Water Resources Control Board that local agencies with a three-year water supply could be exempted from state water conservation targets. Santa Rosa and five other Sonoma County water providers met that requirement, the Sonoma County Water Agency said at the time.
On Wednesday, the water agency confirmed in a forecast to the state water board that Lake Sonoma would hold a healthy 178,398 acre feet of water at the end of September in 2019, after three rain-poor years comparable to 2013 through 2015.
Brad Sherwood, the water agency’s spokesman, said the report “illustrates our region’s ability to meet water supply demands” over a three-year drought.
Read more at: Santa Rosa water restrictions end for city residents | The Press Democrat

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The Russian River: Everybody wants some, but…  

Will Parrish, ANDERSON VALLEY ADVERTISER
The Russian River, as we know it today, arises in the pine-studded hills surrounding Potter Valley, with an overwhelming infusion of Eel River water helping it on its way as it tumbles down into the Lake Mendocino reservoir. The river’s western fork trickles out of the fir-laden hills north of Redwood Valley, in the vicinity of the Holy Transfiguration Monastery: an outpost of the Ukranian Greek-Catholic Church.
The two forks come together at the precise location of the Mendocino Forests Products (aka Mendocino Redwood Company) mill in northern Ukiah, which draws on an annual water right of about 90 acre-feet in the course of annually producing more than 45 million board feet of lumber. As it leaves Mendocino County, the river cuts through a spectacular serpentine canyon best known as the location of Frog Woman Rock and drops into the Alexander Valley, where it is fed by water that drops from the world’s second largest geothermal power plant, and from Mount St. Helena: the highest point in the Mayacamas mountain range.
Perhaps the real clincher occurs about 10 miles upstream of Guerneville, where five Sonoma County Water Agency radial wells — collectors that extract water from an aquifer with direct connection to a surface water source, in this case the Russian River — receive water filtered through 60 to 90 feet of naturally deposited sand and gravel. The Water Agency then pumps the water into a lengthy aqueduct system, which supplies ever growing Sonoma County to the south, including two cities that are in altogether different drainage basins: Petaluma and Sonoma.
The water doesn’t stop there. Some of these liquid resources reach northern Marin County — particularly Novato, which receives 75% of its water from the Russian – and some ends up all the way in southern Marin County. Among those that receive the Sonoma County Water Agency’s deliveries are the working-class Bay Area suburb of Marin City, teenage home of legendary hip-hop martyr Tupac Shakur, and Sausalito, the upper-crust town on the North Bay’s fringes that practically bumps right up against the Golden Gate Bridge.
From the perspective of many contemporary Mendocino County leaders, the original sin that created this far-flung arrangement, and put Sonoma County in the position to profit from all these water sales, was the late-1950s deal that financed Coyote Valley Dam and Lake Mendocino. In the mid-20th century, Sonoma County was determined to acquire rights to the upper Russian River’s water, and also to provide flood protection on behalf of the bustling river-centric recreation and hospitality industries on the lower river reaches in Guerneville and Monte Rio.
Read more at: The Russian River: Everybody Wants Some, But… | Anderson Valley Advertiser

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Op-Ed: Does Sonoma County really have water for new development?

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
Email:  rrwpc@comcast.net
RRWPC Website:  www.rrwpc.org

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Op-Ed: Cost effective? Is water fluoridation worth the expense?

Elena DuCharme, THE SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE
Water fluoridation appears to be cheap compared to more targeted alternatives.  But in Sonoma County it would cost more than it saves. It would cost more for residents, cities, and the county as a whole.
Our County Health Department has adopted the oft-cited claim that that for every dollar spent on fluoridation, $38 would be saved on dental care annually for every individual – essentially a 38:1 return on investment (ROI). If this were true, it would be easy to see why it seems so appealing to local governments compared to other alternatives for preventing tooth decay.
But it’s not true, according to a new peer-reviewed article by Ko and Thiessen, published in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health (March 2015).  The study examines water fluoridation’s cost-effectiveness, specifically the basis for the 38:1 ROI claim.  The authors found that merely by correcting for flawed assumptions in the original calculations, the ROI dropped to 3:1.  And when they factored in the cost of treating “dental fluorosis” (defective tooth enamel commonly caused by drinking fluoridated water), the cost savings of water fluoridation completely vanished.
Read more via: Cost Effective? Is Water Fluoridation Worth the Expense?