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Waste deep: Petaluma River awash in bacteria

Will Carruthers, THE BOHEMIAN

The river winding through downtown Petaluma might be the city’s single most defining feature. The city’s annual Rivertown Revival Festival features views of the river and, farther south, recreationists use the water for entertainment and exercise every day.

Yet, since 1975, the state has designated the water a contaminated water body due to excessive levels of bacteria tied to fecal matter. The river has also been included on the list for excessive amounts of pesticides, trash and sediment at other times.

Now, a state water oversight board may pass a plan laying out the steps to lower the levels of bacteria in the river and its watershed.

At a Wednesday, Nov. 13 meeting in Oakland, the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board will consider approving an amendment to the board’s water quality control plan for the region, a document known as a basin plan. The proposed amendment will set a cap on the amount of fecal indicator bacteria in the river’s watershed—the TMDL—and identify actions required to reach that goal.

The federal Clean Water Act requires the state to create the cap and cleanup plan, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load [TMDL].

Staff members working for the water board, one of nine similar regional bodies tasked with setting water quality rules in California, have been assembling the Petaluma River plan for several years, according to Farhad Ghodrati, an environmental scientist with the San Francisco Bay board.

Although there are over 100 potentially dangerous bacteria related to fecal matter, scientists generally only test for a few varieties. These “fecal indicator bacteria,” including E. Coli, are a sign that animal waste has contaminated the water body. If those levels are above the bar set by the water quality control board, they add the water body to a list of “impaired” waterways.

Read more at https://www.bohemian.com/northbay/waste-deep/Content?oid=9360941

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In bid to clean Russian River, water regulators adopt strict plan for Sonoma County septic systems

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

North Coast water quality regulators have signed off on a sweeping new plan that aims to curb the threat of human waste entering the Russian River by phasing out failing and substandard septic systems, viewed for decades as a prime source of pollution in the sprawling watershed.

Years in the making, the regulations affect a vast swath of Sonoma County — properties without sewer service from Cloverdale to Cotati and from Santa Rosa to Jenner. For the first time, affected landowners will be subject to compulsory inspections and mandatory repair or replacement of septic systems found to be faulty or outdated, at an estimated cost of up to $114 million, according to county officials.

The new rules take effect next year and will apply to an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 parcels without sewer service. Once the rules kick in, landowners will have 15 years to comply.

he highest concentration of affected property owners exist in the river’s lower reaches, where contamination from fecal bacteria has long been an open issue, but where officials worry that poorer communities will face the heaviest burden complying with the measures. Upgrades to an individual septic system can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and no pot of money currently exists to help defray landowner costs.

Local representatives, while not standing in the way of the measures, said outside financial support for the overhaul will be needed. North Coast water quality officials pledged to work with Sonoma County to pursue state, federal and private funding to bolster the cleanup effort.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9903962-181/in-bid-to-clean-russian

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New plan to safeguard Russian River targets contamination from human and animal waste

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

An on-again, off-again effort by state regulators to better protect the Russian River and its tributaries against failing septic systems, livestock waste and other potential sources of bacterial contamination is in its final stages, with hopes that an action plan for the entire watershed will be approved this August and go into effect next year.

The move, controversial and closely watched in years past, could impose stricter regulations and mandatory septic system upgrades on thousands of landowners with properties near the river or its connected waterways.

Opportunities still exist for residents to weigh in on the complicated, far-reaching strategy designed to safeguard the region’s recreational hub and main source of drinking water, with bacterial threats ranging from everyday pet waste to rain-swollen sewage holding ponds and homeless encampments.

Now in its third iteration since 2015, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board’s new draft action plan is out for public review and comment through 5 p.m. June 24.

The board’s staff will host a public workshop at its Santa Rosa offices on Thursday afternoon, and a public hearing will be held during the board’s regular meeting Aug. 14 and 15, when it considers adopting the plan.

The water quality control program is required under the federal Clean Water Act as well as state regulations designed to ensure that people swimming, wading, fishing or otherwise recreating in the river and tributary creeks aren’t exposed to bacteria from human or animal waste — a problem in waterways around California, state officials say.

Key concerns include aging, under-equipped and potentially faulty septic systems and cesspools installed decades ago on steep slopes with too little soil to provide adequate percolation. Testing also shows livestock grazing in close proximity to waterways is a problem in many areas.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9693049-181/new-plan-to-safeguard-russian

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Downstream: How logging imperils the rivers of the North Coast

Will Parrish, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN
As a long-time resident of the Elk River basin, which drains the redwood-studded hills southeast of Eureka, Jesse Noell lives in fear of the rain. During storms of even moderate intensity, the Elk River often rises above its banks and dumps torrents of mud and sand across Noell and his neighbors’ properties. The churning surges of foamy brown water have ruined domestic water supplies, inundated vehicles, buried farmland and spilled into homes.
It first happened to Noell and his wife, Stephanie, in 2002. As the flood approached, he remained inside his home to wedge bricks and rocks beneath their furniture, and pile pictures, books and other prized possessions atop cabinets and counters. The water level was at his thighs; his body spasmed in the winter cold. Across the street, two firefighters in a raft paddled furiously against the current, carrying his neighbors—military veterans in their 60s, who were at risk of drowning—to higher ground.
After crouching and shivering atop the kitchen counter through the night, Noell was finally able to wade through the floodwater to higher ground the next morning. But the home’s sheetrock, floors, heating equipment, water tanks, floor joints, girders and septic system were destroyed. This experience wasn’t an act of nature; it was manmade.
“California has a systematic and deliberate policy to flood our homes and properties for the sake of corporate profit,” Noell says.
CAUSE AND EFFECT
The cause of the flooding is simple: logging. Since the 1980s, timber companies have logged thousands of acres of redwood trees and Douglas firs, and constructed a spider web–like network of roads to haul them away, which has caused massive erosion of the region’s geologically unstable hillsides.The deep channels and pools of the Elk River’s middle reaches have become choked with a sludge of erosion and debris six to eight feet high. Each storm—such as those that have roiled California’s coastal rivers this past week—forces the rushing water to spread out laterally, bleeding onto residents’ lands and damaging homes, vehicles, domestic water supplies, cropland and fences, while also causing suffering that corporate and government balance sheets can’t measure.
“The Elk River watershed is California’s biggest logging sacrifice area,” says Felice Pace, a longtime environmental activist who founded the Klamath Forest Alliance in northernmost California.
For roughly 20 years, the North Coast division of the State Water Resources Control Board, the agency in charge of monitoring water quality and hazards in the area, has deliberated on how to address the Elk River’s severe impairment. But they have failed to take bold action, largely because of opposition from politically well-connected timber companies and the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), the state agency that regulates commercial logging.
Read more at: Downstream | Features | North Bay Bohemian

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Restoring the Russian River's water quality

William Massey, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE
Public comment period ends October 8, 2015
We have promised it for years, and it is finally here. The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Water Board) has just released its draft assessment and strategy to address water quality issues in the Russian River watershed.
The Russian River Watershed, from the headwaters north of Cloverdale to the mouth at Jenner, is a jewel of the North Coast Region, supporting a rich diversity of urban and rural values including family-friendly communities; outdoor recreation; renowned restaurants, wineries, and vacation opportunities; and economic opportunities ranging from farming to high tech.
The Regional Water Board strategy, called a total maximum daily load Action Plan (TMDL Action Plan), specifically focuses on ways to protect those who recreate in the Russian River Watershed by identifying and controlling all sources of insufficiently treated human and domestic animal waste from entering the water.  The Regional Water Board already implements a prohibition against the direct discharge of waste to the Russian River during the summer months.  But, the draft TMDL Action Plan augments the existing approach with potential solutions for controlling indirect discharges of waste, as well storm induced discharges that occur during the rainy season.
What is the Problem?
Water quality monitoring from the Russian River and its tributary creeks reflect widespread contamination with bacteria and other indicators of human and animal waste, which pose a potential threat to the health of the river ecosystem and the people who visit it.  Bacteria can indicate the presence of pathogenic organisms that are found in warm-blooded animal waste.  Data assessed by Regional Water Board staff show that some locations within the watershed have bacteria concentrations that indicate the potential presence of pathogens at levels that are higher than is safe for water contact recreation.
Read more at: Restoring the Russian River Water Quality

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Water Board developing a plan to clean up disease-causing bacteria in the Russian River

Rebecca Fitzgerald & Charles Reed, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE
Each year, the Russian River plays host to tens of thousands of residents and visitors who swim and recreate along its length, which extends from Redwood Valley, North of Ukiah to Jenner, where the river empties into the Pacific Ocean.
At the same time, the Russian River area is home to hundreds of thousands of human inhabitants and domesticated animals, who produce waste. Most of this domestic waste is collected, treated, beneficially reused, or discharged at a time and in a manner that is protective of public health and water quality. Much of this domestic waste is also controlled at its source by individuals through responsible personal behavior and good sanitary practices.
Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Water monitoring samples from the river show widespread contamination with bacteria and indicators of human waste, which pose a threat to the health of the river ecosystem and the people who visit it.
Reliance on existing regulatory actions and individual behavior is sometimes not sufficient to prevent domestic waste from being released in an uncontrolled manner into the environment. Once released, this material, which may include disease-causing microorganisms, inevitably makes its way to creeks and finally to the Russian River where it adversely impacts water quality, impairs the beneficial uses of creeks and the River, and presents a public health risk to individuals who come in contact with contaminated waters.
Often, the uncontrolled sources of waste are the result of the systemic failure to address human societal challenges like homelessness. Other times, contamination is the result of legacy practices, such as obsolete, substandard wastewater treatment systems. The simple lack of public awareness about the impacts of individual actions can also affect water quality.
Regardless of the root cause of contamination, it is the obligation of public agencies responsible for the protection of water quality and public health, to take actions to correct the condition. For these actions to be truly successfully and long-lasting, there must be participation, cooperation, and commitment from supporting state and local agencies, parties to whom corrective actions are assigned, and the general public.
Read much more via Troubled Waters: Water Board Developing a Plan to Cleanup Disease-causing Bacteria in the Russian River.