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PCFFA leads suit against State Water Board to protect salmon in the Water Quality Control Plan

Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, YUBANET.COM

On Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, a coalition of environmental, fishing, and Native American groups led by the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA) filed suit against the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board).

Plaintiffs demand that the State Water Board use its own recommendations based on science and environmental law to enact a Water Quality Control Plan protects fish in the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced rivers and in the main stem San Joaquin River blow their confluence.

These three tributaries of the San Joaquin River have historically supported vibrant runs of tens of thousands of Chinook salmon annually. Diversions of their waters by municipal water agencies, including San Francisco, and local irrigation districts over the past five decades have severely impacted those salmon runs, pushing them to the brink of extinction. The Water Quality Control Plan approved last month codifies what has heretofore only been a tacit approval of such diversions by the State Water Board.

In 2009, the California State Legislature adopted the Delta Reform Act to compel the State Water Board to take prompt action to save historic salmon runs. In 2010, the Board adopted the recommendations of a staff report which determined that, to save this public trust fishery, the San Joaquin River’s flows should be increased to a minimum of 60% of their historic (“unimpaired”) flows during the critical migration period of February through June.

On Dec. 12, 2018, the Board adopted minimum flow standards of just 40% of unimpaired levels on average, rather than the 60% average that its scientists showed was required to restore salmon runs.

PCFFA Executive Director Noah Oppenheim called Friday’s lawsuit, “a long overdue wake-up call that the State Water Board must now do its job to prevent the imminent extinction of this irreplaceable fishery. For decades this regulatory process has been captured by water agencies with no compunctions about hastening the end of salmon fisheries. Today salmon fishermen and fishing communities are raising their voice.”

Joining the PCFFA in filing suit are the North Coast Rivers Alliance and the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. All three agree that unless historic flows are restored immediately, the survival of the Delta’s salmon fishery is in jeopardy. A copy of the verified petition and complaint is here.

Their lawsuit alleges that the State Water Board’s failure to restore adequate flows in these rivers violates the federal Clean Water Act and California’s Porter Cologne Water Quality Act—which require protection of historic fish runs—and also the Public Trust Doctrine, which forbids the Board from allowing excessive diversions of water needed for the survival of the Delta’s salmon.

“Unless the Board is ordered to comply with the law and these flows are restored at the scientifically recommended levels, California’s salmon will never recover and the fishing families that bring the ocean’s bounty to the public will continue to suffer unjustly,” said Oppenheim.

Source: https://yubanet.com/california/pcffa-leads-suit-against-state-water-board-to-protect-salmon-in-the-water-quality-control-plan/

 

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Trump administration moves to slash federal protection for waterways

Steven Mufson, THE WASHINGTON POST

The Trump administration on Tuesday proposed to sharply limit the federal government’s authority to regulate the pollution of wetlands and tributaries that run into the nation’s largest rivers, a major win for builders, farmers and frackers.

The administration said it would introduce a “new construct” limiting regulation to streams that hold water in a “typical year,” as determined by precipitation over the past 30 years.

“This will be a significant retreat from how jurisdiction has been defined for decades,” said Ann Navaro, a natural resources lawyer in Washington who previously worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “This will significantly reduce the regulatory burden on landowners, developers and industry.”

The scaling back of the regulation was one of President Trump’s top priorities when he took office, and he issued an executive order in February 2017 directing the Environmental Protection Agency to carry out “the elimination of this very destructive and horrible rule.”

The Obama administration, under the Waters of the United States rule issued in 2015, had asserted federal oversight of a variety of ditches, storm-water controls, lakes, streams and wetlands that feed into larger waterways that are clearly protected under the Clean Water Act of 1972. Many experts believed that the 1972 law already gave the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers control over smaller U.S. waterways and tributaries, but a series of court rulings had left the extent of that regulatory power ambiguous.

Read more at https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/trump-administration-moves-to-slash-federal-protection-for-waterways/2018/12/11/eee0056a-fc98-11e8-862a-b6a6f3ce8199_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.01268fd7849c

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In the North Bay fire zone, early tests show no post-fire water contamination

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Samples taken from key Russian River tributaries downstream of the massive Tubbs fire scar have so far tested within the expected range for a suite of 30 pollutants and other traits that might betray contamination related to ash, burned wreckage and recent firefighting efforts, according to North Coast water regulators.
The results are just the earliest in the long-term monitoring planned for the 1,500-square-mile river watershed. Scientists want to ensure that critical water supply and wildlife habitat aren’t exposed to heavy metals, excess sediment and other pollutants potentially leached from thousands of burned structures, vehicles and unknown materials incinerated in the October firestorm.
Staff with the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board also caution that the results reflect a limited number of test sites — three from below the burn zone and one from above.
But the outcome of three testing rounds conducted last month nonetheless contributes to faith in the success of a multiagency, all-hands-on-deck effort to deploy more than 30 miles of straw erosion-control wattles and tens of thousands of gravel bags to filter runoff from winter rains and direct it away from storm drains and streams, Senior Environmental Scientist Katharine Carter said.
Read more at: In the North Bay fire zone, early tests show no post-fire water contamination

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Damage to creeks, water supply analyzed after Sonoma County fires

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
It’s called “first flush,” the rain that fell last week upon the scars of recent wildfires and threatened to wash into local streams whatever ash, debris or contaminants had been left upon the landscape.
From fire retardant to heavy metals to organic byproducts and exposed sediment, anything left behind by the flames was at risk of being swept into storm drains and streams during the season’s first substantial rains, experts said.
Public agencies are hopeful that a feverish effort to deploy thousands of straw wattles and other barriers around burned structures, charred hillsides and storm drain inlets prevented some pollution from occurring with storm runoff.
But strategic stream testing will help measure their success as water quality engineers and experts gear up for what will be a long-term campaign to protect water resources and restore scorched watersheds into the rainy season and beyond.
“Healthy watersheds mean a healthy environment, and right now we have a very unhealthy watershed,” said Sonoma Clean Power Director of Programs Cordel Stillman, who is helping to coordinate county and municipal watershed recovery projects in the wake of the wildfire disaster.
Read more at: Damage to creeks, water supply analyzed after Sonoma County fires

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Sonoma County issues toxic algae warning for Russian River beaches

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County provides more information on blue-green algae at its website here

Sonoma County officials posted caution signs at beaches up and down the Russian River on Wednesday alerting visitors to positive test results for a potentially dangerous, naturally occurring neurotoxin linked to harmful algae, a problem surfacing around Northern California this summer.
Water samples collected at three local beaches turned up very low levels of a substance called Anatoxin-a, which is produced by certain species of blue-green algae, Sonoma County health officials said.
It’s the third year in a row the algae-related toxin has been detected in the river.
The most-recent samples were taken Monday and the test results received Wednesday, Sonoma County Health Officer Karen Milman said.
Though the level of toxin in the water “was just at the ability to detect it,” the finding triggers precautionary alerts under state guidelines, she said.
Rivergoers should be particularly watchful of dogs, which are actually attracted to harmful algae, according to studies, and, by virtue of their relative body size and habits when around fresh water, are particularly susceptible to exposure.
Read more at: Sonoma County issues toxic algae warning for Russian River beaches | The Press Democrat

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Bucolic Valley Ford faces water problems linked to dairies

Paul Payne, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Restaurants in bucolic Valley Ford serve up local seafood and farm-raised beef. But don’t ask for local water.
Anything that makes it to the table in one of this town’s several eateries is trucked in from Petaluma because water from Valley Ford’s main well has been deemed unfit to drink.
That could soon change. Officials in the town of about 125 people near the Sonoma Coast hope to complete a multiyear effort this fall to pipe in clean water from a new well. It will put an end to mounting transportation costs and delivery problems connected to winter storms.
“It’s a bummer to have to truck in water,” said Geoff Diamond, manager of Estero Café on Highway 1, as he tended a small breakfast crowd Thursday morning. “It would certainly be an asset to the rest of the town to have clean water coming through.
”Some in Valley Ford — a longtime dairy town with a cluster of tourist-friendly businesses including the iconic Dinucci’s Italian restaurant — say the change can’t come soon enough. Restaurants are barred from serving well water but residents still get it when they turn on the tap.
Warnings of high nitrate levels associated with surrounding dairy ranches have prompted many to drink, cook and even bathe with bottled water. The State Water Resources Control Board issued a warning last month that pregnant women and infants younger than 6 months should not consume the well water. Additionally, the warning cautioned against boiling, freezing or filtering the water.
Read more at: Bucolic Valley Ford faces water problems linked to dairies | The Press Democrat

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Public hearings set for Russian River low-flow plan

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Public hearings:
Wednesday, Cloverdale Veterans Hall, 205 W. First St. at 6:00pm.
Thursday, Guerneville Veterans Memorial Building, 16255 First St. at 6:00pm.
More information: scwa.ca.gov/fish-flow/
Written comments can be submitted until 5 p.m., Feb. 14, to fishflow-eir@scwa.ca.gov or to the Sonoma County Water Agency, Attn: Fish Flow DEIR, 404 Aviation Boulevard, Santa Rosa, 95403

People who want to give feedback about a plan to cut summertime flows in the Russian River and Dry Creek will have two opportunities to do so in person this week at public hearings.
The sessions, in Cloverdale on Wednesday and Guerneville on Thursday, are being hosted by the Sonoma County Water Agency, which is in the midst of environmental review for a series of proposed changes to water releases from Lakes Mendocino and Sonoma.
The proposals, if approved by state water regulators, would permanently drop stream flows during summer to improve habitat for imperiled juvenile coho salmon and steelhead trout.
But summer is also peak season for river recreation, raising fears about the impact on business and tourism, particularly among communities on the lower river, where seasonal flows would be cut by nearly half, even in wet weather years.
Many critics also believe reducing reservoir releases will contribute to the kind of warm, stagnant conditions that have produced toxic algae blooms in the Russian River and other water bodies around California during the past two summers. Low-flow conditions can also concentrate pollutants from runoff and other sources, reducing water quality.
Among those challenging the wisdom of the proposed changes is the Russian Riverkeeper advocacy and stewardship group, whose leaders contend that even cutting the river flow will not be enough to keep the river estuary closed for young salmon in summer, given ocean dynamics that shift the sand bar at the river’s mouth so often.
Read more at: Public hearings set for Russian River low-flow plan | The Press Democrat

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Russian River trippers to check on River's condition on multi-day trek

Bureaucrats, property owners and environmental activists will float down the Russian River next week to check on the River’s condition and imagine what it might look like in the next 150 years.
“It’s a pretty ambitious event,” said Healdsburg resident and Russian Riverkeeper Executive Director Don McEnhill, who will be one of the invited paddlers when the planned 10-day River trek begins next Wednesday at Lake Mendocino in Mendocino County.

The group of attendees includes federal, state and regional policy makers, Native American tribal representatives, and stakeholders from business, agriculture, energy, timber and the arts all floating down the River from Mendocino to Jenner in three separate trips over the next eight weeks.
Called the Russian River Confluence, next week’s paddle is limited to invitees only but a public participation is scheduled for October when the paddlers will travel from Forestville to Jenner on Oct. 7, 8 and 9. A middle reach trip from Cloverdale to Forestville is scheduled for Sept. 7, 8 and 9.
A key goal of the confluence effort is to get the Russian River and its tributaries off a federal list of water bodies whose beneficial uses are designated as “impaired.”
Russian River impairments include pollution from urban and agricultural run-off, and high bacteria counts attributed to sources including dairy waste, residential septic systems and homeless camps.
The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board is currently drafting a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) action plan that will target pollution sources and impose regulations to restore and protect the River’s beneficial uses as a source of drinking water, irrigation and recreation.
“There are many water bodies around the country that have undertaken similar actions and have gotten removed from listings, which is a laudable goal,” said Healdsburg’s Fourth District County Supervisor James Gore. “It gives you an achievable mission,” said Gore, who has spearheaded the watershed confluence gathering that will culminate with a one-day summit meeting next May.
The River trip and the May summit will bring together “not just the fisheries and the water quality aspects and the water supply but the idea of idea of arts and culture and the different components of the River and the watershed itself that we need to celebrate if we want to regenerate it,” said Gore.
“We need to have a plan to remove, through active conservation, all the impairments throughout the Russian River,” said Gore. “If we can do that we can say we have a clean river.”
Representatives from county government entities such as the Economic Development Board, Regional Parks, the Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, and the Sonoma County Water Agency are invited next week along with non-governmental groups including Russian Riverkeeper and LandPaths, the nonprofit that is providing the boats.
Public participation opens on Oct. 7 “with hundreds if not a thousand people floating together out to Jenner,” said Gore.
“The goal is to storytell with a wide variety of people to bring out those lessons of where we are currently as a river system and as a watershed and where need to be,” said Gore.

Source: Russian River trippers to experience watershed on multi-day trek

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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