J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County is pressing forward with plans to regulate local groundwater use for the first time as officials move to establish three new agencies that will be charged with managing one of the area’s most critical resources.
The Board of Supervisors weighed in Tuesday on the efforts of county staff members to implement a 2014 state law mandating the creation of so-called groundwater sustainability agencies in certain areas by June 30. Based on the law’s requirements, the county is forming such agencies for three of its groundwater basins: the Santa Rosa Plain, the Petaluma Valley and the Sonoma Valley.
Each agency will be governed by a board with elected or appointed members from various entities eligible to participate under the law, called the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. The law empowers the groundwater agencies to, among other duties, conduct studies, regulate extraction and assess fees. California landowners have historically not been limited in their ability to extract the groundwater beneath their properties.
“It’s certainly never easy to form a new regulatory entity, especially one that eventually will meddle, quite frankly, in something that for decades — if not longer — has not been meddled in,” Supervisor David Rabbitt said.
Read more at: Sonoma County supervisors to serve on boards of three new groundwater agencies | The Press Democrat
Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The first of three meetings to gather public feedback on a new regulatory framework for groundwater in Sonoma County drew a standing-room only crowd in Petaluma on Thursday night.
Concerns raised about the new regulations ranged from who is to be subjected to them, to how the rules will be enforced. Out-of-pocket costs were another worry.
“How much are we looking at?” asked Norma Giddings, who lives west of Petaluma and was among more than 100 people at the Petaluma Community Center.
The question underscored the many unknowns with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which seeks to regulate groundwater for the first time in California when the law goes into effect in 2022.
Officials on Thursday went over in detail, as they have in previous meetings, the progress they’ve made toward establishing local agencies to implement the state-mandated groundwater program.
They said much more will be known once those governing boards are in place.
Read more at: Sonoma County on path to regulating groundwater supplies | The Press Democrat
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County residents dependent on private wells, and others interested in understanding how California’s new groundwater management law will be implemented locally, are urged to attend three upcoming meetings on the topic that begin Thursday night.
The sessions are being held to explain the governance structure being developed for three Sonoma County groundwater basins immediately affected by the state’s 2014 law. They include the Petaluma Valley, Santa Rosa Plain and Sonoma Valley basins.
New groundwater sustainability agencies are to be developed for each basin after public hearings planned for April and May. The deadline to create the new local agencies is June 30.
The informational meeting schedule is as follows:
Petaluma Valley, March 23, 6-8 p.m., Petaluma Community Center, 320 North McDowell Blvd.
Sonoma Valley, March 27, 6-8 p.m., Sonoma Charter School multi-purpose room, 17202 Sonoma Highway
Santa Rosa Plain, April 3, 6-8 p.m., Santa Rosa Utilities field office, 35 Stony Point Road.
More information is available at sonomacountygroundwater.org.
Source: Public meetings slated to inform Sonoma County groundwater users | The Press Democrat
In 2003 Riverkeeper engaged residents and activists in the Lower Russian River when the public learned about plans to drop the summer flows in the river by up to 80%.
In 2008, the Russian River Biological Opinion (RRBO) was approved by NOAA Fisheries in order to mitigate negative impacts from the operation of the two Army Corps dams, water supply operations and flood control activities. The RRBO section titled “reasonable and prudent alternatives” stated that salmon would benefit if we cut summer flows by 70% in an attempt to improve estuary conditions for juvenile salmon by maintaining a closed estuary. The rationale was that lower flows would help maintain a closed estuary but over the last several years it is clear that goal will be difficult to meet due to natural ocean conditions.
At that time, Riverkeeper stated that cutting flows would increase nutrient concentrations and end up harming juvenile salmon in the estuary by growing too much algae, which affects dissolved oxygen levels. Fast forward to last summer and we had flows in the 70 cubic feet per second range that is close to the proposed 70% reduction and we had our first ever toxic algae outbreak that killed at least two dogs.
At the same time, our understanding of fish population dynamics supported by many fishery biologists is that food production in the river above the estuary would be negatively affected by cutting flows by up to 70%.
The Draft EIR was released from the Sonoma County Water Agency in mid-August. Read the EIR here.
Russian Riverkeeper is concerned with likely water quality problems if flows are allowed to stay below 100cfs throughout the summer months. One of our goals is to ensure water saved from reduced flows is not put up for sale but reserved to mitigate potential water quality impacts.
The comment period for this Draft EIR ended on Friday, March 10. The Sonoma County Water Agency now will read all the comments and questions, and will reply to all of them. They hope to have the Final EIR done by the end of 2017. Then it goes to the State Water Resources Control Board for final approval.
Click here to read Russian Riverkeeper’s protest letter to the State Water Resources Control Board: RussianRiverKeeper Protest Pet12497a 9Mar17
Source: Russian River “Low Flow E.I.R.” | Russian Riverkeeper
Joseph Serna, LOS ANGELES TIMES
California’s San Joaquin Valley continues to sink at an alarming rate because of groundwater pumping and irrigation, according to a new study by NASA. Ground levels in some areas have dropped 1 to 2 feet in the last two years, creating deeper and wider “bowls” that continue to threaten the vital network of channels that transport water across Southern California, researchers say.
The findings underscore the fact that even as record rain and snow have brought much of California out of severe drought, some parts of the state will probably struggle with water problems for years to come.
Despite a new series of storms that battered California this week, state water regulators decided Wednesday to maintain drought restrictions for at least a few more months as they continue to assess recovery.
Researchers said subsidence has long been a problem in parts of California. “But the current rates jeopardize infrastructure serving millions of people,” said William Croyle, acting director of the state Department of Water Resources. “Groundwater pumping now puts at risk the very system that brings water to the San Joaquin Valley.”
Subsidence occurs when water is removed from underground aquifers and the surrounding soil collapses on itself. Even if the underground water is replenished, subsided basins can’t hold as much water as they did previously.
Read more at: San Joaquin Valley continues to sink because of groundwater pumping, NASA says – LA Times
Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Vintners and wine industry representatives on Tuesday pressed Sonoma County supervisors to give farming interests a greater say in how California’s new law governing groundwater is put into place on a local level.
As proposed by staff from Sonoma County Water Agency and county administrator’s office, those interests are set to hold an advisory role — but not voting power — on the agencies that will oversee the three local aquifers that fall under the state law. Environmentalists and rural residents who depend on wells for their water supply would also be represented on the advisory groups.
That arrangement, however, has riled representatives of the county’s wine industry and other agricultural interests, who see much at stake in how the new law is imposed. The governing agencies, which must be formed by June 30, will have the ability to register and monitor wells, restrict pumping and prevent drilling of new wells. Agencies would also have the ability to assess new fees and taxes.
“Nothing good for farmers in this county … can come from this monitoring,” Jim Bundschu, an owner of Gundlach Bundschu Winery in Sonoma, told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. “Agriculture needs a larger voice.”
Supervisors on Tuesday voiced support for a recommendation by the Water Agency to create three separate regulatory bodies — one each to oversee groundwater in the Santa Rosa Plain, Sonoma Valley and Petaluma Valley.
Read more at: Wine industry wants greater say in Sonoma County groundwater regulation | The Press Democrat
Water Maven, MAVEN’S NOTEBOOK
With the critically endangered Delta smelt on the brink of extinction, Defenders of Wildlife, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and The Bay Institute today called upon the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to issue emergency regulations and release the fresh water the smelt need to survive. Water is currently being diverted away from key waterways that feed the San Francisco Bay Estuary, depriving the fish of essential freshwater flows and limiting its chances of survival.
Click here to read the 12-page letter to the State Water Board
Following are statements from Defenders, NRDC, and The Bay Institute:
Kim Delfino, California program director for Defenders of Wildlife: “Decades of state and federal agencies’ mismanagement of the San Francisco Bay Estuary, compounded by several years of drought, is causing catastrophic harm to wildlife in the estuary. The Delta smelt is circling the drain because this iconic estuary has been starved of water. We are calling on the State Water Resources Control Board to comply with its legal obligations and save this fish before it is gone forever.”
Kate Poole, Water and Wildlife Project director for the Natural Resources Defense Council: “The Delta smelt is the canary in the coal mine for the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary, and its condition indicates that the estuary is suffocating. Water agencies failed to heed the urgent call of biologists to keep more fresh water flowing through the Delta this summer to revive the ailing habitat. Now it’s time for the State Water Board to step in and stave off extinction of the first in a long line of imperiled Delta species, including native salmon, steelhead and sturgeon.”
Gary Bobker, Rivers and Delta program director at The Bay Institute: “It’s shocking enough to realize that what was once the most common resident fish of the San Francisco Bay Estuary is now the rarest, because of decades of mismanagement that the drought has only made worse. It’s unthinkable to contemplate that the Delta smelt may go extinct this year because state and federal officials continue to fail to act on the science that shows that providing a small portion of the flow that once sustained this species – and many others now in decline – could help prevent that from happening. This unique species’ fate is in the hands of the State Water Board now.”
Read more at: MAVEN’S NOTEBOOK – Water news
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
Frank Robertson, SONOMA WEST TIMES
A long-awaited report on what might happen when the Russian River has less water flowing down it in the summertime will be released Aug. 19, Sonoma County Water Agency officials announced last week.
Many lower River residents remain unconvinced that a permanent lower flow will help habitat for endangered salmon and steelhead trout, Russian River Watershed Protection Committee founder Brenda Adelman cautioned County Supervisors last week. A federal “Biological Opinion” issued eight years ago that called for a reduced flow “totally ignored the lower River,” said Adelman.
The Russian River Instream Flow and Restoration (RRIFR) project will permanently cut summertime flows by about 40 percent between Healdsburg and the River’s mouth at Jenner.
Anglers, swimmers and boaters are expected to be looking closely at what conditions they’ll have to live with when summer flows are cut every summer from 125 cubic feet per second (CFS) to about 75 CFS in a normal rainfall year.
The National Marine Fisheries Services Biological Opinion “never had public review, public comment or agency review that I’m aware of,” said Adelman. “It totally ignored the lower River from about the confluence of Dry Creek down to Duncans Mills. I really feel like the lower River has been neglected, especially in terms of water quality impacts,” said Adelman. “I hope that that will be corrected through this process.”
Underscoring the far-reaching challenges of the new low-flow regime the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors last week took the unusual step of announcing the Environmental Impact Report’s release four weeks in advance of the actual day when the public gets to see the report.
Copies of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) will be available digitally and on flash drive or to download from the Water Agency’s website. Paper copies will also be available at the Sonoma County Public Libraries in Guerneville, Windsor, Healdsburg and Cloverdale, and from the Water Agency for a fee.
Read more at: Report pending on lower Russian River flows – Sonoma West Times and News: News
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