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Sonoma Water petitions State for critical water condition for Russian River as severe drought persists

SONOMA WATER

On May 25, 2022, Sonoma Water filed Temporary Urgency Change Petitions (TUCPs) with the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) Division of Water Rights requesting changes to establish a Critical water supply condition in the Russian River. Under critical water supply conditions, the Russian River would have minimum instream flow requirements of 25 cfs and 35 cfs in the upper and lower river, respectively.

This change will allow Sonoma Water to continue the minimum instream flows that the river is currently operating under and preserve water supply in both Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma. It will also help avoid violating the Incidental Take Statement for Dry Creek established in the Russian River Biological Opinion.

The current petitions also commit Sonoma Water and its retail customers to a (the cities of Cotati, Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa and Sonoma; the town of Windsor; and Valley of the Moon and North Marin water districts) 20-percent reduction in total diversions from the Russian River between July 1 and October 31 compared to the same time period in 2020.

“The Russian River watershed is facing severe drought conditions for the third year in a row and filing Temporary Urgency Change Petitions is essential to ensure the water supply for more than 600,000 people and the environment in Sonoma and Marin counties,” said Sonoma Water Director James Gore.

Read more at: https://myemail.constantcontact.com/Sonoma-Water-E-News—June-2022.html?soid=1126949444770&aid=hNUkAxwA6hY

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Sonoma Water petitions state for critical water condition for Russian River as severe drought enters third consecutive year

SONOMA WATER

On Wednesday, May 25 Sonoma Water (Sonoma County Water Agency) filed Temporary Urgency Change Petitions (TUCP) with the State Water Resources Control Board to establish a Critical water supply condition for both the upper and lower Russian River as the drought continues.

Under Critical water supply conditions, the Russian River would have minimum instream flow requirements of 25 cfs and 35 cfs in the upper and lower river, respectively. If approved, this change will allow Sonoma Water to continue the minimum instream flows that the river is currently operating under and preserve water supply in both Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma.

The current petitions also commit Sonoma Water and its retail customers to a (the cities of Cotati, Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa and Sonoma; the town of Windsor; and Valley of the Moon and North Marin water districts) 20-percent reduction in total diversions from the Russian River between July 1 and October 31 compared to the same time period in 2020.

Read more at https://sonomacounty.ca.gov/sonoma-water-petitions-state-for-critical-water-condition-for-russian-river-as-severe-drought-enters-third-consecutive-year

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More severe droughts are looming. Could Santa Rosa’s pioneering water recycling program help stave off disaster?

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Homes and businesses across central Sonoma County generated more than 5 billion gallons of wastewater last year, enough to fill more than 7,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools. That sewage flowed into Santa Rosa’s regional treatment plant south of Sebastopol, where it was cleaned up and nearly all of it put to a second use.

About 4 billion gallons of recycled water was pumped north from the Llano Road treatment plant in a 41-mile pipeline and up a steep slope into The Geysers geothermal fields southeast of Cloverdale. There it was injected into the ground to generate enough clean, renewable energy for about 100,000 North Bay households.

The system also sent 788 million gallons of recycled water to 61 farms covering 6,400 acres that produce milk, hay, grapes and vegetables, along with 386 million gallons for urban irrigation in Rohnert Park and Santa Rosa, the two largest cities in the wastewater system.

Every drop of the recycled irrigation water — safe for everything short of human consumption and sanitized to a degree that eliminates the COVID virus — replaces a drop of potable water from sources sure to be strained as California moves into its third year of worrisome drought.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/more-severe-droughts-are-looming-could-santa-rosas-pioneering-water-recyc/

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Sonoma County unveils first-ever proposed well water fees under pioneering California groundwater law

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

In a dramatic shift from California’s history of allowing landowners to freely pump and consume water from their own wells, Sonoma County’s rural residents and many others will soon begin paying for the water drawn from beneath their feet.

In the sprawling 81,284-acre Santa Rosa Plain groundwater basin, the proposed regulatory fee for a rural resident is $18 to $25 a year, much lower than the rates in the more sparsely populated Petaluma and Sonoma valleys.

In the 44,846-acre Sonoma Valley basin, the fee would be $48 to $80 a year, and in the 46,661-acre Petaluma Valley basin, it would be $115 to $200 a year.

The residential fees are based on an assumption that rural residents typically pump a half-acre foot of well water a year. Most homes do not have water meters and none will be installed under the fee program.

Large groundwater water users — including ranches, cities, water districts and businesses — would pay fees based on the volume of water drawn from their wells.

Fees in the Santa Rosa basin would be $35 to $50 per acre foot, in Sonoma Valley $95 to $160 per acre foot and in Petaluma Valley $230 to $400 per acre foot.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/sonoma-county-unveils-first-ever-proposed-well-water-fees-under-pioneering/

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Fishery groups plan to sue PG&E over Potter Valley plant and related Scott, Cape Horn dams

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A coalition of fishery groups has formally notified PG&E that it plans to file suit under the Endangered Species Act, alleging the continued injury to once abundant federally protected salmon and steelhead trout as a result of operations at the utility’s aging Potter Valley powerhouse.

The legal maneuver is part of an effort to expedite removal of Scott and Cape Horn dams, which pose a threat to vulnerable fish species in the Eel River and block access to hundreds of miles of prime habitat upstream.

The plaintiffs contend that last Thursday’s expiration of PG&E’s license for the project means the utility is no longer protected from liability and must be found in violation of the Endangered Species Act — a point the utility disputes.

A formal notice filed Friday by the coalition gives PG&E 60 days to remedy the situation or face litigation. It also echoes comments about project inadequacies made in a March 16 letter from the National Marine Fisheries Service to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in advance of the expiration of the utility’s license.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/fishery-groups-plan-to-sue-pge-over-potter-valley-plant-and-related-scott/

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Despite significant early season rainfall, Russian River watershed diversion curtailments likely to resume in April

Katherine Minkiewicz-Martine, SOCONEWS

Curtailments on Russian River watershed diversions will likely resume this April as the outlook for a “miracle March” in rainfall looks grim.

Curtailments for certain water right holders were suspended in October after Sonoma County received significant rainfall, however, flows from the October and December storms are starting to taper off, according to Sam Boland-Brien, a supervising engineer with the California State Water Resource Control Board, Division of Water Rights.

“It’s going to be a really dry summer,” Boland-Brien said.

Boland-Brien and other experts from the California Department of Water Resources, Sonoma Water, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Sonoma County Farm Bureau convened on March 10 for a virtual drought town hall to discuss water supply and drought conditions for the coming summer season.

The March 10 event was the first in a planned series of drought town halls as the county navigates through another year of dry conditions. Future town halls will focus on specific topics such as the Russian River, water quality, river recreation and groundwater conservation.

Read more at https://soconews.org/scn_county/despite-significant-early-season-rainfall-russian-river-watershed-diversion-curtailments-likely-to-resume-in-april/article_8659e4b2-a3b0-11ec-965b-cf5841671d2e.html

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Critics rip ‘half-baked’ federal plan to save California salmon

Nick Cahill, COURTHOUSE NEWS SERVICE

Both conservationists and water suppliers are upset with a proposal that federal and state officials say is aimed at ensuring Chinook salmon survive the California drought.

Fishing groups and water suppliers fighting the Biden administration’s proposed drought rules for California’s water system told a federal judge Friday the emergency plans won’t stop the demise of endangered salmon.

With California trudging through another disappointingly dry winter, the federal government and state officials have agreed upon a set of temporary rules they claim are necessary to preserve enough cold water on the Sacramento River for Chinook salmon this spring and summer. The rules call for new water temperature targets and improved collaboration between federal and state officials on the management of California’s two main water conveyance systems.

But the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and other conservation groups cast the “interim operations plan” as a half-baked measure that will lead to a third consecutive year of salmon die-offs. They want the feds to hold off on upcoming water deliveries and subsequently store more cold water behind Shasta Dam in the event hydrological conditions remain dreadful.

In addition, a group of water agencies claim the interim plan was untested and, if implemented, would likely violate their contracts with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

The overarching issue are endangered species permits or biological opinions adopted by the Trump administration in 2019 that critics said severely weakened protections for salmon and water quality in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

Read more at https://www.courthousenews.com/critics-rip-feds-half-baked-plan-to-save-california-salmon/

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Plan to acquire Mendocino County power plant unravels

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Plans to acquire an aging power plant in Mendocino County to ensure continued flows of Eel River water into Lake Mendocino and Sonoma County have unraveled.

A coalition of organizations from Sonoma, Humboldt and Mendocino counties abandoned their quest to acquire the century-old Potter Valley hydroelectric plant, saying it could not meet an April 14 deadline for submitting a federal license application.

The plant, about 80 miles north of Santa Rosa, is owned by Pacific Gas & Electric, which in 2019 announced plans to abandon it and surrender its license.

Water users downstream maintained the plant was critical because Eel River water is diverted through its turbines into Lake Mendocino and the Russian River. That, in turn, supplies users as far south as Sonoma and northern Marin counties.

Without the option of acquiring the plant, stakeholders predict years of uncertainty, quarreling and, ultimately, higher costs to water users.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/multicounty-partnership-yields-on-potter-valley-power-plant-license-scramb/

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Russian River flows at risk: New studies show potential path forward for Potter Valley project

Mother of All Groups (MOAG), SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

PG&E’s license to operate the Potter Valley Project expires in April of 2022. For more information until then: http://pottervalleyproject.org/

A group of studies released last month paint a clearer picture of how Sonoma and Mendocino counties can meet future water needs while reducing environmental impacts in the face of a decision by PG&E to cease operation of an aging hydroelectric power project.

The Potter Valley Project (PVP) is located approximately 15 miles north of the City of Ukiah on the Eel River. The Project’s facilities include two dams, a diversion tunnel and a hydroelectric plant located in Potter Valley in the headwaters of the Russian River. The 100-year-old project produces little electricity by modern standards and is a net money loser, but Sonoma and Mendocino County water users have grown accustomed to the water diverted by the Project which flows from the Eel River into the Russian River watershed where it is stored in Lake Mendocino – ultimately flowing down the Russian River where it benefits agricultural interests and residents.

This arrangement was put in jeopardy when PG&E announced in 2019 that it would not seek to renew its federal license to operate the Project, which expires in April 2022. In recent weeks, PG&E also notified the public that the Project’s powerhouse had suffered a transformer failure, which eliminated its ability to generate electricity and reduced water diversions into the Russian River. Given PG&E’s goal to dispense with the Project, it is unlikely the powerhouse will be repaired or that the Project will ever function as it once did.

In response to PG&E’s decision to divest from the Project, a diverse group of stakeholders called the Two-Basin Partnership was formed to develop a plan to take over and modify the Project in a way that reflects regional needs and priorities in both basins. Among these priorities are fisheries recovery in the Eel River – one of the few major rivers left in California that has the potential to support abundant, self-sustaining wild populations of salmon and steelhead – and water supply reliability for Russian River water users. The Partnership’s proposed plan included the removal of Scott Dam, restoration of the drained Lake Pillsbury footprint and modifications or the replacement of Cape Horn Dam to maintain a diversion.

Read more at https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/russian-river-flows-at-risk-new-studies-show-potential-path-forward-for-po/

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Rainstorm in review

SONOMA ECOLOGY CENTER

From bone-dry creek beds to rushing water in just one wet week – it’s been a turbulent ride of literal highs and lows for our watershed in the past seven days.

Last Sunday’s storm was the biggest in our area’s history in terms of volume of water over such a short amount of time. When you look at the numbers it makes quite the splash.

On the Sonoma Developmental Center campus where the Sonoma Ecology Center is located we received a total of 12 inches in 24 hours – when you factor in the 2.75 inches of rain that we measured prior to the Sunday, October 24 weather event we’re clocking in at 14.75 inches for this year. This is more than we received in precipitation all of last winter, all in just one week!

The huge fluctuations in streamflow which you can see represented below by a USGS streamflow graph of Sonoma Creek at the Agua Caliente Bridge aren’t a typical start to the wet season. In a couple of days Sonoma Creek went from running at 0 CFS (cubic feet per second) to well over 6,000 CFS. That’s a big change in a short amount of time.

Read more at https://sonomaecologycenter.org/rainstorm-review/