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RRWRC Suing Sonoma County Water Agency

Hi Water Friends:

Russian River Watershed Protection Committee (RRWPC) would like to announce that we have hired Shute, Mihaly, & Weinberger to assist us in opposing one of the most egregious CEQA violations that we have ever seen.

The Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA), as operators and managers of the Russian River County Sanitation District (covering Rio Nio, Guerneville, Guernewood Park, Vacation Beach, and Drake Rd. area) have been attempting to regionalize the Treatment Plant of the RRCSD for 11 years now, without serious regard for the environmental impacts of such a project.

SCWA first issued an EIR for expanding RRCSD in 1998 that took 2.5 years to complete and cost $600,000 of ratepayer funds and was thrown out by the District Directors (SC Board of Supervisors) before the final hearing because it lacked an adequate project description. We have heard of no other instance where Supervisors have dismissed a final EIR under such circumstances before or since. SCWA has not been shy about refusing to be bothered with operating small wastewater disposal systems and have wanted to enlarge RRCSD all along. They simply fail to appreciate the special needs of our unique environment and the potential harm that will result from big engineering solutions.

Soon after (1999) Directors decided to use the 1976 EIR to complete part of the Treatment Plant expansion. RRWPC legally challenged the use of a 23 year old EIR to the Appellate level, but County Counsel informed the court that this expansion was for current ratepayers only and under orders from the Regional Board. The purpose, they said, was to better serve the system during flood periods when the treatment plant gets inundated from flood waters getting into the system (which was poorly built in the first place). The Court refused to allow evidence to the contrary, contained within the rejected EIR. Unfortunately, we lost our case and the $4.5 million dollar expansion was built.

At the present time, SCWA is moving forward on FOUR additional EIR’s for the same project (regionalization of RRCSD). Last April they released a Notice of Preparation for an EIR (NOP) for a new equalization storage basin. Most recently they issued an NOP on an outrageously sized irrigation pipeline, which focuses on a 15-18 mile pipeline project to irrigate vineyards in the Green Valley area, and does not even consider an affordable, local Guerneville project irrigating redwood trees. (deadline for comments just closed) (Please see our attached comments detailing our concerns)

At the same time, SCWA has made Camp Meeker Recreation and Park District lead Agency for a pipeline project to hook Camp Meeker and Occidental to the RRCSD. They loaned CM the money for the project; they absolved them of any legal liability, and as operators and managers of the Occidental CSD, which will be part of the project, they appear to be as legally responsible for this EIR as Camp Meeker. We feel they should be joint lead agencies on the EIR, which is possible under CEQA law.

Finally, an NOP must be imminent for a new disinfection system, which is the reason why RRCSD violates its permit almost every winter. This is an essential component of this expansion. All of these projects, but for the CM/Occ pipeline, are noted as projected capital improvements for 2006-2011 under RRCSD projections in the County’s Capital Improvement Plan. Interestingly, the County has not included hooking Occ. to RRCSD as part of their Capital Improvements projections, even though they are the main reason for the pipeline (under serious orders from the North Coast Board).

RRWPC feels strongly that a comprehensive EIR covering ALL anticipated project areas must be developed. (We believe that possibly Monte Rio and many properties now on septic would also be added to the expanded system. They should also be covered in a comprehensive EIR.) WE HAVE INCREDIBLY RICH NATURAL RESOURCES IN THE WEST COUNTY AND WE FEEL THAT THIS PROJECT WILL PUT THEM AT GREAT RISK!

We would appreciate any support you can give. We have spent the last 11 years fighting for an adequate environmental review process. Many of you are quite familiar with SCWA tactics and know from experience what we are dealing with here. While RRWPC does not think expanding a system that lies in a major flood plain is a good idea, we would be more open to such an idea were there a full-blown open review of how this could be done with minimum harm to the environment. We hope you can support our effort. It will not be easy.

To start, we attach two letters that explaining the issues in more detail. These are RRWPC’s and our attorney’s comments on the proposed irrigation project, but they are REALLY about the situation described above. We hope you can find the time to read them and pass them on to others who may have interest in this situation.

We are thrilled to be working with one of the top environmental firms in Northern California. We are very pleased with the letter written by Ellison Folk of that firm. In the future, unless the County revises its direction on this issue, we will be needing to raise funds for this effort. We hope you will be able to help us in any way you can. Please let us know.

As for comments, two of the NOP deadlines have passed. When the EIRs are released and new comments are necessary, we will let you know. The Camp Meeker/Occ. Pipeline project will take comments until Oct. 30th. Written comments should be addressed to:

Brelje & Race Consulting Engineers
5570 Skylane Blvd.
Santa Rosa, CA 95403
Attn: Justin Witt

WE HOPE YOU WILL SUPPORT THE IDEA OF ONE COMPREHENSIVE EIR TO COVER THESE AND RELATED PROJECTS!!! If you have clout with Supervisor Reilly, it may help if you communicated with him about this.
Brenda Adelman