River Watch Header Image

Supes Cancel Sewer Plans for Monte Rio

This was released on Monday. Since there has been much discussion of the
implications, I thought it might be useful to read the actual press release
for clarity on the points and where to get more information.

Have a most wonderful Thanksgiving holiday filled with love and laughter,



2550 Ventura Avenue, Santa Rosa, CA 95403-2829
(707) 565-1900 FAX (707) 565-1103

Press Release

Contact: Pete Parkinson, Director of Permit & Resource Management
Department, 565-1925

Date: November 19, 2007

The Sonoma County Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD) is recommending that the Board of Supervisors cancel plans to construct a sewer system in the Russian River Community of Monte Rio. The sewer project, which was planned to serve 586 residential and commercial properties in Monte Rio, has simply become too expensive, said PRMD Director Pete Parkinson.

“When the sewer assessment was approved in 2003, the project was estimated to cost $11.2 million,” said Parkinson. “Since then we¹ve finalized the engineering design and obtained a significant amount of grant funding to build the project, but construction costs have increased dramatically to the point where we no longer have adequate funding to move the project forward.² Construction of the sewer project is now estimated to cost over $20 million, which exceeds available funding by at least $2.6 million. The project was to be funded by a combination of state and federal grants and loans repaid through the sewer assessments and service rates approved by Monte Rio property owners in 2003.

Fifth District Supervisor Mike Reilly expressed frustration at the news, saying, “This is a major disappointment for the Monte Rio community. The combination of rapidly escalating construction costs combined with reductions in federal and state grant funds is making it nearly impossible to upgrade sanitation systems in small rural communities.” Indeed, the financial problems facing the Monte Rio sewer project are playing out increasingly across the country as global economic factors, such as increasing demand for construction materials in China and escalating oil prices, have pushed construction costs sharply higher since 2003. Building a new sewer system from the ground up is a major capital expense, including a collection system, a treatment plant and a means to safely dispose of the treated wastewater. With only a small number of properties to share the cost of building and maintaining a sewer system, these kinds of systems are becoming less economically viable.

Even with nearly $12 million in state and federal grant commitments, Monte Rio residents would still be paying nearly $1,200 a year for sewer service, the second highest rate in the County and a significant burden for many lower income residents. Reilly noted, “Residents and owners within the proposed Monte Rio District have twice voted to assess themselves and pay annual charges for this sanitation system. We have turned over every rock to secure grants for the project and still find that cost estimates substantially exceed available funds.” Reilly felt that seeking even higher sewer rates would not be sustainable for the community and noted that some grant commitments will expire even as the County looks for additional funds to cover rising costs.

The original impetus for building a sewer system in Monte Rio was to improve water quality in the lower Russian River, which is considered “impaired” under the federal Clean Water Act. Much of this impairment is thought to result from older septic systems that were built near the river many years ago. “Not only are we unable to move forward with this needed wastewater treatment project,” Parkinson said, “but the small lot sizes in Monte Rio and proximity to the river make it almost impossible for residents to install a new septic system that meets today¹s standards. This makes it very difficult for property owners to upgrade their properties, let alone consider any new development.”

A community meeting to discuss the project will be held on Tuesday, December 11 at 5:30 p.m. at the Monte Rio School Gymnasium. The Board of Supervisors will consider the matter at its January 8, 2008 meeting.