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Opinion: We Don’t Have the Water

It’s not just this year. We don’t have the water.

  • The Russian River is over-appropriated and abused.
  • The Eel River is overdrawn and her fisheries decimated to cover up the Russian River’s mismanagement.
  • Sonoma County’s major groundwater basins are being drained to supplement the Russian River’s dwindling supplies.
  • The SCWA 2005 Urban Water Management Plan is ruled significantly deficient, undercutting all General Plan assumptions for future water supplies for the county and its cities.

SCWA continues to lead the public and decisionmakers to believe that there’s plenty of water for us and for the next generations of development, as if we don’t have to do anything seriously different. It’s just a ‘regulatory drought:’ those fickle agencies have prevented us from getting more water from Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma.

SCWA is complaining to the SWRCB that the State Board is demanding too much from us, and we should just be allowed to figure it out ourselves, without state intervention and mandates. We should be allowed to ‘voluntarily’ cut back our water demands for this trying year, just like the grape growers want for frost protection water, and the illegal diverters of water from the Russian River have been demanding from the state for the past few years. “No enforcement!.” “Don’t tread on me”, they all say, while our rivers, watersheds, fish, wildlife, soils, groundwater, recreation tourism and local economies are decimated.

Yet, SCWA and the Board of Supervisors have known about permanent shortages, illegal withdrawals and diversions, the loss of water storage and quality resulting from gravel mining, the loss of topsoils and permeability of soils in recharge zones, the impacts of downcutting on recharging adjacent groundwater and flooding, cutbacks in the Potter Valley Project diversions, destruction of riparian corridors and wetlands, and other serious problems for years, but has still promised plenty of ‘paper water’ to keep the new development machinery going. The numbers are promised contractually in the Restructured Agreement for Water Supply, as if that water actually exists to be sold and delivered, but there’s no talk about redoing that Agreement and the cities’ General Plan assumptions.

SCWA states (in the FEIR) that the proposed North Sonoma County Agricultural Reuse Project (NSCARP) and the North Bay Water Reuse Project (NBWRA), both projects designed to get US Bureau of Reclamation approvals and funding to pump treated wastewater to grape growers who have overdrawn their local supplies, have no obligation or goal to use the recycled water to offset municipal potable water demands instead of sending it off to new ag customers.

While they want water customers to save water for the rivers and fish, they’ve not been explicit that they aren’t actually reserving the saved water for new development. No moratoriums are proposed yet.

SCWA is taking the WSTRP and its EIR off the table, as likely being legally and financially infeasible. The release of additional water from Lake Sonoma is still more than 10 years off. And that’s only if SCWA can find the financing and ratepayer support to pay over $110M for the restoration and repairs required by the Biological Opinion to make up for the destructive results of existing waterhed practices, and only if the Dry Creek improvements actually do the job. Else, it’s another $3-500M for a pipeline and a few more years. But they’ll still have to successfully complete a new WSTRP EIR and still fund the pipes, pumps and storage to distribute any new water into the system, at a cost of well over $150 million. So, SCWA has zeroed out funding for the WSTRP EIR for next year…

It’s time to seriously change our practices, and not just for this year. If not now, when? Where’s our water coming from after this next round of choices is made?

Where are the adults in the room? Or is the tooth fairy still coming…

David Keller
Bay Area Director, Friends of the Eel River