I don’t think that the reality of what we are in for has hit home with people yet. SCWA is determined to keep the flow as low as possible to see what will happen. Next year they will aim to make it permanent at the behest of NMFS and the Biological Opinion. It is our view that if indeed they keep flows below 50 cfs for July through September, there will be very serious and probably permanent impacts (such as nutrient pollution and invasive plants). None of these are required to be addressed in advance as they would with almost any other project, because CEQA and NEPA simply don’t apply here.
As most of you know, the Sonoma County Water Agency plans to diminish flows to the lower river by about 80% from July 6th through Oct. 2nd. Normal summer flows are from 125 cubic feet per second (cfs) at the Hacienda Bridge on up as high as 250 cfs.
This year Lake Mendocino is lower than usual and justify flows of 85 cfs at Hacienda. At that flow, canoers have a very hard time, but can still manage. But SCWA petitioned the State Board for permission to meet “critical” dry conditions of 35 cfs from Dry Creek on down. This will turn the lower Russian River into a puddle, except perhaps at Johnson’s Beach where a dam will be installed. We believe it is uncalled for and unfair, since water contractors only have to find 3% NEW conservation over last year’s water use.
We are very concerned about water quality in the lower river when this happens, not to mention loss of recreation. There was no environmental review to analyze the impacts of this. The Agency and the Regional Board will institute a monitoring program, but all have admitted that this is a big experiment and no one knows the outcome.
We are very worried about the spread of invasive plants, which have taken hold in many places along the lower river. We want to do a photo project from Forestville to Monte Rio in order to document the impacts and changes. (Next year SCWA will begin the process to make these low flows permanent.) We are calling on photographers to select one to three locations on the river where they will photograph conditions (preferably on weekends so we can see the impact on recreation as well) from the same location every week.
We are also looking for people to photograph turf irrigation in the Cities that use Russian River water. The State Board initially banned this use, and then backed off and came up with a moderate formula for limiting water application. We have no idea who or how the cities will monitor the use. We would like to find people who don’t mind going out very early in the morning to business parks and other public facilities to photograph runoff, over-watering, etc. and the kind of equipment being used to water. (large sprays, drip, etc.)