River Watch Header Image

RRWPC Response to Supervisor Carrillo’s op-ed on Myths about Sandbar Plan

Press Democrat, By Brenda Adelman, October 26, 2011

Large machines creating a trench to the ocean at Jenner

Russian River Watershed Protection Committee (RRWPC) has closely followed Sonoma County Water Agency’s (SCWA) Estuary Management Plan process for many years. We are quite familiar with the issues addressed by Supervisor Carrillo in the Close to Home article entitled Myths about sandbar plan that ran on Oct. 18, 2011 in the Press Democrat. We disagree with many of the article’s assertions.

The article defends the project by stating SCWA will not close the sandbar; they won’t add pollutants to the river; they will assure recreation and seals will continue, and it will save threatened fish species. The article specifically blames failing septics for existing pollution in the river along with “other” sources. The article credits SCWA for hiring consultants to conduct extensive studies.

Carrillo then goes on to paint SCWA as the heroes in this matter for doing all this work for the fish, when they are merely doing their jobs. It is their responsibility to assure a healthy and sustainable river, and are paid well to do so, but there is a lot more that could be done.

RRWPC concerns about this project have been extensively documented in our comments over the last several years (for more information visit www.rrwpc.org).

The Estuary is a magnificent force of nature not suited to being controlled. This year the mouth did not close once during the project period and SCWA was unable to conduct the project. Last year they tried, but the mouth reopened within 12 hours and they had to stop. Most river mouths north of the Russian never close.

This is a management plan and project features have only been estimated. Many factors are unknown and public comments were necessarily limited. The project is an experiment. Consultant studies only revealed “tip of the iceberg” impacts. We don’t know water quality impacts if mouth is closed for five months and existing pollutants get to fester in the water all that time. How will fish be affected if they are residing in mercury-laden waters for long periods?

Seals always leave the estuary haul out when the mouth is closed. If lengthy closures occur, we may never see seals there in summer again. We have no idea how this situation will affect them and they are a protected species also.

Heavy equipment will work on the dunes as many as 36 days during the summer season, greatly affecting access at the most popular beach in Northern California. State Parks is so concerned about this that they would only give the project a one-year permit rather than the 13-year permit requested.

SCWA has separated the Estuary Project from the “low flow” project (proposal to lower minimum flows at Hacienda by 44%), but they are closely related and should have been considered together. The only reason given for lower flows at Hacienda is to avoid flooding of a few properties in Jenner, the lowest of which is the Visitor’s Center, flooding at 9 feet. Since the project will be maintained at 8 feet, and surplus water can flow into the ocean, we fail to see necessity for low flow project. Furthermore, in a private meeting, we were told that the project could be managed at normal flows.

Finally, to single out failing septics as the main source of pollution is a travesty. Agricultural practices, timber harvesting, gravel mining, wastewater discharges, dewatering of the tributaries, urban run off and extensive use of pesticides and herbicides, all contribute heavily to river pollution. It is the County’s responsibility to strictly enforce Storm Water Runoff and other programs to control all pollution, instead of playing political favorites with certain polluters over others.

For more information visit www.rrwpc.org