TABLE OF CONTENTS
Stopping Global Warming
We’ve all seen the predictions for temperature and sea level increases, changes in rainfall and snowfall patterns, increased acidic oceans and rain, and changes in drought and storm frequencies which have been substantiated over and over again, despite massive political interference and corporate denial of scientific evidence and modeling. These impacts will bring many changes to the North Coast of California.
While we don’t know exactly how these changes will play out, we know they are serious and significant. It is imperative for us to work to reduce the causes of these changes, particularly reducing Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions stemming from the use of fossil fuels and deforestation.
This strategy also involves reducing water and electrical demands which produce CO2. Our work for the Eel River dovetails with work being done around the globe. We can make a difference, starting right at home.
Transfer of Waters, Transfer of Wealth: The Bank of Water is officially overdrawn.
As the North Bay region has grown in population since WWII, the demands on water supplies have grown tremendously. Groundwater is now over-drafted, with more and more wells going to deeper depths to get municipal, residential and agricultural supplies. The Russian River is the source of most of the surface water supplies for Sonoma County and parts of Mendocino and Marin Counties, and according to the State Water Resources Control Board, it is “over appropriated.” That means that there are too many legal and illegal pumps sucking water out of the river, tributaries and its aquifer, leaving too little water for salmon, steelhead and other public trust uses.
And of course, the troubled Eel River’s fate has been hanging by a thread at the Potter Valley Project, owned by PG&E as a small, antiquated hydropower plant, yet operated as a water transfer facility into the Russian River and Lake Mendocino. Not enough cold water for salmonids stays in the Eel River, but instead, just the right amount of warm water for the voracious predator pikeminnow.
Up until very recently, the Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA), the largest single water-rights holder on the Russian River, played on an old fear that their water contractors’ consumers would run short if the transfer of water from the Eel River to supplement the Russian River flows (via Lake Mendocino) stopped.
During the past year, FOER staff pressed SCWA’s general manager (Randy Poole), and he finally acknowledged in public meetings that the Eel River’s water transferred through the Potter Valley Project “is not necessary to supply SCWA customers.” SCWA will have to officially address these issues in their forthcoming Draft Environmental Impact Report for their Water Supply, Transmission and Reliability Project (system expansion), due late next year.
The idea that Sonoma County needs Eel River water persisted as a 60-year-old urban legend. SCWA and the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors have now changed their story, and claim that the transferred Eel River water is needed for restoration efforts of endangered salmonids in the Russian River! Apparently the needs of fish and wildlife of the Eel River, as well as the needs for that water by people who live, work and recreate in upper Mendocino, Lake, Trinity and Humboldt counties, are inconsequential to them.
So how does this affect our Eel River’s fate?
Marin and Sonoma County are beginning to enter a path where water users, ratepayers, engineers, water agencies and elected officials understand that they can reduce water demands substantially, save ratepayers money in reduced water, wastewater and electrical bills, and reduce GHG. Water users (residential, commercial, industrial and institutional) can significantly reduce their demand through the use of improved practices, appliances and machinery, as well as reducing summer landscaping irrigation. When these programs are properly designed and accounted for, the savings from lowered water and electrical bills exceeds the costs of changing the appliances, devices and machinery to much more efficient ones.
When people are asked if they would be willing to cut back on water and energy usage to benefit our environment and reduce the impacts of global warming, most people will agree strongly. However, when told that under current practices that if they save water through conservation, it will not be left in rivers and groundwater aquifers to help the environment, but instead just be pumped and sold for more development, people get angry and frustrated.
Water users and policy makers are beginning to be free of the fear of ending Eel River diversions to the Russian River. They are beginning to understand that their conservation practices should have a positive impact in our environment. Improving watershed management, ending gravel mining of the Russian River’s incredible free water storage and filtration system, better forestry practices, improvements to groundwater recharge and ending overdrafts, combined with substantial water and energy efficiency programs, will allow us to move to recovery of these river systems. If we are smart, and think long term, we can have healthy watersheds for generations to come.
If people, businesses and governments work diligently to reduce water and electrical demands, the perceived ‘needs’ for continued diversions will no longer be driving water politics as strongly. As the diminished fears combine with a dedication to helping our environment, the ability to get PG&E and other stakeholders to change their practices will increase. As the State’s Decision 1610 (regulating discharge flows from Lake Mendocino to the Russian River to serve fishery needs) is reopened and recalculated, there may well be less political pressure to continue the diversions.
All Sonoma County cities have adopted a target to reduce GHG emissions by 25% below 1990 levels
We can, and we must change our practices. When we care for our Earth and children and work to control climate changes, whether we just want reduced utility bills, or whether we are working locally and regionally to restore our Eel River and its watershed, we are all pulling in the same direction. With this effort, with determination and perseverance, we will succeed. This is the right thing to do.