TABLE OF CONTENTS
Sonoma County Progress and Problems
by David Keller, Bay Area Director, FOER
New Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) Water Supply Agreement
The new Restructured Agreement for Water Supply (“RA”)—the 40-year agreement among water contractors to purchase potable water from the Sonoma County Water Agency—has been modestly but importantly revised as a result of concerns for Eel River issues and the Potter Valley Project’s (PVP) costs and impacts.
Last fall the Friends of the Eel River staff, with supporting letters from its members and public, provided testimony to a number of city councils and water districts regarding the problems that the proposed Restructured Agreement (that authorizes purchase and operation of the PVP) would have for the Eel River. After careful deliberation, the city councils of Windsor and Sonoma, and the Board of Directors of North Marin Water District (“NMWD”, serving Novato) refused to sign on to the Agreement as written.
They objected to the virtually automatic authorization in the RA to purchase the PVP, and to the impacts that the continued water diversions have on the Eel River and her fisheries. NMWD and Windsor wanted the authorization removed from the agreement, or a condition added requiring a larger number of water contractors to agree to purchase the PVP. Council and Board members expressed concern that continued diversions were not only harming the Eel River, but that water users in Sonoma County had no right to take water that rightfully belongs within the Eel River watershed and Humboldt, Mendocino and Lake County economies.
This brought the negotiations among the water contractors and SCWA to a standstill, since the RA has to be approved unanimously by all 9 signing contractors and the SCWA. As a result, the RA was modified in March to include a requirement that an EIR be prepared and approved prior to any purchase of the PVP, and that 6/8 of the contractors would be required to approve the deal prior to its taking effect. This will put the burden of proof of impacts to the Eel River on SCWA and the water contractors prior to any purchase attempt, and allow the ratepayers to weigh in on whether it’s a harmful and costly action to take.
Fortunately, we were pleased to hear Randy Poole, SCWA General Manager, state explicitly to contractors that water diverted from the Eel River was NOT needed to serve any of SCWA’s water contractor cities’ or districts’ water supply needs.
A New Fish Story
Unfortunately, SCWA has now invented a new fish story about their desire to control the Eel River flows through the PVP: Mr. Poole also stated that the water is needed to help in the restoration of Russian River endangered Chinook. He had the audacity to state at one meeting that there were so few fish left in the Eel River that the water would do more good if diverted to the Russian River!
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors last fall voted to support a new program for restoration of Russian River Chinook, which involves Eel River diversions. FOER has challenged this unscientific and insulting proposal from the start, and will vigorously work against it until the proposal is extinct. Russian RiverKeepers (Friends of the Russian River’s new name) likewise declared this proposal to be absurd and contrary to their restoration programs.
We think that there’s really another motive for SCWA. SCWA wants to be in the driver’s seat to control and sell Eel River diversions to supply water to upper Russian River customers and new Mendocino County developers, like Ryder Homes in the Ukiah Valley. SCWA already controls 87% of Lake Mendocino storage. It would be very convenient for them to control more Russian River flows under the guise of Chinook restoration. As a key SCWA consultant told us, “We have to keep control of the water; otherwise the people up in southern Mendocino will get their straws in the river before we do.”
Once again, it is clear that Eel River water is being used to “subsidize” the over-drafting and over-appropriation of the Russian River. This must stop.
Water? We ain’t got no water. We don’t need no water.
The new Sonoma County Draft General Plan 2020’s Draft Environmental Impact Report (“DEIR”) clearly declares that Sonoma County will run out of water for its predicted growth for the next 15-20 years. The Draft General Plan 2020 does have a number of laudable goals, including, “Ensure that the County’s water resources are protected on a sustainable yield basis which avoids long-term declines in available surface and groundwater resources or water quality.”
Remarkably, the DEIR proposes going ahead with all the projected development, and states explicitly:
Significant Unavoidable Impact 4.9-1: Insufficient water supplies to meet the future water demand of the urban service areas.”
“Land use and development consistent with the Draft GP2020 would increase the demand for water. As a result, insufficient water supplies would be available to serve some of the unincorporated Urban Service Areas from existing entitlements. New or expanded entitlements would be required.”
Also: Significant Unavoidable Impact 4.9-2:
“Insufficient water supplies to meet the future water demand of rural private domestic, small municipal, and agricultural wells.”
And more: Significant Unavoidable Impact 4.9-3:
“New or expanded water supply facilities.”
“Land Uses and development consistent with the Draft GP2020 could result in the need for increased water supply facilities, either through the construction of new facilities or through the expansion or retrofitting of existing facilities. Construction of new or expanded water supply facilities could result in site-specific impacts, especially on aquatic organisms and fisheries.”
Yet, as FOER noted in our comments, the DEIR does not indicate with any certainty where these new or expanded entitlements would come from, where the new or expanded facilities might be located, or what the impacts might be, while at the same time it acknowledges that there are substantial impediments to acquiring additional water supplies. Addressing the impacts of the diversions from the Eel River is one of those impediments.
What, Me Worry?
What happened to proposals to provide the “new” water for growth from concerted and mandated water conservation? From efficiencies that avoid the demands in the first place? From aggressive use of recycled water? From severely reducing the critical summer-time demands for irrigation water?
For example, half of all municipal water use during the summer, when demands are highest and rivers and groundwater are lowest, is for irrigation of landscaping, parks, and fields. Significant savings there would tremendously reduce impacts on the Eel and Russian Rivers when they are most vulnerable. Use of alternative landscaping and evapo-transmission regulated irrigation controllers could make a huge difference.
How is this General Plan supposed to be “sustainable”? What will the county do after the next 10 years? 20 years? 100 years? The county has outlined a plan for complete system failure, and muddles ahead without a clue.
This track is in violation of California court rulings that prohibit approval of new development based on the use of “paper water” rather than real water. It also violates common sense and good science, the principles of sustainability, and the need for restoration of our great river systems and groundwater. It is a recipe for disaster.
Reasons for Hope and Progress
In our extensive comments on the DEIR, we stressed that any dependence on Eel River water for Sonoma County growth is unnecessary and harmful, and should be deleted from the General Plan 2020 and its DEIR. We will pursue these important changes and impact assessments as the General Plan 2020 and its EIR proceed through this year.
For full text of the draft General Plan 2020 and its DEIR, please see:
FOER provides an outline for ending any real or perceived need for Eel River diversions and for new water supplies. We propose a strategy and program for restoration of the Eel River, Russian River, and groundwater basins. We have enough water now, if we use it smartly. This is the basis for FOER’s “Restoration, Reliability, and Resource Stewardship Alternative” (see text of this at our website under DEIR comments, pages 27-29).
A number of water agencies in the state have now accommodated growth over the past 10-20 years, yet use no more total water during that time, including the East Bay Municipal Utility District, the Marin Municipal Water District, and even the Los Angeles Metropolitan Water District.
On Feb. 2, 2005, the State Water Resources Control Board directed SCWA and its contractors to come up with “a detailed plan of water conservation efforts that will offset future increases in demand, which in turn will result in no increase in Russian River diversions.” So far, SCWA hasn’t been willing to comply with this directive.
Petaluma Gets into the Act and Does Very Well
As Petaluma progressed with its new General Plan 2025, it came up short of water, just like the county. Petaluma staff and City Council have now concluded that “water supply from SCWA alone is not sufficient to meet current and anticipated demand” necessary for Petaluma’s growth as predicted for the upcoming new Petaluma General Plan (Staff report, 3/31/06), with demand exceeding supply by 2011. As a result, it would have to enact a building moratorium if it couldn’t find an alternative.
Instead of complaining or instituting a moratorium, or increasing demands for Eel or Russian River water, or waiting for SCWA to resolve water supply and transmission and fishery issues, or relying significantly on local groundwater, the City Council and staff worked out a new proposal for aggressive conservation and water efficiencies. This includes extensive reuse of recycled treated wastewater for irrigation of parks, playfields and golf courses in lieu of using potable water from SCWA’s system. New development would pay most costs for supplying the “new” water. Existing ratepayers would not be burdened with these costs.
Petaluma provides a very good example as a roadmap for all the county’s water suppliers to adopt as well. The complete city staff report “Draft General Plan 2025 Preliminary Water
Supply Analysis” is at: http://petaluma.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=3&clip_id=200&meta_id=44096 If one city can do this, then all of them can.