By BRENDA ADELMAN
Brenda Adelman is chairwoman of the Russian River Watershed Protection Committee
The Russian River Watershed Protection Committee is quite familiar with the issues addressed by Supervisor Efren Carrillo in the Oct. 19 Close to Home titled “Myths about sandbar plan.” We disagree with many of his assertions.
The column defends the project by stating the Sonoma County Water Agency will not close the sandbar; it won’t add pollutants to the Russian River; it will assure recreation and seals will continue, and it will save threatened fish species. The column specifically blames failing septic tanks 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 the Water Agency as the heroes in this matter for doing all this work for the fish, when agency workers 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.
The concerns of the Russian River Watershed Protection Committee 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 the Water Agency was unable to conduct the project. Last year, it tried, but the mouth reopened within 12 hours, and it had to stop. Most river mouths north of the Russian never close.
Many factors about this plan 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 the water quality impacts if the 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 found to be residing in mercury-laden waters for long periods?
Seals always leave the estuary 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.
The Water Agency has separated the estuary project from the “low flow” project (proposal to lower minimum flows at Hacienda Bridge by 44 percent), 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 the necessity for a 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 septic tanks as the main source of pollution is a travesty. Agricultural practices, timber harvesting, gravel mining, wastewater discharges, dewatering of the tributaries, urban runoff 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.