By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Tuesday signed an agreement intended to bring together a broad array of government, farming and environmental interests on science and stream restoration projects in the Russian River watershed.
The pact, which officials are calling the Russian River Compact, is largely a set of principles spelling out how public agencies and private groups with a stake in the river can best collaborate to improve it for wildlife while maintaining its supply for drinking water and farms and preventing damaging floods.
Supporters called it a rare attempt at crafting a unified approach to dealing with the river’s key issues, including the crash of its once plentiful salmon and steelhead trout runs.
“This is a really rare opportunity where you have entities that are often on opposite sides coming together to help the health of the Russian River watershed,” said Supervisor Mike McGuire, who represents northern Sonoma County.
Mendocino County, which covers the upper Russian River watershed, signed onto the agreement last month.
Unlike other river compacts that divvy up water in the western United States, the Russian River agreement sidesteps the issue of water use to focus largely on science and restoration projects in the watershed.
It envisions a comprehensive look at habitat enhancement work currently being done along the river and tributaries, with an eye on what’s being overlooked. That analysis could then feed into a shared plan and funding pitch for future projects, officials said.
Such an approach is needed as competition stiffens for conservation dollars, with many funding sources now drying up, supporters said.
“This compact helps put a stamp on continued engagement” in the Russian River’s future, said Supervisor Efren Carrillo.
The document was developed last year in planning work with a federal agency, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, which supports stream projects on the North Coast. It was written by Tom Roth, environmental consultant for state Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa.
Roth on Tuesday evoked past battles over the Russian River while voicing hope for a “new era” of collaboration.
“This creates an overarching structure that people can work within,” he said. “Now that we have something on paper, the hard work is really going to begin.”
The deal next goes to local resource conservation districts, water suppliers and farming and environmental groups in the region.
Contact Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or email@example.com.