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Defending our Water

Defending Our Water... Again
By Vesta Copestakes

On April 3rd our stalwart defenders of the river and water had a long day of meetings and hearings. First we gathered at the Permit Resource Management Department (PRMD) for a Planning Commission hearing on whether Syar Mining would get an extension of five years to continue mining gravel in the terrace mines next to the Russian River in Healdsburg. Next we went to the Santa Rosa City Council hearing on the Draft Environmental Impact Report DEIR) on discharging treated wastewater into the Russian River and tributaries as a means of disposal. And yes, in many cases it was the same group of individuals standing up to defend our water resources at both meetings.

Gravel Mining the River

Just a little background - more than ten years ago Sonoma County drafted the Aggregate Resource Management (ARM) plan that limited the number of years that gravel can be mined from the Russian River (among other things). This practice not only silts the river bottom making is difficult for fish to lay eggs, it also disrupts ground water resources for numerous reasons. The ARM plan basically set standards for how long the practice could be continued (until April, 2006), and how the county would look to less disruptive resources for gravel into the future.

Syar was asking to extend their time limit by another five years because they hadn't finished mining Phase 6 terrace pit. In fact they have a long way to go, more than a million tons of gravel are still there. After they finish, they are supposed to do a complete reclamation project.

Syar basically said a law suite that took three months to settle and some mechanical difficulties delayed them. The question that came up several times is that if the delay was 3 months, and throw in a few more for fixing machinery, why did they need another five years? PRMD staff brought in the fact that the reclamation can't start until the pit is mined. Tricky. There was not one person testifying who supported this extension, with the exception of Syar of course. PRMD staff, however, recommended that they continue because of Sonoma County's need for this particular type of gravel, high quality used in concrete, and in order to get the reclamation process done.

After much discussion, the commission voted 3 to 2 to recommend to the Board of Supervisors (the final decision makers) that the extension be denied. Rue Furch, who was on the Planning Commission and was part of the group who wrote the ARM plan, expressed concern that offering this extension was not consistent with the intention of the ARM plan for environmental reasons, and that the plan was now old enough, and things had changed enough, that it would be a good idea to go back and review and update the plan to include what has been learned since it was established twelve years ago. Importing high quality gravel has now become part of how the county serves its needs at this point. Taking it from the river is no longer environmentally appropriate. So now the request for an extension goes to the board of Supervisors, who will probably have another pubic hearing on the subject. If this is close to your heart, you can keep track of hearings by going to the SoCo website and signing up for e-mail updates.

Discharging Wastewater

This public hearing was to bring up what people consider shortcomings of the Discharge Compliance Project Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR). The treated wastewater they want to get rid of is not only generated by Santa Rosa, but also by Rohnert Park, Cotati and Sebastopol and has been treated to tertiary level at the Laguna Treatment plant.

Although the commission didn't want to hear how the public thought the whole idea wasn't good to begin with, for many reasons, people couldn't help but bring that up - wrapped around specifics in the DEIR that seemed inadequate. The number one problem with the DEIR was the enormity of it - six volumes totally more than 5,000 pages that had to be read and commented on within 45 days. OK they got it out a little early so that extended the time a tad, but not enough to read such a HUGE - and boring - document that required comment.

The bottom line for most people is that the discharge sites are in our back yards; Healdsburg, Windsor and Forestville; that the water is not treated enough to get rid of heavy metals, pharmaceuticals and hormones (Los Angeles can pull this off, why not Santa Rosa!); and that this is a total waste of good water when we're dealing with water shortages already! Sometimes it just seems that what appears to some as logical and reasonable isn't even on the radar for others.

Over and over again people bring up that male fish are laying eggs, copper in wastewater is disrupting salmon's ability to find home and spawn (our endangered fish!), they are dumping what we consider inadequately treated water in our recreational and drinking water resource, and that if they just spent the money to fix leaky pipes that collect rainwater in winter that then needs to be treated, and build a better treatment plant, we wouldn't have to spend all this money getting rid of a valuable water resource!

So, lucky us, the commission agreed to extend the deadline for comments:

Important Notice

The City of Santa Rosa has extended the public review periods for the following Draft Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs),

  • The Discharge Compliance Project from May 6 to May 20, 2008.
  • The Seasonal Storage Project from May 14 to May 28, 2008.

The City will accept written comments on the Draft EIRs until 5:00 PM on the final dates of their respective public review periods, as noted above. All written comments should be sent to: Glen Wright, City of Santa Rosa, 69 Stony Circle, Santa Rosa, CA 95401, or Fax: 707-543-3936, or E-Mail:

If you want to purchase the paper copy, you'll have to shell out $300, other than that you can purchase a CD for $10 or download the document for free:


Both Draft EIRs are available for review at Sonoma County Branch Libraries in Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park/Cotati, Sebastopol, and Windsor and on the project Web site at The DCP Draft EIR is also available at the libraries in Cloverdale, Guerneville, Healdsburg, Occidental, Petaluma, Forestville and Lakeport. The Draft EIRs, appendices and reference material cited in the Draft EIRs will also be available for review at the Laguna Plant Library, located at 4300 Llano Road, Santa Rosa. Draft EIR hard copies, summary hard copies, and CDs of the Draft EIRs will be available for purchase by calling ARC at 707-579-9096.

As I testified to the commission, give us more time and I can guarantee that a lot of people will take the time to read this thing. I know for a fact that the people who come to these hearings will. They are our environmental leaders as well as defenders. I'd like to think that some of the folk out here who depend upon our defenders, will also take the time to read and comment as well. It won't put you to sleep too fast. And you'll definitely learn things you never thought you'd need to know. You can even skim and learn things like I did at the hearing on whatever page that was of Volume 1 - they had thirteen mitigations (things they can do to make it better) that you just know cost a pretty penny, and still after all that, the water wasn't considered clean enough. Come on - that's spending an awful lot of money for not enough results. This is your money, your water and your home. Our defenders could use your help protecting our home and resources.

Interesting reading:

Brenda Adelmans's article following this one and to learn more, log on to:

Discover magazines May 2008 Better Planet Special Issue: How Science will Heal the Earth

Santa Rosa Hearing on River Discharge
By Brenda Adelman

On Thursday, April 3, 2008, about 75 people attended the City of Santa Rosa's only hearing on their direct river discharge project-environmental impact report (EIR). About 25 people spoke. Since the document is over 5000 pages and highly complex, most pleaded with City officials to expand the public comment period by 30 days and to hold another hearing closer to the end of the comment period.

At the time, the Santa Rosa Board of Public Utilities gave no response and left everyone with the impression that their pleas fell on deaf ears. Consultants emphasized that the comment period is 9 days more than the minimum required by law (45 days). This was hardly reassuring, since the City could have expanded the comment period by two or three months if they wanted. We are grateful that, just as this paper's publication deadline approached, the City announced that they were offering a two-week extension for comments on the EIR to May 20th. While still not adequate, it is welcome nonetheless.

Even so, city officials appear to be rushing this process to prevent thorough examination of the complex scientific studies that accompany the project description. Prior to their release of this three volume EIR, they released three other large volumes of tech memos last January. If you want to read all these pages, you have to either download them from the website, get the compact disk and read them on a computer screen, or pay $324 for the three-volume EIR (three volumes of tech memos probably run a similar price). At another meeting I heard one decision maker remark that they wanted to make this document litigation proof. That explains the great length and complexity and the minimal time period for review.

All of this is for a project they don't really need. While it's true that some of the components are necessary to meet State discharge requirements, this whole project process is overkill. The river outfall pipes are oversized, the capacity goes way beyond what they need for the General Plan 2020 projections, and once certified, the project can sit there for years and be utilized far down the line when we have lost track of what they are doing.

The project provides capacity for up to 26 million gallons a day (mgd) dry weather flow. Today they generate about 16.5 mgd, which is about what they generated in 1992. They are currently rated to go up to 21.3 mgd. There is hardly any rush to get this extra capacity on line. This last year they discharged a tiny fraction of what was discharged right before the Geysers Pipeline was up and running, and now the Geyser's flows will be greatly increased due to a new contract. Furthermore, the City of Rohnert Park recently asked for a cut back in their current capacity.

Two alternatives, containing numerous components, are analyzed in great detail, the third is the "no project" alternative, required by law. The two developed alternatives include upgrading their existing Laguna discharge system to meet more stringent regulations. The other project seeks one of three direct discharge outfalls on the Russian River (two near Healdsburg and one at Steelhead Beach in Forestville). The only county daily newspaper noted in their article after the meeting that no speakers opposed the preferred Laguna discharge option. What they did not print was that most supported such discharges ONLY if they were more highly treated utilizing advanced membrane technology, which takes out far more contaminants than their current system.

Recent news reports, based on an Associated Press nationwide study, indicate that pharmaceuticals, endocrine disruptors, and personal care product chemicals are getting into our drinking water supply. These substances are known to cause serious health problems for humans, aquatic life and other wildlife. Two articles ran on March 10th and 11th in the Press Democrat detailing the study's findings and were entitled, "Trace amounts of drugs found in cities' water" and "Drug residue tainting fish: Traces of pharmaceuticals seep into water sources, harm animals, evidence shows."

The City should either adopt a zero discharge alternative OR assure that advanced membrane treatment with osmosis, or some comparable technology, will be utilized for all wastewater that is either irrigated or discharged. Minimal river or Laguna discharges could be supported provided advanced technology was used to remove nutrients and chemicals before discharge.

There are only 126 chemicals regulated in wastewater through the California Toxics Rule, but there are about 80,000 chemicals in production, and no one knows how they interact with all their various combinations. Once these chemicals pervade our waterways, they would be very difficult to get out and may kill aquatic life in the process and ultimately would affect human life as well.

Brenda Adelman can be reached through Russian River Watershed Protection Committee at We have a target letter available to send to City officials. Just send us an email asking for "target letter" and we will send you a copy you can sign and send in.

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