CHANGING TIDES — According to Hunter Merritt, a water resources planner, a revision of Lake Sonoma’s master plan is long overdue.

Forty acres near the Warm Springs recreation space at Lake Sonoma will potentially be set aside as an ecologically sensitive area.

This comes after a 2009 land transfer from the Save the Redwood League to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the entity that owns and runs Lake Sonoma.

The recommendation is part of the revised Lake Sonoma Master Plan, which hasn’t been updated since it was penned in 1979, roughly four years prior to the completion of the dam and the lake.

A master plan is a visionary document based on development goals and community input. In this case, the revision of the Lake Sonoma Master Plan will guide the future use of resources for recreation and conservation purposes, according to the USACE San Francisco District. The plan will not change how water in the lake is managed, which Sonoma Water oversees.

“A revision is long overdue and really welcomed at this point because a lot has changed in the county and in the region,” said Hunter Merritt, a water resources planner with the Sacramento District of the Corps.

In addition to declaring the 40-acre patch as ecologically sensitive, major points in the revision include deeming a firing range used by the county sheriff’s office in the Pritchett Peak area as operational and tweaking the language in the wildlife management area of the plan.

“The biggest changes that we have in this revision is one of use. There is an area (in the plan) known as wildlife management and it was actually a mitigation measure to compensate for the loss of habitat when they filled the lake. It was never really tagged as that, it was just called wildlife management and we are reclassifying that correctly now as mitigation,” Merritt said. “That gives us a little more assurance that that is going to be managed in the way that we would have expected for the habitat.”

In terms of the Pritchett Peak area, Merritt said, “There was a very highly disturbed area that is super flat and is being used by the sheriff’s office as a shooting range and that is expected to be classified as operational and that way it doesn’t have a classification where vegetation needs to be managed.”

A public meeting and comment session was held at the Lake Sonoma Visitors Center in Geyserville on Oct. 22. The deadline to provide comments was Nov. 4.

During the public comment session one attendee asked whether or not plans were included in the draft to fix an old overlook.

While the overlook was fixed, Merritt said site updates and improvements to things like stairs, boat launches and campgrounds are detailed in a later plan called the operational management plan, which is revised on a regular basis.  

Now that the comment period is closed the plan will be finalized based on comments received and then signed by USACE San Francisco Commander Lt. Col. John Cunningham. 

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