Project will permanently cut summertime flows by about 40 percent

A long-awaited report on what might happen when the Russian River has less water flowing down it in the summertime will be released Aug. 19, Sonoma County Water Agency officials announced last week.

Many lower River residents remain unconvinced that a permanent lower flow will help habitat for endangered salmon and steelhead trout, Russian River Watershed Protection Committee founder Brenda Adelman cautioned County Supervisors last week. A federal “Biological Opinion” issued eight years ago that called for a reduced flow “totally ignored the lower River,” said Adelman.

The Russian River Instream Flow and Restoration (RRIFR) project will permanently cut summertime flows by about 40 percent between Healdsburg and the River’s mouth at Jenner.

Anglers, swimmers and boaters are expected to be looking closely at what conditions they’ll have to live with when summer flows are cut every summer from 125 cubic feet per second (CFS) to about 75 CFS in a normal rainfall year.

The National Marine Fisheries Services Biological Opinion “never had public review, public comment or agency review that I’m aware of,” said Adelman. “It totally ignored the lower River from about the confluence of Dry Creek down to Duncans Mills. I really feel like the lower River has been neglected, especially in terms of water quality impacts,” said Adelman. “I hope that that will be corrected through this process.”

Underscoring the far-reaching challenges of the new low-flow regime the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors last week took the unusual step of announcing the Environmental Impact Report’s release four weeks in advance of the actual day when the public gets to see ¬the report.

Copies of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) will be available digitally and on flash drive or to download from the Water Agency’s website. Paper copies will also be available at the Sonoma County Public Libraries in Guerneville, Windsor, Healdsburg and Cloverdale, and from the Water Agency for a fee.

County Supervisors last week praised the thoroughness of the process so far to study the effects of permanently reducing the River’s summertime flow rate. The reduced flow is supposed to enable the Water Agency to maintain a closed summer lagoon at the River’s estuary in Jenner.

The Water Agency has already been cutting the River’s summer flow for the past several years, an onerous process that requires an annual decree called a Temporary Urgency Change from the state Department of Water Resources.

“This is year eight of implementing the Biological pinion,” said Fifth District Supervisor Efren Carrillo. “Going back year after year, I have to say it’s been a very successful process.”

Nevertheless the upcoming public meetings are expected “to draw a lot of attention from the lower River community specifically,” said Carrillo last week. “As difficult as some of these meetings may be, and as colorful as some of the comment, I think it’s important for us to get that feedback,” said Carrillo.

“This is an adaptive management process,” said Fourth District Supervisor James Gore. “You do the best you can with the science you have at hand. You’ve got to work with what you know,” said Gore, regarding the Fish Flow Environmental Impact Report. “I’m looking forward to hearing what the community has to say about it.”

The Water Agency will host an open house on the Fish Flow project in Cloverdale on Aug. 22 from 4 to 8 p.m. in the Cloverdale Veterans Hall. A second open house is scheduled for Aug. 24 from 4 to 8 in the Monte Rio Community Center. The Board of Supervisors will host a public hearing on the EIR on Sept. 13 at 3 p.m.

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