Action Alert: Fish Flows Project Comments

We need your help.

Under orders from the State Water Board and federal fisheries managers, the Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) is rewriting the rules that govern stream flows in the Russian River watershed. (Click here to learn more about the Fish Flows Project DEIR)

This is important to Friends of the Eel River because water diverted from the upper mainstem Eel River through the Potter Valley Project has long been used to cover up the over-allocation and mismanagement of the Russian River’s own flows.

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Our Eel River salmon, steelhead, and lamprey need the Potter Valley Project dams removed so they can reach their prime spawning and rearing habitat. The Scott Dam has blocked all fish migration for more than a century.

Fortunately, federal biologists have ordered the SCWA to lower flows in the Russian River system. It seems that using the river as an irrigation ditch isn’t all that good for fish. This largely undercuts the old arguments about how Russian River irrigators could never get by without water diverted from our Eel River.

But of course, neither Russian River water users nor the agencies that manage water deliveries in the basin are at all eager either to clean up their own act, or to give our Eel River water back.

Though we’ve asked SCWA repeatedly to take a hard look at what Russian River flows would be without any Eel River diversions, they’ve refused to do so.

Instead, they’ve buried the question in reams of technical analyses, then claimed that they can’t seriously consider giving up diversions from the Eel because there wouldn’t be much water available in dry years. But guess what, SCWA? Nobody has much water in dry years. And the fish need it even more than we do.

Further, SCWA needs to face the very strong probability that the Potter Valley Project dams are not going to be relicensed, and will in fact be decommissioned and removed. Russian River water managers may be reluctant to face it, but the reality is increasingly plain. The Potter Valley Project dams do an unreasonably large amount of harm to Eel River fish — which face a rising risk of extinction – to deliver tiny amounts of power and water the Russian River doesn’t actually need.

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Please join us in writing to the Sonoma County Water Agency.

Please ask them:

  • Not to use Eel water to cover for mismanagement of the Russian River.
  • To end illegal diversions from the Russian River.
  • To ensure that instream flows are protected from further diversions.

We have prepared sample comments that asks the SCWA to reflect these core concepts – and a few other important ideas – in their modeling of Russian River flows. Maximizing the Russian River’s own flows seems to us the key to managing the watershed within its own means.

Fill out the form below to send our sample comments and your input to the Sonoma County Water Agency.
You can also print our sample comments, add your name, and mail to SCWA by February 14, 2017.

Friends of the Eel River sample comments:
Scroll to see full sample comments

Sonoma County Water Agency
ATTN: Fish Flow DEIR
404 Aviation Boulevard
Santa Rosa, CA 95403

I’m writing to ask that the draft Fish Flows EIR be supplemented to squarely address how the Russian River can be managed for sustainable water supplies and restored fisheries without diversions from the Eel River.Please model Russian River flows and Lake Mendocino management using all of the following assumptions:

1) All illegal and unpermitted water diversions in the Russian River watershed are identified and halted.

2) All water rights and permitted water uses in the Russian River watershed and its key tributaries are subject to minimum “bypass” requirements which ensure adequate flows are left instream at every diversion.

3) All water released from Lake Mendocino for instream use (i.e., for fish and recreation) must be protected against diversion for agricultural, municipal, domestic or industrial uses. This can be accomplished by SWRCB imposing “Term 91” on all water rights holders in the Russian River watershed. That condition is already used in other river systems in California to ensure that water released from reservoirs for fish remains in the rivers for fish.

4) Gravel mining in the Russian River watershed must be halted. The large aquifer of gravels, aggregates and sands of the main stem are some 30-35% porous, normally filled by winter water flows and slowly released in the dry season as colder flows and habitat for fish.

5) Riparian areas along creeks, tributaries and the main stem Russian River must be protected to increase groundwater recharge and the quality and quantity of inflows to the waterways.

6) The Russian River must be allowed to overflow its banks wherever feasible, to help recharge adjacent groundwater basins and replenish soils, thus increasing water available in the dry season.

7) Storage ponds, built to avoid using direct pumping from the Russian River and its tributaries for frost and/or heat irrigation of vineyards, must not be refilled by pumping from surface flows, whether tributaries or the main stem Russian River. They should be refilled by rainfall.

8) Water conservation, including increased efficiency and demand avoidance, must be reflected in measurable, enforceable goals for every category of water users.

Thank you for your consideration of these comments.