In 2003 Riverkeeper engaged residents and activists in the Lower Russian River when the public learned about plans to drop the summer flows in the river by up to 80%. In 2008, the Russian River Biological Opinion (RRBO) was approved by NOAA Fisheries in order to mitigate negative impacts from the operation of the two Army Corps dams, water supply operations and flood control activities. The RRBO section titled “reasonable and prudent alternatives” stated that salmon would benefit if we cut summer flows by 70% in an attempt to improve estuary conditions for juvenile salmon by maintaining a closed estuary. The rationale was that lower flows would help maintain a closed estuary but over the last several years it is clear that goal will be difficult to meet due to natural ocean conditions.
At that time, Riverkeeper stated that cutting flows would increase nutrient concentrations and end up harming juvenile salmon in the estuary by growing too much algae, which affects dissolved oxygen levels. Fast forward to last summer and we had flows in the 70 cubic feet per second range that is close to the proposed 70% reduction and we had our first ever toxic algae outbreak that killed at least two dogs. At the same time, our understanding of fish population dynamics supported by many fishery biologists is that food production in the river above the estuary would be negatively affected by cutting flows by up to 70%. The Draft EIR was released from the Sonoma County Water Agency in mid-August. Russian Riverkeeper will be intensively reviewing this draft EIR as we are concerned with likely water quality problems if flows are allowed to stay below 100cfs throughout the summer months. One of our goals will be to ensure water saved from reduced flows is not put up for sale but reserved to mitigate potential water quality impacts – stay tuned !
The comment period for this Draft EIR ended on Friday, March 10. The Sonoma County Water Agency now will read all the comments and questions, and will reply to all of them. They hope to have the Final EIR done by the end of 2017. Then it goes to the State Water Resources Control Board for final approval.