For decades Santa Rosa was the prime offender along the Russian River, annually dumping billions of gallons of unwanted wastewater into the county's primary drinking water source and water sports area.
But this past year, the city, which treats sewage for 218,000 residents in Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Cotati and Sebastopol, barely discharged more wastewater than its harshest critics -- the river's downstream residents.
Between last Oct. 1 and May 14 -- the only time it's legal for Santa Rosa to dispose of its effluent via the river -- the city discharged 190 million gallons of wastewater into the river.
In comparison, the Guerneville and Occidental sewage treatment plants operated by the Sonoma County Water Agency on behalf of fewer than 8,000 residents, discharged 110 million gallons.
Santa Rosa's progress was praised by Guerneville resident Brenda Adelman, head of the Russian River Watershed Protection Committee, who since the mid-1980s has been the leading voice demanding the city get as much of its effluent out of the river as possible.
"It's wonderful. I'm praising Santa Rosa to the sky. They are really going in the right direction," she said.
The 190 million gallons of tertiary-treated wastewater represent a huge turnaround for Santa Rosa, which historically used the river to dump billions of gallons of unwanted wastewater every year.
It was just five years ago that Santa Rosa dumped 4 billion gallons of wastewater into the river, more than half the 7.5 billion gallons it processed that year, because it lacked the ability to put it to productive use or store it.
Santa Rosa's dramatic turnaround, at least for the current year, is largely credited to two things -- a relatively dry winter and completion of the $205 million Geysers wastewater-to-electricity system in 2003. The system uses 4 billion gallons of the city's effluent annually to generate steam and electricity.
"It's a success story," said Richard Dowd, chairman of Santa Rosa's Board of Public Utilities.