The Sonoma County Water Agency has agreed to study how water quality is affected by low flows in the Russian River and the breaching of the sand bar at Jenner, part of a legal settlement with a river protection group.

The group, the Russian River Watershed Protection Committee, had sued the agency in Sonoma County Superior Court challenging the agency's impact reports on the work at Jenner.

"I feel very good. I think we got a lot of really meaningful terms in there," said Brenda Adelman, chairwoman of the group. "We felt there were a lot of issues in the suit we wanted to make sure were addressed."

The Water Agency has a program to breach the sand bar in a way that will let fresh water out but keep salt water from flowing in. The program is designed to create beneficial habitat for chinook salmon, while preventing flooding that could damage low-lying homes at Jenner.

At the same time, the agency is also considering reducing flows in the Russian River, which is required by the National Marine Fisheries Service to protect threatened and endangered fish.

"It is a fair settlement. It allows the Water Agency project to stand, allows the EIR to stand, and the monitoring does benefit our understanding of the project," said Jessica Martini-Lamb, a principal environmental specialist for the Water Agency. "It addresses concerns of the committee and allows us to have a project that can move forward."

The suit contended the impact reports do not adequately address harmful impacts on such things as water quality or offer alternatives for recreation and water quality.

Under terms of the agreement, the agency would evaluate the impacts of low flows on water quality and would not close the mouth of the river without conducting an impact report.

The agency has also agreed to sample sediment in the estuary at Jenner, where the river group believes toxic chemicals and minerals may be accumulating.

"There is a concern sediments are accumulating toxins and lower life in the river might be affected," Adelman said. "They are starting find these in fish tissue sampling. The agency will start to look at the issue of toxicity in sediments, the first work done on this issue."

The Water Agency has also agreed to spend $5,000 to replace interpretative plaques and warning signs at Goat Rock State Beach and provide four sets of binoculars to the conservation group Seal Watch. The sand bar is a haul-out site for seals and sea lions.

In addition, the Water Agency will pay $25,000 to the state Department of Parks and Recreation for improving public access or upgrading facilities at a state beach where surfing occurs.

Adelman said it is intended to make up for the loss of access to the Goat Rock State Beach during agency operations.

The agency will also reimburse the watershed committee $48,380 in attorney fees.