Public hearings set for Russian River low-flow plan
People who want to give feedback about a plan to cut summertime flows in the Russian River and Dry Creek will have two opportunities to do so in person this week at public hearings.
The sessions, in Cloverdale on Wednesday and Guerneville on Thursday, are being hosted by the Sonoma County Water Agency, which is in the midst of environmental review for a series of proposed changes to water releases from Lakes Mendocino and Sonoma.
The proposals, if approved by state water regulators, would permanently drop stream flows during summer to improve habitat for imperiled juvenile coho salmon and steelhead trout.
But summer is also peak season for river recreation, raising fears about the impact on business and tourism, particularly among communities on the lower river, where seasonal flows would be cut by nearly half, even in wet weather years.
Many critics also believe reducing reservoir releases will contribute to the kind of warm, stagnant conditions that have produced toxic algae blooms in the Russian River and other water bodies around California during the past two summers. Low-flow conditions can also concentrate pollutants from runoff and other sources, reducing water quality.
Among those challenging the wisdom of the proposed changes is the Russian Riverkeeper advocacy and stewardship group, whose leaders contend that even cutting the river flow will not be enough to keep the river estuary closed for young salmon in summer, given ocean dynamics that shift the sand bar at the river’s mouth so often.
Don McEnhill, the group’s executive director, said he also finds the proposed flow plan “unscientific” and potentially harmful to fish.
“What they’re proposing in the (environmental impact report), many people don’t think is going to help fish,” McEnhill said.
But wildlife officials say reservoir managers have for decades augmented summertime flows by a factor of five to seven, and that reducing releases into the river would more naturally mimic seasonal conditions necessary for endangered and threatened fish species to thrive.
“It truly is all about fish,” Eric Larsen, environmental program manager for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, said during a Sept. 13 hearing on the subject.
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, acting as directors of the county Water Agency, had planned a 60-day comment period on the draft environmental report for the project but extended the period last month to 180 days so more people would have a chance to read the voluminous document and provide input.
You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or firstname.lastname@example.org.