Sonoma Water E-News | June 2019
The 2019 Saga of the Russian River Inflatable Dam
The Sonoma County Water Agency (Sonoma Water) began inflating its rubber dam on the Russian River near Forestville on Monday, May 6. The rubber dam is a critical component of the Russian River water supply system that provides naturally filtered drinking water to more than 600,000 residents in portions of Sonoma and Marin counties. The rubber dam usually remains inflated through summer and into the fall.
However, less than a week after it had fully inflated the rubber dam on the Russian River in preparation for summertime water demands, heavy rains forced Sonoma Water to reverse field Thursday and begin lowering the rubber dam back down. The unusual rainstorms that swept into Sonoma County that week were forecasted to raise river flows to 6,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) by Sunday night, flows that could potentially damage the inflatable dam. It is Sonoma Water’s protocol to lower the rubber dam when river flows exceed 2,000 cfs.

It took 1-2 days for the dam to be lowered. Boaters were encouraged to exercise caution in the area of the dam during the lowering process as conditions could have changed quickly. It was the first time since 2005 that Sonoma Water had to lower the dam after it had been raised due to a spring rainstorm.  
Image of the Russian River inflatable dam after it was lowered again on May 17th
Then, for the second time this year, Sonoma Water began the process of raising its rubber dam on the Russian River. Sonoma Water crews began the inflation process again on May 29 and expected to have the dam fully inflated in 3-5 days.

The rubber dam is typically inflated in spring when demand for potable water increases. When fully inflated, the rubber dam creates a small pool of water from which Sonoma Water draws water for use in four off-stream infiltration ponds. The infiltration ponds help recharge groundwater which is then naturally filtered through sand and gravel and delivered to Sonoma Water’s customers.

Boaters must portage around the rubber dam, located downstream of Wohler Bridge. Public notices are posted around the rubber dam warning the public not to recreate on or near the dam. California Department of Fish and Wildlife regulations prohibit fishing within 250 feet of the upstream and downstream sides of the rubber dam.
Boards Approve Plan to Offset Proposed Groundwater Fee
On Tuesday, May 21, the Board of Directors of the Sonoma County Water Agency (Sonoma Water Board) and the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors (County Board) approved a plan to offset a fee that is likely to be imposed on groundwater users in the Santa Rosa Plain (an area extending from Santa Rosa west to Sebastopol, north to Windsor and south to Cotati). Under the plan, the County and Sonoma Water would contribute a total of up to $240,000 annually for three years to the Santa Rosa Plain Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA). For the past 17 months, the GSA Board of Directors has been studying options to fund the agency. At its March meeting, the GSA Board approved a funding methodology that would charge all groundwater users in the Santa Rosa Plain a fee based on actual or estimated groundwater use. At its June 13 meeting, the GSA Board will consider adopting the fee. Tuesday’s action by the County Board and Sonoma Water Board would provide a contribution to the GSA equal to the fees that would be assessed on rural residents and other groundwater users in the unincorporated areas of the basin.
“Assuming that the GSA adopts a fee, the contributions by the County and Sonoma Water mean that rural groundwater users won’t be charged for three years,” said Sonoma County Supervisor and Sonoma Water Director Lynda Hopkins, who also serves as the Chair of the GSA. “We feel that smaller, individual groundwater users shouldn’t be charged while the GSA is in the start-up phase.”
“It’s critical that we all work together to manage our precious groundwater, and we don’t want the first interaction that people have with GSA to be about fees,” said Sonoma County Supervisor and Sonoma Water Director Shirlee Zane, who also serves on the GSA Board. The $240,000 contribution derives from three sources: County contingency funds ($200,000 annually); Sonoma Water general fund (up to $26,800 annually); and Sonoma Water transmission funds (up to $13,200 annually).
The GSA was created as a result of a state law – the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) – which requires communities to sustainably manage groundwater basins. By January 31, 2022, GSAs must develop science-based plans that detail how much groundwater is being used and replenished, problem areas, and projects and plans to ensure that groundwater will be available in the future. The proposed fee would be levied for three years, to fund the GSA through the planning process, and only applies to the Santa Rosa Plain basin. 
North Coast Entities to Sign Potter Valley Project Planning Agreement
Rep. Jared Huffman, Alexa Shaffer, 202-236-3421,
Sonoma Water: Brad Sherwood, 707-322-8192
California Trout: Tracey Diaz, 415-392-8887 x103
Mendocino IWPC:  Janet Pauli,
The Sonoma County Water Agency (Sonoma Water), Mendocino Inland Water and Power Commission, and California Trout, Inc. are working towards adopting a Potter Valley Project (Project) planning agreement to secure the region’s water supply and protect endangered salmon species in the Eel River and upper Russian River. Driven by an ad hoc process facilitated by Congressman Jared Huffman, the planning agreement will provide a structure to fund and develop a collaborative two basin proposal for the future of the Project to support water resources and fisheries restoration in both watersheds. 
The Project is a hydroelectric facility that results in an inter-basin water transfer delivering water from the Eel River basin to the headwaters of the Russian River. The Project is owned and operated by Pacific Gas and Electric Company which announced in January 2019 that it would not seek a new hydroelectric license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for the Project. FERC has set a July 1, 2019 deadline for any interested parties to submit a Notice of Intent (NIO) and Preliminary Application Document (PAD) to pursue a new license. The planning agreement will allow this regional coalition to meet FERC’s short timeline. The main facilities are two dams on the Eel River, a diversion tunnel and hydroelectric plant. The Project generates up to 9.4 megawatts of power.
Since 2018, Congressman Huffman has embarked on a two-basin solution effort that included the development of an ad hoc committee made up of local and regional stakeholders. These entities have been meeting to discuss and review the role of PG&E in the relicensing process of the Project. 
 “I am glad to see this partnership pursue a two-basin solution to protect the region’s water supply and precious fisheries resources,” said Rep. Jared Huffman. “This is the type of multi-stakeholder collaboration that I have been advocating for through the ad hoc process we created in 2017. The planning agreement is a framework to develop a 21st-Century project that respects the needs of the diverse stakeholders who live in northwestern California.”
Sonoma County Supervisor and Sonoma Water Director James Gore said, “A true partnership like this only comes through acknowledging the diversity of needs on the landscape. Here we endeavor to do right by our human built environment and our fisheries. I’m excited about what we can achieve together. This is a great start.” 
California Trout Executive Director Curtis Knight said, “The process will build on significant work completed to date by members of the Ad Hoc Committee regarding fish passage above Scott Dam and water supply for both Eel and Russian River basins.”
Mendocino County Inland Water and Power Commission Chair Janet K.F. Pauli said, “"I am very pleased that the Sonoma Water Board of Directors has approved the Potter Valley Project, Feasibility Study, and Planning Agreement. Mendocino County Inland Water and Power Commission's goal in this process has been to preserve our precious water resource for all purposes in Mendocino County while also recognizing the many other stakeholders who depend upon water from the Russian and Eel Rivers. The five member agencies of MCIWPC will meet Friday for their final discussion and approval of this unique partnership. We look forward to further collaboration between regional partners who can join with us in the common goal of attaining a true "two basin solution" by maintaining local control of our shared water supply and restoration of healthy riverine ecosystems."          
The planning agreement will allow the entities to prepare a Feasibility Study of a potential licensing proposal for the Project that will materially benefit both basins by advancing the following Shared Objectives:
  • Water supply reliability that will meet the needs of consumptive water users in both basins;
  • Restoration of viable, anadromous fisheries in both river basins, including the potential for volitional fish passage into the Eel River Basin upstream of Scott Dam.
  • Reliance on best available science and engineering analyses as the basis for evaluating options for restoration, water delivery, and hydroelectric generation pursuant to a new license;
  • Collaboration on funding;
  • Active participation of tribes and other stakeholders who are willing to support the other Shared Objectives;
  • Economic welfare of both basins;
  • Continued hydroelectric generation; and
  • Protecting tribal cultural, economic, and other interests in both the Eel and Russian River basins.
The initial partner entities will each contribute $100,000 toward funding the Feasibility Study. Recognizing that these efforts could be enhanced by increasing the number and diversity of stakeholders participating in the licensing process, the planning agreement includes the ability to add additional parties who are willing to work toward solutions to meet these Shared Objectives.
By July 1, 2019, the partners to the planning agreement will file a package with FERC that will include:
  • The Planning Agreement;
  • Notice of Intent that will be conditioned upon the completion of the Feasibility Study, including the creation of a Regional Entity, which will be the license applicant;
  • (Pre-Application Document incorporating applicable portions of PG&E’s Pre-Application Document (dated April 2017) and adding appropriate supplementary materials; and
  • Proposed schedule for completing the pre-filing phases of the licensing proceeding, and a proposed deadline.
By April 14, 2020, the Feasibility Study will evaluate options and make recommendations for a preferred option to satisfy the following elements:
  • Regional Entity that will apply for a new license and propose to assume the new license if issued. The parties will evaluate various potential structures for the new entity.
  • Project Plan, showing capital modifications as well as operations and maintenance requirements, for the delivery of water and hydroelectric power to advance the Shared Objectives;
  • Fisheries Restoration Plan, showing measures the Regional Entity will implement to advance the Shared Objectives;
  • Application Study Plan, showing those further studies necessary to develop a new license application, including associated consultation procedures and schedule; and
  • Financial Plan, including the specific sources of initial funding and subsequent revenues
Geyserville Fire Protection District receives $540,000 grant for Lake Sonoma Watershed Fire Prevention Project
The Geyserville Fire Protection District (GFPD) has received a $540,000 grant from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) for the Lake Sonoma Watershed Fire Prevention Project. The project includes a variety of fire prevention and public education measures aimed at increasing community awareness of wildland fire safety and reducing the risk to the region’s most important water supply that provides drinking water to more than 600,000 people. The project will include cutting back vegetation along county roads, public workshops on fire prevention, development of Community Wildfire Protection Plans, defensible space demonstration projects, home inspections, and fuel reduction guidance to help property owners plan and carry out vegetation management.
“This is great news for northern Sonoma County residents and the watershed,” said Fred Peterson, board president of the Geyserville Fire Protection District, which includes much of the 83,000-acre Lake Sonoma watershed. “This grant will allow the Geyersville Fire Protection District and its partners to carry out immediate fire prevention measures, and it allows them to inform the community about making their homes and property safer by creating defensible spaces. We want residents to be aware that we live in a high fire danger area, and this fire prevention project will help us keep our communities safe, reduce the number of wildfires, and improve our responses to fires when they do occur.”
A partnership of agencies and organizations worked to support the successful grant application, including Sonoma Water, GFPD, the Sonoma County Department of Transportation and Public Works (TPW), Fire Safe Sonoma, University of California Cooperative Extension, and the Center for Social and Environmental Stewardship.
“We are absolutely thrilled to receive CAL FIRE support for this fire prevention project,” said Fourth District Supervisor James Gore, whose district includes part of the watershed. “We learned some very painful lessons following the October 2017 Sonoma Complex Fires and this is another step we are taking to be prepared and do everything we can to prevent wildfires and reduce their damage.” Supervisor Lynda Hopkins’ Fifth District also includes part of the Lake Sonoma Watershed. “Fire prevention and education are critical components of increasing the resiliency of our watersheds,” she said. “This project will allow us to reduce roadside fuels, increase awareness of the importance of creating defensible spaces, and provide residents with important tools to increase the safety of their homes and their communities.”
Lake Sonoma is the primary drinking-water source for 600,000 people in Sonoma and Marin counties. A high intensity wildfire in the Lake Sonoma watershed could alter the lake’s water quality, lead to increased erosion, and reduce the lifespan of the lake as a reservoir. Powerlines and communication lines follow the roads in the watershed and will be more protected following the roadside fuel reduction. The communication lines serve areas without cellular telephone service and are essential for allowing residents and officials to communicate during emergencies. The successful grant application grew out of the FireSmart Lake Sonoma program in 2018 that involved community meetings with Sonoma Water, fire districts and other agency partners, landowners, and community groups to develop ways to work together to increase the watershed’s resiliency to wildfires, share home hardening and fuel management strategies around homes (defensible space), and build landowners’ capacity to plan for and conduct larger scale fuel management on their properties. 
The fire prevention education includes community chipping days, defensible space inspections, workshops, development of a property owner fuel reduction reference document, and demonstration of “defensible space residences” with work completed by a group that supports and trains at-risk youths in habitat restoration. Approximately 463 habitable structures with 2,000 residents will have the opportunity to benefit from this project, with 150 acres treated. The fire prevention education events will be advertised and open for anyone to attend and the property owner fuel reduction reference document will be publicly available. The CAL FIRE grants are part of more than $33 million statewide that is provided by the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund for California Climate Investments (CCI), with an additional $10 million coming from funding from CAL FIRE’s Community Wildfire Prevention Program.
Board Approves Rate Increases for Sanitation Districts to Fund Capital Projects, Operations, Ongoing Maintenance
The Sonoma County Water Agency (Sonoma Water) Board of Directors (Board) last Tuesday approved a set of rate adjustments for the eight sanitation districts and zones that provide sewer service to more than 18,000 properties throughout the county. The rate increases will pay for ongoing maintenance and operations and be used to fund $50 million in improvements to the sewer collection and treatment systems over the next three years. Sonoma Water staff explained to the Board that operations and maintenance costs are increased to keep pace with the cost of living, and increases beyond that are used to pay for capital improvements, such as new equipment and replacement of sewer mains. In the next year, there are sewer main projects planned for the Airport/Larkfield/Wikiup Sanitation Zone and the Sonoma Valley County Sanitation District, new aerators planned for Geyserville, a flood resiliency project for Penngrove, a headworks and lift station project at Russian River, and collection systems replacement at South Park.
Sewer rates increases for the districts and zones averaged 4.4% overall. Rate increases for the eight systems operated by Sonoma Water have averaged less than 5% per year since 2011.
The following rates were approved at the Board’s May 21, 2019 meeting:
Approval of the rate increases is governed by Prop. 218, a statewide voter approved initiative that gives ratepayers the ability to protest rate increases, and if a sufficient number of protests are received (more than 50% of property owners) the rate increase is not adopted. Prop. 218 notices and protest forms were mailed to all sanitation district and zone property owners 45 days in advance of the May 21 hearing. Of the 18,124 Prop. 218 notices that were mailed, Sonoma Water received 217 protests, an overall 1.2% protest rate.
In addition to revenues from service fees and connection fees, the Districts and Zones also rely on grants and loans, and in some cases transfers from Sonoma Water’s General Fund, to pay for operations and capital projects.
Rainfall and Water Storage Update
Current water supply conditions (5/29/19)
Lake Mendocino
Target Storage Curve: 88,003 acre-feet
Current Storage: 94,387 acre-feet (107.25% of Target)
Lake Sonoma
Target Storage Curve: 245,000 acre-feet
Current Storage: 249,101 acre-feet (101.67% of Water Supply Pool)
Current rainfall conditions (10/1/18 - 5/28/19)
Average (1894-2018 water years): 35.99”
Current Water Year: 42.83” which is 119.00% of average
Santa Rosa:
Average (1950-2018 water years): 29.84"
Current Water Year: 47.99” which is 160.82% of average
Upcoming Events

  • June 4, 2019, 8:30 am
  • June 11, 2019, 8:30 am
  • June 13, 2019, 1:00 pm - Santa Rosa GSA
  • June 18, 2019, 8:30 am
  • June 25, 2019, 8:30 am

NBWA Board Meetings
  • June 7, 2019, 9:30 am
Fact of the Month

Continuing the pilot grassland restoration program from last year, our public lands will once again be occupied by grazing goats and sheep starting at the Cotati Tanks site. Working with local ranchers, Sonoma Water is implementing grazing thoughtfully to reduce invasive species, improve carbon sequestration, support groundwater recharge, and benefit native wildlife.
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