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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sonoma County Focuses on Water Conservation and Reuse

Future Water Supply Focuses on Conservation, Reuse

The Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) Board of Directors agreed to focus on securing current water rights and increasing future water supplies through continued conservation, greater use of recycled water and enhanced local supplies.

The SCWA board unanimously approved a resolution to set aside an environmental impact report for the Water Supply, Transmission and Reliability Project (Water Project). The resolution also directed agency staff to work with the SCWA board, water right attorneys and agency customers to modify an application and petition to the state for additional water rights.

“In simple terms, the question is ‘Should we jeopardize the water we have by asking for more? Or secure the water rights we have by delaying our ask for more.’ Our first priority must be securing our existing rights,” said SCWA Chairman Paul Kelley.

In 1999, SCWA filed petitions to change its four water rights permits and an application with the state board to increase its current diversions from the Russian River from 75,000 acre feet a year (AFY) to 101,000 AFY. The application and petitions have not yet been acted upon. The resolution approved by the Board of Directors would allow the 1999 request to be revised to –
among other reasons – be consistent with a federally mandated Biological Opinion.

The Russian River Biological Opinion, issued by National Marine Fisheries Service in 2008, analyzes the impact of SCWA’s operations on coho salmon, Chinook salmon and steelhead. This federal mandate requires SCWA to significantly change its operations in order to continue to deliver its current allocation of 75,000 AFYf of water. During the 15-year implementation period, SCWA must reduce summertime flows in the Russian River and reduce the velocity of water in Dry Creek in order to protect young coho and steelhead in the creek.

“The Biological Opinion makes it clear that SCWA must focus on securing its existing water supply,” Kelly said.

The Water Project contemplated the construction of new pipes, collector wells and other facilities, including possibly a pipeline from Lake Sonoma to bypass Dry Creek, to meet peak demands of the agency’s customers. The estimated cost of the Water Project was more than $600 million. SCWA board members noted that the Water Project was based on assumptions that no longer existed, principally SCWA’s ability to use Dry Creek to convey all the water for the project from Lake Sonoma to the Russian River and historic diversions from PG&E’s Eel River facilities.

The SCWA board is also concerned about the energy use associated with pumping an additional 26,000 AFY of water annually. SCWA and many of its contractors have set goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2015. By focusing on water conservation, rather than new supply, the agency and its contractors can better achieve this aggressive goal.

“The connection between water and energy is clear,” said SCWA director Shirlee Zane. “We need to invest in implementing sustainable strategies to guarantee water supply for current and future generations.”

SCWA contractors include the cities of Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Cotati, Sonoma and Petaluma, the town of Windsor and Valley of the Moon and North Marin water districts.

Sonoma County Water Agency provides water supply, flood protection and sanitation services for portions of Sonoma and Marin counties. Visit us on the Web at

Ann DuBay
Public Information Officer
Sonoma County Water Agency

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