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Welcome to the Sonoma County Gazette ARCHIVE of PAST EDITIONS. Our NEW WEBSITE is up and running, so GazExtra is serving as your path to archived articles. Thanks for being part of our Sonoma County community...stay in touch...e-mail me - VESTA

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Jenner Estuary Management Project EIR

Is this the RIGHT Plan?

With all the best of intentions, Sonoma County is setting a plan in place to save fish and water. Our January issue educated readers on the Russian River Estuary Management Project, encouraging Sonoma County residents to learn why this plan was developed, and asking readers to submit comments on the Environmental Impact Report that has now been published.

With the deadline for comments upon us, the following series of articles have been submitted by readers who want to keep this conversation going. If you missed last issue, please read the two articles on our web site - - (Jenner Estuary Project and article above) January edition, and the articles that follow.

Like all projects intended to save our environment, there are pluses and minuses to each attempt we make to correct past mistakes that have altered nature’s intent at the will of humans.

There is always much to learn and details far beyond common understanding. Yet paying attention to our impact on creatures that have no say in what we do, is how we respect all life - for them as well as for us.

The most important aspect of your participation in this process, is that your opinions are valued by the people who make the decision and do the necessary work. It’s not just a gesture that these scientists are asking for feedback. They can’t be all places at all times, and like all human beings, they need other eyes and perspectives to weigh in on the decisions they make.

Your educated opinion is important - please take the time to learn - form your own thoughts, and submit comments before February 14th.

Naturalize the River Mouth

By Larry Hanson
There are four main factors that make the process unnatural and unmanageable for the Russian River mouth and estuary. One is the partially buried structure that creates a barrier preventing fully dynamic action from a natural river mouth. The second is the low-lying property structures that restrict the depth of the estuary due to their possible flooding. The third is the amount of river flow that is mechanically controlled from Coyote and Warm Springs dams. But the fourth one is the most damaging, and that is the mechanical channeling of the river to the ocean whenever the structures might be flooded.

Putting machinery at the mouth and artificially channelizing that harasses and disrupts wildlife has to be stopped completely and forever. That is the highest priority. To naturalize the processes of the river mouth, the artificial barrier that prevents a wide, malleable beach needs to be removed. Also, the structures that impede the depth of the estuary need to be raised or removed.

Once the Russian River mouth is naturalized, there is still the factor of flow manipulation from the dams’ releases. Instead of the proposed low flows for the lower river area that could impact water quality and river recreation and economy, the flows could more appropriately be higher. In the upper river, flows could still be maintained low enough to protect fish.

If the above were done, here are the benefits: The wildlife will not be harassed several times a year. The mouth will behave as many of our other coastal river mouths, providing the age-old natural estuary development for all wildlife, including salmonids. Flooding of properties near the waterline will not be a constant issue, although the amount of flow will still be somewhat controlled by dam operators. The lower river will have adequate flows to maintain the river health, economic and recreational viability of the community.

If developing salmonids is the focus, the water agency will want to naturalize the process at the river mouth as well as protecting salmonid habitats in the upper main stem reaches and tributaries.

Larry Hanson has been active in numerous environmental organizations in Sonoma County.

Closing the River Mouth is not Healthy 
for Seals & Other Living Things

By Norma Jellison
From the overlook on Route 1 just north of Jenner, Goat Rock State Beach stretches away south, between the river estuary to the east and the broad expanse of ocean to the west. From here you might see hundreds of harbor seals and resting birds at the north end of the beach where the river and the ocean touch. The river-ocean interface of the Russian River Estuary is an incredibly rich and complex environment.

For 34 years, harbor seals have hauled out on the spits of Goat Rock State Beach, finding a satisfactory place for pupping in the Spring. Goat Rock State Beach is also important for local and migratory birds, including gulls, terns, cormorants and pelicans.

Data collected over the years shows that when the river mouth is artificially closed by the sandbar, the harbor seal numbers decrease substantially. When the mouth is mechanically breached, once the disruption is over, the seals return.

The low-profile spit habitat along the river near the mouth provides the seals with easy access to the river and also to the ocean for surfing or swimming and feeding. Mother seals take their newborn pups immediately into the river, and later for pup swimming lessons, and in general for occasional swims when the seals are active during their daytime haulout period. Harbor seals are nocturnal, feeding at night in the deep, cold ocean waters.

Lowered flows are integral to the success of the proposed lagoon, with no breaching of the sandbar and creation of the outlet channel. Not only will recontouring and building up of the profile of the barrier beach make river and ocean access more difficult for the harbor seals, but the prolonged closures will allow more people to walk down the beach and disrupt the colony.

The Estuary also provides important habitat for a number of fish in addition to salmonids, such as flounder and sculpin, as well as for juvenile Dungeness crab and other invertebrates supporting the many birds that feed in the estuary and the ocean off the mouth: ospreys, diving ducks, and pelagic birds, including the terns, pelicans, cormorants and gulls. Among other unpredictable effects is the enhanced condition for predation on juvenile salmonids collecting in the lagoon by osprey, river otters and other predators.

There are serious concerns about concentrated pollutants in a lowered closed lagoon, with unknown long-term effects on the salmonids the project is intended to protect, as well as the myriad other species living in and feeding at the estuary, including human families playing and swimming there.

Experimenting with a closed Estuary at the mouth of the Russian River to see if it helps salmonids may have significant collateral damage to water quality and ecosystem integrity of an irrevocable and irreversible nature. Too much is at stake for all of the species that call the Estuary home, pass through, visit it and use it as their gateway to the ocean. And yet here we are poised to begin the experiment.

Surfers Wade into 
Jenner Estuary Controversy

By Spencer Nilson and Caroline Higgins
The Sonoma Coast Chapter of Surfrider Foundation has determined that the mouth of the Russian River is a high quality surfing location and is legally protected under the California Coastal Act.

Protection for Surfing Conditions
The quality and availability of waves at the river’s mouth, and Goat Rock to the south, largely depends on the influx of new sand and gravel.

Surfrider strongly believes that the Sonoma County Water Agency’s (SCWA) Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for their Russian River Estuary Management Plan fails to adequately address negative effects on surfing activities. The DEIR admits that implementing the proposed outlet channel (to control estuary water releases to maintain a closed lagoon for steelhead habitat) will cause surfing activities to occur less frequently. No feasible mitigation measures are identified.

“The proposed project would likely reduce the occurrence of open channel tidal conditions conducive to surfing activities …. This potential impact may be inconsistent with the California Coastal Act.” (Impact 4.7.2: Eliminate or Modify an Existing Recreational Resource).

Low Cost Visitor and Recreational Activities

Surfing locations are a prime example of low cost visitor and recreational opportunities.

“Lower cost visitor and recreational facilities shall be protected, encouraged, and, where feasible, provided. Developments providing public recreational opportunities are preferred.” (Section 30213).

And in Section 30220 we find: “Coastal areas suited for water-oriented recreational activities that cannot readily be provided it inland water areas shall be protected for such uses.”

Surfing in Sonoma County can obviously only be practiced in the ocean. The Surfrider organization and supporters are strongly protective of the few high quality surfing locations on the Sonoma Coast, including at Goat Rock State Beach

Estuary Project Comments Due 
February 14 @ 5pm!

The Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) has published a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) on the proposed project to manage the mouth of the Russian River by artificially closing the mouth from May to October to protect young steelhead, and maintaining a low flow to prevent local flooding by breaching the barrier “as necessary” for the rest of the year.

The DEIR is available online at Hard copies or electronic copies of the Draft EIR are available for purchase at or at the Water Agency’s administrative office, 404 Aviation Blvd in Santa Rosa. Copies can be reviewed at the Sonoma County Water Agency Administrative Office, the Sonoma County Central Library at 3rd and E streets in Santa Rosa, Guerneville Regional Library, and Occidental Library.

Estuary Project Meeting
We have reserved the Russian River Senior Center for Thursday, Feb. 10th  at 6 pm. Please come if you have questions, and we will be glad to review your letters for accuracy at that time. Russian River Senior Center, Armstrong Woods Road, 15010 Armstrong Woods Rd, Guerneville RSVP:

Please send your comments to: Sonoma County Water Agency, Attention Jessica Martini-Lamb, 404 Aviation Boulevard, Santa Rosa, CA 95403 or

For the Russian River Watershed Protection Committee’s comments, and a sample letter, see their website at

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