What Are They Thinking?

Santa Rosa is charging ahead in a bizarre and quixotic venture to wring more water out of the Russian and Eel Rivers, by suing SCWA. While SCWA has been promising paper water for 20 plus years, Santa Rosa seems to have mistaken that for real water they believe is just beyond their grasp.

Is Santa Rosa going to figure out how endangered salmon and steelhead can thrive without water? Are they willing to pay more than 500 million dollars for the pipeline project and environmental reviews to get that water out of Lake Sonoma? Are they willing to pay more than 500 million to build a water distribution system expansion to carry more water? Are they willing to battle National Marine Fisheries Service decisions that declare that the existing SCWA operations in the Russian River have put listed salmonids in jeopardy? Is Santa Rosa willing to battle grape growers and other ranchers who have withdrawn millions of gallons per year from the Russian River and its tributaries without permits and water rights? And yes, Santa Rosa will have to resurrect, pay for, and complete the discredited and now abandoned EIR for the Water Project expansion, and also come up with a valid Urban Water Management Plan next year that will actually pass engineering and judicial review, unlike the last one.

These are among the important reasons why SCWA has elected to change course.

It is not about Santa Rosa’s growth, they say? It’s only to assure water for future needs, they say? Are they willing to tell all their ratepayers that the cost of new water will be at least 2 times to 4 times the current costs for water? Will they be willing to tell their existing ratepayers who already have their water supplies that they’ll have to not only use less, but also pay far higher rates so that the city can supply new development with water?

Haven’t they learned anything in the past 15 years about the over-appropriation of the Russian River and abuse of the Eel River? Haven’t they been listening to many voices and court decisions expressing the utter lack of credibility in SCWA’s storied promises that they will supply yet more water? Santa Rosa and the other contractors have been amply warned about this disconnect for over 10 years by the courts, a past Petaluma City Council and numerous environmental, good government and fishery groups.

Finally, SCWA has acknowledged and understood the real limits to the Russian and Eel River systems, the damages done to the Rivers over the past century, and the overdrafting of regional groundwater, and is very seriously looking to change direction.

This reality has apparently still escaped the Santa Rosa City Council and their BPU. They will have to learn how to live, grow and prosper with the water that they already have, as will the rest of us, and stop pursuing their “pipe dream” as if there were no costs and consequences. What part of “changed circumstances” don’t they understand?

David Keller
Bay Area Director, Friends of the Eel River