Proposed Riparian Corridors (RC) Ordinance and Zoning Code Changes

David Rabbitt, Chair Sonoma County Board of Supervisors 575 Administration Way, Room 100 A Santa Rosa, CA 95403

November 23, 2014

Subject: Proposed Riparian Corridors (RC) Ordinance and Zoning Code Changes

The Sonoma County Water Coalition (SCWC) comprises 31 organizations, representing more than 24,000 concerned citizens. SCWC is especially concerned about the preservation of a safe, economical and reliable water supply for all living things. SCWC also works to preserve healthy ecosystems, supports watershed restoration and protection and careful oversight of all public trust resources, including surface and groundwater quality and quantity.

The Sonoma County General Plan 2020 (GP 2008) recognized that many land uses can damage near-stream and instream environments. Both the General Plan and the proposed Ordinance language recognize that certain land uses pose threats to stream flows and ecosystems, and note that these have impaired many of the County’s water bodies. GP 2008 Goals and Policies in the Conservation Element therefore called for developing and approving an Ordinance that would generally afford needed (and mandated) protections for those habitats and for water quality.

SCWC supports the draft Ordinance of Zoning Code Changes for protecting Riparian Zones (PRMD) as proposed because it offers some improvement over the current administrative structure governing near-stream activities that need to be regulated. But we recognize that the Ordinance is not yet in full conformity with the General Plan’s Goals, Objectives, and Requirements, even though it is consistent with the intent of the GP 2008. Our members see this as a first step toward eventually implementing a Zoning Code that fully embodies GP 2008, as required by California Law.

SCWC members are concerned that the Ordinance does not explain how the proposed protections will sufficiently protect streams and promote the recovery of stream functions for the impaired watercourses. The Ordinance also contains so many exceptions to the setbacks as to compromise the level of protections for those streams.

We strenuously object to language in the proposed Ordinance claiming that the 2008 CEQA review and analysis for the 2005 General Plan revision constituted an approval process for this Ordinance (and by extension any other County ordinance to be promulgated for implementing GP 2008). This claim is not accurate for the following reasons:

1) Promulgation of an ordinance is a project under CEQA, separate from the project for creating a General Plan. The development of this ordinance and approval process is a separate and distinct project from the General Plan and requires its own CEQA process.

2) Nearly all watercourses in Sonoma County are listed as impaired (see California’s List of Water Quality Limited Segments in the 303(d) List) due to various pollutants and limited stream function. The GP 2008 notes the status of these streams but the Ordinance does not link that recognition to specific language and/or actions necessary to both protect and recover impaired stream function or to any administrative structure created to attain Water Quality Standards.

Such discussion and analysis must be included in the language and findings, and must be subject to separate environmental review.

3) Issues added to the Ordinance that were not considered in the GP 2008 also raise a “Fair Argument” standard that would require additional environmental review. These additional issues include stream-side well drilling, and not yet defined Best Management Practices (even though the performance standards rely on the BMPs and their related effectiveness).

The currently proposed Best Management Practices (BMPs), which have not yet been reviewed and vetted for effectiveness potential, protect only existing vegetation, and do not ensure that practices allow for or encourage recovery in areas where riparian vegetation has been removed.

Approving Members: * Atascadero/Green Valley Watershed Council * Community Clean Water Institute * California River Watch * O.W.L. Foundation * Russian River Watershed Protection Committee * Sonoma Coast Surfrider * Sonoma County Conservation Action * SWiG (Sebastopol Water information Group) * Valley of the Moon Alliance *Approving Supporting Organizations: Bellevue Township * Concerned Citizens for Santa Rosa * Coast Action Group * Forest Unlimited * Forestville Citizens for Sensible Growth * Friends of the Eel River * Friends of the Gualala River * Graton Community Projects * Laguna Lovers * New-Old Ways Wholistically Emerging * Occidental Arts and Ecology Center Water Institute * Petaluma River Council * Russian River Chamber of Commerce * Sierra Club (Sonoma County Group) * Town Hall Coalition * Western Sonoma County Rural Alliance *SCWC 11/23/14

For all of the issues noted in the above, and approval of the General Plan without speaking to these issues (with wording and structure to be approved in a separate process subsequent to General Plan approval) clearly indicate that the Ordinance needs:

• • •

Improved wording, structure, and conditions that insure effectiveness; A subsequent environmental review to address these issues;

Eventual development of a more robust and comprehensive ordinance and implementation strategy.

Recommended improvements include:

Disallowing the construction of near-stream wells (in the Riparian Zone), which is not in conformity with the GP 2008. This item should be removed from the proposed Well Ordinance language, and related to stream setback distances in the Riparian Ordinance. The National Marine Fisheries Service and the Regional Water Quality Control Board also have a problem with this issue.

Approval of an ordinance that relies, even in part, on language and a process that is not yet developed violates the California Resources Code. The process for implementation of this ordinance through Best Management Practices that are not yet defined, should be postponed until the public and responsible agencies can review and comment on the BMPs.

SCWC 11/23/14

With the noted exemptions for Agricultural activities, the current Ordinance does not include necessary protections for giving streams the potential for recovery. This ordinance should enumerate the actions necessary to protect and recover stream values.

Limiting activities that threaten stream values is appropriate and necessary and is not necessarily a large burden to land owners. To preserve and enhance stream values in this County, a review process (by the Agricultural Commissioner’s office) should be created for assessing the impacts of exempted activity, with mitigations required for any such exemption.

For stream protection and recovery, the following issues need further study to develop implementation mechanisms:

Preservation of contiguous riparian vegetation outside of the riparian zone;

Eliminate agricultural turnarounds within 25′ of top of bank to allow re-establishment of trees for shade and woody debris, which are important riparian functions;

Require erosion controls to be in place for any bare soil in turnaround areas prior to rain events, including any area of bare or perched soil with the potential to erode into a watercourse during a rain event;

Develop Agricultural Activity BMPs (and exempted activity) for the Agricultural Commissioner to review and promulgate mitigation orders tailored to specifics of a site. BMPs should supplant general Agricultural BMPs, and should be described in a ranch or farm plan. These specialized BMPs should:

Disallow construction of instream dams. At the very least zoning permits should be conditioned on licensing by the SWRCB Division of Water Rights;

Discourage well development in the riparian zone. The language of this Ordinance related to wells must be coordinated with the Draft Well Construction Ordinance. Any near-stream well construction should be reviewed and conditioned by the Regional Board and the State Water Resources Board Division of Water Rights.

In conclusion: If Sonoma County desires to protect and enhance its watercourses, as is clearly intended by the GP 2008, these comments should be fully considered, and the proposed Ordinance given the additional review and adjustment that is needed.


Stephen Fuller-Rowell
Sonoma County Water Coalition