Annual Report 2003

California River Watch Annual Report 2003

Victory for Wetlands and Adjacent Waters!

Dear River Watchers,

Our recent legal victory against the City of Healdsburg’s unabated use of Basalt Pond, a former gravel pond, for its wastewater disposal is a major breakthrough for the strengthening the Clean Water Act. The decision, as well as recent press articles, is featured on our webpage at This is a major victory for the Russian River and its inhabitants, including all downstream domestic and municipal well users. Public support for this decision has been overwhelming, including a recent Editorial in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, which boldly proclaimed the underlying facts of the case: “After all, the pond sits adjacent to the river, which means the discharges end up in the river.”

We would hope that as a result of this judgment, the City of Healdsburg and all other dischargers into the Russian River will pursue a course that takes into consideration the water quality concerns of its downstream neighbors. We look forward to seeing that these objectives are indeed met, but unfortunately, there remains much more work to be done.

While this legal victory is a significant step in ensuring this goal, we understand that the City of Healdsburg has appealed this decision to the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals. We remain confident that this decision will be upheld, but Healdsburg’s persistence in pursuing a course of avoidance rather than compliance is particularly disturbing. Furthermore, Healdsburg has enlisted the support of powerful allies, such as the City of Santa Rosa, who share an ongoing interest in utilizing former gravel ponds for wastewater storage and disposal along the precious Middle Reach of the Russian River and reportedly is assisting Healdsburg in its appeal.

We have worked too hard to protect this area from such lawless and destructive practices of the past to sit idly by and watch them destroy it in this manner. River Watch has invested a tremendous amount of time, money, and resources into securing this decision for the health of the Russian River and all who use and enjoy it. We thank all of our contributors of the past for their generous support. However, we will need substantial additional resources in which to continue this effort as well as fund the appeal.

Aside from protecting the Russian River, a favorable decision in this case will expand similar protections to adjacent waterways across the United States, setting a huge precedent with far-reaching implications.

We are asking for your support with a monetary contribution to help offset our expenses as we prepare to defend an appeal to the Ninth Circuit. With your help, we can send the message loud and clear that we will not have the Russian River turned into storage grounds for sewage.

River Watch Protecting Surface Waters

A recent Gallup Poll conducted last March indicated that water quality concerns were at the top of the list of environmental concerns for Americans, with more than half those polled “worrying a great deal” about the quality of their drinking water, and 79% expressing some level of worry. The poll also found that Americans with lower incomes tend to have greater concern about water pollution.

West Nile Virus Brings Toxic Tide to California’s Waters
Damaging Flood Control practices and poor management in general of North Coast waterways has led to superb breeding conditions for mosquitoes, and most recently, those which harbor the West Nile Virus. In an effort to avert this ‘crisis’, many mosquito abatement districts are moving to secure the rights to spray hazardous chemical herbicides directly to our rivers, creeks, and streams. Case Law has ruled that such applications to any waters of the United States are illegal without an NPDES permit. Following such plans by the Marin-Sonoma Mosquito Abatement District to inundate the Laguna de Santa Rosa with toxic herbicides, River Watch sent a Notice of Intent to sue the District under the Federal Clean Water Act if it proceeded further. River Watch remains committed to outlining non-toxic measures to eradicate the West Nile Virus, but not at the cost of harming endangered salmonids and other aquatic species. See our Editorial included on the Page 5 insert.

Waivers or Favors?
Outgoing Governor Gray Davis signed SB 810, authored by State Senator Jim Burton (D – San Francisco) and supported by several environmental groups, including River Watch. This Bill formally gives the Regional Water Quality Control Board more jurisdiction over water quality concerns included in Timber Harvest Plans, especially those of which the California Department of Forestry acts negligent. We wish to congratulate all those who supported this Bill by writing to the governor, or their Assemblymember throughout this process. River Watch submitted a 4-page petition of your signatures supporting this Bill in the week leading up to the signing of this historic new regulation. Whether it’s an eleventh-hour attempt to preserve his legacy, or a truly meaningful step towards protecting our rivers and streams, this Bill passed on from Gov. Gray Davis and now rests in the hands of California’s new leadership.

River Watch Launches Dairy Compliance
With all the uproar about Mad Cow Disease resurfacing, it might be easy to overlook another cow-related public health hazard affecting our creeks and streams. Pollution from dairies via storm water runoff continues unabated, and regulatory agencies admit they lack sufficient resources to ensure existing laws are enforced. Yet dairy waste continues to enter our streams and produce high amounts of nitrates and phosphates, rendering miles of tributaries uninhabitable for fish and other aquatic species.

It is with that reality in mind that River Watch launched its Dairy Compliance Program to address polluted stormwater runoff from large dairy operations. We began by producing and distributing a packet to dairy owners that included an explanation of stormwater management, suggested resources and conservation practices specifically for dairies, and a contact sheet with agency personnel, Resource Conservation Districts, as well as fellow dairymen who were involved in the State Stormwater Permit and Management System. River Watch also began dialog with Clover Stornetta Farms with regard to the formation of a partnership which will promote implementation of stormwater runoff control practices, monitoring, and reporting. We are also in the midst of creating a Clean Water Certification program once dairies have installed stormwater pollution prevention plans and eliminated discharges to our creeks and streams.

River Watch Protecting Ground Water

Groundwater Contamination
Groundwater contamination is a particularly disturbing epidemic that results from careless industrial processes. The most common pollutants originate from Underground Storage Tanks (USTs) that are used to store hazardous, toxic, and carcinogenic chemicals such as benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, and MTBE. For the most part, solvents and other chemical contaminants that leak from these tanks move laterally through plumes where they are detected by monitoring wells as required by law. Some of the heavier materials, such as MTBE and perchlorate, can migrate downward where they threaten groundwater aquifers. Enforcement tends to be lax despite the existence of the Leaking Underground Storage Tank (LUST) Fund, which customers pay into each time they fill up their car with gasoline. Money generated from the LUST Fund is supposed to be used solely for the purpose of cleanups and remediation of sites found to be contaminating nearby soil and groundwater. Like adding insult to injury, a number of environmental consultation firms, licensed to utilize these funds for cleanups, have been investigated in recent years for fraudulent claims and failure to complete the work they had received LUST funds for. California Attorney General Bill Lockyer took up the cause of prosecuting a number of these fraudulent claims, stating that “The Legislature established this Fund to protect public health and safety. Citizens and taxpayers can ill afford a rip-off of this vital program, especially as the state suffers unprecedented fiscal woes.”

River Watch has been aggressively pursuing enforcement by litigating those facilities that have been operating in non-compliance and refusing to take responsibility for pollution of soil and groundwater supplies. We have also began tracking those who have benefited from these funds by ill-gotten gains, including failure to perform required or necessary cleanup or deceiving the public interest by committing fraud.

River Watch has been successful in mitigating water pollution caused by numerous industries, including oil companies, lumber mills, gravel quarries, wine factories, and composting facilities. These cases dealt with preventing facilities from discharging pollutants to the tributaries of the Russian River and the Russian River, itself. Because of the action taken by River Watch, each case resulted in abatement, cleanup, and remediation.

Toxic Tide over Calm Waters
By Toben Dilworth
Recent editorials and letters to the editor, while directing the public’s attention toward the possible West Nile Virus threat, have overlooked major factors that have contributed to the mismanagement of the Laguna and the ensuing mosquito problem.

The source of the mosquito problem has properly been identified as the Ludwigia plant, but the conditions that have let this plant proliferate haven’t received the scrutiny they deserve.

The Laguna has been listed under the Clean Water Act’s 303(d) List of Impaired Water Bodies as one of the North Coast’s most polluted waterways. The nutrient-rich waters of the Laguna have created the conditions by which the Ludwigia flourishes. The nutrients arrive in a steady influx from the Laguna sewage plant and dairy runoff.

These factors are at the root of the current debacle, but plans to spray the Laguna seem to overlay the real problem by creating a false sense of fear and use the West Nile virus as a means to inundate the Laguna with herbicides.

While spraying has been portrayed as a solution to short-term concerns, the toll it will take on the long-term health of the ecosystem and the public have not been evaluated. Neither have the effects on aquatic species, insects and invertebrates, not to mention the birds, and other predators that feed on them. Despite studies that say that mosquito adulticides and herbicides are safe for aquatic life, there have been significant findings linking them to deformities in frogs and endocrine disruption in fish. The EPA, under pressure from chemical companies to rush products to market, often produces authorization of chemicals with “pending assessments.” Some are still pending.

Humans are not exempt from these negative effects, which include such symptoms as birth defects, disruption of hormone regulation, neurological damage and cancer. These risks far outweigh the calculated risks of getting West Nile – 1.7 in every 100,000 people. Symptoms of the West Nile virus itself have largely been exaggerated while findings indicate that someone who has been infected with the virus is likely to have life-long immunity to the disease whether or not they exhibit any symptoms. It should also be noted that in many cases throughout the country, and particularly the East Coast where they have been dealing with the virus for years, a common trend has shown that in the areas toxic adulticides and/or herbicides have been applied to eradicate mosquitoes, more instances of insinuating illnesses were reported due to exposure to chemical sprays than actual cases of the virus.

Spraying herbicides will exacerbate problems of the already imperiled Laguna while setting a dangerous precedent for the future mismanagement of our watersheds. Public health hazards cannot be alleviated by compounding one on top of another.

Most communities that started out with rigorous spraying of chemicals have found non-toxic measures to be more efficient in controlling the West Nile Virus. Resources exist from organizations such as Beyond Pesticides, based in Washington, D.C. about non-toxic management of mosquitoes and the West Nile Virus. Cities such as Ft. Worth, Texas, Washington, D.C., and Lyndhurst, Ohio have passed resolutions prohibiting the spraying of chemicals specifically in efforts to help control the spread of the West Nile virus.

Closer to home, we can focus on long term strategies that are aimed at controlling the source of the problem: the nutrient loading of the Laguna. This includes effective runoff control management for dairies along the Laguna and putting a stop to the Santa Rosa Subregional Wastewater Plant’s illicit discharges to the Laguna and Russian River ecosystem.

A version of this Article appeared in the Sonoma West Times and News, North Bay Progressive, and Sonoma Valley Voice

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River Watch works by the diligence of its members and others concerned about public health and protection of the environment. However, to continue to do this work we need your support. For an annual membership fee you will receive our newsletter, plus special mailings about upcoming events and workshops sponsored by River Watch. River Watch is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Your tax-deductible contribution will help fund investigations, the Healthy Waters Project, defining best practices for avoiding and mitigating pollution and other costs associated with River Watch’s environmental citizen enforcement actions. Members may also contact River Watch with complaints of water pollution in their area. River Watch investigates complaints and works with the business or public agency to mitigate the problem.

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River Watch
PO Box 1360
Occidental, CA 95465
Ph/F 707 874 2579

Board of Directors
Margaret Bacigalupi
Michelle Conte
David Gordon
Lisa Mador
Ralph Metzner
Robert Rawson

Programs / Development
Toben Dilworth

California River Watch is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit public interest citizen based environmental enforcement group.