Activists build coalition to protect North Coast water

Anna Oberthur / Russian River Monthly / March 1, 2002

In the cities or Medieval Europe the water supplies were so contaminated that people were forced to drink wine instead.

Today, huge portions of the world’s population still lack access to safe drinking water.

And while clean water may seem plentiful in peaceful hamlets of the Redwood Empire, water conservationists and activists say the North Coast’s supply is in danger – and the time to save it is now or never.

Some 150 community organizers gathered February 9 at the Santa Rosa Veteran’s Building to discuss water issues and to establish a coalition that can efficiently work to protect the North Coast’s water supply.

The free, daylong event was sponsored by the North Coast Water Coalition, an umbrella organization of about 20 groups working to protect water resources in the region. Titled the “Sonoma County Water Action Forum,” it was the coalition’s first big meeting.

“It was very, very successful,” said Lynn Hamilton, one of the principle organizers. “As issues come up, we’ll be working together. We’ll be able to give support and information and expertise.”

Hamilton is a board member of the Town Coalition, one of the groups that sponsored the forum.

The event featured panelists from around the North Coast who outlined major water issues, including gravel mining in the Russian River, overall watershed health, forestry practices and wastewater. Their comments focused on the importance of maintaining the health of the Russian River and the entire watershed, acknowledging the North Coast Water Coalition’s motto: “A river runs through us.”

“Water is a central issue,” Christina Carpenter of Sustainable Sonoma County said. “It touches all of our lives and it is threatened to a degree that very few people are aware of.”

The event focused on three areas: political action, legal action, and protection of watersheds.

Organizers hope that a tightly woven coalition will be able to tackle water issues with efficiency and speed. They believe that through the coalition, activist groups can better represent all parties involved – because everyone needs clean water.

“The walls and borders between organizations have got to disappear if we are going to succeed.” Panelist Larry Barnett of the Sonoma City Council told the crowd. “The problem is everybody is fighting their own battles as if they are separate.”

A second, larger forum is being planned for some time in the next few months. Hamilton said it will focus on water costs, public health, the Clean Water Act and water rights. It will be open to the public, and according to Hamilton, could draw as many as 500 people.