Biologists with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) have concluded that current flow levels in the Russian River and Dry Creek during the summer are too high for young coho salmon and steelhead. NMFS biologists believe that reducing summertime flows in the Russian River and Dry Creek would provide better fishery habitat by reducing velocity, minimizing the need to artificially breach the sandbar at the river mouth, and potentially improving estuary conditions for steelhead by allowing the formation of a freshwater lagoon.
In 2016, Sonoma Water released a draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Fish Habitat Flows and Water Rights Project (Fish Flow Project), as required by the 2008 National Marine Fisheries Service’s Russian River Biological Opinion. During the time that responses to comments were being prepared, PG&E announced that it planned to abandon its Potter Valley Diversion Project. The number and scope of comments and the potentially significant change in conditions have resulted in the need to revise and recirculate the draft EIR.
The recirculated draft EIR will be prepared by Sonoma Water in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the State CEQA Guidelines, and Sonoma Water’s “Procedures for the Implementation of CEQA.” Sonoma Water is the lead agency and will consider all comments from responsible and trustee agencies, property owners, and interested persons and parties regarding the scope and content of the information to be included in the EIR.
The Russian River Biological Opinion requires Sonoma Water to file for permanent changes in the minimum instream flow requirements, which are established in Sonoma Water’s water rights permits and State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) Decision 1610, within a year of issuance of the Biological Opinion. On September 23, 2009, Sonoma Water filed the required petitions to amend Sonoma Water’s water rights permits.
On August 16, 2016, Sonoma Water requested that the State Water Board cancel the petitions filed on September 23, 2009, as well as the outstanding time extension petitions for Permits 12949, 12950 and 16596 that were filed on October 11, 1999, and filed new petitions for revised permanent changes to the Decision 1610 minimum instream flow requirements, revised time extensions, and modifications to the hydrologic index that assesses hydrologic water supply conditions in the watershed.
Until a permanent change in flows has been approved by the State Water Resources Control Board, Sonoma Water must file Temporary Urgency Change Petitions requesting changes to minimum in-stream flows as identified in the Biological Opinion.