The Russian River has been under considerable
pressure that could easily destroy it as a safe water resource.
Could it die?
In 1997, the Russian River made
River Organization's top 20 "endangered Rivers
of America", a
frightening distinction. For at least
years gravel mining has removed the small stones and sands
of the river banks and bottom. A river stores its water,
most of which is underground, in between these very particles.
By removing gravel, the water-bearing capacity is
The sands and stones also clean dirty water
and remove many pollutants. By reducing the quantity of
water overall, and in the process taking away the natural
filtration system the quality of the water is
Where did all that gravel go?
Gravel is used---in copious quantities---to
manufacture concrete, asphalt and various other materials
used in construction. In other words, the gravel was
directly converted to urban sprawl. Much of this urban
sprawl was unwisely allowed to cover up vital groundwater
recharge lands. Groundwater is recharged, or refilled,
when it rains. This doesn't happen everywhere. Recharge
takes place in particular areas where
soil permeability and underlying geology allow water to
dribble beneath the earth and top off the "tank",
known as an aquifer.
Sonoma County Planning Commissioner
Rue Furch was recently quoted in the Albion Monitor as
describing the "3%" of Sonoma County that has been developed
like this: "Three
percent doesn't sound like much, but it's interesting where
it is located, most of the roads,
parking lots, and buildings are in the major recharge areas
for our watershed."
Groundwater aquifers are also refilled by
seepage through the ground from rivers. So, a reduced
Russian River has a direct effect on filling up groundwater
resources in places a far away as Rohnert Park in the southern
In the same article in
the Albion Monitor, Penn State hydrologist David De
Walle reveals his discovery that increased urbanization
contributes to flooding. River levels rise but the water
is too fast and too furious to seep back into the ground,
which why they call it "flooding". It races through
watercourses ripping up the banks and spilling over to
damage houses, fields and other valuable property.
Global warming will probably bring
more rain. What will happen then?
Outside flows to stop
For almost 90 years, a small hydroelectric
plant operated by Pacific Gas & Electric has released
water from the Eel River into the Russian River. The
diversions have been substantial and they did two things:
1. The diversions reduced the Eel
River to a muddy ditch, destroyed a multi-million dollar
fishing industry and seriously affected the economy along
the Eel, mostly in Mendocino County.
2. The "extra" water that
flowed into the Russian River was pumped out of the river
by the Sonoma County Water
Agency (SCWA) and used to fuel massive urban sprawl.
The result of a recent court challenge
to SCWA and PG&E
means that, eventually, these diversions will be curtailed
at some as yet to be determined amount. But curtailed they
will be. With less water flowing into the Russian River,
SCWA will have less water to sell to Sonoma and Marin Cities
which will have an inevitable effect on future sprawl.
Less flow into the Russian from
the Eel also means the underground recharge, the seepage
that flows all the way to Rohnert Park, will also be
reduced. Pumping these aquifers, even at current rates,
will undoubtedly exacerbate existing overdraft conditions,
a dangerous possibility.
The "solution-to-pollution-is-dillution" thingy
Less water in the Russian will also increase
the saturation of dangerous pollutants that are already
being pumped into the River. Urban areas not only pump
of the ground, cover up groundwater recharge areas and
contribute to flooding, they
also produce enormous quantities of raw sewage. Getting
rid of so much raw sewage has become as big a problem as
finding dwindling supplies of clean water.
Sewage treatment plants put this
stuff in settling tanks, there's one on Llano Road, where
the solids sink to the bottom, the so-called "primary" treatment.
Special microorganisms accomplish the "secondary" treatment
by eating virtually 95% of biological materials.
"Tertiary", or the third
level of treatment, is rather controversial because hundreds
of techniques may satisfy
this definition. None transform secondary-treated raw sewage
into anything close to drinking water. Essentially,
tertiary treatment consists of filtering what's left through
approximately three or four feet of gravel, sand and coal
with a dash of chlorine added. Hopefully this bare-bones
process removes most of the heavy metals and most of the
nutrients (water-soluble nitrates and phosphates that cause
excessive growth of algae and other water plants, which
deplete the water's oxygen supply), but this filtration
never gets 100% of these pollutants.
Worse, it isn't even
designed to remove potential and proven pollutants,
like ingredients found in suntan lotion, perfumes, and
most dangerous of all, pharmaceuticals. Every person in
Sonoma County passes whatever drugs they
the sewer system. Every antibiotic, anti-seizure drug,
sleeping pill, mood elevator as well as estrogen and testosterone
supplement goes right through all the sewage treatments
and come out the other end. This tertiary treated effluent
can contain a chemical soup that sometimes can recombine
individual pharmaceuticals into wholly new and unknown
compounds with unknown effects on human beings.
Amazingly, this toxic soup is dumped back into
the Russian River above the water collectors that feed
aqueduct. The aqueduct, of course, carries drinking water
to all the cities in Sonoma County (except Sebastopol)
as well as to cities in Marin County.
Reduced water in the Russian only
means that these chemicals will archive greater concentrations
and pose an even greater risk to human health. The River
God only knows what it's doing to the river itself.