More Time for Input on Waterways Proposal: Policy Would Further Protect Streams with Endangered Fish - Worry About Effects on People

February 11, 2008
Santa Rosa Press Democrat

Facing pressure from North Coast water users, the state Water Resources Control Board has extended until May 1 a deadline for public comment on a proposal to make sweeping changes to state policies governing instream flows to better protect fish.

A lead critic of the draft policy contends state water regulators will "lock up" the region's water resources including the Russian River "without even pretending to balance communities' needs for water against needs of fish."

At stake are hundreds of pending applications to divert and store more water from local streams and rivers, including proposals from the Sonoma County Water Agency and other municipal providers.

The new regulations could affect dams, irrigation ponds and diversions.

First sought in 2001 by the Audubon Society and other environmental groups, the policy changes were set in motion when legislation was signed in 2004 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The changes are envisioned statewide, but are to be first imposed on the North Coast because it represents the greatest numbers and diversity of permit holders.

Sacramento water law attorney Janet Goldsmith said she represents clients who are alarmed about the potential effects. She said they include vineyard owners, water districts and municipalities in Sonoma and Marin counties, and portions of Napa, Mendocino and Humboldt counties that are covered by the proposed changes.

Goldsmith said some property owners and agricultural users in the five-county region remain unaware of the proposed changes, and those who are can't "fully understand what the policy requires and how it will affect them."

The Eel River drainage, at the center of an epic water struggle between users in Humboldt, Mendocino and Sonoma counties, is exempt for now from the policy proposals. But beyond the Eel, the sweeping state proposals encompass coastal streams from the Mattole River in Humboldt County to San Pablo Bay.

The goal of the proposed state action is to further protect waterways that support endangered fish.

Goldsmith contends the state's supporting documentation doesn't adequately consider "the economic and social impacts" on the five-county region.

"It would affect the available water supply so significantly that land use decisions would essentially be taken out of the hands of local governments, and put in the hands of the state Water Resources Control Board," Goldsmith said.

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More Time for Input on Waterways Proposal: Policy Would Further Protect Streams with Endangered Fish - Worry About Effects on People