Residents Protest Wastewater in Sonoma County
From: Jim Jacobs (firstname.lastname@example.org)
To: email@example.com \ Internet: (firstname.lastname@example.org)
To: Robert Kennedy \ Internet: (email@example.com)
Subject: West County Wastewater Plan
Below is the result of your feedback form. It was submitted by Jim Jacobs (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I just discovered your page and haven't yet explored everything but so far it's great! I run a cattle ranch out near Valley Ford and we the people out here are fighting the City of Santa Rosa to stop their plans to dump wastewater out here. Most people don't know much about this plan but if they are on the sewer system, they are paying to study it to the tune of several million dollars. If it's OK, I'd like to post some details about the plan so that the general public of Sonoma County can learn about it and see where their money is going. If it is OK, let me know where to put it.
Thanks for the great site. Jim.
Send it in EMail ... or notepad.txt .... or html ???? .... FAX it .... we'll print it !!!
The Agricultural Property Rights Alliance, a coalition of ranchers, dairymen, west county residents, environmentalists, and concerned citizens have organized in opposition to the West County Wastewater Plan. The details and consequences of this plan have not been explained to the citizens of Sonoma County or to the rate payers who are funding the project and we believe that when the facts are made public, a majority of the county will share in our opposition.
The rate payers of the Subregional Wastewater Disposal System are funding a project that is not only flawed in its concept but also poses a direct threat to property rights, agriculture, and the environment.
The Project is expensive.
The West County Plan proposes that a large wastewater reservoir, contained by a dam as much as 250 feet high and 2800 feet long, would be constructed on prime agricultural land on one of five sites in the Two Rock / Bloomfield / Valley Ford area of southwestern Sonoma County. Wastewater would be pumped to the reservoir from the Santa Rosa plain for storage during the winter months and then used to irrigate surrounding pastureland during the summer. Santa Rosa estimates that the cost of the project would be $250 million . That figure does not include the cost of condemning land which could run as high as 30 million just for the necessary acreage or costs for mitigating wetlands destroyed by the project. To purchase homes and businesses condemned for the project would push the costs much higher. The current estimate for studies is 12 million, the bulk of which has been spent in the West County. All of this adds up to an incomplete and conservative cost of at least $300 million dollars, and public works projects usually far exceed their original budgets by the time they are completed.
Rate payers are now paying about $10 per person, or an average of $32 a month in sewer charges for a family of three. These are the highest sewer rates in California. If the West County project is approved, it is estimated that those rates could double to about $65 a month.
The Project would destroy homes, ranches, dairies and the Estero ecosystem.
The City of Santa Rosa claims that the West County Plan would benefit agriculture and once said that it was voluntary. Now that they have seen opposition in the West County, they admit that they are willing to condemn property in order to complete the project. Many of the ranches and dairies that would be taken have been family operations for several generations. These are the same people who would supposedly benefit if the West County Plan were approved. They are opposing it because they know that it would actually remove as much as 10,000 acres from agricultural use, destroy ranches and homes through construction and condemnation, and introduce heavy metals and other pollutants into the Estero ecosystem.
The project area is entirely within the watershed of the Esteros Americano and San Antonio. The proposed irrigation would take place in the valley bottoms adjacent to stream beds.
Another reason why the landowners are opposing the plan is contained in the 'Irrigation Management Plan' put out by the City. It states that "the City can indirectly control management practices that are being utilized on lands which receive reclaimed water by participating in the planning process and by providing incentives (and penalties, where needed) that encourage application of identified Best Management Practices (BMPs)." In plain language, this means that all landowners who contract for the wastewater will lose control over their property since the City will control the timing and amount of wastewater that is used.
The project is opposed by the very people it would supposedly benefit.
The Agricultural Property Rights Alliance has created what we call the Red Zone Map. A petition was circulated throughout the project area and signed by every landowner who opposed the plan. On a parcel map, the property of every owner who signed the petition was colored red, approximately 26,000 acres. The Red Zone Map covers the entire project area. Santa Rosa is claiming that they have over 3000 acres in the West County committed to irrigation, but that is simply not true. Their claim is based on a postcard mailing made in 1994, asking ranchers if they were interested in learning about the West County Plan. Santa Rosa interpreted a "yes" response to mean that those people wanted the wastewater. The truth is that all of those landowners have signed the petition and become part of the Red Zone Map. The few ranchers who organized in favor of the plan have since sent a letter to the city withdrawing their support.
Santa Rosa is now paying ranchers to take the wastewater.
Santa Rosa has been paying ranchers northwest of the city tens of thousands of dollars a year to take the wastewater but they say that they would like to sell it to the West County. The ranchers of the West County will not pay for it, do not want it for free, and will not be paid for it because they understand that the West County Plan would take their ranches from them or their neighbors, turn prime agricultural land into swamp land, and pollute the Esteros.
The West County is not farmland.
The West County is not flat farmland, but rolling pastureland which is why widespread irrigation is not possible. The terrain, along with the cool, foggy summers and shallow, highly erodible, loamy soils make the region unsuitable for growing crops. This is precisely why it is ranch and dairy land and not farmland. The only irrigable areas (below the 15% allowable grade) are in the valley bottoms along the Esteros and stream courses where winter runoff collects. The area is also referred to as the Estero Lowland because it is a low lying break in the Coast Range- the second largest fog gap on the California coast, the Golden Gate being the largest.
The City has suggested that crops can be grown in the West County such as artichokes and strawberries but of all the crops mentioned at the Socio-Economics Round table held last December, including non-irrigated crops, none would be well suited for the West County due to the climate and soils. If they could be grown in the area, they would be. Water is not the critical factor. That is precisely why the West County is pastureland, not farmland.
The City also suggested that the ranchers could grow their own feed instead of going out of the county to obtain it as they now do, but by the City's own admission, the ranchers would be able to produce only 9 to 12% of their current needs and have to remove land from pasture to do it. They would still have to obtain 88 to 91% of their feed from outside sources. Again, water is not the issue. If it made economic sense to grow hay the ranchers would be doing it. The fact is that any type of alfalfa, much less dairy quality alfalfa, cannot be grown in the West County.
The project would remove 10,000 acres from agricultural use and introduce wastewater into the Esteros.
Under the plan, growing anything, including grass, would be impossible because of the amount of wastewater that would be dumped on the ground. Each of the reservoirs has been designed to hold 4 and a half billion gallons of wastewater. The city proposes to irrigate 5000-6000 acres. That would mean that over 33 inches of wastewater would be released onto the pastures during the summer months. The average rainfall for the area is about 33 inches. Runoff, after a typically dry summer, occurs in November or December when rainfall totals reach about 10 inches and the shallow soils become saturated. Most of the subsequent 20 to 25 inches runs into the creeks and flows into Bodega Bay by way of the Esteros. Obviously, without a dry season, the land would become a swamp, unfit for cultivation or grazing and thus precluding any agricultural use. Runoff would occur year round despite the fact that Santa Rosa has said that the project would be managed so that no wastewater would enter the Esteros. Several times, during an average winter, when a high tide coincides with a storm, the Estero Americano will back up and flood most of the low lying areas between its mouth and the town of Bloomfield. A similar phenomenon occurs along the Estero de San Antonio. This area is entirely within the project area. Any wastewater or residue that is on the ground would be picked up and carried directly into the Esteros, Bodega Bay and Tomales Bay.
The Esteros are the only remaining estuarys on the California coast that have not been damaged or polluted by development. They are a mixture of fresh and salt water, supporting a rich ecosystem of marine life, plants, animals and birds. A congressional bill is being written that would protect them. The West County Plan would compromise that effort.
The Project would pollute the wells and springs of the West County.
The reservoirs and irrigation would also compromise the drinking water in the West County where the people rely upon spring water and wells. All of the reservoirs would flood valleys containing numerous springs, thus making it easy for the wastewater to enter the aquifer. The irrigation alone is a threat to the many shallow wells in the area. Santa Rosa has said that the wastewater is not drinkable and that it contains heavy metals, nitrates and other pollutants. Why, then, should the people, animals and birds of the West County be forced to drink it? Santa Rosa has also said that they will not bond or indemnify anyone for any problems associated with the project. In other words, if wells become polluted or heavy metals are found in the milk produced in the area, Santa Rosa will accept no responsibility for the problem.
The City also admitted that they have done no recent tests for heavy metals or toxic buildup as possible effects of the wastewater on pastureland and drinking water, yet they are willing to go ahead with this project and put West County residents, livestock and wildlife at risk.
Why does Santa Rosa continue to spend money on the project?
Opposition to this plan is widespread and diverse, running across the political spectrum because it is flawed from beginning to end and is an affront to agriculture, land use, the environment, and the civil liberties of the West County residents who have no voice in Santa Rosa politics, yet are being forced to bear responsibility for the policies of that city.
Why, then, Does Santa Rosa continue to waste the rate payer's money in pursuit of this project? Ed Brauner, Assistant City Manager, has said several times that "If there are no irrigators, there is no project." We have shown him the Red Zone Map and the petitions that created it to prove that there are no irrigators but he has chosen to ignore us and continue to misrepresent the project to his constituents. Santa Rosa may feel that if they go ahead and take land for a reservoir that opposition will dissolve and irrigators will suddenly appear. If they believe that, then they are vastly underestimating the opposition. Many of the ranchers in the West County are opposing the plan simply because they do not want their neighbors to have their land taken from them.
Santa Rosa also claims that they are required by law to study the West County Plan. The truth is that they can drop it at any time. The Army Corps of Engineers asked them to study ocean outfall as a possible alternative but the city voted against it. Last year the City dropped the Community Separator Option and in February, the Aquifer Injection Plan was abandoned. Santa Rosa can drop from consideration any alternative that it feels is not feasible.
We have tried to show them that the West County Plan is not feasible, has no support in the West County, and is opposed by a broad spectrum of the Sonoma County community. So far, they have ignored us. They did not notify many of the landowners of the preliminary workshops or scoping meetings, they did not even tell some of the landowners that their property was a potential reservoir site until the surveys began, and they have made it difficult to obtain any information regarding specific surveys or the project as a whole. For a year and a half, residents of the West County have lived under a cloud of condemnation, unable to sell their property, unsure whether they should invest in improvements. How much longer should they forced to wait while Santa Rosa officials ignore the facts and waste the money of the rate payers?
If the City of Santa Rosa continues to pursue this plan, we will fight them every inch of the way, in every phase of the project. As the facts of the West County Plan have become known, more and more people have joined in our opposition. It is the rate payers who are funding this project and it is they, as well as other concerned citizens, who can make a difference by telling the City of Santa Rosa that they do not want any more of their money wasted on a project that is unworkable, costly, and destructive.