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October 2000

Petaluma Courageously Holds Out Against Sonoma Water Expansion


By Louis Nuyens

Petaluma City Councilmembers stood their ground as the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors' deadline of September 15 for the signing of Amendment 11 ticked off the calendar. "Amendment 11" (more properly "the Eleventh Amended Agreement") is the latest revision to the agreement between the Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) and its eight contractors. Criticisms include lack of environmental protections and lack of disclosure of potentially dramatic rates increases over the 60% base increase to occur over the next seven years. It is viewed by some as a "blank check" whereby all SCWA contractors must pay for yet unspecified and potentially exorbitant SCWA projects regardless of whether all contractors approve of each project. Many specified and potential projects may be growth-inducing.

No official announcement has been made as to the present status of Amendment 11 by the SCWA. At the September 20 MMWD Board meeting, one board member reported that Amendment 11 is "dead" and that the SCWA is individually re-negotiating with each contractor. It is yet to be seen whether the SCWA will go through with its threat to exclude Petaluma from all future negotiations.

Meanwhile, the Petaluma City Council is pressing ahead with their plans for a regional Water-Use Roundtable discussion involving all stakeholders in the Eel and Russian Rivers, scheduled for late Fall.

Support for Petaluma's courageously responsible "last stand" has come from varied areas: Sebastopol, Windsor, Cotati and Fairfax City Councils, citizen and environmental groups from Mendocino, Sonoma, Marin and San Francisco Counties.

In a startling announcement, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued a statement saying that they are seriously concerned about the adverse impact of SCWA's proposed expansion project on the Russian River water temperature, critical habitat and endangered species. NMFS stated that it will oppose the SCWA expansion plan as currently written, and might require a new water treatment plant to be built to protect the water quality and especially to preserve the temperature important to native species in Lake Sonoma and the main river, which could add around $500 million dollars to the existing $140 million dollar project. Other costly projects may also be mandated. The effect of these enormous additional costs on water rates in Sonoma and Marin customers has not been made available.

SCWA's director Randy Poole recently told Petaluma that if it didn't replace its aging pipeline to Santa Rosa with the larger transmission system specified by the SCWA, Petaluma would not be able to draw enough water to meet the allotments for build out for themselves, North Marin, or Marin Municipal Water Districts in the near future. Petaluma City Councilmembers responded that they were not interested in funding or fueling a development boom in Marin County.

Poole also stated that if Petaluma didn't change their pipe, it would force Marin Municipal Water District to build its own pipeline, around Petaluma instead of linking to Petaluma's, and build an extension all the way up to Santa Rosa! This would have the potential to bring still more rate increases to Marin, beyond any that might caused by SCWA's various projects.

Do the people of Marin know about these potential extra costs? The MMWD directors and staff have been made aware of SCWA's troubles, but have failed to slow down long enough to first evaluate actual costs to Marin's residents and businesses.

Stay tuned.

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