The Coastal Post - August 2000

Why Sonoma Wants Marin Water Business

By Louis Nuyens

In addition to money from sale of water, there are other reasons for the Sonoma County Water Agency to want to increase Marin's dependence on Russian River water.

The basic agreement between SCWA and MMWD requires MMWD to purchase certain levels of water each year, even when not needed, in order to ensure MMWD supply in each following year. This alone is a financial boon to SCWA that makes increased water use by Marin attractive. But SCWA has ambitious plans that could prove far more costly to MMWD ratepayers.

For example, SCWA is pressuring its contractors to sign on to fund the purchase of the Potter Valley Project, a two-dam hydro-electric facility, the point at which the Eel River is diverted into the Russian River, for use by the SCWA and its customers. The power plant is currently held by PG&E;, which is seeking to divest itself of that facility. The Potter Valley facility is currently under review by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which is looking into the Project's impact on the Eel River's salmonid fishery, and reduction of the Eel River diversion.

The Department of Interior, National Marine Fisheries, and the Federal Environmental Protection Agency have asked FERC to study a "NO Project" (read no dam) alternative. Part of the activity is a "Section 7" endangered species evaluation that is being done by National Marine Fisheries Service, regarding the state of Eel river salmonid habitat and the effect of current diversion practices.

Decommissioning the power plant to eliminate diversion of the Eel is desirable to environmentalists, but an unlikely scenario, especially since Senator Feinstein and North Coast Congressman Thompson are actively lobbying in favor of continued Eel River diversion.

In either case-facility purchase or facility decommissioning-SCWA customers will end up footing a very large bill. SCWA would dearly love to, and clearly plans to, spread the costs of its ambitious and expensive plans to "wealthy" Marin residents and businesses.

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