The Coastal Post - September 2000

Russian River Pipeline:
Petaluma Vs. Goliath

By Louis Nuyens

With perhaps the most progressive of local governments, the City Council of tiny Petaluma has been standing up to the massive pro-growth machinery of the Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA).

The struggle, punctuated by threats from the SCWA and the Santa Rosa City Council, centers on Petaluma's reluctance to sign on to "Amendment 11," the most recent in a series of amendments to the 26-year-old fundamental agreement between the SCWA and the agencies that contract for water from it.

While Petaluma is merely seeking revisions to Amendment 11, and a delay for further discussion of issues, outright rejection by Petaluma would directly impact the rapid growth underway in Marin, and proposals for construction of a new pipeline to increase Marin's take of Russian River water.

Impact on Marin

Approval of Amendment 11 would commit Petaluma to construction of a new, larger water pipeline. The new pipeline would not only satisfy Petaluma's possible future needs and current delivery to Marin, but it would also be a critical link in the Marin Municipal Water District's (MMWD) proposed Marin-Sonoma pipeline.

Without a Petaluma pipeline that meets the specifications put forward by the SCWA, Marin would either have to curb its recent rapid growth spurt, or pay the extra cost of a pipeline that goes around Petaluma.

For example, a representative of the North Marin Water District (NMWD) told Petaluma that NMWD would not be able to meet its share of the demands represented by current construction in the large-scale Hamilton Base reuse project. Other large-scale projects, such as St. Vincent/Silviera might encounter similar hurdles.

Another Small Champion

Inspired by the courage of Petaluma, on August 15, the City Council of Sebastopol approved letter to the SCWA, supporting " a county-wide forum on water use, availability and conservation before Amendment 11 is implemented." It added, "that the threats made against the City of Petaluma by staff and directors of the SCWA are inappropriate and have no place in a democratic society."

What's Downstream?

At press time, a meeting of SCWA contractors scheduled for August 21 was expected to be a focal point of Petaluma's environmental concerns, with a range of outcomes possible.

The SCWA may continue in its "take it or leave it (and be shut out in the future)" attitude, leaving Petaluma to sign on or deal with the various forms of retaliation promised by SCWA and Santa Rosa. The legality of the actions as threatened are a matter of debate.

The SCWA is currently making plans to create an agreement with contractors other than Petaluma, if Petaluma does not sign Amendment 11 by September 15.

SCWA has said it would not entertain the conservation revisions requested by Petaluma, and would not agree to circulate them for possible approval by the other contractors. Nor would it sponsor or recommend review of any revisions before the Sonoma County Supervisors. It may be that circulation, even if not approved by other contractors, will satisfy Petaluma's requests.

Ultimately, allocation would be decided by the state Department of Health Services if cooperative negotiations between SCWA and its contractors broke down completely: an unlikely scenario.

For an update, or to offer support to the Petaluma City Council, contact the Petaluma City Clerk, at (707) 778-4360.

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