By Dayna Ghirardelli, Executive Director
Not long after my start at the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, I was approached about participating in an interview for the Russian River Water Forum… the what?
In 2021, the Sonoma County Water Agency was awarded a grant from the California Department of Water Resources Urban and Multibenefit Drought Relief Program to establish a water forum that would collaborate on finding solutions around the future of the Potter Valley Project (PVP)….. the what?
The PVP, operated by PG&E, is located on the upper mainstem of the Eel River and the East Branch of the Russian River in Mendocino and Lake Counties, and consists of Cape Horn Dam which ends into the Van Arsdale Reservoir, where water flows through a tunnel directly to the PVP. Twelve miles upriver from the Cape Horn Dam is Scott Dam, which formed Lake Pillsbury. For more than 100 years, the diversion of water from the Eel River to the Russian River via the PVP has provided an integral source of water for the Russian River basin, including serving as the primary source of water through Lake Mendocino for nearly all the northern Sonoma County cities and municipalities, as well as contributes, along with Lake Sonoma, to southern Sonoma County and northern Marin County cities and municipalities. PG&E plans to decommission the PVP, resulting in the reduction, or more dire, the elimination of this water source. The Russian River Water Forum’s (RRWF) intention is to preserve the flow of water from the Eel River via the PVP to the Russian River while also fostering collaboration to support water supply resiliency in the Russian River watershed.
As a southern Sonoma County girl, I knew that the City of Petaluma and others purchased water from the Sonoma County Water Agency, but I never considered what that meant. Now, I’m not only learning of this complicated man-made water system that ultimately serves the existence of Sonoma County but that it is under threat of complete removal…. Say what?
This PVP topic is not a new one for the farmers, ranchers, landowners, and residents of the Russian River Basin and northern Sonoma County. It has been at the forefront of several local, state, and federal conversations since PG&E decided not to renew its license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). To help facilitate a regional approach, Congressman Jared Huffman facilitated an ad hoc process in 2019 known as the Two Basin Solution Partnership. The Two Basin Partnership was joined by California Trout, the County of Humboldt, the Mendocino County Inland Water & Power Commission, the Round Valley Native American Tribes, and the Sonoma County Water Agency to work together to “develop a plan for the future of the Project (PVP- water diversion) that meets the needs of all communities in the Russian and Eel River basins” with the goal to “allow us to meet regional water needs while restoring fisheries.” (https://www.twobasinsolution.org) This effort was also an attempt to apply for the license that PG&E holds to operate the diversion, but the deadline was missed. With no viable replacement or intent by PG&E to renew, FERC instructed PG&E to begin the process of surrendering the license. The deadline to surrender the license is the end of 2024. Here is where the RRWF comes in.
The RRWF has created a Planning Committee comprised of representatives from Mendocino, Sonoma, Lake, and Humboldt County governments, tribal governments from the Russian River and Eel basins, Mendocino and Sonoma County water suppliers, Russian River and Eel River environmental non-governmental organizations (NGO’s), Sonoma and Mendocino agricultural NGO’s and Resource Conservation Districts (RCD), and Russian River recreational interests. The Planning Group’s purpose is to collaborate on a solution-oriented process, improving the understanding of the structure and its challenges while seeking to problem-solve and identify solutions that can be agreed upon. In so far, to identify feasible funding sources to maintain diversion in whatever form that takes.
Regarded as a stakeholder that represents and works with all facets of agriculture, the Sonoma and Mendocino County Farm Bureaus were identified as the agricultural and RCD caucus leaders for their respective counties. Our role is to facilitate caucus coordination and to identify folks who would appropriately represent agricultural and resource conservation interests on the Planning Committee. Sonoma County Agriculture was given three members and three alternate seats on the Planning Committee. These individuals were identified based on interest and, in many cases, nominations by peers. The following individuals were submitted as the agricultural representatives for Sonoma County:
- Denny Murphy, Landowner, Vineyard
- Allen Nelson, Landowner, Vineyard
- John Nagle, Sonoma RCD Board Chair and Consultant
- Adriane Garayalde, Landowner, Vineyard, Livestock, and Russian River Confluence Coordinator
- Bill Ricioli, Landowner, Vineyard, and Livestock
- Pam Bacigalupi, Landowner, Vineyard
This is a tremendous commitment as participation will entail several meetings a month that include the main Planning Committee meeting, as well as, caucus, and work-group meetings.
However, it is not only up to these individuals to move the process forward, there is also a need for additional participation among stakeholders as four different work groups will be formed to dig into further details that aid in informing the planning committee on respective challenges, findings, and options. The working group subjects are Water Supply and Fisheries, Finance and Economics, Governance and Decommissioning, and Water Rights.
This topic is a big one! The fate of our county’s water supply is in the hands of Potter Valley Project’s future and so it must be all hands-on deck! We must understand the effects of all the options and be willing to be part of the solution. We may not always like what we hear, but we need to listen. We may feel as though we are not heard, but we have to say what we think and advocate for what we believe is right. I thank those who have stepped up to the challenge.