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In Brief: Sonoma County Abandons Russian River Water Plan

Acting as the Sonoma County Water Agency, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to drop a long-held and controversial plan for additional water diversions from the Russian River. The September 15 decision by the board angered five cities and a Marin County district served by the water agency, because those entities have planned on the additional Russian River water being available to serve future development.

The Sonoma County Water Agency currently has rights to take 75,000 acre-feet of water per year from the Russian River. Ten years ago, the agency applied to the State Water Resources Control Board for permission to take up to 101,000 acre-feet annually. The state has never acted on the proposal, which environmental organizations have opposed and cities have supported.

Environmental and fiscal considerations finally forced the county to abandoned the water plan. Because of a mandate to protect coho salmon habitat in Dry Creek, the county would probably not be able to use the creek to move the additional summertime water from Lake Sonoma storage to the water system. Instead, the county would have to build a 24-mile pipeline at cost of more than $400 million. At the same time, implementation of a 15-year fisheries recovery plan required by the federal government is likely to cost $100 million, according to the water agency. There simply is not enough money for everything, according to supervisors and agency staff members.

The agency provides water to Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Petaluma, Windsor, Sonoma a small part of unincorporated Sonoma County and the North Marin Water District. Agency officials say they can continue to provide enough water for many years, largely based on implementing conservation efforts. However, Santa Rosa sued the county to halt the Board of Supervisors from even considering abandoning the 101,000 acre-foot application. A court declined to intervene, but additional litigation appears certain.
    

The City of Marina, the Fort Ord Reuse Authority and California State University, Monterey Bay, have signed an agreement to settle an 11-year dispute over the effects of university expansion at the former Army base.
 
The city and the reuse authority sued the university in 1998, charging that the campus master plan's environmental impact report did not fully address remedies for the effects of campus expansion on traffic and emergency fire services. The state Supreme Court eventually ruled in City of Marina v. Board of Trustees, (2006) 39 Cal.4th 341 that the university could not ignore the off-campus effects of its expansion (see CP&DR Legal Digest, September 2006). While it ruled that the authority could not assess an impact fee on CSU Monterey Bay, the court said that the university must negotiate with the authority over the school's contributions to the former base's infrastructure needs.
 
The agreement, signed in September, limits daily vehicle trips to and from campus to about 13,000 (up from the current 8,500). The university also agreed to seek $1.34 million from the Legislature to cover its share of the cost of a regional water augmentation project and $52,000 to help fund a habitat conservation program. If the Legislature does not allocate the money, the university must pursue other funding sources.
 
 
Gov. Schwarzenegger has signed a compact with the Habematolel Pomo tribe that could lead to development of the fourth Indian casino in Lake County.
 
The tribe plans to build its casino on 11 acres near the town of Upper Lake and only two miles west of the Robinson Rancheria's casino on Highway 20. The tribe still needs to gain the consent of the Legislature and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to proceed. The tribe eventually wants to build a large casino and hotel on the land. The compact calls for it to pay the state 15% of net casino revenues, while a separate agreement with Lake County requires the tribe to pay a 1% assessment on its property and to make other fiscal contributions to local government.
 
In 2001, the Habematolel Pomo tribe proposed building a $200 million casino in West Sacramento, a project that met significant opposition and died.
 
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Josh Stephens on The Urban Mystique at SPUR: January 19
On Tuesday, January 19, please join CP&DR Contributing Editor Josh Stephens and our friends at SPUR for a conversation about his book The Urban Mystique and the ineffable complexities that make all cities wondrous, maddening, and fascinating.
Registration: https://www.spur.org/events/2021-01-19/urban-mystique

New Book by Josh Stephens!