Federal water act affects Russian River, Lake Sonoma

Posted on May 21, 2014 by Sonoma Valley Sun

Legislation to speed up the Russian River Habitat Restoration to avoid Sonoma County being forced to build a $300 million pipeline will soon be signed into law, its author, Rep. Mike Thompson, said Tuesday. Protecting Lake Sonoma and other high-risk lakes from invasive species was also part of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act negotiated by the House and Senate.

The bill directs the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to continue working with the Sonoma County Water Agency to enhance six miles of endangered coho salmon habitat along Dry Creek, located between Warm Springs Dam and the Russian River near Healdsburg.

This restoration work is required under the Russian River Biological Opinion issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service in 2008 to protect coho salmon, Chinook salmon and steelhead trout — all listed as endangered or threatened under the Federal Endangered Species Act.

Without this new provision, Thompson said, it is unclear if the Army Corps would carry out its responsibilities as required by Biological Opinion, leaving the SCWA solely responsible for fulfilling this work by 2016. However, the amount of work required under the biological opinion can only be achieved with the cooperation of the Army Corps, Thompson said.

“If the requirements made under the biological opinion are not met, Sonoma County would be required to build a $300 million pipeline to mitigate habit impacts,” said Thompson.

Another provision authored by Thompson requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a study on the impacts of aquatic invasive species on federal assets and current federal spending on prevention.

Aquatic invasive species pose a costly challenge to water infrastructure, fisheries, and the environment in local communities across the United States, he said. For example, mussels such as quagga and zebra mussels have cost U.S. communities more than $5 billion since their introduction in the 1980s. 

In Thompson’s 5th Congressional District, Clear Lake, Lake Berryessa and Lake Sonoma are all rated at the highest possible risk level for quagga invasion.

“The problem often only receives attention after an invasive species has become established in a new area and has begun clogging water pipes, infecting plants and animals with dangerous diseases, and out-competing native species,” Thompson said.

If quaggas did invade one of these lakes, Thompson said, control and treatment would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per year and negatively impact the water supply.

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