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Competing water priorities in Sonoma County

If, for the last five years, you have followed the news about the flow of Sonoma’s water supply from what should be its primary catchment in Lake Sonoma behind Warm Springs Dam, then you know that the availability of that water during periods of peak summer demand is uncertain.

It’s uncertain because, after years of river management negligence, and following the precipitous decline of coho salmon, Chinook salmon and steelhead trout in the Russian River, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued a biological opinion in 2008 mandating that steps be taken to restore the river’s fishery habitat to a level that would be self-sustaining.

That official opinion, driven by the Endangered Species Act, put habitat restoration first, above all other beneficial uses of Russian River water. As a result, a series of steps is being taken to enhance and restore nursery features in the bed of Dry Creek, which serves as both a nursery for juvenile salmonid fish, and as the delivery channel for stored water released from Warm Springs Dam. Enhancement, in this case, means limiting the amount of summertime water released so that young fish aren’t flushed out of their nursery pools.

Habitat recovery therefore dictates that first we fix the fishery, then we fix the water supply.

And that leads us to the continuously contentious Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), which has an infinitely more complex ecosystem to restore and far greater demand for a finite water supply. The $14 billion centerpiece of the BDCP is a pair of 35-mile-long tunnels to be dug under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to transport fresh Sacramento River water straight to the pumps that feed the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project.

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