Sonoma County Water Agency eyes flood control

The Sonoma County Water Agency Zone 3A Flood Control Advisory Committee held its annual meeting Tuesday, Dec. 10. The group met so committee members could hear public concerns, updates on current agency projects, proposals for new projects and to set a budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

With only two committee members in attendance, the group was not able to vote on anything, but did hear from the various members of the public, water agency staff and Sonoma Ecology Center staff.

Kent Gylfe, the water agency’s principal engineer, led the meeting, which was held in the Valley of the Moon Water District board room in El Verano.

The water agency, which is based in Santa Rosa, was created in 1949 as a special district by the state legislature to provide flood protection and water supply services. The agency controls the flooding of over 75 miles of streams. In 1995, the water agency was tasked with additional responsibilities of water sanitation and wastewater disposal. In 1958, as delineated in the original legislation, nine geographical zones were formed as a means of financing the construction and maintenance of flood protection projects in the county. Each of the nine zones covers a major watershed. Zone 3A is defined as the Valley of the Moon Watershed, which encompasses upper Sonoma Creek.

At the beginning of the meeting, several members of the public voiced concern over flooding in creeks near their neighborhoods, along with concerns about a lack of groundwater.

David Royal, who manages the water agency’s stream maintenance program, presented an overview of the program and updated the committee on current issues and projects.

The program was originally created to address issues on a case-by-case basis, but has evolved into an all-encompassing maintenance program. The goals of the program are to prevent flooding and maintain regulatory compliance.

Royal explained how he and his team have removed sediment to prevent back ups and maintain flow. He said 2013 was the second largest year for sediment removal, with teams removing 38,000 cubic yards. All sediment is taken to sites in the upper end of the watershed, such as nurseries and dairies that use it on their properties.

Sonoma Ecology Center staff members were also on hand to present current projects to the committee. Mark Newhouser, of the ecology center, outlined a multi-benefit project in which the center was working to restore the habitat around local creeks in the watershed, including Nathanson Creek and Fryer Creek, removing invasive plant species and replacing them with native plants.As part of this project, the center was looking at ways to make the area less impacted by flooding in the case of a surge of water or a storm.

Water agency project manager Susan Haydon presented the City Watershed Project, which Gylfe went on to explain is a multi-benefit project that looks at ways to prevent rapid water flows and flooding, and also seeks to recharge areas of low water with water collected. “Our highest priority is Nathanson Creek because of its high flood impact to the surrounding city and residential areas,” Gylfe said.

He also identified the Kenwood area at the top of the watershed as another priority, since it has a greater chance of massive impact in a flood, as high water would “trickle down into the lower surrounding areas.”

Haydon said the group was awarded grant money to develop a recharge plan – putting water back into the ground or bodies of water in the watershed – as well as a management program.Haydon also noted that, on Jan. 29, there would be a meeting in the Sonoma Community Meeting room to discuss this project.

Among various updates on its projects, Sonoma Ecology Center biologist Caitlin Cornwall announced the center is working on a historical hydrology project to get a better map of where water features were in the past in order to locate areas with good soil and areas of micro-watersheds.

While the committee could not vote to pass a budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year, as not enough committee members were in attendance, the group did discuss a budget with $1,092,000 dedicated to funding projects and watershed maintenance and operations.

For consideration in the proposed budget, three new projects were introduced by Cornwall and ecology center restoration project manager Newhouser. The first, explained Cornwall, is a community-based flood reduction model, estimated to cost $16,800, with the goal of addressing water management issues through an outreach program to “change the behavior of water users.” This project is aimed at educating the public in order to conserve more water and be more mindful of water usage.

The next project is an evaluation of sites needing flood management in the Nathanson Creek area of the watershed, upstream of the City of Sonoma, estimated to cost $31,500.

The final project, estimated to cost $124,000, is a habitat and vegetation management project that would allow the water agency and the ecology center to continue to maintain the Fryer Creek project. Newhouser said it would also enable the group to start work on the west leg of the bike path, near the western parts of Third and Fourth streets.

During the last session for public comment, local landowner Bill Montini asked the water agency and ecology center to look at overflowing storm drains to see if water can be put back into ditches to reduce areas of perennial flooding through distribution. Gylfe pointed to projects looking at detention basins, to capture flows and water recharge as solutions, while Newhouser said conducting a survey of storm drains may be pertinent in the coming year.

Gylfe announced the next committee meeting would be held in late fall of 2014.

The water agency’s Basin Advisory Panel, which oversees groundwater management in Sonoma Valley, was set to meet in the afternoon on Thursday, Dec. 12, to discuss current projects and review its five-year plan to more effectively and efficiently manage water.

For more information about the water agency, go to sonomacountywater.org.