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Our County by Efren Carrillo

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Our County by Efren Carrillo - August 2016

by Efren Carrillo

Exciting developments marking improvements for our river, fisheries, and student education are nearly completed. For over two years, crews have been reconstructing and improving the fish passage to provide safer conditions for endangered fish at the Russian River Diversion Structure, more commonly known as the Wohler Dam

The engineering feats involved in improving the fish passage and inflatable rubber dam have resulted in a nearly 3- year-long construction project which includes a very special feature. In concert with the recently opened Water Education facility – which offers environmental education, water awareness, and curriculum to thousands of students each year within the Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) service area – the fish passage project includes an amazing viewing gallery! Students at the Education Center will have the opportunity to hike from that facility near the Wohler Bridge to the new Fish Passage viewing gallery, where they will be able to watch migrating fish in action. Even though the project will not be completed and ready for use until late Fall, the windows are in and smolts (juvenile fish) can be seen migrating toward the estuary in Jenner. 

It’s a beautiful sight, and the only project of its kind in California! I served for several years on Fish and Wildlife’s Peer Review Committee, reviewing projects all over the state for funding. While I could not vote on the funding for this project, it was very gratifying to see it recommended and funded several years ago. Now, I look forward to sharing this experience with Matias and Maximiliano when they attend their 5th grade water education classes. Additionally SCWA will hold group tours on a regular basis throughout the year, more information coming soon about that.

In other river news, the Dry Creek Habitat Enhancement project endeavors to protect endangered fish species through cooperative efforts between property owners and SCWA. By creating habitat features that include low-velocity areas for juvenile coho and steelhead along six miles of Dry Creek, backwater pools and side channels a refuge for young fish featuring natural materials such as logs and large rocks encourages the recovery of our salmonid and steelhead populations. 

Salmon Stewards of Dry Creek is a SCWA designation recognizing that without willing landowners these projects would not be possible. The cooperation from property owners and the Dry Creek community has been tremendous. Stabilizing the banks, reducing erosion, and creating resting places for young fish all lead to increase viability. The fish have had a tough few years, with the drought impacting their upstream spawning areas, and these efforts have been critical to the survival of young fish. 

While we’re discussing the river, there is finally good news to report about our water supply. While we did not receive a record amount of rainfall this past winter as hoped, both Lake Mendocino – which was critically dry – and Lake Sonoma have over 95% of their available water storage level available. This is fantastic news after 4 hard years of drought. While we are happy that our supply levels have improved, we continue to encourage everyone to conserve water by making permanent changes to household use and landscape needs. Our Mediterranean climate ensures that we will face dry years again, and perhaps on an increasingly regular basis.

Next, let’s talk marijuana. Supervisor Gorin and I serve on a Board AdHoc to form policies that will be designed to preserve our environmental resources, protect community health and safety, and ensure that the industry will contribute positively to the economic vitality of our County. 

The state regulatory landscape is changing and Sonoma County will be shaping the future of the local marijuana industry in a way that recognizes the unique character of our County and its communities. In February, the Board passed a resolution directing staff to engage in a comprehensive regulatory process to develop new zoning regulations to permit cultivation storage, distribution, deliveries, and manufacturing. Each board member held a town hall to take input from the community during July and early August – and you can weigh in online where there is a pretty robust survey at the County Administrator’s webpage: sonomacounty.ca.gov/CAO/Medical-Marijuana/

Lastly, I’d like to thank Senator McGuire for hosting a terrific community forum in Guerneville during July. It is great to have his attention directed to West County. That sort of engagement has been a long time coming from our elected officials at the state, and we appreciate his hard work and advocacy for us. As an aside, we have Senator McGuire and Assemblyman Jim Wood to thank for helping to bring the marijuana industry out of the shadows and into compliance with regulations and environmental protections. Hats off to both of them!