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Photograph by Michael Amsler

Environmental champion: Marty Griffin

Wastewater Distribution

By Janet Wells

Santa Rosa's contract is signed and sealed to send 11 million gallons a day of treated wastewater to the Geysers for energy generation, but the pipeline to the steam fields has a capacity of 40 million gallons a day. Why such a big hose? Some charge it's for an ill-conceived agricultural reuse plan. According to recent stories in the Healdsburg Tribune, the Sonoma County Water Agency has hired a consulting firm to do a feasibility study on a proposal to store and distribute millions of gallons of treated waste water throughout the north county.

The Coalition for Sustainable Agriculture--mostly large winery interests--along with water agency officials and the Santa Rosa Board of Public Utilities, had been pursuing the project for more than a year, but had kept discussion very quiet, according to a Feb. 28 Healdsburg Tribune editorial. The distribution plan could result in 75 miles of distribution pipeline and 17 reservoirs extending from Guerneville to Cloverdale.

"It is an enormous engineering plan; it would change the character of the north county forever," says Martin Griffin, an outspoken environmental activist and owner of Hop Kiln winery in Healdsburg.

Griffin is one of the plaintiffs--along with a group of other Healdsburg area residents--who filed suit against the water agency, the city, and its public utilities board. "My clients don't object to using recycled water for agricultural purposes, but feel not enough study has been done on the potential for groundwater contamination, erosion, and other environmental concerns," plaintiffs' attorney Dotty E. LeMieux said when the suit was filed in mid-March in Sonoma County Superior Court. "They particularly object to what appears to be a secret sweetheart deal between a private corporation representing mostly large wineries and the public agencies charged with protecting the environment."

Griffin is concerned that the wastewater distribution proposal is part of a bigger quest by the water agency to control west county sanitation districts. The water agency assumed responsibility, in 1995, for managing 11 sanitation zones and districts.

"The SCWA has been trying to take over all the wastewater facilities in the county so they will control not just fresh water, but wastewater, which is becoming increasingly valuable," Griffin says.

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From the April 5-11, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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