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Board of Supervisors Department

Lower Russian River Wastewater CAG

Lower Russian River Wastewater Citizens Advisory Group


Meetings are generally held the fourth Thursday of each month from 6 to 8 p.m. Since COVID-19, meetings have been held exclusively online by Zoom.

Members of the public are welcome to attend. For information on how to participate in an upcoming Zoom meeting, please contact Ombudsman Michael Makdisi at


The Lower Russian River Wastewater Citizens Advisory Group (CAG) was created to help inform property owners about efforts to develop sustainable and affordable wastewater solutions for communities in the lower Russian River subject to new state and county onsite wastewater treatment system requirements.

The CAG is also working with the Lower Russian River Interagency Team to identify potential infrastructure and grant opportunities that could assist homeowners and local businesses with the cost of improved wastewater treatment, including onsite septic replacement, small common sewage systems, and district sewer system connection. 

Most of the CAG’s volunteer members live in Monte Rio or Villa Grande, with others from neighboring communities facing similar wastewater management issues. The members have committed to engaging community members with government agencies to work toward effective, long-term solutions to wastewater issues along the lower Russian River, with priority given to affordability, practicability and openness to alternatives.

Citizens Advisory Group Regular Members:

  • Brenda Adelman (Rio Nido), Russian River Watershed Protection Committee
  • Kyla Brooke (Villa Grande), Realtor, LMFT, President of Friends of Villa Grande
  • Dan Fein (Monte Rio), Technology Consultant
  • Rich Holmer (Villa Grande), Septic System Consultant
  • Brian Grant (Monte Rio), Project Coordinator with Praxis Architects
  • Steve Mack (Forestville), Retired General Manager of Sweetwater Springs Water District
  • Steve Trippe (Monte Rio), Retired Non-Profit Executive
  • Sarah Yardley (Hacienda), Retired Civil Engineer
  • Eric Schanz, General Manager of Sweetwater Springs Water District

Citizen Advisory Group Ad-Hoc Member:

  • Cynthia Strecker, Lower Russian River Municipal Advisory Group

Message from the CAG

February 27, 2020

We’ve known for a long time that we have a problem with septic systems along the lower Russian River, and have made many attempts to address the issue. The State and County have now issued new regulations that require us (as individuals) to take action over the coming years.

To help uncover solutions, the State and County have launched a pilot project in Monte Rio/Villa Grande, in part because of our community’s long history of attempting to address the issue. The State and County convened our citizens advisory group to help inform the pilot program, and the good news is that they are listening.

The pilot is now getting started with a plan of study, building on prior efforts and supported with state funds. A consultant firm will be engaged to explore solutions and develop funding options. Solutions include individual septic upgrades, small community systems or connection to a new or existing sewer system. Community meetings are being planned over the life of the project.

Funding sources are being sought to help homeowners defray costs, including special considerations for senior citizens and people with fixed incomes.


The CAG was established in June of 2018 by the Lower Russian River Inter-agency Team (IT), a group of professionals from local and state agencies involved in the implementation of new state regulations intended to reduce pathogen levels in the Russian River Watershed (also referred to as Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL)). Among other source categories, individual Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (OWTS) were identified as contributors of pathogens to the watershed. The TMDL Action Plan, adopted by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board in August of 2019, includes new OWTS requirements intended to help address the pathogen impairment. The communities that are subject to the new OWTS requirements include: Jenner, Cazadero, Camp Meeker, Monte Rio, Villa Grande, Guerneville, Rio Nido, Summer Home Park, Hacienda, Mirabel, and Fitch Mountain, among other possible communities. More information about the TMDL Action Plan can be found  here.

To ensure compliance with the new state regulations, the County recently updated its OWTS Manual, which sets forth the local standards for OWTS. The OWTS Manual can be found  here.

Monte Rio/Villa Grande Wastewater Treatment Project Plan of Study

Several economically disadvantaged communities along the lower Russian River contain homes and businesses that rely on OWTS for treatment and disposal of septic waste. Many of these systems do not meet the current OWTS standards. Because Monte Rio and Villa Grande currently qualify as economically disadvantaged communities, and therefore are eligible to access significant levels of grant funding for planning, design and construction of wastewater treatment systems, these communities were chosen as priority areas for addressing inadequate OWTS. 

In August of 2019, with input from the IT and CAG, the Sonoma County Water Agency requested planning funds from the State of California’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund for the development of a Monte Rio/Villa Grande Wastewater Treatment Project Plan of Study (POS). The POS will analyze alternatives for compliance with state standards for wastewater disposal in the vicinity of Monte Rio and Villa Grande. The goal of the project is to make it easier and more affordable for property owners to bring community wastewater treatment up to current standards and to comply with the new TMDL requirements. The POS will also help to inform efforts in other communities impacted by the new OWTS regulations.

The POS will explore a variety of wastewater treatment alternatives for the two communities, including, but not limited to, construction of an area wide collection system with discharge to a treatment plant, construction of a limited collection system for identified areas, upgrades to individual OWTS, construction of cluster systems for small neighborhoods, and evaluation of alternative forms of waste water treatment, including experimental toilet systems. It will also assess governance issues (including evaluation of the potential for an onsite wastewater management district), consider funding sources for the various alternatives identified in the study, and seek community input to keep the citizenry aware of the progress of the study and to identify community support for the alternatives that are evaluated. 

The Monte Rio and Villa Grande Wastewater Treatment Project will have three phases: 1) Plan of Study 2) Design, and Environmental Documentation, and 3) Construction. A phased approach will ensure that community, local, regional, and state partners have the opportunity to work collaboratively to identify viable options for providing adequate wastewater solutions for properties in the project areas. 

Lower Russian River Wastewater Interagency Team

The Lower Russian River Wastewater Interagency Team was initiated to facilitate cooperation between agencies involved in the implementation of the TMDL regulations. The team currently consists of representatives from the County of Sonoma, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, the County Administrator's Office, Permit Sonoma, and Sonoma Water. 

Interagency Team Members:

  • Charles Reed, North Coast Regional Water Board
  • Kelsey Cody, North Coast Regional Water Board
  • Mike Reese, North Coast Regional Water Board
  • Nathan Quarles, Permit Sonoma
  • Joan Hultberg, Sonoma Water
  • Michael Thompson, Sonoma Water
  • Steve Koldis, Sonoma Water
  • Devin Chatoin, Sonoma Water
  • Leo Chyi, Supervisor Hopkins' Office
  • Barbara Lee, County Administrator's Office
  • Michael Makdisi, Ombudsman