[caption id="attachment_93200" align="alignnone" width="500"] Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, in Santa Rosa on June 2 said the recently passed H.R. 3080 will allow water to keep flowing from Lake Sonoma to households in Sonoma and Marin counties. (credit: Jeff Quackenbush)[/caption]

SANTA ROSA -- Part of federal legislation for water projects nationwide heading to the president's desk is long-sought authorization for restoration projects to benefit protected fish in Dry Creek, allowing water to flow from Lake Sonoma to pumps in the Russian River that supply more than 600,000 people in Sonoma and northern Marin counties without an estimated $300 million bypass pipeline, North Coast congressmen announced Monday.

"The passage of this legislation is a huge win for Sonoma County on two fronts," said Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena. Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, was also present for the Santa Rosa press conference on the legislation.

A provision in Section 1028 of H.R. 3080, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, allows the U.S. Corps of Engineers to enter into cost-sharing for fish habitat projects downstream of its operations. That will allow the Corps to improve habitat along six miles of Dry Creek, which is supplied from the Corp's Warm Springs Dam on Lake Sonoma.

Those upgrades are required under the September 2008 Russian River biological opinion by National Marine Fisheries Service for the Corps and Sonoma County Water Agency in order to allow the 110- to 175-cubic-feet-a-second summer flow rates in the creek. Without the new authorization, the water agency would have had to build a pipeline from the dam to the river to avoid increasing the flow of water in the creek.

"Our board has been advocating for biological opinion authorization language for many years," said Shirlee Zane, a member of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and a director of the water agency because of that role.

Another part of H.R. 3080, Section 1039, requires the Government Accountability Office to study the impact of invasive species in the water. Lake Sonoma is rated at the highest possible risk level for invasion by the quagga, or zebra, mussel.

"The cost of dealing with these invasive species after they become established in a new area is often far higher than the cost of prevention," Rep. Thompson said.

The water bill, last authorized in 2007, passed the House of Representatives 412-4 on May 20 and the Senate 91-7 on May 22.

Lake Sonoma, which was at 73.9 percent capacity as of Friday, is an important part of the water agency's supply, considering the other major source of Russian River water, Lake Mendocino, was at 46 percent capacity.

A biological opinion is developed under the Endangered Species Act and allows one federal agency to study the impacts on protected species by the operations of another agency. The Russian River biological opinion resulted from 10 years of studies. It found that State Water Resources Control Board's Decision 1610 of 1986 on water flows in the river and its tributaries, based on biologist input, was too high for juvenile steelhead and coho salmon to survive.

Designed by Inter-Fluve, the first mile of restoration work is set to be constructed this year, according to the water agency.

In addition to the Dry Creek work, the 2008 biological opinion, designed to last for 15 years, also called for less summer dredging of the mouth of the Russian River to protect a freshwater lagoon and eliminating obstacles to fish spawning.