The Russian River drains the sparsely populated, forested coastal area that stretches from San Francisco to the Oregon border.
Along the Russian, federally funded dams have created Lake Mendocino (at the Coyote Dam) and Lake Sonoma (Warm Springs Dam). Locally built aqueducts channel water from these lakes into growing Marin and Sonoma counties.
The Russian River is one of the most flood-prone rivers in California, routinely overflowing during wet years. As storm systems approach California, the wet bands of clouds are uplifted by the Coast Range, releasing precipitation first and most intensely on the coastal streams. One flood control dam is on the Russian River and one on Dry Creek, a tributary to the Russian River, which can capture about 20 percent of flood flows.
In addition to flooding issues, the Russian River faces other challenges to balance competing demands for its water. In an area that was once legacy to massive numbers of salmon and steelhead, restoring the fishery has been a key focus, while water providers must accommodate municipal needs as well as those of grape growers in one of the world’s most prized wine-producing regions.
Dam operators are planning to store nearly 4 billion extra gallons of water this winter in Lake Mendocino, the reservoir near Ukiah that plays a critical role in providing water for residents, ranchers and fish along the upper Russian River and to communities in Sonoma and Marin counties.
Chris Brokate did not intend to spark a revolution in watershed management when he hauled a load of trash from the Russian River in his weathered Chevy pick-up in 2014. The Forestville man simply spotted a need after winter storms flushed debris from the river’s mouth onto the beach near the coastal community of Jenner.
It has been a beloved summer destination for generations of Northern California families, and a blue ribbon fishery for steelhead and salmon. It has been mined, diverted, and dammed, tapped for its water and used as a sewer. It has rampaged during torrential winter storms and shrunken to a tepid trickle during drought.
To some it’s a source of artistic inspiration. To others it’s an endangered natural wonder in grave need of protection. But to most who make an annual summer pilgrimage to the Russian River — whether for an afternoon’s respite or a week’s true escape — it’s a place to shed worldly concerns and embrace the season’s mandate: relax.
In California’s small coastal streams, where hundreds of thousands of Coho salmon once returned each year to spawn, most wild populations now barely cling to survival. Habitat loss and intensive water use have pushed them to the brink; now climate change and increasing competition for water resources could send them over the edge.
Sonoma County is poised to benefit from millions of dollars in parks, water and land conservation funding from the new $4.1 billion state bond measure approved by California voters last week. Proposition 68 will generate at least $400,000 for the county’s Regional Parks system and half that amount for each municipal park district in the county.
Public agencies are hopeful that a feverish effort to deploy thousands of straw wattles and other barriers around burned structures, charred hillsides and storm drain inlets prevented some pollution from occurring with storm runoff. But strategic stream testing will help measure their success as water quality engineers and experts gear up for what will be a long-term campaign to protect water resources and restore scorched watersheds into the rainy season and beyond.
Signs at Russian River beaches warning of the potential for harmful blue-green algae in the water were being taken down Thursday, after tests failed to detect the presence of algae-related toxins in recent weeks. Only highly diluted concentrations of an algae-produced toxin were found in the river this summer even when tests sporadically came back positive, health officials said.
North Coast water regulators are taking another run at a comprehensive program to prevent bacterial contamination of the Russian River, one that includes provisions likely to have significant impacts for thousands of homeowners dependent on aging septic systems.
The Russian River tested clean this week for a toxin related to blue-green algae that prompted cautionary signs at 10 popular beaches last month and in each of the past two summers. The river remains open to swimming and other recreation.
Sonoma County officials posted caution signs at beaches up and down the Russian River on Wednesday alerting visitors to positive test results for a potentially dangerous, naturally occurring neurotoxin linked to harmful algae, a problem surfacing around Northern California this summer.
Monte Rio Beach on the lower Russian River was declared safe for swimming and was reopened to the public Wednesday, just in time for a heat wave that’s expected to send temperatures back toward the century mark this weekend.
Sonoma County health officials have closed Monte Rio Beach on the Russian River to swimming, wading and other activities that would put visitors in direct contact with the water because of elevated bacterial levels in the wake of an extremely busy holiday weekend.
The Russian River surged to its highest level in a decade Wednesday and deepened flooding woes, while across the North Coast, crews in cities as well as rural areas scrambled to re-open roads, clear toppled trees, restore power and bring normalcy back to a region battered by four days of punishing winter storms.
Flooding and mudslides triggered by weekend storms forced evacuations Monday from threatened homes along the Russian River, ahead of a second storm bearing down Tuesday on the North Coast, bringing the potential for several more inches of rain.
A massive concrete structure, built to withstand floods and earthquakes beside the Russian River near Forestville, is the latest step toward restoring the river’s beleaguered salmon and steelhead populations.
Interested parties appear likely to get the extra time many have requested to review and comment on some 3,600 pages of study for a plan to permanently reduce summertime flows in the Russian River and Dry Creek to benefit imperiled fish species.
Critics of a permanent plan to curtail summertime flows in the Russian River blasted Sonoma County supervisors Tuesday, with many saying the long-anticipated shift in water management would devastate lower river communities and economies dependent on recreation and tourism.
Wednesday’s trip from the foot of Lake Mendocino to a ranch south of Ukiah marked the start of the “Headwaters to Ocean Descent,” organized by LandPaths and Russian Riverkeeper and led by Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore, with the first three-day float this week and two more segments planned in September and October.
The first of a pair of storms pounded Northern California on Thursday, bringing heavy bands of rain to the North Bay, causing minor flooding and mudslides, and raising the specter that the flood-prone Russian River might spill its banks.
Northern California’s Russian River tends to be a pretty sedate blur of sandy beaches and redwood groves, so when Joe Whitworth and his team row a camera-studded green orb down a 60-mile stretch one morning, they catch some long stares.
A newly developed plan designed to improve water quality in the Russian River and address fecal bacterial contamination throughout the watershed will have profound ramifications for many North Coast residents, as state regulators target faulty sewage systems and other means through which human and animal waste may be entering waterways.
Thousands of landowners along Sonoma County’s four major coho salmon spawning streams would be required to report their use of water from both surface sources and wells under proposed new state regulations intended to protect the highly endangered fish species.
From the State Water Resources Control Board: “The State Water Resources Control Board has posted a proposed emergency regulation to provide a minimum amount of water in four Russian River tributaries to protect Central California Coast coho salmon and steelhead.”
Sonoma County’s effort to implement one of its most controversial land use policies — protective buffer zones along 3,200 miles of rivers and streams — has reignited a pitched debate between environmental organizations, farmers and private property rights activists about how to best protect and manage waterways throughout the county.
A plan by PG&E to temporarily shut down a powerhouse that feeds water from the Eel River to the Russian River may cut into consumer supplies this winter by further reducing the amount of water coming into Lake Mendocino.
The state Supreme Court on Wednesday allowed California regulators to order farmers along the Russian River to reduce cold-weather water sprays that have helped preserve their crops while killing thousands of endangered salmon.
Construction crews that have spent more than two years reconfiguring a mile-long stretch of Dry Creek outside Healdsburg are about to mark completion of the critical first leg of what, by 2020, is to be a six-mile project designed to create new habitat for threatened and endangered fish.
This 25-minute documentary-style DVD, developed in partnership with the California Department of Water Resources, provides an excellent overview of climate change and how it is already affecting California. The DVD also explains what scientists anticipate in the future related to sea level rise and precipitation/runoff changes and explores the efforts that are underway to plan and adapt to climate.
A new look for our most popular product! And it’s the perfect gift for the water wonk in your life.
Our 24×36 inch California Water Map is widely known for being the definitive poster that shows the integral role water plays in the state. On this updated version, it is easier to see California’s natural waterways and man-made reservoirs and aqueducts – including federally, state and locally funded projects – the wild and scenic rivers system, and natural lakes. The map features beautiful photos of California’s natural environment, rivers, water projects, wildlife, and urban and agricultural uses and the text focuses on key issues: water supply, water use, water projects, the Delta, wild and scenic rivers and the Colorado River.
Travel most anywhere in California and there is a river, creek or stream nearby. Some are highly noticeable and are an integral part of the community. Others are more obscure, with intermittent flows or enclosed by boxed concrete flood channels that conceal their true appearance. No matter the location, each area shares some common themes: cooperation and conflict regarding water allocations, greater water conservation, an awareness of environmental stewardship, and plans that ensure long-term sustainability.
This printed issue of Western Water examines the Russian and Santa Ana rivers – areas with ongoing issues not dissimilar to the rest of the state – managing supplies within a lingering drought, improving water quality and revitalizing and restoring the vestiges of the native past.