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.
PG&E has begun relinquishing its control of the Potter
Valley Project. Concerned that this will reduce water supplies,
Santa Rosa is exploring options. Mendocino County’s
century old Potter Valley Project consists of two Eel River
dams, a tunnel diverting some of the Eel into the East Fork of
the Russian River, and an inoperable powerhouse in need of
expensive repairs. … PG&E, which operates the
project, abruptly withdrew its re-licensing application three
years ago. It’s looking to surrender it in 2025. In response to
the 2019 notice, Representative Jared Huffman formed an ad-hoc
group that spawned the “two basin partnership” – a collection
of fisheries advocates, local governments, and tribal
authorities seeking to wrestle control of the Potter Valley
Lake Sonoma, the region’s largest water storage reservoir, has
reached the lowest level in its history after three years of
punishing drought with no end in sight. But there remains
plenty of water to get regional users through this winter and
even into next, said Sonoma Water Deputy Chief Engineer Don
Seymour. … Lake Sonoma currently holds less than 42% of
its water storage capacity after falling continuously since
Jan. 21, when it held 152,474 acre feet of water. (An acre foot
is about 326,000 gallons or enough water to flood most of a
football field a foot deep in water. Estimates vary, but it can
serve roughly one to three average homes for a year, depending
how careful they are with their water use.)
As Northern California finds itself between two desperately
needed rounds of rain, compounding years of drought have taken
a toll across the state and particularly on our
watersheds. For several years now, researchers have been
trying to understand more about how the Russian River watershed
is responding to all of the dry years. It is a study focusing
on the effects of a changing climate and how fish might survive
those conditions. … Nossaman and two other team members
were sloshing their way through Dutch Bill Creek in the hills
of Western Sonoma County, trying to understand this stream like
a doctor knows a patient; Assessing its health in another dry
It all started in 2012 when Otto Walker Willis approached me at
my Mermaid Festival asking for help with the overwhelming
garbage created by multiple encampments along Fife Creek in
Guerneville. Together, we walked the creekbed of this seasonal
tributary to the Russian River to see how this important creek
and habitat was being destroyed. I had been working with
Riverkeeper, Don McEnhill, when he recommended I talk to David
Morton (Horticulturist /Riparian Ecologist), who was working on
the Riverkeeper Park restoration project near downtown. David
immediately made a commitment to restore Fife Creek.
Facing another drought year and the reality that inadequate
groundwater management is leading to a race to the bottom, on
Oct. 4, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors took a critical
step toward sustainable water management by placing a temporary
pause on issuance of new well permits. … Over the next six
months, while the pause is in place, the county will develop
science-based rules to govern groundwater well permits to
ensure impacts of pumping on neighboring streams and downstream
users are accounted for and addressed. All Sonoma County
residents have a stake in improving groundwater management.
This is the county’s chance to change course and ensure we are
better prepared for a warmer future. -Written by Sean Bothwell, executive director for
California Coastkeeper Alliance; and Don
McEnhill, executive director of Russian Riverkeeper.
Many of California’s watersheds are
notoriously flashy – swerving from below-average flows to jarring
flood conditions in quick order. The state needs all the water it
can get from storms, but current flood management guidelines are
strict and unyielding, requiring reservoirs to dump water each
winter to make space for flood flows that may not come.
However, new tools and operating methods are emerging that could
lead the way to a redefined system that improves both water
supply and flood protection capabilities.
California is chock full of rivers and creeks, yet the state’s network of stream gauges has significant gaps that limit real-time tracking of how much water is flowing downstream, information that is vital for flood protection, forecasting water supplies and knowing what the future might bring.
That network of stream gauges got a big boost Sept. 30 with the signing of SB 19. Authored by Sen. Bill Dodd (D-Napa), the law requires the state to develop a stream gauge deployment plan, focusing on reactivating existing gauges that have been offline for lack of funding and other reasons. Nearly half of California’s stream gauges are dormant.
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
The Russian River is one of the major northern streams that drain
the sparsely populated, forested coastal area that stretches from
San Francisco to the Oregon border.
Other North Coast waterways include the Klamath, Trinity, Eel and
Smith [see also North
Coast Rivers]. These rivers and their tributaries flow west
to the Pacific Ocean and account for about 40 percent of the
state’s total runoff.
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
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.