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.
[S]ome scientists [are] saying the region is on the precipice
of permanent drought. That’s because in 2000, the
Western U.S. entered the beginning of what scientists call
a megadrought — the second worst in 1,200 years —
triggered by a combination of a natural dry cycle and
human-caused climate change. In the past 20 years,
the two worst stretches of drought came in 2003 and 2013 — but
what is happening right now appears to be the beginning stages
of something even more severe. And as we head into the summer
dry season, the stage is set for an escalation of extreme dry
conditions, with widespread water restrictions expected and yet
another dangerous fire season ahead.
The theme of the April 14 meeting of the Cloverdale City
Council is seemingly water — the council will be viewing a
presentation on its updated water and sewer rate study and
giving direction on whether or not to proceed to a public
hearing with new rates, and will also be discussing whether or
not it wants to join the Sonoma-Marin Saving Water
Drought is returning to California as a second, consecutive
parched winter draws to a close in the usually wet north,
leaving the state’s major reservoirs half empty. But this
latest period of prolonged dryness will probably play out very
differently across this vast state. In Northern
California, areas dependent on local supplies, such as Sonoma
County, could be the hardest-hit. Central Valley growers have
been told of steep cuts to upcoming water deliveries.
Environmentalists too are warning of grave harm to native
fish. Yet, hundreds of miles to the south, the
Metropolitan Water District of Southern California reports
record amounts of reserves — enough to carry the state’s most
populous region through this year and even next.
Larry Brown …was a renowned research scientist who was
recently acknowledged by a Stanford study as among the world’s
top 2% of scientists in his field.,,,In 1991, Larry joined the
U.S. Geological Survey as a research scientist, an association
that lasted the rest of his career.
We’re facing another very dry year, which follows one of the
driest on record for Northern California and one of the hottest
on record statewide. The 2012-16 drought caused
unprecedented stress to California’s ecosystems and pushed many
native species to the brink of extinction, disrupting water
management throughout the state. Are we ready to manage
our freshwater ecosystems through another drought? -Written by Jeffrey Mount, senior fellow,
and Caitrin Chappelle, associate director, at
the Public Policy Institute of California Water Policy
Those of us in the water industry are always looking for new
ways to ask our customers to save, conserve, and never waste
water. And we do that for good reason. We live in a region
prone to regular periods of drought, punctuated by sudden and
catastrophic floods. Last year we had a very dry year, and this
water year is off to a very dry start as well. Sonoma Water,
which supplies drinking water to 600,000 residents in Sonoma
and Marin counties, relies on rainfall to fill our reservoirs
and consecutive years of below-average rainfall are always
cause for concern. Will this be a two-year dry spell, or the
beginning of a multi-year drought? Written by Barry Dugan, Senior Programs Specialist in
the Community and Government Affairs Division at Sonoma
California’s large reservoirs are currently operated using
historical hydrology and outdated assumptions about the state’s
climate. Many experts are calling for changing how reservoirs
are managed to reflect advances in weather forecasting, which
can help the state adapt to a warmer, more volatile climate. We
talked to Martin Ralph—director of the Center for Western
Weather and Water Extremes at the Scripps Institution of
Oceanography—about advances in this field.
White Pine Renewables has completed a floating solar array in
northern California that the company claims is the largest such
project in the United States. The 4.8 MW Healdsburg Floating
Solar Project was installed on ponds at a wastewater treatment
plant in Healdsburg, California. It will deliver energy to the
city under under a 25-year power purchase agreement. The
company chose the project site and floating PV approach to help
reduce evaporation and algae growth at the ponds. The
electricity will cover around 8% of the city’s total energy
demand and move it toward its goal of 60% renewable energy
usage before 2030.
With much of Northern California swathed in a severe drought,
the city of Healdsburg is asking residents to voluntarily
conserve water by reducing irrigation and switching to drought
resistant plants, fixing leaky faucets and running clothes and
dishwashers at full capacity. As of Jan. 19, precipitation was
at 40% of normal rainfall according to Felicia Smith, a utility
conservation analyst with the city of Healdsburg.
Modern forecasting methods fueled by advances in understanding
and predicting atmospheric river storms have enabled U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers (USACE) operators to better optimize water
resources at Lake Mendocino, a Northern California reservoir. A
multi-agency report issued Feb. 4, 2021, describes how
these forecasting tools have helped operators increase the
lake’s dry season stores of drinking water, improve its ability
to alleviate flood risk, and enhance environmental conditions
in the downstream Russian River to support salmonid
For years, Gamble Vineyards has worked to create a more
biodiverse habitat on vineyard land, including establishing
animal sanctuaries throughout the property and donating acreage
to the Napa River Restoration project. Now the river’s growing
beaver population is chewing the trees that Gamble has planted
over the last 20 years.
A new set of winery wastewater guidelines will be imposed on a
statewide basis. The State Water Resources Control Board
recently adopted a general order regulating how wastewater will
be processed and discharged. … While the wine industry
is concerned with water quality issues, there is some concern
that a statewide mandate may not be the best approach to the
Sandbars are spreading across rain-starved Lake Mendocino, the
reservoir near Ukiah that is 35 feet lower than it was a year
ago, a grim wintertime sight for the second major source of
water for more than 655,000 people in Sonoma, Mendocino and
Marin counties. But the situation would be considerably worse
without the payoff from a six-year, $50 million project
applying high-tech weather forecasting to management of the
reservoir behind Coyote Valley Dam built on the East Fork of
the Russian River in 1958.
In anticipation of the first big storm of the winter, the
Sonoma County Water Agency (Sonoma Water) on Tuesday, January
26, 2021 will begin the process of deflating its rubber dam
located in the Russian River near Forestville. Sonoma Water
routinely deflates the rubber dam when Russian River flow
forecasts show the river reaching 2,000 cubic feet per second
(cfs) in order to prevent damage to the rubber dam from the
high flows. The forecasted winter storm this week is expected
to raise river flows above 5,000 cfs by Thursday.
About a mile of bare, cracked earth now lies like a desertscape
between the boat ramp at the north end of Lake Mendocino and
the water’s edge of a diminished reservoir that helps provide
water for 600,000 Sonoma and Marin County residents. The
human-made lake near Ukiah is about 30 feet lower than it was
at this time last year, and Nick Malasavage, an Army Corps of
Engineers official who oversees operations at the reservoir,
said the scene is “pretty jarring.”
For many years Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has operated the
“Potter Valley Project,” a hydroelectric facility on the main
stem of the Eel River consisting of Scott and Cape Horn dams
and a tunnel diverting water into the Russian River watershed,
where it is used to generate a small amount of electricity and
for irrigation by farmers in Potter Valley and farther south in
Sonoma County. The construction of Scott Dam in 1922
completely blocked passage of critically imperiled anadromous
fish including salmon, steelhead and lamprey…
Water levels at the coastal mouth of the Russian River had
declined by late Thursday afternoon, eliminating the threat of
flooding in the town of Jenner, according to a release from
Sonoma Water, the county water agency. High waves pounded the
Sonoma Coast for days, creating a large mound of sand that
sealed the mouth of the river. The waves’ intensity initially
kept Sonoma Water from sending a heavy equipment operator to
dig a channel that would release the water from the river into
The company behind a luxury resort and residential project near
Healdsburg is facing a $6.4 million fine over dozens of alleged
water quality violations involving streams that feed into the
Russian River, according to state water officials.
Lake Mendocino currently sits at 712 ft above sea
level… That’s very low. But despite years of dry
conditions … it’s not the lowest the lake has ever been.
Thanks to a new set of satellite technologies and water
management techniques dubbed FIRO, or Forecast Informed
Reservoir Operations (pronounced FEE-roh), the lake is still
more than a dozen feet above its record low.
Global climate experts are predicting a moderate to strong La
Niña weather event this year, meaning a stormy season for most
parts of the world but possibly drier-than-normal conditions in
Right now, the Mendocino County Sustainable Groundwater Agency
is writing up a groundwater sustainability plan for the basin.
The plan will regulate groundwater in the Ukiah Valley basin
for the first time ever, and will define how water is managed
in and near Redwood Valley, Calpella, and Ukiah for perpetuity.
Poor erosion control on the 258-acre site unleashed soils into
streams of the Russian River watershed and put fish and other
other aquatic wildlife at risk, regulators found, counteracting
millions of dollars spent to improve habitat and restore
imperiled, protected runs of salmon and steelhead…
Creek Week (starting the fourth week of September), and
California’s Coastal Cleanup Day all coincide in September to
encourage public participation in keeping our water free of
harmful pollutants, with a primary focus on removing trash from
The city of Rohnert Park is encouraging community members to
continue water conservation efforts although Sonoma Water has
lifted its emergency water conservation request. Sonoma Water
issued the emergency request as a precaution because its water
production facilities are situated along the Russian River
within the fire evacuation zone.
In burning to the edge of Lake Sonoma, the Walbridge fire has
posed an unprecedented threat to the water supply for 600,000
North Bay residents and scorched Sonoma County streams critical
to the revival of imperiled fish. … Experts estimate half of
the spawning habitat on Russian River tributaries has been
burned, dealing a potential setback to expensive, longstanding
efforts to bolster coho salmon and steelhead trout populations.
Sonoma Water, in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers, made a request this week for the mobilization of a
Watershed Emergency Response Team, a state team than can assess
the damage and propose mitigation plans for a five-mile stretch
of the Lake Sonoma area that burned in the Walbridge Fire.
With Lake Mendocino losing about a foot of water every five
days, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers declared that 2020 is
the “third driest year on record for the basin.” Though 2019
“was one of the wettest years over the past 25 years, this year
is stacking up to be one of the driest,” the Army Corps
explained…However, the Army Corps said a new forecasting
model for storms developed over the last few years has
definitely helped maintain the lake’s water levels.
The Sonoma County Water Agency filed a Temporary Urgency Change
Petition with the State Water Resources Control Board to reduce
Russian River minimum in-stream flows this summer. With the
Ukiah region facing its third driest water year on record, Lake
Mendocino’s water supply is projected to reach critically low
levels due to dry conditions and reduced water transfers from
the Potter Valley Project.
In a stark reminder that drought has once again taken hold on
the North Coast, Sonoma County is preparing to ask state water
regulators for permission to reduce water levels in the Russian
River this summer to conserve water stored in Lake Mendocino
and ensure minimal late-season flows for fish.
This network has been built up over 20+ years during several
epochs, including most recently in support of Forecast-Informed
Reservoir Operations with USACE and Sonoma Water, and with an
eye toward developing knowledge of what observations would be
needed in the future to support California’s needs for
hydrometeorological information related to drought and flood
monitoring and mitigation across the state.
Increased frequency and severity of droughts threatens
California’s endangered salmon population — but pools that
serve as drought refuges could make the difference between life
and death for these vulnerable fish, according to a study by
researchers from UC Berkeley and California Sea Grant…
The Round Valley Indian Tribes, California Trout, Humboldy
County, the Mendocino Inland Water and Power Commission and
Sonoma Water have formed a group called the Two-Basin
Partnership and announced the filing of a feasibility report
with FERC on Wednesday.
A partnership of numerous Northern California agencies intends
to file an initial plan to acquire the Potter Valley project
from the Pacific Gas and Electric Co., multiple sources
confirmed. The coalition will submit a document to the Federal
Energy Regulatory Commission for its consideration. If
approved, the group may be able to form a partnered ownership
of complex water infrastructure dividing the Eel and Russian
Following poor rainfall this winter and rising water demand in
recent years, the Marin Municipal Water District is considering
a major purchase of Sonoma County water as insurance for a
potential dry period.
Battered by fires, flooding, power outages and a mass
evacuation in recent years, Sonoma County residents now have to
brace for revival of the D-word — for drought. … Sonoma
County experienced a bone-dry February, a first in the area’s
history and the nadir of a rain season, now nearly over, that
has given Santa Rosa just 18 inches of rain — well over a foot
shy of the nearly 34-inch average for this time of year.
The local steelhead run is at the height of its roughly
four-month window, when adult fish raised from eggs at the Don
Clausen Hatchery return from the ocean, swimming up the Russian
River and Dry Creek. Returning salmon — including wild and
hatchery raised chinook and coho — make similar journeys
through the watershed, but their spawning seasons are a bit
Two Italian-style restaurants have drawn generations of diners
to Occidental while serving pasta, pizza and soup — in recent
years under the burden of the steepest sewage treatment rates
in Sonoma County and among the highest in California. … There
could be some help coming from Graton, about 6 miles to the
east with an underutilized wastewater plant… But there’s a
Rivers are vital. Like life-giving arteries, they deliver water
for drinking and irrigation and fertile soil for vineyards and
farms. They support watersheds teeming with life. But humans
are hard on rivers. We crowd their banks, dump waste in them
and take out water, fish and other resources. … When that
happens, who speaks for the river?
Nearly a year after construction was halted a second time at a
large resort project at the north end of Healdsburg when
water-quality regulators allegedly found millions of gallons of
sediment-filled stormwater running off into Russian River
tributaries, the agency announced it is pursuing a $4.9 million
fine against the developer.
The Russian River flowed with a cherry red tint Wednesday after
tens of thousands of gallons of fresh cabernet sauvignon wine
poured into the largest tributary in Sonoma County. The wine —
enough to fill more than 500,000 bottles — spilled from a
Rodney Strong Vineyards’ storage tank at the Healdsburg
A move by the Trump administration to roll back landmark
environmental policy intended to ensure vigorous scrutiny of
federal infrastructure projects has struck alarm in the hearts
of California conservationists, particularly those striving to
safeguard North Coast waters from offshore energy exploration
Homeless volunteers collect so much trash in the Russian River
watershed — 150,000 pounds as of October this year — that the
state Water Resources Control Board sees it as a model for the
rest of California.
CalTrout has identified Scott Dam, which impounds Eel River
water in Lake Pillsbury, as one of five aging dams it considers
“ripe for removal,” especially in the wake of PG&E’s
license surrender. There is, however, a potential middle course
backed by Friends of the Eel River, a Eureka-based nonprofit
that has long called for the dam’s removal.
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.
In Napa County, adjacent to Sonoma and the source of perhaps
the most expensive cabernet sauvignon outside of Bordeaux,
activists are pushing back against a steady conversion of
woodland into new vineyards. Kellie Anderson, an independent
watchdog who has harried local officials for years to step up
enforcement of environmental laws, says the county’s planning
department has ignored numerous violations by grape growers.
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.
The project includes improvements along more than 3 miles of
dirt roads, repairing culverts and building erosion control
features designed to reduce sediment flow into the creek. The
aim is to protect gravel nests, called redds, where female
salmon and steelhead lay their eggs, suffocating the eggs as
well as clogging the gills of adult fish…
Lake Mendocino made it through a typically long, hot summer
with an abundance of water and now, thanks to an ongoing
experiment with high-tech weather forecasting, the reservoir
can retain more water through the winter, benefiting people,
fish and farmers along the Russian River.
Russian River communities impacted by the 2019 flood may soon
see some help, as a budget trailer bill signed last week by
Gov. Gavin Newsom promises $1.5 million to the area that
suffered 100 landslides and slipouts and faces at least $155
million in damage.
A white egret delicately dips its beak into a small puddle. A
mother otter and pups dive and roll in a clear, still pool.
Tiny minnows dart in the shady shallows. And all of this takes
place a stone’s throw from backyards and byways. Our local
creeks and streams are literal rivers of life flowing through
Sonoma County communities.
An influx of Bay Area visitors to Sonoma County’s bucolic
riverlands has spiked in recent years, bringing with it a
problem typically reserved for the privacy of one’s own home.
People are pooping in public.
Over the last two decades most urban creeks have been reverted
from straight, lifeless channels back to more naturalized
streams that still provide flood protection but are now
abundant with trees, grasses and wildlife. … Despite these
tremendous advances, the 150 creeks in the Russian River
watershed and the critters that live in them are vulnerable.
Water managers across the state face new and more extreme
challenges as the climate warms—from balancing the sometimes
conflicting needs of urban, agricultural, and environmental
water users to reducing risks from fires, floods, and droughts.
We talked to Grant Davis, general manager of the Sonoma County
Water Agency, about how his agency is approaching these
challenges comprehensively, at the scale of the entire
The city of Ukiah made its first delivery of recycled water
through its extensive Purple Pipe system this week, putting
about 2 million gallons of water reclaimed from local sinks,
showers and toilets into an irrigation pond just south of the
Ukiah Valley Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Most people pass by storm drains day in and day out, giving
little thought to them as conduits to local waterways — and
ultimately, the Russian River in much of Sonoma County. An
alliance of local cities, special districts and the county
wants to change that. The coalition has launched a regional
campaign to raise public awareness about the link between
surface streets and local creeks…
The ban passed last week means that about 8,000 Russian River
property owners are now looking at how to repair or replace
substandard or failing residential sewage disposal systems when
the new law goes into effect next year.
Sonoma County has hired a new ombudsman, Alisha O’Laughlin, to
help river residents deal with the new maze of regulations
targeting older sewage disposal systems along the Russian River
and its tributaries. … O’Loughlin’s hiring coincides with
county efforts to implement its onsite wastewater treatment
system (OWTS) regulations and comply with state law…
The 110-mile Russian River and all its tributaries move through
many active communities and working lands which can affect
water quality. Some of the main categories of water quality
impacts can include chemicals, bacteria, sediment, and
More than 90% of U.S. wine comes from California, despite
growth in other states’ production, and it’s putting a strain
on the environment. Throughout the region, wine producers say
they’re striving to save water and use less pesticides, among
other measures aimed at sustainable growing, as they face the
challenges brought on by the advance of climate change.
After a disaster, Sonoma Water will try to restore service as
quickly as possible. The agency already has installed isolation
valves so that it can cut off water around breaks and has some
emergency water reserves in place. It estimates that water
service could be restored in as few as three days after a
moderate earthquake. The grand jury concluded that was an
overly rosy prediction.
Last week three local entities — California Trout, Mendocino
County Inland Water and Power Commission (IWPC) and Sonoma
Water — announced they will be signing a project planning
agreement with the hopes of looking at pathways to relicense
the Potter Valley Project. The Potter Valley Project is a
hydropower project that sits in the middle of the Eel River and
Russian River watershed basins and is integral in providing
water to both Mendocino County and northern Sonoma County.
Even though the Russian River watershed has received roughly
130 percent of the average rainfall this season, it is time to
discuss the impacts of overwatered landscapes as the dry
weather returns and irrigation controllers turn on.
On Tuesday, May 21, the Board of Directors of the Sonoma County
Water Agencyand the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved
a plan to offset a fee that is likely to be imposed on
groundwater users in the Santa Rosa Plain… Under the plan,
the County and Sonoma Water would contribute up to $240,000
annually for three years to the Santa Rosa Plain Groundwater
Two days of above-average spring rainfall in the North Bay have
forced Sonoma County officials to begin deflating the seasonal
dam across the Russian River, an about-face that comes less
than a week after the rubber dam was fully inflated to serve
the region’s drinking water system.
Residents whose homes were flooded will not be eligible for
financial aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency
because state officials determined the amount of damage was
insufficient to qualify.
The February storms that swelled the Russian River to its
highest level in more than two decades did $23 million in
damage to Sonoma County roads, including more than 100
landslides and slipouts, leaving county crews and contractors
with a Herculean repair job that will take months to complete.
Facing a wave of opposition over proposed fees for using well
water, the directors of a little-known public agency backed
away from a decision Thursday and agreed to consider an
alternative plan that would exempt rural residents and cost
other groundwater users far less overall.
While flooding is clearly a problem, the extra vegetation that
thrives can lead to another problem. A hotter-than-average
summer – such as one fueled by climate change – can cause
vegetation to dry out faster. With all this natural kindling in
place, it doesn’t take much to start a fire.
You can’t see them. You can’t swim in them. But groundwater
aquifers are one of the most important sources of water in the
North Coast. … People who live in rural areas rely almost
exclusively on groundwater, and while cities in Sonoma County
get most of their water from the Russian River, groundwater
provides a critical back-up source that is used during droughts
or in emergencies.
A Geyserville property owner who launched a medical cannabis
farm has agreed to pay $245,000 in fines and penalties for what
Sonoma County prosecutors said was improper water diversion,
unpermitted grading and site work that harmed streams in the
Russian River watershed.
One month after destructive flooding tore through Sonoma
County, residents are waiting for the state to decide if it
will ask the federal government for a disaster declaration — a
move that they say can bring them much-needed financial aid.
Russian River environmental watchdog Brenda Adelman accepted a
water stewardship award from California’s North Coast Regional
Water Quality Control Board last month in a ceremony at NCRWQCB
headquarters in Santa Rosa.
We love our Russian River for its eternal beauty, its nurturing
forces, its quenching properties, its recreation and play and
its renewing spirits. We love our river — except when we don’t.
And right now we are distraught over the destruction its
breached muddy torrents visited upon us yet again.
Behind the initial damage toll of $155 million from last week’s
Russian River flood is some positive news: only 35 homes and
businesses have been red-tagged as uninhabitable. After the
last major Russian River flood, in 2006, 66 homes and
businesses were red-tagged. … The steadily declining numbers
reflect three decades of progress in fortifying river
communities to withstand floods, most notably an ongoing
program to elevate homes.
While handing out at the Guerneville Safeway store $50 grocery
gift cards to residents affected by last week’s flood, Jeniffer
Wertz was forced to turn away several people Sunday after
running out of cards. “It was heartbreaking,” said Wertz, a
volunteer for the nonprofit Russian River Alliance. For people
whose homes, cars or businesses were damaged by the worst
flooding along the Russian River in two decades, local
nonprofit leaders say, the need for financial help is
Santa Rosa officials said Tuesday that managers at the city’s
wastewater plant have been forced to release at least 250
million gallons of treated sewage into two creeks and the
nearby Laguna de Santa Rosa amid record inflow to the facility
that began in last week’s storm. The three-day deluge pushed
more than five times the normal flow of wastewater and runoff
into the city’s Laguna de Santa Rosa plant. It was the highest
inflow ever recorded at the site, according to the city.
The powerful storm that swept over Sonoma County last week
caused an estimated $155 million in damage to homes,
businesses, roads and other public infrastructure, county
officials announced Saturday. The updated assessment came at
the end of a week marked by the largest flood on the lower
Russian River in nearly a quarter century. Guernville and other
riverside communities took the heaviest blow, but flooding
elsewhere — in Sebastopol, Healdsburg and Geyserville — led to
widespread damage countywide.
But the river remains an unpredictable force, one that could
give rise to even more destructive floods in an era of
increasingly extreme weather, experts say. … County
Supervisor Lynda Hopkins has her sights on the opportunities to
tame floodwaters in the river’s middle reaches, starting near
Windsor and upstream, where it broadens and meanders more
freely in a floodplain less constricted by roads and other
A Northern California river flooded 2,000 homes, businesses and
other buildings and left two communities virtual islands after
days of stormy weather, officials said Wednesday. The towns of
Guerneville and Monte Rio were hardest hit by water pouring
from the Russian River, which topped 46 feet (13 meters) late
Wednesday night. It hadn’t reached that level for 25 years and
wasn’t expected to recede again until late Thursday night.
The Russian River has surpassed flood levels after an
extraordinary 48 hours of rainfall, and by Wednesday morning
the waters had blocked all roadways into and out of the town of
Guerneville. By 6 a.m., all routes out of the 4,500-person town
of Guerneville were blocked by the rising water, which was
creeping closer to 41 feet — nine more than the flood level of
32 feet — with an additional five feet expected.
With each storm, the rain-swollen Russian River is washing away
more of a steep, muddy bank perilously close to River Road near
Geyserville, prompting Sonoma County supervisors to approve
Tuesday an emergency repair estimated at $250,000. Should the
river wipe out the road, about 400 residents of Alexander
Valley, a famed wine grape growing area, would be cut off from
a connection to Highway 128 leading southwest to Geyserville
and Highway 101.
Heavy rains this week left Lake Mendocino, the North Bay
region’s second-largest reservoir, with an extra 2 billion
gallons of water that until now officials would have been
obliged to release into the Russian River and eventually the
Pacific Ocean. Thanks to a $10 million program that blends
high-tech weather forecasting with novel computer programming,
the Army Corps has the latitude to retain an additional 11,650
acre feet of water, and Lake Mendocino has now impounded a
little more than half that much.
Standing on a stone bridge overlooking Lagunitas Creek in west
Marin County, giddy onlookers observed a male coho salmon
swimming upstream toward a nesting area guarded by a female.
… This year’s salmon spawning season so far appears to
be a mixed bag, with some locations, such as Lagunitas Creek,
showing robust activity, and others, including the Russian
River in Sonoma County, falling short of expectations.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.