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.
The water supply for the southern half of inland Mendocino
County is dependent on water from the Russian River. The West
Fork begins on Tomki Road in Redwood Valley. … For well over
100 years, the water flows of the Russian River have been
supplemented from water diverted from the Eel River via the
Potter Valley Project (PVP). … All of that is about to
drastically change, and possibly end, as Pacific Gas and
Electric, who owns the PVP, has abandoned their license to
operate the project and are moving forward with
Remember this time last year, when water stores depleted by
several years of drought left water managers and consumers
alike hoping desperately for a wet winter ahead? Well, Sonoma
Water says the region’s main reservoirs — Lakes Sonoma and
Mendocino — ended this August with the highest combined storage
level since 1985, the first full year the newly constructed
Lake Sonoma was filled. This, less than nine months after the
reservoir on Dry Creek reached its lowest level in history on
Dec. 9 — 96,310 acre feet, just more than a third full. Lake
Sonoma now has nearly 240,000 acre feet in it, while Lake
Mendocino, which is smaller, has nearly 84,000 acre feet, for a
combined total of more than 322,000 acre feet. (An acre foot of
water equals 325,851 gallons, or about the amount of water
needed to flood most of a football field one foot deep.)
Marin County water agencies are expressing cautious optimism
about a new proposal to transfer ownership of a controversial
hydropower plant that affects one of the county’s main water
suppliers. The proposal centers on the Potter Valley Project, a
110-year-old hydropower plant in Mendocino County that is
operated by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. Water diverted by the
plant feeds into the Russian River watershed, which is a key
part of Marin’s water portfolio. After PG&E announced its
intention to surrender and decommission the power facility in
2019, there has been a question of whether water diversions to
the Russian River would continue. The new proposal submitted
this month by Sonoma Water, the Mendocino County Inland Water
and Power Commission and the Round Valley Indian Tribes would
transfer parts of the facility to a new entity that would
continue Russian River water diversions.
What do nail polish, children’s foam-padded sleeping mats and
tires have in common? Not much at first glance, but all have
been identified as “priority products” under California’s Safer
Consumer Products regulations administered by the California
Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) under the state’s
Green Chemistry law. The Regulation and Its Requirements The
regulation designating motor vehicle tires containing the
(6PPD) as a priority product became final on July 3, 2023,
making tires containing 6PPD the seventh priority product
identified under the law.
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.