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.
Federal energy regulators say Pacific Gas & Electric can begin
drastically reducing Eel River water diversions bound for Lake
Mendocino, which will likely result in additional curtailments
of water rights for hundreds of landowners, ranchers and
communities in the Russian River watershed. The new flow
regime, approved last week after more than two months of
consideration by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission,
authorizes PG&E to divert as little water as it did last
year even though there is almost 50% more water in Lake
Pillsbury than there was at the same time last year.
A Sonoma County wine executive and his business have reached a
$925,000 settlement with the Sonoma County District Attorney’s
Office following an environmental complaint that accused them
of causing significant damage to streams and wetlands while
constructing a vineyard in 2018 near Cloverdale, county
District Attorney Jill Ravitch announced Friday. Deeply ripping
apart the terrain, tearing down trees and pushing them down
streams without permits under the county’s Vineyard & Orchard
Site Development Ordinance, and lacking permits for grading
roads and installing culverts were among acts that Hugh Reimers
and Krasilsa Pacific Farms, LLC were accused of in August
Early one winter morning, as Brian Lilla was riding his bike
through Napa, California’s hills and meadows, he spotted
farmworkers driving ATVs through rows of vines. They hauled
huge canisters of the weedkiller Roundup. As the workers
sprayed vines, a chemical smell shot through the air.
… In Children of the Vine, the 54-year-old
documentary filmmaker explores the use of glyphosate from the
time Roundup hit the market in the 1970s to Monsanto’s creation
of “Roundup Ready” genetically modified seeds in the 1990s to
its present legal woes and shattered public trust. But even
now, with at least 20 countries having banned or
limited the use of the herbicide, Lilla was shocked to find out
how ubiquitous the chemical is in our daily lives, and how
trace amounts of glyphosate appears even in certified organic
foods and wine (which by definition are grown without
pesticides or herbicides).
The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board is urging
the public who visit the Russian River to be cautious of
potentially toxic algal. It was confirmed through testing that
toxic algal mats are growing on the bottom of the Russian
River. Algae or cyanobacteria can both grow on the bottom of
waterways and while floating in water. … Children and
dogs are the most at-risk to the health impacts caused by toxic
algal mats. Individuals should avoid touching or ingesting
algal material in the water.
There’s a lot of big ideas for solving California’s perpetual
water shortages. Desalinate ocean water. Tow giant bags of
water or use a pipeline to pull water out of the mouth of
the Columbia River. But there are also less ambitious and
perhaps more practical ways too. The city of Santa Rosa is
looking to help, one drip at a time. Thomas Hare and Holly
Nadeau are water resource specialists from the Santa Rosa’s
water department, On a recent Wednesday, in the Oakmont
district, they were welcomed to the home of Leslie and Greg
Gossage…ready to get down to some detective work.
North Coast conservation groups are offering renewed criticism
of Pacific Gas & Electric this week after the utility argued
against a request from the National Marine Fisheries Service
(NMFS) aimed at protecting threatened fish in the Eel River.
Three species of fish in the Eel — coho salmon, California
Coastal Chinook salmon and Northern California steelhead — are
listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Their populations have been impacted by PG&E’s Potter
Valley Project, a hydroelectric facility that diverts water
from the Eel to the Russian River.
There have been two developments in the ongoing saga of the
Potter Valley hydropower project this week. The 20-year license
has expired, but PG&E still owns and operates the project
on an annual license. On Monday, PG&E submitted a rough
schedule to surrender the license to the Federal Energy
Regulatory Commission (FERC). In a separate filing, PG&E
argued that it should be allowed to continue operating the
project under the biological protections that were attached to
the license when it was issued in 2002.
Sonoma County health officials posted warnings at a lower
Russian River beach on Thursday after finding cyanobacteria, or
blue-green algae, in the water off shore. Test results from
samples collected by the North Coast Regional Water Quality
Control Board were not available Thursday evening, so it was
unclear if any toxins were associated with the substance found
off Patterson Point in Villa Grande. But anyone visiting the
beach was advised to be alert to any slimy mats and practice
care in recreating.
The Marin Municipal Water District took a first look this week
at how much water it could receive from new sources such as
desalination or expanding reservoirs, and how much they would
cost. On Tuesday, consultants with the Jacobs Engineering firm
provided the district’s board with an overview of the
preliminary cost and water production estimates for several
supply options. More expensive options included desalination,
dredging existing reservoirs, expanding the recycled water
system and building pipelines to connect with other Bay Area
State water regulators curtailed 331 water rights in the
Russian River watershed effective Friday, ending a weekslong
reprieve brought on by late-season rainfall that prevented
restrictions from being imposed earlier this summer. The
long-expected order means several hundred ranchers, grape
growers and other landowners are now prohibited from exercising
rights to draw water from the river and some of its
tributaries, because of insufficient supplies.
Summer is here, and residents and visitors are flocking to Lake
County’s bucolic communities and recreational activities. At
this time, regional health and water resource officials would
like to remind those enjoying local lakes and streams to
maintain awareness of cyanobacterial blooms, and take
appropriate caution. As is the case with all large,
biologically rich bodies of water, Lake Pillsbury is dynamic in
water quality. Recently, during a pre-holiday assessment, water
quality technicians observed cyanobacteria in the water column
throughout the area, appearing as small grass clippings,
strings, and clumps.
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.