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.
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.
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.
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.
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 immediate.
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 development.
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 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.