Managing Trash and Reducing Litter

Do you like seeing trash and litter on our sidewalks, streets, yards, and waterways? We didn’t think so. Not only do our open spaces look better when they are clean and tidy, it contributes to a healthier environment.

Trash and small debris pieces left in open areas may be carried by rainwater to storm drains. Smaller items such as motor oil and pesticides may flow into storm drains, which could lead to rivers, lakes, and streams. Large items may block storm drains and can cause road and structure flooding during storms.

Additionally, litter effects the quality of waterways that provide recreation for many residents and can harm aquatic and other wildlife. Animals can ingest toxic substances such as paint or household cleaners, or they might swallow or become entangled in the trash that finds its way into streams. Fertilizers from yard waste dumped into streams can create large algae blooms that kill fish.

Common forms of litter include:

  • Cigarette butts
  • Plastic bags and bottles
  • Aluminum and glass containers
  • Paper products
  • Household hazardous wastes
  • Motor oil
  • Used food containers and unwanted food
  • Diapers
  • Yard waste

Small amounts of litter from homes or neighborhoods add up to big problems.

What can you do? A healthy, vibrant community that is free from trash and litter takes commitment and investment. Each person can make a big difference to keep our waterways clean.

  • Storm drains are not trash cans. Please do not throw anything into the streets or storm drains.
  • Please don’t litter. Make sure that your trash does not enter waterways. If you see litter, pick it up, and dispose of it properly.
  • Ask for help. If you see a problem area (i.e., a trash can overflowing onto and/or along the sidewalk), inform your City or trash hauler so they can address the problem.
  • Use your consumer voice. If you notice a lot of litter near your favorite shop or restaurant, encourage the business to add more trash and recycling receptacles.
  • Reach out to your local government representatives. Let them know that trash mitigation and stormwater management are important to you by asking tough questions about what resources are currently being allocated to address these issues.
This article was authored by Angela Beran, of the City of Rohnert Park, on behalf of RRWA. RRWA ( is an association of local public agencies in the Russian River Watershed that have come together to coordinate regional programs for clean water, habitat restoration, and watershed enhancement.

Alternative Water Sources – Greywater Reuse

Traditionally, each step of the human water cycle – how we acquire, treat, use, treat again, and dispose of the water, was dealt with as discrete, isolated activities. Separate departments, divisions, and districts were created to handle each of these isolated activities. Unfortunately, this traditional recycled water paradigm sometimes also comes with a high-priced additional expense of duplicate infrastructure to re-transport the recycled water back to the users, thus limiting the number of users that can be served. The main use of recycled water is irrigation of crops and large landscaped areas such as golf courses, athletic fields, commercial and industrial parks, and cemeteries. More recently, its uses include process water for industry, wildlife habitat enhancement, residential landscapes, fountains and more.

There is a way for individuals to irrigate their homes with mostly clean, unpotable water. This is called greywater reuse. Greywater resides between clean, treated for human consumption, potable water, and blackwater from toilets. The difference between recycled water and greywater is the latter is not treated by a treatment plant. It can be defined as any domestic wastewater produced, excluding sewage, and typically comes from showers, non-kitchen sinks, laundry machines, and other similar plumbing fixtures. Ranging from simple to very elaborate, greywater systems can be routed to your landscape to help meet your irrigation needs and can possibly help create a fire-resistant yard!

Brian Thacker, Arizona Renewable Resources, searched through Google Earth studying satellite images of the catastrophic Rodeo-Chedeski fires that burned in east-central Arizona in June/July of 2002 and came upon something amazing.  In the middle of a charred landscape of burned pine trees, he saw two green areas surrounding two undamaged homes—a thriving oasis amidst devastation. He needed to know why these homes were spared a fiery end and contacted the area fire marshal to investigate.  Brian found that the homeowners did two key things:

  • First, they used fire-defensive practices in their landscape. Within a 50- to 75-foot radius around their homes, they removed all ground-ladder fuels that could spread a low-burning fire into the canopy of trees and shrubs.  They pruned tree branches up 4 feet from the ground; cleared, chipped, and shredded dead limbs and brush; spread resultant mulch over the soil to retain soil moisture; removed conifers and shrubs next to or against the house; and cleared pine needles from the roof and gutters.
  • Second, the homeowners directed their greywater into the surrounding landscape, particularly the oasis zone around their homes. This supplied the native vegetation with enough moisture to keep it from igniting so it acted like a fire break around the homes.
    3-way valve to divert the laundry greywater

Greywater irrigation is one tool to be used in preventing damage from wildfires. Existing homes and businesses can be retrofitted but installing greywater plumbing is easier and less expensive in new construction. A Greywater Ready Model Ordinance is available ( that details greywater plumbing installation. Sonoma County Water Agency and others offer training for designing/installing these systems.  If you’re interested in learning more about greywater use and permit requirements, contact your local Building Department.

Greywater helps to reduce sewage treatment costs, disposal requirements, and can help protect homes from future fires, all while helping to recharge the groundwater as well. That’s a win-win-win.

This article was authored by Dirk Medema, P.E. who is the Drainage Engineer of the City of Citrus Heights, on behalf of RRWA. RRWA ( is an association of local public agencies in the Russian River Watershed that have come together to coordinate regional programs for clean water, habitat restoration, and watershed enhancement.

Creek Week Volunteer Opportunities

Throughout the Russian River watershed, the third week of September is recognized as Creek Week. This year Creek Week is from September 15 to September 22. During Creek Week, creek, river and ocean clean-up campaigns will take place throughout Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. The Russian River watershed consists of over 150 creeks which provide water supply, wildlife habitat, flood capacity and recreation. Unfortunately, trash and debris accumulation in local waterways impair water quality, wildlife habitat and, at times, recreation and flood capacity. This is a great opportunity to take part in activities that connect you with your community and environmental practices that help protect our creeks.

You can contribute to the health of the Russian River ecosystem by participating in one of the creek and river cleanup events listed below!

September 15, 2018


September 22


Composting…Don’t throw it away, compost it!

There are vast benefits to composting, not only environmentally, but also personally within your home. Using compost in your home garden adds nitrogen, potassium, and micro‑nutrients such as manganese, iron, and zinc. These additions strengthen the structure of your soil, retains water in plant structure, prevents erosion, and is ideal for drainage.

There are two ways to go about composting based on your available space. If you have limited or no outside space then you can use a specially designed bin for indoor use that can be purchased from a local garden store, hardware store, or even via the local paper want-ads. For those with outside space, select a dry area with shade that is close to a water source and dig out a desired space e.g 3’ x 3’ x 3” depth or what every size you feel is adequate, and now it’s time to start creating your compost.

In selecting your compost think of two categories: home and outside. The home category is food from your home including fruits, vegetables, nut shells, coffee grounds, tea leaves, but excludes dairy products, meat or fish scraps, and grease. The outside category includes items from your yard, such as leaves, branches, yard clippings. Note: compost items should not be chemically treated. Make sure to cut large materials like banana peels and break down branches to aid in the breakdown process. Lastly, make sure to layer your compost alternating between home items and outside items, and try to keep each layer similar in size.

Every two weeks or so, while tending to your compost, whether you are simply checking on it or adding to it, it is important to mix your compost. How can you tell if the compost is ready? That will depend on the material being composted and its environment. I suggest researching your material and the environment where you’ve composted to get a better understanding on your compost and the process. Generally speaking, the appearance of compost that is ready will be crumbly and may be slimy in consistency, dark in color (like soil), and have an earthy smell. Now, you can use it to plant flowers, trees, vegetables, and use it as top soil. It can also be used for putting in a new lawn, installing a new eco-friendly landscape, or simply used for rotating your vegetable garden.

There are many benefits to composting. It is known to regenerate soil by promoting the production of micro‑nutrients, which break down the organic matter and in turn retains moisture and increases the content in the soil through a process called humus. Given that 95% of our food comes from our soil, it is critical to consider soil quality. Compost can also clean up the contaminated soil by absorbing volatile organic compounds (think pesticides) that may be found in your soil. Also, carbon released from farming heats up our Earth’s climate and melts polar ice caps, which is another reason composting is an important practice that contributes toward protecting our ecosystem. Furthermore, if all countries put 0.4% of their carbon back into their land, it would produce 75% of all of Earth’s carbon back into the Earth’s soil.

Other benefits of composting include preventing soil erosion, which is especially important if you live near creeks or storm water drains. The compost can slowly preserve the amount of sediment runoff that spills into our waterways, that drain into our rivers. This is imperative in protecting these waterways as they are the ecosystem for our fish and other inhabitants living in the rivers and oceans.

Composting and sustainability should be on the forefront of our minds. Composting is an incredibly versatile practice that supports erosion control and provides many benefits for gardening, our waterways, and our ecosystem as a whole.

This article was authored by Joshua Ricci, of Permit Sonoma, on behalf of RRWA. RRWA ( is an association of local public agencies in the Russian River Watershed that have come together to coordinate regional programs for clean water, habitat restoration, and watershed enhancement.

How the October 2017 Wildfires Affect Local Hydrology

On Monday, October 9, 2017, many local Mendocino, Sonoma, Napa County residents woke to falling ash, intense winds, and a red glow in the distance. Five wildfires broke out in these three counties within hours of each other: Redwood Fire in Redwood Valley, Mendocino County; the Pocket Fire, Tubbs Fire, and Nuns Fire in Sonoma County; and the Atlas Fire in Napa County. The wildfires destroyed thousands of homes and scarred 400 square miles of land. Even though the wildfires were contained, the effects on local economics, social safety, natural resources, housing, and hydrology will be felt for years to come. This article describes our current knowledge of how wildfires affect hydrology and how Northern California differs from other places that have been studied in the past.

Imagine a gently-sloping, one-acre field of grass with an oak tree in the center. Before the wildfires, when rain fell from the sky, water was captured by blades of grass and oak tree leaves. Rain that surpassed these barriers either soaked into the soil or flowed down the gentle slope towards the nearest stream. During the wildfires, grass quickly burned away and soil was charred from heat and covered in ash. The oak tree fell and burned, leaving a thicker layer of ash.

Now consider a post-wildfire precipitation event. The one-acre area is covered with a layer of ash, potentially several inches thick. Water is no longer captured by blades of grass or leaves of the oak tree. Water falls directly to the ground, but cannot soak into the soil (infiltrate) because the ash has wedged itself in the pore space of the soils and created a hydrophobic water repellent seal. The only direction for the water to go is down the gentle slope and into the nearest stream. This has serious impacts to local hydrology. Flash floods occur faster and the post-wildfire flow rates can be double the pre-wildfire flow rates. Russian River floods potentially may cause more damage and occur more frequently. Surface water quality is impacted by increased concentrations of debris, ash, and sediments. The big issue though is that the effects of the ash on the soil do not go away for between two and seven years according to research conducted in New Mexico and Colorado (Martin and Moody, 2001).

The ability for post-wildfire soils to infiltrate rainwater depends on four primary factors: (1) geology, (2) ecology, (3) burn intensity, and (4) the time since the fire. Clay soils already have low infiltration rates compared to sandy soils. Remembering our example of the grass and the oak tree, the grass ecosystem recovers faster than theoak tree ecosystem, because the oak tree ash layer is thicker and burns hotter. Hotter burns generate white ash that is more hydrophobic than gray or black ash, and takes several more years for fire recovery (Harding, 2018). Our understanding of how wildfires affect hydrology in Northern California is limited, because previous studies have been conducted in regions with different geology and ecology. Johnathan Perkins of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) is working on a study to quantify how infiltration rates change over time in a number of different burn areas in Northern California. Preliminary data has shown that infiltration rates are still decreasing since the wildfires indicating that the chemical and biological processes that seal soils may still be getting worse (Perkins, 2018). Relationships between infiltration rates and local geology, ecology, and burn intensity still are being developed. This USGS study will move us forward in developing our understanding of long term effects of the wildfires on our local hydrology.

Even though the wildfires are many months behind us, the effects that wildfires had on our local environment will be felt for years. Climate predictions indicate greater intensity storm events and increased frequency of atmospheric rivers hammering our region with greater flow rates during floods. These externalities, coupled with sealed soils, are of great concern to our local ecology and socioeconomic stability. Local stakeholders, agencies, government, utilities, and residents are working closely together to mitigate risks. It is up to us, the community members, to understand the risks and be prepared for what Mother Nature can throw at us.


Martin and Moody, 2001. Comparison of soil infiltration rates in burned and unburned mountainous watersheds. Published in 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Harding, Mike, 2018. Fire and Rain: Post-Fire Hazards and Mitigation. Presentation at the Changing Channels Conference: The Science of Stream Processes and Restoration in the Russian River Watershed. Cloverdale Citrus Fairgrounds Auditorium. January 26, 2018.

Perkins, Jonathan P, USGS, 2018. Presentation for the Russian River Science Forum. May 2, 2018.

This article was authored by Brian Wallace, of LACO Associates, on behalf of RRWA. RRWA ( is an association of local public agencies in the Russian River Watershed that have come together to coordinate regional programs for clean water, habitat restoration, and watershed enhancement.


Pet Pesticides and the Watershed

Summertime means longer days, warmer temperatures, an increase in outdoor activities and, if you are a dog or cat owner or come in contact with these pets, you know that summertime brings more pests! Especially fleas and ticks. Why are these pesky pests a cause for concern? What should we consider before using pet pesticides and are there alternatives we can use to protect our pets, ourselves and our environment?

The discovery of pet pests requires immediate action. Fleas and ticks are not just an annoyance, they pose a health risk. They can spread bacterial infections, pass along tapeworms, and even cause anemia. Ticks are a “vector” for transmitting disease, most notably Lyme disease (which can be passed along to humans). The most common reaction after finding a flea or tick is to apply, feed, and/or spray our pets with Fipronil (a synthetic insecticide, and an active ingredient in many flea and tick control products for dogs and cats), as well as to apply it in our homes and outdoors, but we must consider the associated risks.

Recently, studies conducted by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, Santa Rosa, found that Fipronil and its by-products were found in both surface water and sediment samples. Fipronil (and even more so its metabolites) is highly toxic to sea and freshwater fish as well as to the invertebrates these fish feed upon. Toxicity is not just related to aquatic species. Fipronil is highly toxic to honey bees and some birds ( Some dog owners (including Russian Riverkeeper Executive Director, Don McEnhill) have noticed their dogs display negative behaviors after applications of Fipronil. Many pet owners have stopped using Fipronil and instead use methods listed below.

How can you reduce your use and reliance upon pet pesticides?

  • Understand the life cycles and feeding habits of pet pests. Consult your veterinarian, the internet and/or your local library. You can make more informed decisions with a firm understanding of these life cycles.
  • Be proactive and vigilant. Minimize your pet’s contact with fleas and ticks both outside and inside. Fleas love shady, protected areas. Ticks love woodlands and tall grassy areas. A combination of both landscapes and your pet is at high risk for exposure. Make appropriate landscape changes and avoid exposing your pets to areas where fleas and ticks are found.
  • If your pets are exposed to fleas and ticks, implement daily pet care and housecleaning chores:
    • Comb your pet daily using a special flea comb. Be sure to comb right down to the skin. Put the debris into a jar ½ filled with hot, soapy water. Cap the jar, shake it, and flush the contents down the toilet. Disinfect the comb and jar after use.
    • Change pet bedding and fabric toys frequently. Wash blankets, zip-off bed covers, and pillow covers at least once a week in hot, soapy water.
    • Vacuum often. This includes any area your pet has access to. Floors, carpets, sofas, chairs (under the cushions), tops of appliances, etc. Place vacuum bags or canister debris in zip lock or plastic bags and seal them tightly before tossing.
    • Using a disinfectant (preferably natural), mop weekly any areas that pets have access to or travel through, including hard surface floors, concrete garage and/or patio floors.

There are two other considerations pet owners should evaluate before using Fipronil or any other pesticides, however, it is highly recommended that you consult a veterinarian or trained professional before advancing them. One is to consider your pet’s immune system and how it can be boosted in order to develop a natural defense to pests. The other is to substitute natural, non-toxic repellents for pesticides. Many resources are dedicated to both of these topics and can be found on the internet and your local bookstore (Naturally Bug‑Free; Tourles, Stephanie L. 2016).

On a final note, it is extremely important to consider how ALL of your activities affect our watershed. Always consult professionals in the field of pesticide applications. Ask questions about pesticides, their toxicity and the associated health risks to you, your family and your pets ( Research natural, non-toxic substitutes. There are many non-toxic practices and alternatives to choose from in addition to traditional pesticide solutions. In the event you must apply pesticides yourself, read and fully understand all labels in order to best protect your pets, yourselves, and our environment.

This article was authored by Bob Legge, of Russian Riverkeeper, on behalf of RRWA. RRWA ( is an association of local public agencies in the Russian River Watershed that have come together to coordinate regional programs for clean water, habitat restoration, and watershed enhancement.

Love Your Lawn; Love Your River

As one kind of grass gains acceptance in northern California, another kind of grass is losing acceptance. Lawns are falling out of favor as ornamental landscaping because lawns use too much water for a drought-prone region. There are also water quality concerns with maintaining lawns because so many of us apply pesticides and far too much fertilizer to our grass. When it rains or if our sprinkler systems cause runoff, that runoff can carry excess pesticides and fertilizers into our creeks, the Laguna and eventually the Russian River.

During the recent drought, many of us replaced our lawns with less thirsty, river-friendly landscaping. However, not all of us are removing our lawns. We use them for playing with the dogs, with the kids or for backyard parties and barbeques.

If you are keeping your lawn, there are things you can do to protect our environment while enjoying your lawn.

Leave Your Cuttings

Instead of applying synthetic fertilizers, leave your mulched grass clippings on your lawn. Grass clippings will settle in and decompose naturally, providing nutrients without harming the soil.

Go Organic

Avoid pesticides! Let’s face it – pesticides are poisons designed to kill. When we apply pesticides to kill the organisms we don’t want, we often cause collateral damage by killing beneficial organisms as well. Pesticides can harm birds, beneficial insects, and the natural balance of microbes in the soil.

Let your Lawn Inhale…

Healthy lawn needs air as well as water and nutrients to reach its roots. According to Our Water Our World, you should be able to push a screwdriver five or six inches into the soil under your lawn. If you can’t, you should aerate it. Give your lawn a good soaking the day before you aerate, and be sure to leave the soil plugs on the lawn and break them up after they have dried.

Remove Narrow Lawn Strips

Narrow strips of lawn are very difficult to water without causing overspray and are too small for recreational use. Consider removing narrow strips of lawn. You could replace your lawn with drought tolerant plants or, even consider installing a rain garden. Here is a link to an article that can get you started on your rain garden.

If You Insist…Apply sparingly

If you feel you really must apply synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, apply sparingly. When applying pesticides, follow the instructions on the packaging and apply the minimum effective dose. Fertilizers are a good thing for your landscape, but excess fertilizer running off thousands of yards across our watershed causes excess algae growth in our streams. This excess algae uses up the oxygen in the water, choking out fish and other aquatic life. Consider applying fertilizer only twice per year.

Before the Rain

Don’t apply fertilizers or pesticides if rain is forecast in the next 48 hours.

Minimize Sprinkler Runoff

Please stop watering the sidewalk. Turn on your sprinklers and watch the spray patterns. Adjust bent sprinkler heads. Many sprinkler heads are easy to adjust just by turning or tilting them by hand.

Learn More!

Our Water Our World is a not-for-profit organization working to spread the word about less toxic methods of landscaping and gardening. Check out their website for more information about how to care for your lawn or other landscape without using harmful pesticides and fertilizers.

Look for Our Water Our World shelf tags, which are little signs placed in front of a product to help you identify those that are non-toxic or less toxic than their conventional counterparts.

The Laguna and the Russian River are ours to protect. Urban runoff like fertilizers and pesticides, is a significant source of water quality impairment. By changing or modifying our lawn care habits, those seemingly small acts will reduce sources of big pollution problems— and that adds up to a pollution solution.

This article was authored by Cristina Goulart for the Town of Windsor, on behalf of RRWA. RRWA ( is an association of local public agencies in the Russian River Watershed that have come together to coordinate regional programs for clean water, habitat restoration, and watershed enhancement.

Let’s Celebrate Earth Day!

Earth Day is coming upon us! Do you know what that means? April 22nd marks the day we get to focus on the environment, learn more about conservation, be out in nature, and promote a healthy, sustainable environment.

What is Earth Day?
Earth Day started on April 22, 1970 when a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin and Earth Day founder, Gaylord Nelson witnessed devastation caused by the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Senator Nelson and his co-chair, Congressman Pete McCloskey recruited Denis Hayes from Harvard to coordinate a national staff of 85 who promoted events across the United States. On the first Earth Day, 20 million Americans rallied together to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment and protect against the deterioration of the environment. This became the start of the environmental movement and led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.

In 1990, Denis Hayes organized an Earth Day that went global with 200 million people in 141 countries taking part and addressing environmental issues.

Earth Day is now a celebration of the environment and an opportunity to raise awareness on conservation and sustainability on all forefronts of environmental topics such as water, energy, air, and wildlife. This year’s Earth Day theme is plastic pollution.

Earth Day 2018 Campaign – A World Without Plastic Pollution
We all know plastics have been a blessing and a curse. They are durable, low cost, and easily shaped. They show up consistently in our daily lives and can range from, a candy wrapper to a computer monitor. Plastics are all around us. But with its permanent characteristic, single-use plastics have become increasingly on the spotlight for being litter on our beaches, creeks, streams, landfills, and landscapes. Single-use plastics that we use in our daily lives such as plastic cups and bottles, bags, and straws have become some of the biggest polluters and have been found to injure and poison marine life.

Although plastics seem like a mammoth polluter, there are things you can do in your daily life and on Earth Day to decrease single-use plastic pollution! Here are some tips!

• Skip the Straw — National Skip the Straw Day was February 23 but that doesn’t mean you can’t continue to take part! 500 million straws are used and discarded every day which add up to 175 BILLION straws per year in the United States alone. Say no to plastic straws at restaurants or bring your own reusable straws.
• Say no to disposable plastic cutlery — Again, these will last much longer than your take out dinner.
• Bring your Own Cup — Do you love your local coffee house and your morning coffee or frappe? Buy one of their reusables thermoses or bottles. Those plastic lids and cups will last much longer than your day use.
• Save money and carry a reusable water bottle — Check out our May 2017 Environmental Blog post for more information:
• Buy local — When buying local, less packaging is used to get your goods to you!
• Carry your own shopping bag — Whether you are in the grocery store or the mall, use your own shopping bag to cut down on your waste.
• Participate in a clean-up — There are many beach, creek, and park clean-ups that occur every week, month, and year.
• Recycle when you can — Waste management agencies are increasing the types of trash that can be recycled. Check with your local agency to see what you can recycle:

Mendocino County –
Sonoma County –

Take Part!
This year there are many events occurring in Sonoma and Mendocino County. Search below to find events in your community.

Volunteer for Earth Day – Sonoma Creek (April 21) –

Volunteer on Earth Day at Riverfront (April 22) –

Volunteer on Earth Day at Maxwell Farms (April 22) –

Earth Day Bike Path Cleanup (April 22) with Sonoma County Regional Parks and Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition –

Noyo Food Forest — April 21, 2018 from 12pm – 5pm in Fort Bragg: A benefit for the learning garden at Fort Bragg High School Campus

Earth Day on Stage — April 21, 2018 from 12pm – 4pm in Santa Rosa: FREE family-friendly event with live performances, local and earth friendly products, and eco-friendly crafts and activities for kids!

Windsor Earth Day and Wellness Festival — April 22, 2018 from 10am – 1pm in Windsor: Bike to the Town Green for live music, wellness and environmentally-focused booths, famer’s market, children crafts, and more!

This article was authored by Christina Leung, RRWA Staff. RRWA ( is an association of local public agencies in the Russian River Watershed that have come together to coordinate regional programs for clean water, habitat restoration, and watershed enhancement.

Is your toilet also a Trash Can? No!

Most things do not belong in the toilet. In fact, it is easier to list what can go in: water, toilet paper, pee and poo (the three P’s).

However, many people seem to think the sanitary sewer system is a way to get rid of all kinds of waste. Drop it down the drain and it is out of sight, out of mind. What can go wrong? Plenty. Every time materials besides human waste and toilet paper get into our sewer system, it costs the community. These materials can clog the pipes and disrupt the wastewater treatment process. The clogging can back up sewer pipes and damage homes and businesses, as well as drive up sewer maintenance costs and increase sewer bills.

Can I pour my cooking grease down the kitchen sink?
No. It is never OK to put fats, oils, and grease down the drain. Grease poured down the sink (or into the garbage disposal) will cool and harden, leading to unpleasant odors and blockages in your pipes. Instead, pour excess grease into a container with a tight-fitting lid for storing. Use a scraper or spatula to remove all the grease from the pan. Freeze it, or allow it to harden on its own, and throw the hardened oil away on trash day. For more information, see

Expired medicines can be flushed down, right?
No. Recent studies of our nations’ waterways have shown that flushing pharmaceuticals down the toilet or dumping them in the trash might be setting the stage for environmental and human health problems. Medicines should be brought to a local drug take-back site. Visit to learn how to properly dispose of unwanted medications.

I’ve heard that disposable wipes must go in the trash, but if the package says “flushable” then is it OK to flush it in the toilet?
No. Tests have shown that “flushable” wipes do not degrade readily like toilet paper. Many municipalities around the state, country, and world are experiencing serious and costly problems with “flushable” products within their sewer systems. Even paper towels and tissues can’t break down fast enough if flushed down the toilet. An option for reducing the waste of these wipes is to use sponges or rags that can be washed and reused.

Can old cleaning or personal care products be emptied into the toilet before I put the containers in the trash?

No. Household hazardous materials should not be flushed because they do break down in water. Dissolved chemicals can travel through the sewer system and pollute the Russian River and the marine environment. Hazardous chemical products, such as antifreeze, batteries or motor oil, as well as solvents, bleach, nail polish, all cleaners, disinfectants, pesticides, polishes, stain removers, fabric softeners, ammonia, dryer sheets, hair care products, fragrances, skin care products, cosmetics, lotions, and more should be taken to a local household hazardous waste disposal site. For information regarding disposal of hazardous materials, including local disposal centers, visit for Sonoma County and for Mendocino County.

Purchase products made with natural ingredients and avoid products that use chemicals like those mentioned above. For more information and ideas on safer cleaning and living products, visit Sebastopol Toxics Education Program (STEP) at or Community Action Publications at

I have a food sink. Can I dump food waste down the sink with no problems?

No. A large mass of food waste, even ground up, moving through the sanitary sewer pipes can mix with trash, grease, tree roots, and more to block a pipe. Small amounts are OK to keep your drain flowing, but your drain is not a garbage can. Food waste is compostable, and when combined with mulch are great for your garden.

I’ve heard it is acceptable to clean painting equipment like brushes and rollers in the sink?
It depends. For Latex water-based paints, remove as much of the paint off the painting tools onto a newspaper before washing them in the sink. Oil-based paints and solvents must be treated as hazardous waste. For information regarding disposal of hazardous materials and paint, including local disposal centers, visit for Sonoma County and for Mendocino County.

So, no trash should be flushed down the toilet or any drain?
Yes! Do not flush items like hair, wrappers, toys, cotton balls, feminine hygiene products, rags, dental floss, cigarette butts, dust/dirt/lint, rubber gloves, bandages, any plastic, condoms, under-wear, and cat litter. This is just a small sample of the items found in the sanitary sewer system. Consider donating gently used clothing and toys. Determine if your plastic can be recycled; if not, then throwing it away. Any remaining waste can be placed in the trash to save yourself time, money, and stress while protecting your home, environment, and community.

This article was authored by Forest Frasieur, of the City of Santa Rosa, on behalf of RRWA. RRWA ( is an association of local public agencies in the Russian River Watershed that have come together to coordinate regional programs for clean water, habitat restoration, and watershed enhancement.

Fire Safe Landscaping

Many lessons were learned from the wildfires of 2017. The most important of which is that any fire, with enough fuel and driven by wind can burn through almost anything. It is never possible to protect your property 100% but there are things you can do with your landscaping to provide your family a fighting chance.

The best defense begins with defensible space. Landscaping within the first 30′ of your home is critical. Planting low growing vegetation (waist high or lower), keeping trees pruned, and using automatic irrigation systems can do a lot to protect your home from wildfires

Illustration courtesy of
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF)

Get in the Zone

Zone 1 is what firefighting professionals call the first 30′ from your home. This is the most critical area around your home and your last line of defense. It does not have to be a no-man’s-land. Incorporating hardscape features into your landscaping plan like patios, meandering stone paths and low masonry walls can be used to form fuel breaks near your home. Plants are welcome here but need to be widely spaced in beds or containers and regularly irrigated. Water efficient automatic drip irrigation systems can protect your home by keeping your landscaping green in the dry season.

Maintenance within Zone 1 is key. Keeping the fuel load low is the goal and you can do it yourself for free. Rake up leaves during the Summer and Fall and put them in your green trash can. Avoid using chipped mulch in this zone as it can harbor embers and ignite unexpectedly even after a wildfire has passed by. If you have trees in this zone, always prune the low branches to maintain a gap of several feet between the ground vegetation and the lowest branches. Tree branches that overhang the roof of your home should always be pruned back. Don’t forget to remove the leaves from your roof and gutters in the Summer and Fall. Dried leaves are often the first thing to catch fire.

Properties in more urban neighborhoods can benefit from fire resistant fences. Using thicker lumber (1-1/2” or more) or incorporating stone, masonry or metal into your fence design can be both an architectural statement and a shield against a fire. Design fire resistant fences with minimal gaps. Gaps can provide a place for airborne embers to get trapped and smolder. FEMA has published a fact sheet on the design of fire-resistant fences which is available online at

Regardless of the kind of fence you have, always avoid stacking flammable material like firewood or lumber against it. A good rule of thumb is to never store flammable material like firewood and lumber anywhere in Zone 1. If you like desert flora, consider planting a cactus garden. Succulents are naturally full of water, require little maintenance and naturally resist catching fire.

Beyond Zone 1 is Zone 2, which extends another 70′ from your home (for a total of 100′ defensible space). This is where careful pruning, wide plant spacing and mowing dry grass serve to reduce the intensity of the flames before they get to your home. Planting fire-resistant plants like California Fuchsia, sage, and California Redbud not only resist catching fire but are also drought tolerant so less water is needed to keep them green. A useful list of fire-resistant plants is available online from Fire Safe Marin at Maintenance is key in Zone 2 too, if you cannot easily walk through this zone, then it is overgrown and needs to be pruned and/or mowed.

In all zones, avoid planting “fire adapted” plants. These are plants that have adapted themselves to burn periodically and actually encourage wildfires. Plants that drop lots of leaves have flakey bark or resinous stems are considered “fire adapted”. Eucalyptus trees, coyote bush (baccharis) and manzanita trees (manzanita shrubs can be OK if kept low) are examples of the plants you want to keep far from your home. The California Department of Forestry has published some interesting information regarding “fire adapted” ecosystems which is available online at

Not everyone can do everything. Just remember that if all you do is prune your trees, clean your gutters and rake your leaves you have already come a long way to having a defensible space.

The Wildlands

Those who live next to open undeveloped land get to enjoy some amazing views and a closeness to nature. This wildland-urban interface (WUI) also carries extra responsibility for fire protection. Wildland has few roads, is difficult to access and is rarely managed. Wildland has more vegetation than urban land and in the summer months, it can easily burn. Many plants in our area rely on fire to reproduce and have adapted themselves to occasional wildfires. As our homes and neighborhoods have crept into these natural areas we have exposed ourselves to an environment that is meant to burn. If your home is along the WUI then careful landscape management is critical. Heavy brush, closely growing trees, and low branches can easily catch fire and burn intensely. Even the 100′ defensible space required by State Law might not be enough. If your home borders wildland it is critical that you maintain the land around your home to be fire safe. Prune tree branches that are low to the ground, keep shrubs widely spaced and low (waist high or lower) and mow, mow, mow tall grass as soon as it turns brown.

What Saved This House – Photo courtesy of CDF

Flirt with Firefighters

Firefighters are attracted to defensible space and if you attract enough of them, they might bring their fire truck. When firefighters respond to wildland fires they need defensible areas to set up and fight the fire. If your home has a defensible area and access to water (nearby fire hydrant or a pool) firefighters can use your home as a staging area. For those who live on the WUI, this is the best defense against wildfire for which you can hope. If you have a pool, consider installing a portable pump that firefighters can use. If you have space, include wide driveways and large turnaround spaces in your landscaping design. Many local fire departments offer free fire safety evaluations and will provide guidance on how to make your property firefighter friendly and wildfire-resistant.

More Information:

CalFire – “Wildfire is Coming… Are You Ready”

CalFire – “Living with Fire”

Fire Safe Marin – “Fire Resistant Plants”

FEMA – “Landscape Fences and Walls”

This article was authored by Eric Janzen of the City of Cloverdale, on behalf of RRWA. RRWA ( is an association of local public agencies in the Russian River Watershed that have come together to coordinate regional programs for clean water, habitat restoration, and watershed enhancement.