Creek Week – Ways to Get Involved with Protecting Our Creeks

Creek Week – Ways to Get Involved with Protecting Our Creeks

September marks several dedicated efforts throughout California that signify the importance of clean water and promote cleanups of local waterways. Pollution Prevention Week (starting on the third Monday of September), 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 local waterways.

Each September cleanup events are organized to bring volunteers together to clean up trash and debris from beaches, rivers, and creeks, to educate the community on the importance of clean water, and to promote an overall appreciation of our environment, nature, and being outside.

September 2020 Dates to Remember

September 21-28
National Pollution Prevention Week

September 21-28
Russian River Creek Week

Every Saturday in September
Coastal Cleanup Days

This year most of these designated cleanup events will not take place due to the restrictions around COVID-19, but there are still many ways to participate and make a difference in your community. A simple way to participate is to pick up litter and trash near your home, neighborhood, or local creek. Trash and litter in the environment can end up in our waterways through the storm drain system. When it rains, trash can enter the storm drain system, which moves water from paved areas to local waterways. By picking up trash you can help prevent trash from ending up in our local creeks, the Russian River and the ocean. Even if you don’t live near the Russian River or the coast, your efforts will make a difference in protecting our water resource.

This year, as a way to show your participation, log your cleanup efforts using a trash collection app.  Some options are Litterati – The Global Team Cleaning the Planet and CleanSwell – A Global Movement to Keep Beaches, Waterways and the Ocean Trash Free. By entering the amount of trash collected and the location collected you can help us record the success of creek week volunteers.

In addition to picking up trash, here are other ways to participate in Pollution Prevention Week and Creek Week:

These are just some ideas how you can help protect the environment. For more information on these and other ideas visit the Russian River watershed website at Remember, September signifies the designated month to promote the importance of our local rivers and creeks, but these ideas to protect the environment can be implemented all year long.

This article was authored by Jon Caldwell, PE, Civil Engineer, of the City of Cotati Public Works Department, and Colleen Hunt, 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.

Car Washing: Clean Car – Clean Environment

Help keep our waterways clean with responsible car washing practices

Summer months usually bring us outdoors: gathering with friends, bar-b-ques, 4th of July fireworks, swimming, hiking, boating, concerts in the park, and summer camps. Really, an endless list of summer activities to enjoy in the sunshine and warmer weather. This year is different as we navigate summer with social distancing restrictions. Cancellation of community gatherings and sheltering in place orders are leaving people to stay home more than usual, especially for summer. We are having to rethink how we spend our time, adjusting to staying home and finding ways to keep busy.

In addition to the increase in recreational activities during the summer, summer is also a popular time for residents to pull out the hose and bucket of soapy water to wash their cars. After months of rainy weather, as soon as the weather turns warmer, most people like to shine up their cars and clean off the winter dirt. And this summer, with people staying home, car washing at home is a more popular option. Not just for getting the car clean, but a way to keep busy and pass the time.

Did you know that washing your car at home can be harmful to the environment? If proper care is not taken, soapy wash water, oil, grease and grime can end up in our local rivers, creeks, and streams, impacting water quality and habitat. Storm drains connect directly to rivers, creeks, and streams. Any liquids, pollutants, trash or other substances that enter into the storm drain system flow directly to surface waters. There is no treatment, so pollutants that are put down the storm drain will end up in surface waters. Residential car washing is often a source of pollution, especially during the summer months.

What can you do to prevent car wash water pollution from entering the storm drain, but still have a clean car? Luckily, there are lots of options! The best option is to take your car to a commercial car washing operation. These facilities are designed to prevent wash water from entering the storm drain system, including disposing of spent water to the sanitary sewer system. These facilities also often have a closed loop system where wash water is reused.

If you are unable to take your car to a commercial operation, there are still measures you can take at home to minimize the harmful effects on the environment:

  • Wash your car on your lawn or over gravel so that the wash water can be absorbed into the ground instead of flowing into the gutter.
  • If you wash on the pavement, divert wash water to a nearby landscaping area, such as your lawn, using a rolled-up towel or the length of the hose.
  • Use a minimum amount of water and soap.
  • Use a spray nozzle with an automatic shut off nozzle.
  • Wring sponges and wash rags into buckets, not onto the pavement.
  • After you are done washing, sop up sudsy puddles with towels.
  • Empty buckets into sinks or toilets so the dirty wash water goes to the sanitary sewer system.

Washing your car in a safe and responsible manner can help protect the environment. Please do your part in keeping our water clean!

This article was authored by Colleen Hunt, on behalf of the City of Sebastopol for the Russian River Watershed Association(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-Smart and Water-Wise: Tips for a Resilient Landscape

Summer is upon us! If you’ve kept a garden or maintained a landscape here in Sonoma County, you know just how thirsty plants can get in the dry season. Luckily, many of the guiding principles for having a water-wise garden in our climate have the co-benefit of being fire-smart. Many folks are familiar with the concept of defensible space, but keeping that buffer around homes and buildings to reduce the threat of fires doesn’t mean we can’t have beautiful plants in the landscape. Defensible space can simply mean a properly maintained garden or yard!

Perhaps the most important factor is maintenance. The most fire-smart landscape design in the world is not very helpful for reducing risk if it isn’t properly maintained. First, you want to keep the plants on your landscape hydrated throughout the dry season. Summer irrigation, especially with water-wise methods like drip irrigation and greywater, is one of the best tools in your toolbox. Using highly efficient drip irrigation, along with a properly programmed timer, minimizes evaporation and makes sure that the water you’re sending out into the landscape is reaching its intended target: your plants! As you may have guessed, the higher a plant’s moisture content, the more resistant to fire it will be.

It is likewise important to remove dead plant material from your landscape, from mature trees and shrubs, to branches, firewood, and debris like leaves, needles and cones. Whether on the ground or still attached to living plants, this dead material is prime fuel for fires, and if left unmanaged can undo your hard work in creating defensible space. For this reason, it’s a good idea to choose plants that don’t need excessive maintenance – after all, we want to enjoy our landscapes, not just work in them!

That brings us to plant selection. There’s no such thing as a fireproof plant, but some plants are far more combustible than others. These typically have waxy, oily or resinous leaves or stems. Juniper, for example, is highly combustible and is sometimes referred to by firefighters as the “gasoline plant.” Ornamental grasses and berries are similarly high risk, and if you choose to include them in your landscape, consider doing so sparingly and away from the home. Deciduous plants will typically have more moisture content in their leaves in summer months than evergreens, and less fuel during their dormant season. Non-woody deciduous and low-growing plants are good options.

It is important to remember that fire is part of our region’s ecology. Native plant species adapted to cycles of wildfire burns over millennia, and many have developed fire resistant strategies. Natives will also require less water and maintenance in summer months compared to ornamentals and plants from other bioregions. Here are some examples of fire-smart natives.

  • Trees: Pacific dogwood, big leaf maple, oak species, coast redwood
  • Shrubs: Bush anemone, toyon, coffeeberry
  • Perennials: Yarrow, sticky monkey flower, California fuschia
  • Groundcovers: Creeping thyme, creeping mahonia, purple stonecrop

Whichever plants you choose for your landscape, be sure to account for your topography, the vegetation or fuel load surrounding your site, and proper spacing as outlined by Sonoma County’s Fire Ordinance. You can find more information and resources through your local fire department, CAL Fire and Fire Safe Sonoma. As temperatures continue to climb, be sure to stay fire-smart, be water-wise, and enjoy the beauty of our watershed!

This article was authored by Connor DeVane, Programs Coordinator, Daily Acts, 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.

Six Simple Tips for Growing the Garden of Your Dreams!

Growing a garden may seem mysterious to some, however by implementing a few tricks of the trade, you can grow the garden of your dreams. Here are six simple tips that will guide you along the way to success.

Photo credit: Suzanne Bontempo, Plant Harmony.

  1. It all starts with the soil. By simply increasing the health of your soil you are increasing the longevity of your plants plus reducing pest problems. By amending your soil with good quality compost, either homemade or purchased from your local garden center, you are encouraging healthy root development, increasing the soil microbiology (all of the living organisms within the soil), aiding in nutrient retention, improving the soil structure AND improving the water holding capacity. It is a win-win when you amend your soil with compost.
  2. Feed your plants organic fertilizers. By feeding your plants with organic fertilizers instead of synthetic fertilizer, you are increasing the health of your plants, as well as reducing the conditions which create pest problems. Synthetic fertilizers produce rapid growth spurts to the plants. This produces tender, vulnerable new growth which is highly susceptible to insect and disease problems. Also, synthetic fertilizers are high in salts, which over time diminishes the quality of your soil and ability to grow healthy plants.Organic fertilizers produce slow, strong, steady growth. Organic fertilizers also develop a symbiotic relationship between beneficial bacteria and fungi that increase the nutrient uptake for the root systems of your plants. Organic fertilizers are truly a sustainable food for your plants.
  3. The Magic of Mulch! There are so many benefits to using mulch around your garden. Mulch is used to protect the soil and add a nice finishing touch to the garden. Not only does it look lovely, but can significantly reduce soil water evaporation, which means you don’t need to water as often. Mulch also adds nutrients to the soil as it breaks down and helps to suppress weeds. It protects the soil by keeping it cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Mulch reduces erosion and deterioration of the soil. It also provides habitat for many of our beneficial insects, such as ladybugs.
  4. Know your Plant and Know it’s Needs. Planting the right plant in the right place will lead to success. It is important to know how the sun moves through your garden so that you can plant sun lovers in the sun and shade lovers in the shade. It is also important to understand how big the plant will be at maturity, so that it doesn’t outgrow its location. Grouping plants together with similar water needs is also ideal for the long‑term health of the plant.
  5. Water deeply. Watering deeply encourages the roots to grow deeply. As the plant matures, begin to water deeper and less often, allow the top few inches of the soil to dry out between watering. This is the best technique for your perennials, trees and shrubs as they become established.
  6. Photo credit: Suzanne Bontempo, Plant Harmony.

    Plant it and they will come! By adding a variety of flowering plants, you can attract the beneficial insect that create balance within the garden. Include plants with small clusters of flowers such as; yarrow, ceanothus, alyssum, and agastache, or plants that look like a daisy or sunflower such as; cosmos, asters, gaillardia, and echinacea. These are plants that attract and support our beneficial insects. When we grow a diversity of flowering plants, we attract a diversity of beneficial insects, which will manage our harmful pest.

For more information about attracting beneficials to your garden, check out these two brochures from the Our Water Our World website,
The 10 Most Wanted Bugs in Your Garden and the Planting a Healthy Garden fact sheet.

Our Water, Our World helps residents manage their home and garden pests in a way that helps protect our watershed. The program provides information about Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to consumers in nurseries and hardware stores. RRWA is proud to offer the Our Water, Our World program at sixteen stores in the Russian River watershed. For a list of locations visit

For fact sheets suggesting methods to manage specific pests using the least toxic methods, product guides to less toxic products for managing common pests, and more, visit

This article was authored by Suzanne Bontempo of Plant Harmony, 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.


Looking for a Little Peace? Plant a Rain Garden

The term “rain garden” may bring to mind images of tropical forests or elaborate garden water features. In reality, they are one of the easiest ways to improve your yard while protecting our creeks, streams and Russian River. They are also a great excuse to play in the garden.

Rain gardens filter, infiltrate, and slow the flow of storm water off your roof, patios and driveway. They provide a place to capture the water below ground and allow it to soak in naturally. Decorative plants are planted above this underground reservoir to help filter out pollutants before they can reach our natural waterways.

Ready to Plant A Rain Garden?

A rain garden starts with a good location such as under your roof downspout or near to your driveway. Pick a location where rainwater can be guided from these features to the rain garden. If your downspouts connect directly to an underground drainpipe, locate the rain garden anywhere along the length of that underground pipe.

The next step is to dig out the bed for the new rain garden. Bigger is better. The bigger the new garden bed the more rainwater can be captured. Then add the feature that makes a rain garden work, make the new garden 2’ to 4’ deep. Again, bigger is better. You can skip the gym after digging this garden bed. If you located your new garden bed along the underground drainpipe from your roof, then leave the pipe in place for now. Add a temporary support (a short length of 2×4 lumber works well) to keep the pipe from sagging and move on to the next step.

Now, partially fill the new garden bed with coarse drain rock or pea gravel. “Clean” rock is better; no dirt or fine sand. If you have an underground drainpipe, then drill several holes (about ½” in diameter) into the underside of the pipe before adding all of the rock. Remember, we want the rainwater to flow out of the pipe and prevent dirt from flowing into the pipe.

Add enough coarse drain rock to fill the new garden bed about halfway. If you have an underground drainpipe, then add enough drain rock to almost cover the pipe. Remember to drill those holes in the pipe before adding the rock.

Now for the fun part; add the garden soil right on top of the drain rock and plant your new plants. You can use any garden soil you like. Select plants that like an alternating wet and dry watering cycle. Annual flowering plants and perennial “no mow” grasses are great for rain gardens and add color. For a  Homeowner’s and Landowner’s Guide to Beneficial Stormwater Management, a good selection tool for California native plants, and other landscape resources, visit

How A Rain Garden Works

A rain garden does three things; it filters the water coming off your roof, patio and/or driveway, it slows the flow of rainwater from your home to the local creeks or storm drain systems and it infiltrates much of the water directly into the ground.

Water from your roof, patio or driveway is guided into the rain garden where the plants and soil filter any debris. The filtered water then quickly sinks into the gravel below. The water will remain there for a few days while it continues to nourish the plants above and infiltrates into the soil below. After most storms the process ends here. Simple! However, after big storms the rain garden really shines.

When a big storm arrives, much of the water coming off your home will get trapped in the rain garden. The bigger your rain garden the bigger the storm it can handle. Eventually, the rain garden will overflow but it will continue to filter the water. The oil drips from your car, the bird doo from your roof or the wrapper you accidentally dropped will get captured in the garden. Only filtered water will flow out to our creeks or storm drain systems keeping them clean. It will also take longer for the water to reach our River reducing the peak flow and helping our River stay in its banks. Lastly, much of that water will infiltrate into the ground where it will re‑charge our groundwater ensuring that both we and the River have water in the drier months. There is a lot of good that can come from a simple garden.

Make a peaceful weekend for yourself by planting a rain garden in your yard. They don’t have to be mowed, weeds help them work and you can contribute to solving water pollution, drought and flooding. This is not an overstatement, there really is a lot of good that can come from a simple garden.

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.


Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary!

While we socially distance and modify our daily routines to limit the spread of Coronavirus, individually celebrate Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary on April 22nd – the planet’s largest civic event by learning more about climate actions, conservation, our home watershed, and promoting 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 the 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 in 193 countries and an opportunity to further raise awareness on conservation and sustainability on all forefronts of environmental topics such as water, energy, air, and wildlife.

Earth Day 2020 Campaign – CLIMATE ACTION

Every single one of us can take a stand against climate change by making small but pivotal changes to our daily habits. Here are five actions to consider:

  • Take 10 — Whether it’s an overrun trash can or a public square, take 10 minutes to beautify the area and be proud of your mini accomplishment
  • Garden and Farm to Sequester Carbon — Your garden soil has the ability to absorb and store atmospheric carbon. This process is called carbon sequestration. Plants are the ultimate and cheapest way to pull excess carbon dioxide out of the air. Consider planting a tree, which helps lower greenhouse gas emissions, cool your home and your neighborhood, and significantly improve local air quality.
  • Bike for climate-friendly traffic — According to the EPA, a typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. Support your local businesses when you get there by bike or walking.
  • Participate in a clean-up — There are many beach, creek, and park clean-ups that occur every week, month, and year. Visit to stay up to-date on any upcoming environmentally friendly events happening around the watershed.
  • Reduce and reuse —Reduce consumption, reuse items like coffee mugs and clothing, and compost organics and food scraps in the yard waste bins. Check with your local agency to see what types of materials can be recycled: Mendocino County – Sonoma County –

 Take Part!

Each year there are many Earth Day events occurring in the Russian River watershed throughout Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. However, as the coronavirus continues to spread, event organizers have recently been canceling or postponing Earth Day 2020 public gatherings. Please visit to stay up to-date on any upcoming environmentally friendly events and workshops around the watershed during the year.

This article was authored by Sabrina Marson, 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.

Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary List of Events

The COVID-19 pandemic will affect most events. Please check with the organizer or this blog regularly. Any updates will be posted as soon as they are available.

Virtual Earth Action Week, April 20-26, 2020

Join the City of Sonoma’s virtual Earth Action Week at home!

Even though we are sheltering-in-place, you can still participate in the city’s virtual Earth Action Week at home. There are many options for all ages to learn about our natural environment, celebrate our community’s environmental accomplishments, and take action — all in the spirit and intent of Earth Day — and have some fun doing it! As the old adage says, “think globally, act locally.” So join the City and community for some environmental sustainability learning, action, and fun during our virtual Earth Action Week!

Visit the Earth Action Week page for information, suggestions, games, actions, and tools and find out how to get a Victory Garden Starter Pack from the Sonoma Ecology Center.

Volunteer Clean-Ups

Windsor Earth-Day Clean-Up cancelled:  Join the Town of Windsor Storm Water Quality Manager for a trash clean-up day and help protect wildlife by removing trash on our streets to keep it from getting to our creeks!  Non-Windsor residents also welcome. Please call 707-838-5385 or email for more details visit

Earth Day Creek Clean-Up cancelled: Celebrate with Sonoma County Regional Parks and Sonoma Ecology Center by removing trash along Sonoma Creek. All ages are welcome. Regional Parks will provide gloves, tools, drinks, and snacks. Registration is required for this volunteer event. For more information, email or call (707) 565-3356.

Cleanup on The Greenway – Earth Daycancelled. Olive Park Footbridge (105 Orange St). Help with a cleanup of Santa Rosa Creek, native plant care, and trail maintenance.

Festivals and Other Events

The ClimateMusic Project cancelled. This event combines the talents and expertise of visionary world-class scientists, composers, musicians, to produce science-guided music and visual experiences to inspire people to engage actively on the issue of climate change. Music followed by a panel of experts who will answer audience questions and discuss local solutions to climate change. For tickets and more info:

Climate Action Nightcancelled: Come learn about current state and local proposed climate legislation from high school and college student presenters. Attendees will have the opportunity to write postcards in support of the legislation to their elected representatives, and learn about next steps in supporting meaningful climate action.  State and local elected officials will be in attendance.

Windsor Earth Day Celebrationcancelled: Kick off an earth-friendly day by riding your bicycle to the Town Green for this event featuring free valet bicycle parking, information booths and workshops, live entertainment, the Windsor Certified Farmers Market, a plant sale, environmental education and giveaways, children’s activities and more!

Earth Day Climate Strike cancelled: If you can envision a better, greener, sustainable, livable Sonoma County, then join your community for three days of global climate action, starting on Earth Day.

Earth Day Ukiahcancelled: Celebrate Mother Earth in beautiful downtown Ukiah!  This event features environmental education, interactive booths, live performances, recycled arts, and crafts for the kids.

14th Annual Earth Day Festival, Noyo Food Forestcancelled: Considered one of the top family events on the Mendocino Coast, with dozens of organizations providing educational activities, experts teaching workshops, gardeners sharing the bounty and local live entertainment and food, all devoted to working toward a thriving environment. This is also a fundraising effort to sustain the mission of Noyo Food Forest.

Santa Rosa’s Earth Day OnStage 2020 cancelled: FREE family‑friendly event with live performances, local and earth-friendly products, and eco-friendly crafts and activities for kids!



Public Opportunity to Review and Discuss Fish Habitat Enhancement Projects

It’s hard to imagine the Russian River without salmon or steelhead. These iconic fish were a major food supply for indigenous people and early settlers. They once gave the river the reputation as a world-renowned fly-fishing destination, are a critical link in the riparian food web – and are spectacularly beautiful.

In the early 2000s, the native populations of fish dropped so low that coho salmon were listed as endangered and Chinook salmon and steelhead were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Federal, state and local agencies and non-profit organizations reacted by funding fish recovery projects, including restoring sections of streams, removing barriers to fish migration, and creating a “nursery” that raises coho from eggs and releases them at various ages into spawning streams.

One of the most significant actions occurred in 2008, when National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued the Russian River Biological Opinion, requiring the Sonoma County Water Agency (Sonoma Water) and the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to make changes in how these agencies used the Russian River and Dry Creek for water supply and flood control purposes.

The Biological Opinion focuses on three areas of improvement:  Habitat enhancement in Dry Creek (which carries water from Lake Sonoma to the Russian River); the development of a lagoon management program for the estuary (where the river meets the Pacific Ocean in Jenner and where there is plentiful food and habitat for young steelhead before they head to sea); and lowering river flows to provide better habitat for coho and steelhead (releases from Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino can sometimes result in water that moves too swiftly for the young, small fish).

It’s been nearly 12 years since the Biological Opinion was issued, and Sonoma Water and USACE have met major milestones:

  • Working with private landowners, more than three miles of habitat has been constructed and enhanced on 14-mile Dry Creek. These projects have stabilized banks, replaced invasive species with native riparian plants, and created riffles, pools and side channels for young fish to escape predators and high stream flows. The final three miles of habitat enhancement are in the planning stages with construction scheduled to begin in 2021. These projects will be funded primarily by the USACE.
  • Annually, a lagoon management plan is developed and implemented. The plans provide a blueprint for Sonoma Water for reducing flood risk if the mouth of the Russian River closes between May 15 and October 15, when young steelhead spend time in the estuary before heading out to sea. Estuary work also includes extensive water quality monitoring, fish surveys, studies of steelhead prey, and monitoring harbor seals and other pinnipeds.
  • A draft environmental impact report to change river flows in compliance with the Biological Opinion and to update water rights was released in 2016. Staff has been working to address public comments and meeting with resource agencies to further refine the project.

In a unique local twist, during the development of the Biological Opinion, Sonoma Water, Mendocino County and the USACE worked with NMFS to create the Public Policy Facilitating Committee (PPFC). The PPFC met regularly so policymakers could discuss in a public forum the science, surveys and studies that informed the document. Since the Biological Opinion was issued, the PPFC has met annually to receive a progress report.

This year’s PPFC meeting will be held on March 12, and will include an Open House at the Healdsburg Community Center (1557 Healdsburg Avenue) beginning at 4:00 p.m. This will be followed by a combined meeting of the PPFC and the Dry Creek Habitat Enhancement Project Community Meeting from 4-6 p.m. For additional details and the agenda, go to

This article was authored by Ann DuBay, of Sonoma Water, 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.


Save The Butterflies and The Bees – Our Favorite Pollinators Are in Jeopardy

The Monarch Butterfly

One morning last summer, as I watched a pair of butterflies flying from bloom to bloom on a butterfly bush, I realized I hadn’t seen a Monarch Butterfly in years.  I did some research and learned some distressing news.

In January of 2019, the Xerces Society’s yearly census of the western monarch revealed that the numbers of Western Monarchs were down a dramatic 86% from just one year before. Scientists studying the Western Monarch predict that if we don’t take drastic measures now, the species has a 72% chance of going extinct in less than 20 years.

Monarchs are migratory wonders of nature, migrating up to 3,000 miles to their wintering grounds. Their miraculous migration occurs over generations, one generation communicating to the next the route it must take.  Like all butterflies, they are pollinators, drinking nectar from one flower, and depositing its pollen on the next.


The honeybee pollinates about one-third of our food crops. Honeybees have also been in decline for years with the current population of honeybees estimated at less than half what it was in the 1940s. In 2006, scientists discovered what they call Colony Collapse Disorder. Colony Collapse Disorder occurs when a colony’s worker bee population suddenly disappears. Hives cannot survive without their worker bees, so eventually, the entire hive dies.

The Causes

For Monarch butterflies, loss of habitat is a key cause for its population decline. For both the Monarchs and honeybees, the use of pesticides is another key factor.

Pesticides in the neonicotinoid (a systemic agricultural insecticide resembling nicotine) category are thought to be a culprit in Colony Collapse Disorder. Studies have shown that in non-lethal doses, neonicotinoids cause navigation disruption and memory loss in bees, even in low concentrations. These pesticides are found in our food sources and in our home gardens. A demoralizing study conducted in 2014 found that 50% of nursery plants tested in the U.S. and Canada contained residue of neonicotinoids in concentrations as high as 748 parts per billion (ppb). A dose of 193 ppb can kill a honeybee. A dose of 30 ppb can cause impairments to a bee’s ability to forage and navigate. Plants and seeds purchased to attract butterflies and bees can harm these pollinators if they have been treated with neonicotinoids.

Although some nursery chains have since reduced the numbers of plants on their shelves treated with neonicotinoids, plants containing neonicotinoid residue are still sold in retail nurseries. Typically, they do not come with a warning label.

A Call to Action – Help save the Monarchs and the bees. 

Go Organic!

Don’t use pesticides in your gardens. Pesticides include herbicides to kill weeds, insecticides to kill insects and fungicides as well. Most pesticides are non-specific and kill a broad range of species in addition to the pest. Insecticides kill beneficial insects in addition to those that eat our crops. Beneficial insects include those that pollinate our crops, such as bees and butterflies, and predatory insects that eat the plant eating bugs, such as ladybugs and lacewings. Pesticides kill bees and butterflies as well as “bad” bugs.

Purchase neonicotinoid-free plants and seeds. In Sonoma County we have several nurseries that sell organic and neonicotinoid-free landscape plants and seeds. Please ask your nurseries if they can assure you that the plants and seeds they sell you are not treated with neonicotinoids. If they can’t, head over to a locally-owned, sustainability-minded nursery. Also, the RRWA program ‘Our Water, Our World’ (OWOW) helps residents manage their home and garden pests in a way that helps protect our watershed. More information on OWOW can be found at

Build it and They Will Come

Create a Monarch Butterfly Waystation!

Monarch waystations must include the native milkweed plant because this is the only plant where Monarchs will lay their eggs and the only plant that Monarch caterpillars eat. In our region, the best time to plant milkweed seeds is from November to early spring.  A waystation must also include nectar plants on which the adult Monarchs can feed. Examples are the butterfly bush, salvias, and Ceonothus.

Monarch Waystations also attract bees! Bees feed on nectar-bearing plants, just as butterflies do.

For more information about creating a Monarch Waystation, please go to:

Proper Disposal of Pesticides

When you do go organic, remember to dispose of your unused pesticides through Sonoma County hazardous waste drop off locations. Please go to the following link for more information or call Eco-Desk 707-565-DESK (3375).

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.