Our Hidden Gem –Conservation Corps North Bay

September 21 – 28, 2019 is Creek Week in the Russian River Watershed! Join in with this spirit of environmental conservation and community enrichment by getting educated, invested and involved.

Creek Week is an opportunity for the community to collectively take on the task of cleaning the creeks of litter and debris,  but did you know Conservation Corps North Bay is taking on the task year-round? This unique non‑profit organization takes an amazingly well-rounded approach to protecting our community by creating opportunities for the “corpsmembers” to earn their high school diploma, along with providing a job and developing the real-life skills and discipline these individuals need to thrive.

Under the supervision of a highly qualified and capable management team, Conservation Corps North Bay (CCNB) trains its corpsmembers to offer a wide range of services which profit and enrich the community.  Their Natural Resources division provides assistance with a variety of tasks including trail construction and maintenance, flood prevention, fire fuel reduction and habitat restoration; among many other services. They also operate a Zero Waste program which benefits the community by providing:

  • Outreach and community education regarding recycling services and receptacles;
  • Storm drain labeling throughout Northern California to help prevent illegal dumping of motor oil and other harmful pollutants into our waterways;
  • Used tire and bulky item collecting, recycling, and disposing; and
  • E-waste and mattress collection events!

As of mid-July, CCNB has partnered with the Mattress Recycling Council to accept used mattresses at their Cotati location every Monday to Thursday between the hours of 7:30am to 3:30pm free of charge.  Not only do they collect e-waste free of charge, they even go to your location and haul it off for you!  Follow this link for more information on the CCNB Zero Waste program and to view their events page: www.ccnorthbay.org/zero-waste.

You can contribute to the health of the Russian River ecosystem by participating in creek and river cleanup events throughout the watershed.  To view Creek Week events in your area, visit www.rrwatershed.org’s Blog.

This article was authored by Jon Caldwell, City of Cotati, Department of Public Works, on behalf of RRWA. RRWA (www.rrwatershed.org) 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 2019

Do You Know the Relationship Between Low Impact Development and Water Quality?

August is the last official month of the summer, and the time to celebrate National Water Quality Month!

The 110-mile Russian River and all its tributaries move through many active communities and working lands which can affect water quality. Some of the main categories of water quality impacts can include chemicals, bacteria, sediment, and temperature. Rain water that lands on our rooftops, driveways, and streets ultimately reach our tributary creeks, river and ocean, carrying with it remnants of the long journey. These remnants, many invisible, can include:

  • Gasoline and oil from small spills or leaking automobiles
  • Bacteria and pathogens from animal and human waste
  • Sediment from loose soil
  • Metals from pesticides, fungicides, cars, and building materials

The good news is that there are strategies to help keep our local waters clean! One strategy is to offset the hard surfaces (such as roofs, gutters, and roads) that increase runoff by installing low impact development (LID) features. This strategy is being deployed throughout the Russian River watershed, and is required for many new development projects.

What is a LID? LID is a planning and design strategy used to reduce potentially harmful impacts on water associated with increased stormwater runoff from construction. LID uses an innovative technique to imitate how water would flow prior to the constructed development. This approach is based on infiltrating, filtering, storing, and sometimes evaporating stormwater runoff before it enters our rivers and creeks. When stormwater enters a LID, it begins to infiltrate or seep through rocks and vegetation. As it infiltrates the ground, it is filtered through layers of rocks, soil, and bacteria which reduce many pollutants in the stormwater. The excess clean water either infiltrates into the ground or is carried out through our storm drains to the creeks.

These LID design strategies come in all shapes and sizes, whether it be living rooftops or vegetated swales. Look around as you take a stroll around downtown or new buildings and you may start to notice all the LID in your area. Some LID benefits include:

  • Reducing the flow of water that can cause erosion or flooding
  • Recharging our groundwater basin
  • Decreasing the impacts of new developments on local hydrology
  • Preventing trash and debris from flowing down the storm drains
  • Treating pollutants and protecting water quality

While our cities, counties, architects and contractors work to decrease stormwater pollution, there is still much that residents can do!

Check out our website www.rrwatershed.org/project/low-impact-development for more information on low impact development and ways you can help keep stormwater runoff clean.

A homeowner’s and landowner’s Guide to Beneficial Stormwater Management Slow it. Spread it. Sink it. Store it! is available at http://sonomarcd.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Slow-it-Spread-it-Sink-it-Store-it.pdf

This article was authored by Christina Leung, of RRWA. RRWA (www.rrwatershed.org) 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.

Water Conservation, Car Washes, and Water Waste

Summer is upon us! We have completed our spring cleanup around the yard, made sure no standing water is present on our properties attracting mosquitos and setup our outdoor furniture. Summer also marks an important time of the year for water conservation. By using water wisely in the summer, it helps preserve our healthy watershed for the remainder of the year. Even though we received a lot of rainfall this winter, it is important to minimize water waste throughout our community.

Here are some ways in which you can reduce your summer water use:

  • Manually Check Irrigation System and Repair Leaks: By manually running through each irrigation station, you can accurately assess your system and make sure no water is being wasted. Fix any leaks that appear and prevent runoff.
  • Know When to Water: Make sure your irrigation system is running at night or in the early morning to avoid increased evaporation and wind interference.
  • Rethink the Watershed on Your Property: Redirect downspouts toward vegetated landscape or install rain chains to direct water to a catchment system. These simple measures will send rainwater where it can be used by plants or absorbed into the ground instead of to storm drains.
  • Plant Natives: Plant drought-tolerant, low water use plants. Natives are recommended since they are adapted to our climate and will demand less resources.
  • Add Mulch: Make sure to add mulch around plants to help insulate the soil, to provide a buffer from heat, help retain water, and prevents weeds that would otherwise compete for resources.
  • Convert your lawn: Lawn uses a majority of outdoor irrigation because of spray irrigation inefficiencies. Remove lawn, plant natives, and install drip irrigation.
  • Rebate Programs: Local water utilities offer rebates to help customers conserve water. Check your local water utilities website to see which rebates are available.
  • Rethink your summer car washing: Automatic car washes are required by law to properly dispose of their water waste. Everything that’s been stuck to your car—gasoline, oil, heavy metal particles, tar, and particulate matter from exhaust fumes—has the potential to flow from your wash area to the nearest storm drain and eventually reach the Russian River. Most commercial car wash facilities will filter rinse water and direct it to a sanitary sewer where it will get treated and possibly reused (recycled water).

For online information about water conservation, green car wash facilities in Sonoma County or to report water waste, go to the Sonoma-Marin Saving Water Partnership website at: http://www.savingwaterpartnership.org/

This article was authored by Chad Singleton, of Sonoma Water, on behalf of RRWA. RRWA (www.rrwatershed.org) 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 Overwatering Really So Bad?

Even though the Russian River watershed has received roughly 130 percent of the average rainfall this season, it is time to discuss the impacts of overwatered landscapes as the dry weather returns and irrigation controllers turn on.

You are most likely aware of the traditional reasons to properly water your landscaping: save water and money, address water-wasting leaky irrigation lines, respond to drought conditions, and keep landscapes alive! But what you may not know is, overwatering is actually an enforceable code violation in many jurisdictions.

Local government is being compelled by the State to comply with regulations that enforce upon us all to use less water and to use it more wisely, regardless of how much rain has fallen. On May 31, 2018, Governor Brown signed two bills which “make water conservation a California way of life.” SB 606 and AB 1668 call for creation of new urban efficiency standards for indoor and outdoor water use. Starting in 2023, the indoor water use standard will be 55 gallons per person per day.

Outdoor use is already heavily regulated and will continue to be regulated for the long-term. Allowing your lawn to be overwatered to the point that it is flowing in the gutter in front of your home is not just against code, it is enforceable by fines and even water shut-off (in some jurisdictions). Regulations also prohibit irrigation water from entering the storm drain system. Irrigation water entering the storm drain requires local government to assess the impact that overwatering may have had on a creek, which all storm drains connect to. The assessment could include an investigation of your property, the gutter, the storm drains and the creek. It can involve pictures, questioning, sampling and reporting¾all of which can be billed to those in violation of overwatering.

Overwatering can lead to some other undesirable consequences such as a photo and detailed critique posted on social media by a concerned neighbor. A code enforcement officer knocking on your door at 7:30 a.m. is a wake‑up call we would all prefer to avoid. A notice of violation from your City including fines is a notice you really don’t want to receive, and the jurisdiction doesn’t want to issue. However, due to the growing number and magnitude of State mandated regulations on water use and pollution prevention, these scenarios are unfortunately likely to become more common.

Incorporating proper landscaping and watering practices can help you avoid these situations and truly become a water hero. There are roughly 345 different landscaping techniques to optimize your water use. Details can be found in the Russian River Watershed Association’s Russian River-Friendly Landscaping Guidelines. Visit www.rrwatershed.org/project/rrflg to view and download a copy of the River-Friendly Landscaping Guidelines.

This article was authored by Nicholas Bennett, of the City of Rohnert Park, on behalf of RRWA. RRWA (www.rrwatershed.org) 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 Does Not Start with Landscaping

There has been a lot of advice on how to landscape our homes to keep wildfires away (including this column). However, a critical lesson sometimes gets overlooked; our homes are also fuel for a wildfire.

Wildfires are not limited to wildland. All too often, once a wildfire reaches a neighborhood, it is the homes in that neighborhood that provide the fuel.

Fire Safe landscaping must start with your home.

Get in the Zone

Zone 1 is what firefighting professionals call the first 30 feet from your home. This is the most critical area around your home and your last line of defense to an approaching wildfire (as shown in the illustration to the right). However, with enough wind, embers can fly over Zone 1 to land on your home. Think of any place on your home where leaves collect-this is also where windblown embers can collect. Rain gutters, roof valleys, dormers, eves, awnings and decks are all places where embers can collect. Keeping these areas clean and free of debris is a good start but there is more you can do.

If you plan to re-roof your home, select a fire-resistant roofing material that meets the UL 790 Class A rating. Class A roofing material resists ignition by embers better than lesser materials and can provide you with critical time to evacuate and may even save your home. You don’t have to break the bank to do this, standard asphalt shingles are available with a Class A rating and they are readily available at most home centers.

Don’t neglect the architectural features on your roof and cover them with fire resistant materials. Windblown embers can collect against dormers or gables. These features are frequently built with conventional siding materials like plywood or chip board. Embers can easily ignite these materials bypassing the most fire-resistant roofing materials. If your home has these features, adding metal siding or fiber-cement materials that meet California’s wildland urban interface (WUI) standards can help your home resist embers.

If your roof has eves or overhangs, then fire block your soffits. Fire blocking starves a fire of oxygen and prevents it from spreading. Ironically, fire blocking material does not have to be fire-proof. It just has to keep the fire from getting fuel (air/oxygen).  Materials that are rated for use in the WUI are your friend here. CalFire has set up a searchable list of WUI approved materials for all kinds of homes at this link: http://osfm.fire.ca.gov/licensinglistings/licenselisting_bml_searchcotest

Densely developed urban and suburban neighborhoods can benefit from fire resistant fences to prevent fires from spreading house-to-house. When a fence catches fire it can bring that fire right up to your home like a fuse. Incorporating stone, masonry or metal into your fence design can be both an architectural statement and a shield against a fire. If you cannot afford to build a full-length fire resistive fence, consider adding non-combustible features like metal gates or masonry panels into the fence to “cut the fuse”. If you have a gate where your fence meets your home, this is the perfect place to start by replacing wooden gates with metal ones. 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.

Decks are very difficult to protect from wildfire. Readily available decking material is not fire resistant and most fire-resistant construction techniques are expensive. In addition, decks are often built on top of a slope in direct line with the most likely approach of a wildfire. If you are building a new deck, consider locating it away from potential pathways for a wildfire or construct a patio instead. FEMA has published a fact sheet on how to locate a deck to protect your home from a fire. It is available online at

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 defensible space 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 wildland urban interface, 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 the space, include wide driveways and large turnaround spaces in your landscaping design. Don’t hide these features with tall landscaping along your street. 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:

This article was authored by Eric Janzen of the City of Cloverdale, on behalf of RRWA. RRWA (www.rrwatershed.org) 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.

Safe Medicine Disposal Program

Have you ever opened your medicine cabinet, picked up a bottle, and realized it has been expired for years or that you had more than you would ever need? A survey in Los Angeles County found that 59% of respondents had medications in their homes that were expired or no longer needed, with 45% of these people not knowing what to do with them. In California there are approximately 9.2 retail prescriptions written per year per person. This makes a whopping 359 million prescriptions a year! That’s a lot of medications that may be sitting in homes, or are being dumped into landfills, or flushed into our water resources. When flushed down the drain, some medications are not completely removed by certain kinds of wastewater treatment plants. Proper disposal of unused pharmaceuticals helps protect the environment and keeps the medications out of the wrong hands.

Safe Medicine Disposal Program
To address this issue, the Russian River Watershed Association (RRWA) has been partnering with local agencies, pharmacies, and law enforcement offices to provide a Safe Medicine Disposal Program with drop-off locations throughout Sonoma County and Mendocino County. The Safe Medicine Disposal Program creates a free resource for residents to drop off unused and unwanted medications in a safe manner that protects our families, wildlife and watershed. Residents of Sonoma and Mendocino Counties can view a list of drop-off locations, and access information on how to participate in the mail-back programs, by visiting  www.safemedicinedisposal.org.

Why does safe medicine disposal matter?
Medications can be a threat to anyone and anything who it wasn’t prescribed to. When medications, especially prescription medications that you no longer need, are left in your home they could easily get into the wrong hands. Unused and readily accessible medicines have the potential to be misused and abused by teens and adults while colorful pills and packaging can be attractive for young children. In order to avoid this misuse and just to remove clutter, some people end up flushing medications or throwing them in the trash. These disposal methods can affect our water quality. When medicines are flushed, they are transported to our waste water treatment plants. With all the new and innovative prescription medications, some treatment plants are not equipped to handle all the chemicals, and they can be released into our rivers and streams or infiltrated into the ground.  When medications are thrown away, they are taken to landfills. During the rainy season, these medications can become runoff and can potentially make their way into the groundwater or to our rivers. When introduced into our environment, these medications can greatly affect wildlife, pets, and people who are visiting the river.

Highlights of SB212
To address the growing need for proper medication and sharps disposal, California signed Senate Bill 212 into law in 2018 which will create a Drugs and Sharps Take-Back Program for all California residents. This law will be the first in the nation to establish a comprehensive, producer-funded take-back program to provide safe and convenient disposal options for both home generated pharmaceutical drugs and sharps waste. The manufacturers of these products will be responsible for setting up the program, paying for the program and providing comprehensive public education to promote consumer participation in the program. New collection sites will be established for the take-back of medications. Individuals without the ability to deliver their medications to a bin will be able to request prepaid, preaddressed mailing envelopes for safe disposal of their medications.  Sharps will be collected through a mail-back program where consumers will receive a sharps container and mail-back kit at time of purchase. There will be State oversite of this program through the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle). It is expected that this program will be in place in 2022. Once implemented, this program will greatly expand the existing take-back opportunities in Sonoma County and Mendocino County.  In the meantime, residents are encouraged to utilize the existing Safe Medication Disposal Program www.safemedicinedisposal.org.

It is illegal to dispose of home-generated syringes/needles in the garbage. This includes needles, syringes and lancets used for the care of people and animals. More and more sharps are being found in our city streets, parks and along our streams and rivers. Additionally, sharps are being illegally disposed of in curbside garbage and recycling bins creating a hazard for workers who sort and come in contact with these materials. By 2022, convenient disposal will be available for unwanted sharps through the State program required by SB 212. Until that time, there are other options available for sharps disposal through local Household Hazardous Waste Programs and mail back options.

Disposal of medicines and sharps
There are several permanent disposal options for medicines in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties:

There are also several annual events for disposal options:

  • The Federal Drug Enforcement Agency sponsors two drug “Take-Back Day” events per year. The next drug “Take-Back Day” event will be held on Saturday, April 27 from 10 AM – 2 PM. Locations are still being added so check the website in early April for updated locations at dea.gov
  • SCWMA offers weekly toxics collection events at rotating locations across Sonoma County. A full calendar can be found at org/toxics/comm_toxics_collect.asp. Appointments can be scheduled by calling

(707) 795-2025.*

Sharps must be in FDA approved containers in order to be accepted for disposal.


*Controlled substances are not accepted at the location mentioned above.

This article was co-authored by Lisa Steinman, County of Sonoma, Courtney Scott, Sonoma County Waste Management Agency, and Christina Leung, RRWA Staff, on behalf of RRWA. RRWA (www.rrwatershed.org) 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.

Our Invisible but Critical Water Source

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. Aquifers are water-rich underground areas. They aren’t like lakes or pools but are composed of water-filled areas between rocks, sands, and gravels.

Plants and animals benefit from groundwater when it’s near the surface, and feeds creeks and streams. Humans tap into aquifers through wells used for drinking, irrigating crops and operating businesses. People who live in rural areas rely almost exclusively on groundwater, and while cities in Sonoma and Mendocino counties get most of their water from the Russian River, groundwater provides a critical back-up source that is used during droughts or in emergencies.

In some parts of California, like the Central Valley, aquifers are large, continuous and relatively close to the Earth’s surface.  But aquifers in coastal counties are much more complex. Separated by mountains, hills and geologic features, including earthquake faults, there are 14 identified groundwater basins in Sonoma County and six basins in Mendocino County. This geologic complexity explains why one landowner can have a productive 50-foot deep well, while their neighbor’s 200-foot deep well provides only a trickle of water.

Studies conducted by the US Geological Survey (USGS) found that water in some of the deeper local aquifers has been underground for more than 20,000 years while water levels in aquifers closer to the surface can fluctuate seasonally, dropping during the summer when pumping is heavier and increasing during the rainy season.

Unfortunately, too many wells, too much pumping, and droughts can temporarily – and in some cases permanently – impact aquifers, resulting in dry wells, poor water quality, depleted creeks, and in some cases sinking of the land surface. In areas close to the ocean and bays (like Southern Sonoma Valley), the loss of groundwater can result in salt water migrating into groundwater basins.

Some communities in the Central Valley where groundwater has been over-pumped have seen the land surface drop by 30 feet, damaging roads, canals and bridges. Declining groundwater levels and polluted run-off from past agricultural practices have also degraded water quality in several Central Valley communities, resulting in residents having to use bottled water for drinking and bathing.

These problems were the motivation for the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), which became California law in 2015.  To make sure that people fairly share and wisely use and protect this shared resource, SGMA requires communities to manage groundwater by, first, creating new Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs). In Sonoma and Mendocino counties, GSAs were created for the Santa Rosa Plain and Petaluma, Sonoma and Ukiah valleys.

The second step of SGMA is to gain a scientific, quantifiable understanding of current and future problems, and to develop solutions through the creation of a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP).  The third step of SGMA is to implement the GSP and obtain sustainable conditions over a 20-year time period, with check-ins every five years. If local communities fail in taking any one these steps, the state can take over management of the basin. So far, local GSAs are on track and are working on the GSPs.

SGMA requires that the GSPs be developed through a transparent process with public input and community engagement. The GSAs all hold regularly scheduled public meetings, and materials are available for review.

How local well owners will be affected by SGMA will depend on the problems (and solutions) identified in the GSPs. One thing is certain:  SGMA prohibits the GSAs from requiring residential groundwater users to install meters on their wells. In regard to costs, if aquifers are healthy and there are minimal concerns about future impacts, the GSP could simply require ongoing monitoring and reporting of groundwater levels through test wells and voluntary programs. If problems are identified, the GSP could identify potentially more costly programs (like water conservation) or projects (like recharging the aquifers) to ensure that groundwater is sustainable. In some areas with severe problems, the GSA may be required to limit groundwater use.

Locally, the four GSAs each received a grant of one million dollars to help prepare the GSPs. If more funding is needed, SGMA allows groundwater users to be charged for the costs of running the GSA and developing and implementing the GSP. The Santa Rosa Plain GSA (encompassing the general valley floor area from Cotati to Windsor and from the foot of Sonoma Mountain to Sebastopol) is currently looking at a possible groundwater sustainability fee to cover costs (up to $13 a year for rural residential well owners and up to $26 per acre-foot for other groundwater users). The Santa Rosa Plain GSA will be holding a series of community meetings on March 4, 6 and 7. For more information on the Santa Rosa Plain fee, go to www.santarosaplaingroundwater.org/finances/fee.

This article was authored by Ann DuBay, Sonoma County Water Agency, on behalf of RRWA. RRWA (www.rrwatershed.org) 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.

Russian River-Friendly Landscaping Guidelines

Every landscape can have a beneficial impact on the Russian River and the surrounding environment. In 2010, the Russian River Watershed Association (RRWA) created a comprehensive toolbox of principles and practices to provide landscape professionals in the region with guidelines for protecting our environment, known as the Russian River-Friendly Landscape Guidelines (RRFLG):

  1. Landscape Locally
  2. Landscape for Less to the Landfill
  3. Nurture the Soil
  4. Conserve Water
  5. Conserve Energy
  6. Protect Water and Air Quality
  7. Create and Protect Wildlife Habitat

While these guidelines were created for landscape professionals, residents can also find insight on how to apply the guidelines through RRWA’s online resources for residential landscaping: www.rrwatershed.org/project/rrflg. RRWA encourages watershed residents to consult with a Bay-Friendly Qualified Professional for design and management of home landscapes using ReScape’s directory: https://rescapeca.org/directory.

As part of RRWA’s Russian River-Friendly Landscaping program, RRWA hosts biennial events for professionals to provide further education on the RRFLG. The 5th Biannual Russian River-Friendly Landscaping Event “Planting Resilience: Stories, Science, and Strategies,” will take place in Santa Rosa on Wednesday, February 6, 2019. The event will cover restoring, replanting, and regrowing Russian River watershed landscapes after the October fires. The keynote speaker is Douglas Kent, author of several titles including Firescaping and Ocean Friendly Gardens. Other speakers include Chris Grabil, Steve Quarles (UC Berkeley), Kristin Maharg Suarez (Community Soil Foundation), Scott Sherman (ReScape), and Veronica Bowers (Native Song Bird Care). The event will also include a panel discussion on the landscape design templates for the fire rebuild, developed by Sonoma‑Marin Saving Water Partnership.

Sonoma-Marin Saving Water Partnership Landscape Design Templates for Fire Rebuild

The Sonoma-Marin Saving Water Partnership has developed eight scalable landscape design templates for the fire rebuild. These free, front yard designs are scalable to fit landscaped areas up to 2,500 square feet, ready‑to‑permit, and in compliance with local Water Efficient Landscape Ordinances.

The templates include conceptual plans that illustrate the interconnectedness of back and side yards with the front yard, as well as optional features such as rain water catchment, graywater systems, rain gardens, and  swales. Preparations for optional features such as stubbing out a line for greywater or grading yards for rain gardens and swales can be done for little or no additional cost during a rebuild.

For more information:


This article was co-authored by Chris Grabill, Watershed Task Force, and Christina Leung, RRWA staff. RRWA (www.rrwatershed.org) 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.

The Plant Invasion

Give them an inch and they’ll take an acre…as the California Invasive Pest Council says. There are a whopping 195 invasive plant species in Sonoma County. In the northwestern forest region which includes Mendocino County, 265 invasive species have been identified. An invasive plant species is non-native and aggressively out-competes native species! In other words, they spread fast and crowd out other plants, harming ecosystems and impacting water quality. Native plants provide shelter and food for native insects, birds, and animals. Invasive species tend not to have habitat value. In fact, they sometimes destroy the very habitats native species need to survive.

Ludwigia hexapetala (Water Primrose)

One of the most damaging invasive plants is invasive Ludwigia or water primrose. Water primrose is a lovely, floating plant with delicate yellow flowers and is a favorite for artificial ponds and aquariums. Unfortunately, several subspecies of water primrose (Ludwigia hexapetala and Ludwigia peploides) are aggressively invasive and among the most concerning of the invasive species for water quality and stream health. Invasive Ludwigia grows quickly and thickly on water surfaces, blocking out light, using up the oxygen and choking out other life. When invasive Ludwigia covers a water body surface, aquatic birds cannot penetrate the thick mat of Ludwigia with their beaks to hunt for food. Ludwigia also depletes the oxygen in the water body it covers, so that the oxygen is no longer available for fish and other life.

Arundo donax (Giant Reed)

Arundo donax (Giant Reed) grows best along streambanks. It was introduced for erosion control because it quickly covers exposed soil. Unfortunately, that very quality that is useful for erosion control, makes it an invasive species, crowding out native plant species, and reducing habitat value for birds and other animals. Arundo has another huge drawback – it is highly flammable, speeding the spread of wildfire.

Protect our river. Protect our streams. Don’t plant or spread invasive species. Here is what you can do…

  • Plant California native plants in your yards and gardens. Native plants can be just as beautiful as exotic ornamentals and provide ecosystem benefits. For example, the California Lilac has lovely purple blooms, It’s a nitrogen-fixing plant. The California Fuchsia blooms deep red or purple and attracts hummingbirds. The California Native Plant Society has an on-line tool to help you select native species. www.cnps.org/gardening. The California Invasive Plant Council also lists helpful links for plants to use and stay away from for land managers, landscapers and for the public www.cal-ipc.org.
  • Don’t plant a pest in your pond. If you have a pond, please get help from a native plant expert to purchase local, native species, not invasive ones. Just because you can buy it legally, doesn’t mean it’s not invasive. Go to the California Native Plant Society on-line tool www.cnps.org/gardening or ask your local nursery for help.
  • Clean your boat. One of the ways invasive plants travel from one water body to another is by hitching rides on boats. If your boat has been outside of our region, clean the exterior of your boat thoroughly before re-entering the Russian River or any of our lakes or ponds. Remove any plant materials off your boat, even very small pieces.
This article was authored by Cristina Goulart, for the Town of Windsor, on behalf of RRWA. RRWA (www.rrwatershed.org) 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.