Eight Water Conservation Tips and Tricks

On average, each Californian uses about 85 gallons of water every day, but it depends on the season. In winter months, it’s as low as 60 gallons per day and in summer months, it’s as high as 110 gallons per day. That’s between 12 and 22 of those 5‑gallon water cooler jugs, every day for every person! About a quarter of that water literally gets flushed down the toilet. More than half comes from faucets, showers, and appliances.

Efficient water use is always important, but it’s imperative right now. The drought will pass, and rain will come again, but right now, in this moment, we have a civic duty to do what we can to help. Our local rivers, water suppliers, and various sources of fire protection water need each of us to do our parts to make sure there’s enough of this valuable resource to go around. There are countless ways to easily save water and save money while doing it. Here are some water conservation tips and tricks.

  • Look for and fix leaks. Dripping faucets and worn toilet flappers are common types of leaks found in the home:
    • Check your water meter, wait a few hours without using any water, and check your meter again. If your meter changes, you probably have a leak. Be careful lifting the lid to your meter, as wires can be connected from the lid to the meter that are expensive to replace. Information about your water meter can be found at http://www.rrwatershed.org/maximize-outdoor-water-use.
    • To find a leak in your toilet, place a few drops of food coloring in the tank and wait 10 minutes. If color shows up in the bowl, you have a leak.
    • Examine pipes and valves under your sinks to check for moisture.
    • Check your irrigation system regularly to look for leaks and make repairs promptly.
    • Don’t forget your
    • garden hose. If it leaks at the spigot, replace the hose washer and ensure a tight connection with pipe tape and a wrench.

Fixing household leaks can save you about 10 percent on your water bill. While you’re at it, see if you can find a leak at work and report it to maintenance staff. If you see an irrigation leak around town, report it to the local utility.

  • Fix the flush. In general, the older your toilet is the more water it uses. Toilets built before 1982 use 5 to 7 gallons per flush. Toilets built between 1982 and 1993 use about 3.5 gallons per flush. Newer toilets use 1.6 gallons of water or less. For the average flusher with an old commode, that’s a savings of about 20gallons per day or 600 gallons per month per person! Look inside the tank of your toilet for a date stamp either on the inside of the tank near the top or on the underside of the tank’s top. Try flushing less. “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.” Never use a toilet as a garbage can.
  • Take shorter showers, or fewer showers. You probably aren’t THAT dirty anyway. Challenge yourself to take a 5-minute shower. Replace your showerhead. There are many low-flow options out there for just a few bucks. The average family could save 2,700 gallons per year by installing more efficient showerheads. Hot water savings reduce demands on water heaters, saving energy dollars too!
  • Save water at the faucet. Replacing faucets with low flow options can reduce water use by as much as 30 percent or more without sacrificing performance. Not ready to replace a faucet? Try adding a low flow faucet aerator. They’re small, inexpensive, easy to install and can reduce faucet flows to 1.5 gallons per minute. A family can save about 700 gallons of water per year by installing an aerator. Turn off the water while you brush your teeth, wash your hands and shave. Use a machine dishwasher if you have one and avoid pre-rinsing dishes. Machine washing generally uses less water, energy, soap, and time. If you must manually wash dishes, always use a basin to soak and scrub dishes and be quick with rinsing. Try not filling up the basin. Rinse out recyclables in the dishwasher, with dirty dishwater or wipe them clean with a gently used napkin. Reducing demands on hot water saves energy too. If you’re in the market for a new appliance, toilet, faucet, showerhead, or faucet aerator look for the WaterSense label. This is a distinction earned by meeting EPA water efficiency criteria without compromising the quality of your fixture experience.
  • While you wait for water from your bathtub and sinks to warm up, try catching it in containers like milk jugs or buckets. Use the water you collect to water plants and make coffee. You can also use it to flush the toilet by dumping water into the bowl with one quick pour into the bowl to create a strong flush.
  • Generate less laundry by wearing clothing multiple times if they’re not dirty and reuse your bath/shower towel for an entire week. Only run appliances when you have a full load for washing. Try air drying dishes instead of using a dishtowel.
  • Let your lawn go brown. Or even better, explore alternative landscaping and irrigation options like rock gardens, native and drought tolerant plants, rainwater harvesting and other long-term options. Add 2” -3” of mulch to help retain soil moisture. If you must irrigate, do it at night or in the early morning to minimize evaporation. Make sure you have a garden hose nozzle with an auto-off lever so you can target plants and avoid spraying everywhere. Landscaping should survive, not thrive in a drought. Use a broom or blower to clean surfaces instead of hosing them off.
  • Don’t wash your car. If you can’t stand a dirty ride, wash your car at a commercial carwash. Many facilities recycle their wash water, but even if they don’t, car washing equipment is much more water efficient than your garden hose. Avoid washing your car at home.

To take a Home Water Use Survey and find drought information or more water conservation ideas, check out the Russian River Watershed Association’s drought page at http://www.rrwatershed.org/project/2021-drought-updates-and-information and Resource Library at http://www.rrwatershed.org/resource-library.

Thank you for being part of the solution!

This article was authored by Vanessa Apodaca, of (West Yost 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.

Keep Our Cars and Our River Clean

Clean Car, Dirty Creek

Common sense tells us that you can’t get something clean without getting something else dirty. Depending on how you wash your car, you may be trading a clean car for a dirty creek. The dirt, oil and grease that flows off your fresh clean car often flows into the street, storm drains and then into our creeks. This water does not get treated at the local sewage treatment plant. When we wash our cars in our driveways, the dirt, oil and grease from our cars hitch a ride with the water and soap and flow into street gutters. Eventually, all those pollutants reach the Russian River.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

The Power of One, Multiplied

If you’re thinking that washing your car couldn’t possibly hurt the fish in our waterways by itself, you’re probably right. But with the nice weather, you won’t be the only one making your ride gleam; lots of neighbors will be washing their cars too. All the dirt, oil, grease and soap will collect in the storm drains and wait for the next rainstorm. These pollutants do not evaporate, so they can collect all Summer long. When Winter returns, an entire Summer’s worth of pollution is flushed into our creeks and the Russian River all at once.

Take a BreakThe good news is that there are things you can do to reduce the environmental impact of washing your car. If you hand wash at home, try washing your car on an unpaved part of your yard and let your landscaping clean the wash water for you. When you wash your car on your lawn or other unpaved area, the pollutants you rinse off your car will saturate into the soil. The soil, gravel, and vegetation act as filters for the soap and grime.

The easiest way to wash your car is also the most environmentally friendly; have your car washed at a professional car washing facility. Most professional car wash facilities collect and re-use their rinse water. When done, they then discharge their dirty water to the sanitary sewer where it gets treated. Professional car washes also reduce water usage and support local jobs. You can take a break from washing your car and give our creeks a break too. A list of the “greenest” car washes in Sonoma County is available here: http://www.savingwaterpartnership.org/carwash

Fundraiser Car Washes

A community car wash is a traditional way to earn money for scouts, schools, or sports programs. Unfortunately, it also concentrates a lot of dirt, oil and grease in one location and then puts it all into storm drains (and eventually creeks) at once. If you are a planning a community car wash on a paved area, plan to block the storm drains receiving the rinse water and pump the accumulated rinse water into a sanitary sewer inlet, or direct the water to a landscaped area where it can soak in. Before planning a fundraising car wash, please call your local municipality for the latest requirements and guidelines.

With a little effort, we can each keep our cars gleaming while protecting our creeks. Clean cars don’t have to mean dirty creeks.

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.


Earth Day 2021 – 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.

Santa Rosa Earth Day

  • April 22 from 11 am-2 pm Place to Play Community Park in Santa Rosa. To prevent the spread of COID-19, this is a drive-thru only event. Participants must remain in vehicle at all times. Masks are required.
    • Drive-thru to pick-up your FREE KID’S ECO-EXPLORATION GUIDE and/or WATERSMART TOOLKIT. The FREE Kid’s Eco-Exploration Guides will be filled with fun eco-friendly activities, reusable items, and so much more! For adults, we will be giving away FREE WaterSmart Toolkits that include flow bag’s, dye tabs, and additional water-saving resources.Drive-thru, pop your trunk, and be on your way – it’s that easy to celebrate Earth Day with us!
    • Check back Monday, April 19 for more information!Can’t make it to the Earth Day? Celebrate with us virtually beginning Monday April, 19 here at srcity.org/EarthDay. Our website will be filled with fun and engaging eco-friendly activities for all ages. Be sure to check back for more details!

Sonoma County Regional Parks’ Earth Day Creek Clean-Up — Celebrate ‘Love Your Mother—Clean your Creek’

  • April 24 from 9 am to 11 am In honor of Earth Day, let’s show Mother Earth some pampering. Sonoma Creek, which provides critical wildlife habitat and an important wildlife corridor, runs right through Maxwell and Larson parks. Help us preserve the value of this riparian habitat for fish and other resident and migrating wildlife by removing litter and other debris. Registration is required for this volunteer event. For more information, contact John Ryan by email at John.Ryan@sonoma-county.org
    • Larson Park
    • Maxwell Farms Regional Park

Ukiah Earth Day Community Clean-up

  • April 24 from 9:00 am – 12:00 pm  Family-friendly community clean-up ( ages 8 and up). Meet at Railroad Depot, 247 E. Perkins St., Ukiah. To RSVP, please contact Sonja Burgal at sburgal@ncoinc.org
    • Trash bags and gloves provided.
    • Graffiti removal
    • Painting projects
    • Bike ride at 1:30 pm

Windsor Earth-Day Clean-Up

  • April 19-22 Earth Day Trash Clean-up! Volunteers can organize their own neighborhood clean-up, supported by the Town of Windsor. Trash collection bags and gloves will be provided for pickup at the Public Works Department (8400 Windsor Road, outside Building 400).
  • April 24 from 9 am to 11 am Trash Clean-up! Meet at the corner of MacFarlane Way and Victory Lane. Collection bags provided. Pandemic safety measures enforced. Fille bags will be picked up on April 24 once participants notify Town Staff of the street intersection where bags are left.
  • Instagram Photo Contest! A free Russian River Watershed “Ours to Protect” t-shirt will be given to the three participants who share the best photos of the event @town_of_windsor_ca #TownofWindsorCleanup2021
    Photos must be posted by noon on April 24th.

For more information, contact the Storm Water Program staff at the Town of Windsor Public Works Department (707) 838-5385 or stormwater@townofwindsor.com

D.I.Y. pesticides…. Are they safe?

I was on a call with a friend the other day. She just happened to mention how she has been spraying newly developing weeds growing in the cracks of her walkway with the widely popular vinegar, dish detergent and salt recipe. Wonderful that she was getting a jump start on the young weeds, since the best time to manage them is when they are newly sprouted. However, unfortunately, this internet recipe that has been trending does more harm than good.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the sincere intentions to reduce pesticides, but this recipe is a huge concern and very much misunderstood.  Here’s the deal:

  1. Dish detergents are not true soaps. The only true soap on the market is castile soap, under the brand name of Dr Bronner’s and the Whole Foods 365 brand. I’m sure there are a few more, but not always easy to find. Unlike true soap, dish detergents contain many harmful additives, such as:
    • Methylisothiazolinone: is highly corrosive and found to be toxic when ingested or inhaled, it also causes skin irritation/allergies/damage, and causes acute aquatic toxicity
    • 1,4-Dioxane: is listed as a likely human carcinogen, and a groundwater contaminant
    • Ethanolamine: is listed as harmful if swallowed, including respiratory effects, general systemic/organ effects, chronic aquatic toxicity, nervous system effects, skin irritation/allergies/damage.
    • Triclosan: is listed as causing developmental/endocrine/reproductive effects, cancer, immune system effects, circulatory system effects, nervous system effects, skin irritation/allergies/damage, digestive system effects, and having acute aquatic toxicity

And that’s not all, many have words like ‘natural’ on the label but have added scent and coloring that are chemicals showing health concerns. So, when we use these types of dish detergents as an additive in our D.I.Y. weed killer or aphid spray, we are doing more harm than good, contaminating our soils, our plants, and even ourselves.

  1. Salt is bad news for your garden! Salt in the soil absorbs water, reducing the plants ability to take up water, increasing root dehydration. You might think this is exactly what those weeds need! However, keep in mind that if you ever want to plant in that soil, you may see your plants struggle, even die because of this salt build up. Let’s look back at our history books, remember how the Romans, and other invading armies, would burn a village down, then salt their fields to prevent them from growing crops again? Avoid adding salt to your soil if you want to grow lovely plants (this includes using synthetic fertilizers, which are very high in salts. Feed your plants organic fertilizers for optimum health).
  2. Vinegar, here’s the deal: Household vinegar is diluted to about 5% acetic acid vs horticultural vinegar which is around 20% acetic acid, which is pretty strong. Understand that 11% acetic acid can burn skin and cause eye damage, while concentrations of 20% or higher can cause blindness and are corrosive to metals. This is no joke! Something else to understand is when vinegar is used as a weed killer/herbicide, it is working as a ‘top kill herbicide’, killing the top ‘leafy’ portion of the plant tissue. This is why when using many of the eco-herbicides that are sold on the market, is it is best apply when the weeds have just sprouted so that the root will not be able to recover and sprout new growth.

Our Water Our World logo

So, what is the best way to kill weeds? Hand pulling weeds, using weeding tools, and sheet mulching (layers of overlapping carboard with 3” of mulch on top) can’t be beat for best ways to manage weeds. However, if you are still wanting to use a D.I.Y. method then I’ll share a little trick, you can kill many weeds with boiling water! That’s right, boiling water! So, boil up a kettle of water, grab your oven mitt, use caution to not burn yourself and douse those weeds. Just like the D.I.Y. recipe, you will most likely need to repeat this as needed, but without the cost or the potential harm.

You can find helpful tips for controlling weeds in your garden at http://ourwaterourworld.org/Portals/0/Weeds_2-6-20_web.pdf.

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. Visit www.rrwatershed.org/project/our-water-our-world  for more information.

This article was authored by Suzanne Bontempo, Our Water Our World, 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.


Lake Mendocino 2019 and 2021

Save Water As If Your Life Depends On It

“Every drop counts.”
“Use water wisely.”
“There’s never enough to waste.”
“Our future in every drop.”
“Save water, rain or shine.”

Those of us in the water industry are always looking for new ways to ask our customers to save, conserve, and never waste water. And we do that for good reason. We live in a region prone to regular periods of drought, punctuated by sudden and catastrophic floods. Last year we had a very dry year, and this water year is off to a very dry start as well. Sonoma Water, which supplies drinking water to 600,000 residents in Sonoma and Marin counties, relies on rainfall to fill our reservoirs and consecutive years of below-average rainfall are always cause for concern. Will this be a two-year dry spell, or the beginning of a multi-year drought?

Given the current conditions (as this is being written in January) there is a good chance you’ll be hearing from the Sonoma-Marin Water Saving Partnership this winter and again in the spring and summer about your water‑saving habits. It could also happen that by the time you read this we will have been drenched with a series of soaking storms and all the hand-wringing about a second dry year and low reservoirs will be a moot point. But what if it’s not?

This is the dilemma local water managers face on a regular basis. We live in a place prone to drought, sometimes long and painful droughts. We’ve experienced enough dry years to know that we can’t wait too long to sound the water-saving alarm.

Complicating the issue in the Russian River watershed are the threatened and endangered fish species, and the requirement to coordinate releases from our two reservoirs, Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma, to provide enough water for migrating salmon. It’s a complex equation that adds another layer of peril to the balancing act. Our water scientists are adept at navigating an array of requirements and demands, both political and regulatory, in order to balance the needs of many competing interests.

On a more positive note, a team of scientists from Sonoma Water, the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Geologic Survey, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources, have successfully proven the viability of a program that allows more winter rain to be stored at Lake Mendocino using advanced weather forecasting. The program, known as Forecast Informed Reservoir Operations (FIRO),balances the water supply and flood control purposes of the reservoir and is being considered by other water agencies in the state. FIRO holds great promise as a new tool for preserving our water supply while reducing flood risk.

The wild card in this discussion is climate change and the profound changes it is expected to have on our water cycle. Will it lead to longer droughts and more intense storms? Probably. Will we have warmer temperatures and increased pressure on water supplies? Probably. Will this mean that water will become even more precious and the need to save water and use it wisely even more critical? Certainly.

Our local water systems are complex and rife with uncertainty. One thing that we do know for certain, however, is that we cannot afford to waste water. Our lives really do depend on it. So, when we ask our customers to save water – no matter which words we use – we mean it.

For more information about using water wisely, visit www.savingwaterpartnership.org

This article was authored by Barry Dugan, Senior Programs Specialist in the Community and Government Affairs Division at 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.

Too Much Fertilizer

Fertilizer is food for plants which need a variety of nutrients to grow and thrive. While we humans get our nutrients from different foods we eat, plants get most of their nutrients from the soil. Sometimes soils don’t have the nutrients necessary for plants to grow and thrive, so we apply chemical fertilizers and animal manure to our gardens and lawns to provide plants with the nitrogen and phosphorus they need. Fertilizer is typically added to the soil to help establish seeds or young plants and may be added to the soil throughout the life of the plant to help keep it healthy. But over-fertilizing can negatively affect aquatic ecosystems.

Blue-green algae (cyanobacteria ) Photo credit: Lamiot, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

When nitrogen and phosphorus are not fully utilized by the growing plants, the excess nutrients are washed into our waterways during rain events resulting in nutrient pollution and causing excessive algae growth. Nutrient-rich runoff causes algae to grow faster than waterway ecosystems can handle, which can lead to Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs), such as the blue-green algae we see at Spring Lake Reservoir in Santa Rosa, in the Russian River, and in Salmon Creek Lagoon in Bodega Bay. Severe algal growth blocks light that is needed for native aquatic plants to grow. When the algae and aquatic plants die, they decay, which uses up oxygen in the water. Excessive oxygen depletion can lead to illness and death in fish and other aquatic animals. Some algal blooms are also harmful to humans because they produce elevated toxins and bacterial growth that can make people sick if they encounter polluted water or consume tainted fish or shellfish. Any type of fertilizer can cause algae blooms, whether it’s organic or inorganic, manure or bone meal, applied on a lawn, an agricultural field or a golf course, too much of it is harmful to our waterways.

This quick guide provides a visual comparison of appearance and color and odor that can be helpful in distinguishing non-toxic green algae and aquatic plants from potentially toxic cyanobacteria blooms or harmful algal blooms (HABs). https://mywaterquality.ca.gov/habs/what/visualguide_fs.pdf

Visit Sonoma County Environmental Health Website for more information:

How to Be Fertilizer Savvy

What might not be obvious, is that the soil may already have enough nutrients for plants to be strong and healthy. New lawns or areas with very poor soils might lack nutrients, but most established lawns need very little fertilizer. If you do need to fertilize your lawn and/or garden, there are easy actions you can take to minimize the impacts on our waterways:

  • Make sure to only use the type and amount of fertilizer your lawn and plants need. A soil test can help. Visit http://www.rrwatershed.org/resource-library/ for a list of local soil and compost testing laboratories.
  • Take the time to properly apply lawn fertilizer. Be sure the spreader being used is designed for lawn fertilizer application and that it is calibrated for the type of fertilizer being used.
  • Avoid applying fertilizer between late autumn and late winter. Lawns and other plants are unable to use nutrients once they go dormant for the season.
  • Ask questions if a lawn care company applies fertilizer to your lawn. Most universities recommend 3 to 4 fertilizer applications during the growing season, while some lawn care companies will make 6 to 7 applications during the growing season.
  • Of course, there is another option: Don’t fertilize at all. You can have a healthy lawn by opting not to fertilize. By leaving lawn clippings on the lawn to decompose, valuable nutrients are returned to the soil. Mowing at a taller height (3-3.5 inches) can also reduce pest problems, such as weeds, insects, and diseases.
  • Encourage year-round ground cover. Plant perennial species to minimize bare ground in your yard during winter and spring when soil (and the nutrients it contains) is most susceptible to erosion and loss into waterways.
  • Never overwater. Overwatering a yard is a common practice among homeowners and landscaping services and can lead to fertilizer being washed away more easily.

What Else Can We Do?

Residential areas can be a significant source of excess nutrient pollution. In addition to yards and gardens, our appliances and even pets contribute to nutrient pollution. Roadside storm drains lead directly to local streams and rivers, so anything that flows into them makes it to local waterways without treatment.

  • Dispose of pet waste properly by putting it in the trash can. Pet waste contributes nitrogen, phosphorus, parasites and bacteria to water bodies when it is not disposed of properly. For more information, visit rrwatershed.org/we-need-you-to-pick-up-the-poo .
  • If you have unwanted fertilizers, dispose of them through your local Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) Programs offered by Zero Waste Sonoma and MendoRecycle.
  • Choose phosphate-free detergents, soaps, and household cleaners. Many laundry, dish and car washing soaps contain phosphates, which are carried from our homes into the water system through our drains.
  • Select the proper load size for your washing machine, and only run your dish washer when you have a full load. It’s important to use the appropriate amount of detergent; more is not better.
  • If you have a septic system, inspect it annually and maintain it as recommended.
  • If you see wastewater surfacing from a septic or sewer system, repair or report it to the appropriate authorities as soon as possible.
  • Visit Russian River Watershed Association’s Russian River Friendly Landscape Program Guidelines at rrwatershed.org/project/rrflg.
  • Visit Our Water Our World for other important information and helpful tips on how to keep our creeks and river clean at http://ourwaterourworld.com/Quick-Links/Caring-For-Our-Creeks

This article was authored by Vanessa Apodaca, of (West Yost 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.


Simple Tips to Rehydrate and Diversify your Garden

Welcome 2021! A new year that comes with new resolutions and reflections on the past year. For many, the past year dramatically changed how we live our lives and where we live it. Those lucky enough to have a garden, lawn or greenspace have found a place for gatherings, play and relaxation. However, a lawn can have unintended environmental consequences, especially in California’s semi-arid climate where it needs frequent watering and provides little biodiversity for native species to thrive.

The following simple steps can be taken to minimize your lawn acreage by rewilding the garden, reducing water use, and promoting native pollinators all in your backyard!

Capture Rainwater: With California currently in the midst of its rainy season, installing a rain barrel is an easy way to capture the water for your future use. All it requires is a large rain barrel with a spigot on the bottom, a lid with a screen to block debris from entering the barrel, and a small modification to your existing gutter system. An estimated 600 gallons can fall on a 1,000 sq. ft. roof during a one-inch rain providing a large reservoir for irrigation during the drier seasons helping to cut water bills. This also prevents debris from your roof flowing into and potentially polluting storm drains.

A natural alternative to this rainwater capture system is a rain garden. This is a rainwater capture area downhill of your gutter that slows the flow of the water and allows it to percolate into the soil before it runs off into the street. More details can be found in RRWA’s May 2020 column, Looking for a little peace? Plant a Rain Garden.

Transform Your Lawn: Re-wilding your garden consists of removing parts of your lawn and planting native species adapted to California’s climate in its place. Examples of plants well suited include the perennial Plumbago which produces long lasting brilliant blue flowers, Bush Yarrow, ideally suited for pollinators or the flowering Golden Rain tree which provides welcome shade in the summers. These plants will save you water as they typically have root systems that extend much further into the soil which aids in moisture retention making the species more drought tolerant. Planting these native species also promotes biodiversity encouraging pollinator species to visit and take refuge in your garden.

Compost, Compost, Compost: To keep these new plants healthy, a simple at home compost will foster a fertile, disease free suppressive soil encouraging your new native plants to thrive. To support a healthy compost pile, use a 3:1 ratio of brown to green materials.  Brown materials are carbon heavy materials such as dead leaves, plants, cardboard, and newspaper. Green materials are nitrogen heavy materials such as coffee grounds and fruit and vegetable scraps. You can buy a compost bin or keep your compost pile in a shady location, aerating the compost by turning it regularly. If it begins to smell just add more brown materials. More detailed composting guides can be found online in the RRWA handbook linked below.


Building more sustainable gardens and backyards to make Russian River-Friendly Landscapes has been a key project for the RRWA over the last several years. If you are a resident within the watershed you may have seen their Russian River-Friendly Signage posted at your Local Park or neighbor’s house. Perhaps you soon will be able to post your own Russian River-Friendly Sign!

To get more information on how you can make your yard a Russian River-Friendly Landscape make sure to mark your calendars for the RRWA webinar event on February 2nd and 3rd: Rehydrating the Russian River Watershed: MovingTowards Regenerative Landscapes. To learn more about beneficial landscaping practices and the wide variety of native Californian plants suited to the Russian River Watershed, make sure to read the Russian River Friendly Landscaping Guidelines Handbook

This article was authored by Andrew Bake, CivicSpark Fellow, Mendocino County Water Agency, 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 with short bridge in the background

Riparian Plants and Their Humble Little Job

It goes without saying that plants are some of the most beautiful and important organisms we have on our planet. As a child I was always interested in the world of plants. A world seemingly so familiar yet so estranged from common understanding. As kids we run barefoot and play on the soft grass, take refuge under the shade a tree provides amidst a hot California day, and take a deep breath of the fresh air the leaves so selflessly gift to us. All while the plants remain sessile, unassuming, and ask nothing of us. In grade school we are taught of the “important” things that plants provide in terms of food and materials to build our world. It was not until continuing my education in college that I began to fully grasp the ecosystem services plants truly offer to us. As we built our world through the power of plants, engineered our cities, pushed our civilization to the likes of which this world has never seen before, we find every alteration requires a new remediation. And as we look to science to provide the next breakthrough it is often plants, unassuming, and quietly taking matters into their own hands.

We built our cities and found ways to channel water, divert creeks, and move storm water out as fast as we can to provide a suitable place to develop upon. Rightly so, we do not want our homes and our businesses flooding year in and year out. And yet, with this approach we have willingly surrendered so many services nature often provides us. Cities developed an underground storm drain system, a network of pipes beneath our streets and homes solely dedicated to diverting storm water, as a way to compensate for the impervious concrete surfaces we cast upon the land. Without the natural uptake of rain through pervious soils storm water quickly runs into our gutters, into our storm drains, and into our creeks. Unsurprisingly, this increases the possibility of pollutants being conveyed from our City streets and into our waterways. Pathogens, for instance, have become a pollutant of concern in which our paved and engineered world has perpetuated from a water quality perspective. The Regional Water Quality Control Board has identified particular concerns associated with our urban developed world such as dog waste accumulation along pedestrian trails or back yard drains, accidental spills, potentially leaking septic tanks, illegal dumping in storm drains or waterways, and illicit discharges into street gutters. These sources can introduce pollutants of concern which may accumulate on impervious surfaces during dry weather months. During our first rains, rather than decompose and cycle into the soils, pathogens can flow into our storm drain system and directly into our creeks without any treatment. It is here, our wonderful riparian plants quietly grow and act as the last line of defense.

Riparian species such as sedges, rushes, cattails and so many others have the amazing ability to uptake organic and inorganic pollutants. As storm water contaminated with pathogens passes through riparian species, the porous membrane called xylem tissue uptakes water from its roots to its shoots, acting as a filtration system which studies have shown can effectively filter bacteria such as E. Coli and Enterococcus up to 90%. As a function of species composition, species density, and water surface contact time, pathogen intake from riparian species can efficiently and cost effectively decrease pollutants in our waterways. Some species are more effective than others, and studies are constantly underway to find ways in best applying riparian species to constructed wetlands and waterways for the goal of pathogen intake. Here in Sonoma County we have basket sedge (Carex barbarae), nutsedge (Cyperus erogrostis), grey rush (Juncus patens), broadleaf cattails (Typha latifolia), smartweed (Polypogon hydropiperoides) just to name a few.

Creek bed

As the rains fall, our gutters flow, and our creek begin to rise, I implore you to think about our silent saviors growing at the toe of the bank.

  • Find a local creek trail and observe what is growing in the channel.
  • Educate yourself and others on the importance of our native riparian vegetation.
  • Join a volunteer group and help with a restoration project along a creek.
  • Go yourself and plant a native species along a creek bank. Work with your City or Town representatives to ensure plant species and creek bank location is appropriate.
  • Get your kids involved, or your neighbors, or your friends.
  • Take a look at the Streets to Creeks website (streetstocreeks.org) to learn about other ways you yourself can take steps in your daily life to reduce pollutants in storm water runoff.
  • Perhaps look at installing a Low Impact Development (LID) feature in your home landscaping to capture runoff and naturally filter pollutants before they ever enter the City storm drain system.

Next time you find yourself along a creek, take a look at the plants along the water’s edge and send thanks to them for quietly doing their humble little job.

This article was authored by Aaron Nunez, Environmental Specialist, 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.
Commercial Grease Trap

Get the FOG outa here!

What is FOG? 

F.O.G. stands for Fats, Oils, and Grease. Very common in residential and commercial kitchens, FOG is a detrimental waste byproduct of preparing and cooking various animal and processed foods. Most common sources of FOG trace their roots to meat fats, dairy fats, and vegetable oils. These three FOG sources are widely used throughout the food service industry to create tasty and satisfying menu items and can be found in just about any kitchen.

Like cholesterol clogging our arteries, FOG that is poured down sinks and drains attaches to the sewer plumbing inside and outside of our homes and businesses. Over time this FOG build-up acts to constrict and throttle flow through the pipes, resulting in decreased plumbing capacity and even worse, the following:

  • Blockage of pipes within homes and businesses, causing sewer back-ups into living/working spaces, creating an unhealthy environment. These back-ups are usually very unpleasant and accompanied by expensive clean-up and repairs/restoration.
  • Blockage of city sewer pipes in public areas outside homes and businesses, causing sanitary sewer overflows into streets and waterways, endangering wildlife and public health. Nearly half of these overflows in a typical municipality can be attributed to excess FOG in the system.
  • And lastly, clogging and damage to equipment used in the collection and treatment of sewage, adding significant costs to the operation of these systems. Pumps, valves, instruments, and other process components can be impaired or disabled when excessive FOG is encountered in their operation.

What are businesses doing?

Commercial Grease Trap

Commercial Grease Trap

Municipalities typically have programs to reduce FOG within their sewer collection and treatment systems. These programs are primarily aimed at commercial kitchens and food service establishments, but they benefit all who use and/or maintain the sewer system. The programs incorporate use of grease control devices and kitchen best-management-practices to minimize FOG impact. Yes, lurking below the kitchens of our favorite restaurants are the workhorses of these FOG control programs. Commercial grease interceptors and traps of many different sizes capture and store FOG, holding it for routinely scheduled disposal or recycling.

What can you do?

Thanks to Covid-19, many of our communities are not going out to dinner as often, and it is important to realize the previously mentioned impact FOG can have in our own homes.  While we do not have grease traps and interceptors inside our homes, we can minimize FOG discharge by collecting and properly disposing of generated greases and oils. Good kitchen habits that help keep FOG out of your plumbing include:

  • for large amounts of excess oil such as from deep frying, pour into a twist-top container and allow to cool before tightly capping and disposing in the trash.
  • for small amounts of residual grease and oil-based dressings on plates and pans can still contribute to clogs, so please remember to wipe them down with a paper towel before washing up. The greasy paper towels, napkins, and food scraps can then be placed into the green curbside bin for composting.
Hamburger wrapped in a donut

Human Grease Trap

So, spread the word like butter on toast, and do not FOG-et this important information the next time you are cooking up a delicious doughnut breakfast burger!

This is a friendly reminder that there are many reasons and ways to keep FOG out of the sewer.

This article was authored by Rob Scates, Water/Wastewater Operations Superintendent, City of Healdsburg Municipal Utilities Department, 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.
Street Sweeper

Fun Facts: Street Sweepers

Have you ever awoken to a noisy sound on your street early in the morning and wondered what it was? If it was not your friendly Solid Waste truck collecting your garbage, it was probably your City’s Street Sweeper. Have you ever wondered why so many resources are spent to keep your streets clean, how they operate and why do they have to operate so early in the morning? Well if you have, here are a few answers.

A street sweeper’s main purpose is to prevent unwanted debris from entering the storm drain system and ultimately entering our streams, creeks and finally the Russian River. The street sweeper collects thousands, yes thousands of tons of loose material from our streets and gutters every year. This includes items that should be placed in a trash can, enormous amounts of leaves, rocks and dirt, nails and screws, oil from vehicles, tiny particles from brake pads, debris from auto accidents and lastly a lot of worn out asphalt. Without a street sweeper, this unwanted material will find its way into the storm drain system once the rainy season arrives which ultimately ends up in the receiving stream, creek and the Russian River. A tremendous amount of debris is kept out of our waterways by street sweepers.

A street sweeper essentially operates like a giant vacuum cleaner. Engines power the brooms which rotate while pulling debris from the gutter and street for easy removal by the vacuum unit. Another engine powers the giant vacuum which pulls all of the loose debris from its travel way. As the sweeping and vacuuming process takes place, water is applied to minimize the amount of dust created by the machine.

Street sweepers start their day early so they can maximize the amount of debris that can be collected. At this time of day, a majority of businesses are not open and the parking spaces for the patrons are unoccupied. This allows the street sweeper to clean the entire width of the street and not just the lanes where vehicles travel.

As a citizen and good neighbor, it is important for all of us to do our part to make the Street Sweeper’s job as easy as possible. You can help by moving your vehicle from the street before street sweeping day. Your local Department of Public Works or waste hauler can provide the schedule for street sweeping in your neighborhood. Also, please do not place leaves, lawn cuttings or other debris into the gutter or onto the street. Too much debris, especially when leaves drop in the fall, can plug the giant vacuum. This requires the operator to stop and spend an excessive amount of time in order to unplug the sweeper.

In most areas within the Russian River Watershed, ordinances prohibit depositing debris on the sidewalk, in the gutter, or on the street. Please use your green bin for all leaves and yard waste. You can also contact your local Solid Waste Hauler to see if they have certain weeks in the fall for leaves to be picked up. Most of the Leaf Collection events allow for a certain number of additional cans or bags of leaves to be left at your curb for collection. If you observe broken glass or other debris on the street, please notify your Public Works Department. If you are driving, use caution when passing a street sweeper on its route, and be prepared for them to make U-Turns in order to maximize their efficiency.

Always try remembering the street sweeper and its operator are our friends, even early in the morning. When you see your local Street Sweeper, feel free to wave and thank them for doing their part to keep our streets clean in order to prevent unwanted debris from entering our creeks, streams, and ultimately the Russian River.

This article was authored by Jarod Thiele, Management Analyst for the City of Ukiah Department of Public Works and Department of Water Resources, 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.