How the October 2017 Wildfires Affect Local Hydrology

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Pet Pesticides and the Watershed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love Your Lawn; Love Your River

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

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

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

Leave Your Cuttings

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

Go Organic

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

Let your Lawn Inhale…

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

Remove Narrow Lawn Strips

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

If You Insist…Apply sparingly

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

Before the Rain

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

Minimize Sprinkler Runoff

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

Learn More!

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

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

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

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

Let’s Celebrate Earth Day!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mendocino County –
Sonoma County –

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

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

Volunteer on Earth Day at Riverfront (April 22) –

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is your toilet also a Trash Can? No!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fire Safe Landscaping

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

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

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

Get in the Zone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wildlands

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

What Saved This House – Photo courtesy of CDF

Flirt with Firefighters

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

More Information:

CalFire – “Wildfire is Coming… Are You Ready”

CalFire – “Living with Fire”

Fire Safe Marin – “Fire Resistant Plants”

FEMA – “Landscape Fences and Walls”

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

Reduce, Recycle, Reuse, Recharge

The gifts have been opened, the parties enjoyed, the feasts have been eaten. But before you relax, spend some time thinking about how you can reduce, recycle, and reuse the waste that was generated during the holidays. An additional one million tons of waste is generated between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Giving a second life to products allows us to enjoy the holiday season while still being earth-friendly. Here are a few examples of how to help:

Reduce: It’s likely you have a stack of catalogs that were delivered pre-holidays – now is the time to cancel those you don’t need. When you purchase drinks and snacks for New Year’s and Super Bowl parties, buy in bulk. You can reduce food-packaging waste by substituting large bottles of soda for individual cans or bottles. You can eliminate a major source of plastic waste by skipping bottled water altogether. Pitchers of iced tap water (flavored with cucumber, lemon or lime slices) are less expensive and much better for the Earth. Many breweries refill growlers, allowing you to buy local while reducing the use of individual beer bottles or cans. Items such as individually wrapped candies, chip bags, and other snacks generate a lot of waste and bulk options are usually available.

Recycle: Christmas trees can be recycled into compost and mulch. After the holidays place your Christmas tree curbside for pick up. Before recycling, your tree must be free of flocking, tinsel, decorations and its stand. Wrapping paper, greeting cards, cardboard packing and other paper products can be recycled in your curbside recycling cart. Keep in mind, foil‐backed, metallic, and plastic wrapping paper CANNOT be recycled.

In Sonoma County, fruit and vegetable food scraps can be put in the curbside yard debris cart for the municipal composting program. In Ukiah and the adjacent unincorporated area of Mendocino County residents can place food waste along with green waste into the green waste bin.  You can compost your fruit and vegetable food scraps from your holiday dinners and parties at home, too. Recycle the cooking oil, if you deep fry a turkey. Check out our website at for locations in both Sonoma County and Mendocino County that accept clean strained cooking oil for biodiesel production.

When purchasing a new electronic device, ask the sales staff at the electronics store if they will take your old device back for recycling. In some areas, small electronic devices can be disposed of in the curbside recycling. Check with your local garbage company for more information. Recycle your old cell phones. State law requires that retailers selling cell phones take back used cell phones at time of purchase.

Reuse: Save ribbons and large pieces of wrapping paper to reuse on next year’s packages. Many local packaging stores and mail centers are glad to accept styrofoam peanuts and bubble wrap packaging for reuse. If that old iPad or laptop still works, consider donating the device to charity.

Recharge: About 40 percent of all battery sales occur during the holiday season. Buy rechargeable batteries to accompany your electronic gifts, and consider giving a battery charger as well. Rechargeable batteries reduce the amount of potentially harmful materials thrown away and can save money in the long run. By law, retailers selling rechargeable batteries are required to take back used rechargeable batteries from their customers. For a list of these retailers, visit the Call2Recycle website at

Old batteries cannot be disposed of in the garbage. Some stores offer take‐back for alkaline batteries, in addition to rechargeables. Ask the sales staff where you buy your batteries if they will take your used ones back for recycling. All kinds of household batteries can also be disposed of through Sonoma County’s Household Toxics Program and the Mendocino County HazMobile Program. In Mendocino County, household batteries can also be disposed at the Ukiah Valley Transfer Station.

In the future, brighten your holidays while saving money with LED lights. LED’s use 75% less energy than conventional holiday lights and last up to 25 times longer than incandescent lighting. They also offer convenient features like dimming and automatic shut-off.

For any questions about recycling and year‐round disposal options:

In Sonoma County, visit, call the Sonoma County Eco‐Desk at 565‐DESK (3375), or look for your Sonoma County Recycling Guide printed in “The Real” Yellow Pages phone book under Recycling.

In Mendocino County, call the Recycling Hotline at 468‐9704, visit


This article was authored by Ann DuBay, Sonoma County Water Agency, with much of the content provided by the Sonoma County Waste Management 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.

Stewarding the Electronic Dinosaur from Cradle to Grave

Electronic waste has become the fastest growing waste stream in the WORLD.

When discarded, the toxicity of electronic waste functions as an eroding agent on clean water, healthy soil, and fresh air. The impacts of improperly disposed e-waste are measurable, harmful, and applicable on a global scale. The general cause and consequence of its mismanagement seem to be shared equally among manufacturers and consumers alike. One cause being the fact that most electronic devices experience a life cycle that overturns as rapid as advancing technology will allow it to be. Another cause is the fact that these devices can be inconvenient to dispose of properly due to limited drop-off locations and/or expensive disposal fees. The consequence is a growing stockpile of obsoletes that can leach toxic discharges into places like our drinking water supply.

The cradle‑to-grave stewardship of our electronic dinosaurs is disappointing.

How you can help:

  • Hold on to electronics longer to reduce demand.
  • Donate items that can be refurbished or reused, otherwise recycle.
  • Form an outreach campaign and/or organization to increase awareness in your neighborhood.

The rate at which technology refreshes has become so advanced that many consumer electronics sold in the US are rendered outdated within a year. Annual sales in the US are over 200 billion dollars and growing. As one would reasonably correlate, the annual production of e-waste is growing in near magnitude. Cradle stages are brief, characterized by a consumer electronics industry spending nearly 4 billion dollars a year in advertising. By repeatedly soliciting to us the concept that newer is necessary, we have become conditioned to anticipate the release date of the model 5001 while the model 5000 in our pocket is still under warranty. Overnight our gadgets become a dinosaur; functionally extinct and thrust into the grave stage.

Disappointingly, the grave stage is even more brief. As it stands today, our electronic relics are seldom tossed away with the ecological dignity that recycling or reusing would provide. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, nearly 3 BILLION tons of electronics are disposed of each year, and only 25 percent are recycled. The vast remaining become deposited into landfills where they begin to leach into the water, soil, and air. Any hazardous qualities contained within them such as arsenic, chromium, lead, and mercury are unrestricted in their travels. Roughly half of the states in the US have enacted e-waste legislation, and the options available for proper disposal are improving but are still very limited and oftentimes expensive. In most places, batteries and cell phones can be taken back at no charge to their place of purchase. Free take-back events and curbside pick-ups are available at certain times of the year.

If you suspect that what you’re about to throw into the trash may contain an electronic component, just set it aside for a moment. Contact your City or trash service provider for guidance. Look online for drop-off locations ( or and special take-back events in your area. The moment that we define our electronic device to be electronic waste, is the same moment we become stewards of our vitality.

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

Fats, Oils, and Grease Down the Sink Ruin Municipal Sewer Systems and Private Septic Systems

Pouring fats, oils, and grease (FOG) down sinks can ruin your home or restaurant’s plumbing systems and have negative impacts on municipal sewer systems and private septic systems. FOG includes:

  • Canola oil
  • Olive oil
  • Vegetable oil
  • Fats from pay-frying meats,
  • Sauces
  • Butter and margarine
  • Food scraps

Don’t dump that FOG down your sink! FOG combine into solids in your plumbing system and downstream in the public sewer or septic system. Primary problems include: partial or total flow blockage, contamination of downstream water resources, repair costs, snapped sewer pipes, and increases in sewer bill price due to an increase in operation and maintenance cost for the municipal sewer company. In September of 2017, an 800‑foot‑long mega-FOG-blob was discovered weighing 130 metric tons[i]. The City of New York spent $18M cleaning up FOG blobs in 2016. On September 28, 2017, one-million gallons of sewage was released into a stream in Maryland after a 130-ton FOG blob that was 300-yards long clogged the sewer system[ii]. For more information watch the video: FOG buildup is a big deal and will have a negative impact on your sewer system.

What can you do instead?

  1. For best results, pour excess grease into a container with a tight-fitting lid for storing. Use a scraper or spatula to remove all the grease from the pan. Freeze it, or allow it to harden on its own, and throw the hardened oil away on trash day.
  2. Don’t rinse greasy dishes! Before washing, use a paper towel to remove small amounts of grease or cooking oil, and then simply throw the paper towel in the trash.
  3. If you have a restaurant or other business which generates FOG, check with your local building department on requirements for installation of grease interceptors/grease traps.

For more information on the recycling or proper disposal of fats, oils, and grease, along with lots more great information on how to keep your community clean, in Sonoma County contact the Eco-Desk at (707) 565-DESK (3375) or go to; and in Mendocino County call the Solid Waste Management Authority at (707) 468‑9704 or go

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


[i] National Geographic (2017) “Huge Blobs of Fat and Trash Are Filling the World’s Sewers.” Accessed 10/23/2017.

[ii] USA Today (2017) “Fatberg of grease, wipes blamed in Baltimore sewer outflow.” Accessed 10/23/2017.

The Street Sweeper – Our First Line of Defense

The sound of the street sweeper is music to my ears. As the street sweeper drives down the street the sound of the street sweeper vacuum unit reminds me that the sweeper is our first line of defense in preventing debris from entering the storm drain system.  By keeping debris out of our storm drain system, the street sweeper is doing its part to prevent debris from entering our creeks and rivers.

What does a street sweeper collect?

The street sweeper collects all loose material from our streets and gutters. This material may include trash, leaves, dust, nails and screws, oils, particles from brake pads and brake shoes, and debris from worn out asphalt pavement. The street sweeper is also used to collect and remove broken glass and other debris from traffic accidents. In addition, the street sweeper may be used to collect material left behind after a spill. Without a street sweeper, this unwanted material might eventually find its way into the storm drain system and ultimately end up in the receiving creek or river.  In Ukiah alone, the street sweeper collects and disposes of approximately 800 tons of debris on a yearly basis!

How does a street sweeper operate?

The street sweeper is basically a motorized vacuum cleaner. A separate engine powers the gutter brooms which rotate and pull debris from the curb and pavement for easy removal by the vacuum unit. This separate engine powers the high-power vacuum unit pulling the loose debris from the streets. As the sweeping and vacuuming process takes place, water is applied to keep dust from street sweeping at a minimum level.  Occasionally a tree branch will become lodged in the vacuum unit and cause a trail of debris to follow the street sweeper. Upon noticing this, the operator will stop and clear the tree branch from the unit.

What can you do?

As a citizen and good neighbor, it is important for all to do our part. You can help by moving your vehicle(s) from the street before street sweeping day. Please contact your local Department of Public Works to learn the schedule for street sweeping in your neighborhood. Also, do not sweep leaves or place lawn cuttings or other debris onto the street. In Ukiah, as in most jurisdictions, 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. If you observe broken glass or other debris on the street, please notify your Department of Public Works.  If you are driving, use caution when overtaking a street sweeper on its route.

Please remember the street sweeper is your friend. It is doing its part to keep our streets clean and tidy and to prevent unwanted debris from entering our creeks and waterways.

This article was authored by Rick Seanor of the City of Ukiah 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.