Fire-Smart and Water-Wise: Tips for a Resilient Landscape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six Simple Tips for Growing the Garden of Your Dreams!

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

Photo credit: Suzanne Bontempo, Plant Harmony.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Looking for a Little Peace? Plant a Rain Garden

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

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

Ready to Plant A Rain Garden?

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

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

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

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

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

How A Rain Garden Works

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

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

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

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

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


Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary!

While we socially distance and modify our daily routines to limit the spread of Coronavirus, individually celebrate Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary on April 22nd – the planet’s largest civic event by learning more about climate actions, conservation, our home watershed, and promoting a healthy, sustainable environment.

What is Earth Day?

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

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

Earth Day is now a celebration of the environment in 193 countries and an opportunity to further raise awareness on conservation and sustainability on all forefronts of environmental topics such as water, energy, air, and wildlife.

Earth Day 2020 Campaign – CLIMATE ACTION

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

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

 Take Part!

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

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

Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary List of Events

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

Virtual Earth Action Week, April 20-26, 2020

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

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

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

Volunteer Clean-Ups

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

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

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

Festivals and Other Events

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Public Opportunity to Review and Discuss Fish Habitat Enhancement Projects

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Monarch Butterfly

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

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

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


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

The Causes

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

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

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

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

Go Organic!

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

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

Build it and They Will Come

Create a Monarch Butterfly Waystation!

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

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

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

Proper Disposal of Pesticides

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

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


Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Recycle and Rot

America is a disposable nation. Each person, on average, produces more than 1,600 pounds of trash each year. In total, over 230 million tons of trash accumulates in landfills yearly in the United States. Growing up you have likely been taught to help reduce your waste by practicing the 3 R’s: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Have you ever thought about what those terms really mean? Did you know that there are actually three more R’s that we can practice to help make the planet healthier? To help reduce our impact on the environment, it’s time to practice the 6 R’s: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Recycle and Rot.

We use these terms when we talk about what to do with stuff we no longer want, need or even stuff we want to purchase. It could refer to the plastic bottle or straw you just used to drink your water. It could refer to the clothes you wear every day. If we think about these terms in relation to the things we use in our daily lives, we can practice the 6 R’s every day, making the planet healthier day by day!

The first and most important R is Refuse. This R can be the most difficult to embrace, especially when it challenges habits that we’ve formed over a lifetime. Those few extra seconds you take to refuse a single-use disposable will help you keep waste out of the landfill or from ending up in our creeks.  Some first steps are saying no to freebies, single-use plastics, disposable items and junk mail.

The second R is Reduce. Reduce the number of things you buy and donate/sell items you don’t need or use. Not only can you reduce your consumption, but you can save time, space and sanity. A quick step to help reduce the things you buy is wait 30 days before buying something new or create household rules like everything has a home or one thing in and one thing out.  Don’t forget to apply the reduce principle to your energy and water consumption.

Third, Reuse. Start to replace disposable with reusable. You have probably done this without even knowing, whether it’s reusing jars or buying second hand. Look for opportunities to extend the life of items or even find a new use (upcycling)!

The fourth principle is Repair. When a product breaks down or doesn’t function properly, fix it. It’s often easy and convenient to just replace something broken. Try and find someone to repair it or learn how to repair it yourself. When shopping, buy items that can be repaired.

Next, Recycle. Although this is the first thing we might think of, it is estimated that roughly 90% of the worldwide plastics in use DO NOT get recycled. What you can’t refuse, reduce, reuse or repair be sure to recycle. Check with your local recycler on what can and cannot by recycled.

Lastly, Rot. Compost accepted materials that are not in the other R’s.  Did you know some organics can be included in your yard waste bin for composting?  Some examples include green waste, pizza boxes, food waste, and coffee grounds. Contact your local recycler for a full list of compostable items.

For more information on consumer recycling and composting contact:

  • Mendocino County: or call the Recycling Hotline at (707) 468‐9710.
  • Sonoma County: or call the Sonoma County Eco‐Desk at (707) 565‐DESK (3375).

As we move into 2020, make a resolution to start implementing the 6 R’s. Start with picking one item and work towards incorporating more sustainable practices in your day-to-day life. From reducing your water consumption, to just saying no to single-use plastics can help make a difference! For more resources on zero waste initiatives visit and

This article was authored by Sarah Dukett, of the County of Mendocino, 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.

Parting Wisdom: Perspective and Guidance from a Seasoned Storm Water Inspector

“The legacy you leave is the life you lead. We lead our lives daily, and we leave a legacy daily – not some grand plan, what we do each and every day, all the little decisions, because we never know what impact things will have or when you might have an impact.” -Jim Kouzes

I have been responding to spills in the City of Santa Rosa for the last 17 years. This includes responding to and abating vehicle leaks in the street, wash water from businesses, rinsate from painting equipment, concrete spatter and washout from contractors, and even blowing of leaves and yard waste into the street. All of these and anything other than rain water flowing into a storm drain inlet is prohibited by City and County Codes. Inspectors like me are tasked with going out to stop the discharge and working with the responsible person to clean-up any material (pollutant) from the street and storm drain pipe. When responding to any incident, our primary objective is to protect our valuable natural resources throughout Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. The Russian River watershed is a rich and diverse region of nearly 1,500 square miles and is home to approximately 360,000 people, 238 streams and creeks, and 63 species of fish – three of which are listed as threatened or endangered.

Creeks continue to be a valuable asset to all of our communities throughout the County. They provide habitat (food, shelter, protection) for birds, mammals (including river otters), reptiles, amphibians, fish, and insects. Good water quality supports ecosystem diversity, water quality, and public health.

An integrated Creekside trail system allows for recreation including walks, bike rides, bird watching, or just simple enjoyment of the outdoors. At the same time there are educational opportunities for students of all ages as we see an abundance of life around us. Where we live is more than sidewalks and buildings.

I personally enjoy the peace and beauty of a walk along a creek trail rather than along a busy street. Flowers, shade from trees, and the whisper of flowing water are just some of the aesthetic values of a healthy creek. Additionally, creeks provide flood protection and are an extension of our storm drain system, transporting storm water runoff away from our homes.

Healthy creeks are an important part of the ecological and social fabric of our local communities. They are part of the identity of living in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. Studies have shown that the awe‑inspiring feeling of being in and a part of nature has a healing effect on people.

Protecting our local creeks is important to those of us who respond to spills. Potential pollutants include materials such as pet waste, trash, fertilizers, pesticides, dirt, cleaning chemicals, solvents, sewage, food waste, and even excess irrigation water. A common misconception is that storm water is treated. The simple fact is, storm water flows untreated from the street, parking lot, or in some instances a backyard drain into the storm drain system and into a nearby creek.

Our hope, as pollution prevention responders, is that everyone will join us to share in protecting our local creeks and environment. The intent of our response and education efforts is to promote behavioral changes in our communities as a first line of defense to mitigate potential impacts to creeks. After all, simple actions can have immediate impacts.

At home, work, play or even in leisure, there are many daily things we can do to prevent storm water pollution. In most cases people can avoid introducing pollutants into creeks by following good basic housekeeping practices. Essentially doing what we learned as kids: Pick up after yourself and put things where they belong.

Other steps include:

  • Reporting spills to your local jurisdiction to help keep our neighborhoods clean and healthy, you can find appropriate phone numbers for spill response at;
  • Check with your local community or a creek organization on where to join a creek cleanup;
  • Go online to for pollution prevention tips for the home and for many businesses. There is also an “Urban Creek Care Guide” for tips on making your day to day activities creek-friendly:;
  • I would also encourage people to sweep the street gutter in front of your property or home several times a year especially before a forecasted rain event. This will reduce the leaves, sediment, trash and other pollutants that may be transported by rain into our local creeks.
  • Visit to find out more. Make sure to periodically stop by this developing site as it will be updated with additional information about protecting our waterways.

“The simple things are also the most extraordinary things, and only the wise can see them.” -Paulo Coelho

In this season of giving, give you and your family the gift of spending time by exploring our many creeks and trails this coming year.

This article was authored by recently retired City of Santa Rosa Storm Water Inspector Forest Frasieur, 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.