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

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 <>, 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).

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 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 .
  • 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
  • Visit Our Water Our World for other important information and helpful tips on how to keep our creeks and river clean at

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 ( 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.

Creek Week – Ways to Get Involved with Protecting Our Creeks

Creek Week – Ways to Get Involved with Protecting Our Creeks

September marks several dedicated efforts throughout California that signify the importance of clean water and promote cleanups of local waterways. Pollution Prevention Week (starting on the third Monday of September), Creek Week (starting the fourth week of September), and California’s Coastal Cleanup Day all coincide in September to encourage public participation in keeping our water free of harmful pollutants, with a primary focus on removing trash from local waterways.

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

September 2020 Dates to Remember

September 21-28
National Pollution Prevention Week

September 21-28
Russian River Creek Week

Every Saturday in September
Coastal Cleanup Days

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

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

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

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

This article was authored by Jon Caldwell, PE, Civil Engineer, of the City of Cotati Public Works Department, and Colleen Hunt, on behalf of RRWA. RRWA is an association of local public agencies in the Russian River Watershed that have come together to coordinate regional programs for clean water, habitat restoration, and watershed enhancement.
close up image of someone washing the front side of a car

Car Washing: Clean Car – Clean Environment

Help keep our waterways clean with responsible car washing practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article was authored by Colleen Hunt, on behalf of the City of Sebastopol for the Russian River Watershed Association(RRWA). RRWA ( is an association of local public agencies in the Russian River Watershed that have come together to coordinate regional programs for clean water, habitat restoration, and watershed enhancement.
Sticky Monkey flowers

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.
good bug flowers

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.