We Need a Trash Service Along the Russian River

In the summer months, people experiencing homelessness may establish encampments within the riparian zone of the Russian River and inadvertently create a significant source of trash entering our waterways. Over the course of time, thousands of pounds of plastics, needles, and human and pet waste accumulate around their camps. When the first large storm of the wet season rolls in these pollutants are swept downstream, discharge into the river, and eventually make their way to the ocean. Plastics, as we know do not biodegrade but rather continually reduce into microplastics. These microplastics end up in the ecosystem and ultimately create a biomagnification effect within our food chain. Untreated fecal matter entering the river spread harmful bacteria such as E. coli and Enterococcus, and needles present a risk to those looking to safely swim and enjoy the beneficial uses the river provides to the wildlife and our community.

This ongoing problem is not new, as chances are you’ve heard about this issue is one capacity or another. On the bright side, you also may have heard about cleanup programs which aim to solve this problem – at least temporarily. The “Trash Trolls” of Sonoma County, Sally and Keary Sorenson, as well as Chris Brokate of the Clean River Alliance (before his retirement) are examples of volunteers who provide a trash service for people experiencing homelessness along the Russian River.

The idea behind a trash service for homeless individuals is fairly simple. Since many within this population lack the resources or permanent address for a traditional trash service, they are left with not much of a choice other than to litter. I know some residents near the Russian River have bitter feelings towards these individuals because of the littering, but I ask that you put yourself in their shoes for a second. People experiencing homelessness often don’t have a means of transporting large amounts of trash to the dump. Not to mention the fees associated with this. Most of us living in houses and apartments don’t think twice about the ease of simply tying a knot on a trash bag, leaving it in a can, and it disappearing once a week. Homeless trash services aim to bring that convenience to those living along the river and alleviate the environmental concerns associated with these communities.

You may still have your doubts about the effectiveness of a trash service for the homeless population, many of whom suffer from mental health and substance abuse issues. However, I remember when I volunteered with Chris Brokate in 2019 for a school project, he told me that the majority of homeless people when given easy access to trash bags, sharps containers, and a reliable location to leave their trash were happy to bag their own garbage. I saw with my own eyes that once word got out there was a way to dispose of their trash for free, Chris’s signature orange trash bags started showing up at the locations he selected and the trash service’s proof of concept in Ukiah was successful. Often, people want to do the right thing and it is simply a matter of finding a way to make that path as easy as possible for them.

With that said, the noble efforts of Chris Brokate, Sally Sorenson, and Keary Sorenson as well as all other volunteers doing similar duties are not enough. Their work is underfunded and most of the time relies on donations, rarely from grants. Even with all the funding in the world their work still lacks structural support from local governments, and without their constant upkeep the trash services would fizzle out. Local government along the Russian River need to see the pollution issue not as a vague, hard-to-solve homeless issue and instead as a lack of infrastructure issue. Permanent, regularly serviced dumpsters/trash receptacles should be installed in locations all along the river. Signage indicating the purpose of the receptacles as well as trash bag dispensers and sharps containers would also be helpful. These trash receptacles would not only help the homeless population clean up their encampments, but also those swimming and playing by the river. A substantial portion of the garbage left along the riverbanks comes from recreational use and nearby access to trash receptacles has been shown to significantly decrease the amount of litter in that area. A cleaner Russian River is achievable, but reaching that goal requires investing in infrastructure that extends access to trash services rather than simply pointing the finger and expecting change to happen. 

The good news is there are things you can do to help!  Reach out to your local legislators (City Council or Board of Supervisors) and encourage them to support programs that would provide these services.  Make a tax-deductible donation to the Russian River’s “Trash Trolls” through the West County Community Services at www.westcountyservices.org/donate-to-the-trash-trolls or send a check to PO Box 325 Guerneville, CA 95446 and write “Trash Trolls” on your check so your donation is routed to their purposes.  Bring your family, friends or neighbors out to volunteer and help clean up trash along our waterways by contacting Russian Riverkeeper at info@russianriverkeeper.org or (707) 433-1958.

This article was authored by Hendrik Telfer, Engineering staff, City of Ukiah Public Works, 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 bed

Creek Week 2022 – 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, Creek Week, and California’s Coastal Cleanup Day all coincide in the third week of 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 event is organized to bring volunteers together to cleanup 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.

Make an impact by participating in Creek Week and Pollution Prevention Week. Here are some of the ways you can make a difference.

  • Join a hosted clean up event. For a list of events, visit www.rrwatershed.org.
  • Pick up litter and trash near your home, neighborhood, or local creek. Trash and litter in the environment can end up in our waterways either directly or 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.
  • Attend an educational creek week webinar (Check org/blogregularly for updates).
  • Start a compost bin. Need help getting started? Check out our RRWA article archive org/composting-dont-throw-it-away-compost-itor watch tutorials at https://zerowastesonoma.gov/recycle-dispose/residents/home-composting
  • Discontinue pesticide and herbicide use in your garden with safer alternatives. Our Water, Our World helps residents manage their home and garden pests in a way that helps protect our watershed. Learn more here org/project/our-water-our-world
  • Dispose of unwanted household hazardous waste (HHW) at your local HHW Collection Events https://zerowastesonoma.gov/recycle-dispose/residents/hhw-events
  • Pick up pet waste
  • Pick up leaf litter and yard waste to prevent it from clogging the storm drain
  • When washing your car, don’t allow wash water to enter the storm drain
  • Drop off unused and unwanted medications at a safe medicine disposal location. For location information visit org/project/safe-medicine-disposal

Show us your impact! As a way to show your participation, log cleanup efforts using the Streets to Creeks Action Tracker! Start an Action Tracker campaign to track all your actions to keep pollutants out of our waterways. Login into https://actiontracker.streetstocreeks.org/new-campaign/ to get started.

These are just some ideas how you can help protect the creeks and water quality. For more information on these and other ideas visit the Russian River watershed website at www.rrwatershed.org. 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 Colleen Hunt, on behalf of the City of Cotati , 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.

How Does The Use of Pesticides Affect Our Water Quality?

Pesticides, including insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides, are chemicals used to kill or deter pests. Pesticides are often used in and around our homes, schools, and businesses. Did you know that these pesticides can make their way into our water supply? Not only can the chemicals be absorbed into our groundwater, but they can also be transported via runoff from irrigation or rainwater, traveling from our yards, down our streets, and into the storm drains.

In most California cities, runoff from the street is collected in storm drains, flowing through storm drain pipes, directly to our creeks and rivers, and eventually to the Pacific Ocean. Commonly used pesticides have been detected in creeks and rivers throughout California, threatening birds, fish, and other aquatic wildlife. In addition, the contaminated water from these waterbodies can make its way to our drinking water sources. Exposure to pesticides can have both short-term and long-term health impacts, especially to infants and young children with developing organs.

Many storm drain inlets throughout California have messages that read, “No Dumping – Drains to Creek”. These messages are used as a reminder to residents that the water flowing in the gutters and streets will flow directly into local creeks and rivers without being treated. Unlike our sanitary sewer system that collects water from indoor pipes and treats it at wastewater treatment plants before being released to our local waterways, storm drain runoff from streets and parking lots is collected by the storm drain system and remains untreated. It is important to be mindful of what enters the storm drain system, because it will affect the water quality of the streams, rivers, and oceans that it will be flowing to.

What can you do to help?

Rather than getting to the root cause of your pest problem, applying pesticides in and around your home will kill and deter all bugs, including those beneficial to your garden, like the ladybugs that feed on harmful insects or the bees that pollinate your plants. Getting rid of these beneficial insects will eliminate the natural solution to the pest problem and lead to a further need for pesticides. One way to keep pests out of your home is by using physical barriers – by making sure windows and doors are properly sealed. You can also reduce the need for pesticides in your yard by choosing plants that are pest-resistant and native to your area and ones that will attract beneficial insects that will feed on pests. Check out the Our Water Our World program for other great integrated pest management solutions to your specific pest problems at https://www.rrwatershed.org/project/our-water-our-world .


If the use of pesticides can’t be avoided, try to use ones that are non-toxic or less-toxic to the environment, and use them sparingly. To reduce the likelihood of runoff into the storm drain system, do not apply pesticides when rain is forecasted.

It is important to always store and dispose of pesticides properly, even when using less-toxic ones. Improper storage and disposal of pesticides can also lead to pesticide residue in our water. Here are some tips for safe storage and disposal:

  • If you have pesticides in your home, always keep them in the original container, with the lid tightly sealed, in a locked cabinet out of reach of children and pets.
  • In California, the only legal way to dispose of any unused pesticides, is by taking them to a household hazardous waste site. To find your nearest household hazardous waste collection site, visit earth911.com or
    call 1-800-CLEANUP.
  • Pesticides should never be dumped down the drain. Wastewater from toilets, sinks, and showers is treated at local wastewater treatment plants, which are not designed to treat pesticides, leaving residue in treated water that flows to our rivers.
  • Pesticide containers can only be thrown in the garbage if they are completely empty.

For more information on pesticides and water quality, visit the website for the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program at http://ipm.ucanr.edu/WATER.

This article was authored by Melis sa Duffy 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.


Water Smart Irrigation

Did you know that most residential landscapes are regularly over-watered by as much as 30-40%? When using water for irrigation, it is not only economical to use only what your garden needs, but it conserves water for other uses during our long, dry summers. If left unchecked, wasteful irrigation can be a major consumer of precious potable water sources like local groundwater stores and the Russian River. Here are some helpful steps you can take to reduce your reliance on potable water for irrigation:

Grow Native Plants

The reason native plants are ‘native’ is because they have adapted to their local surroundings and have found their niche in terms of navigating seasonal changes in climate. Many of these native plants require no irrigation at all and have adapted to long stretches without any additional watering whatsoever! Incorporating these plants in your landscape and garden can drastically reduce water consumption. As a bonus, these native plants act as a haven for beneficial insects, native plants, and animals, which benefits and sustains our local ecosystems.

Visit www.rrwatershed.org/project/rrflg  for Russian River-Friendly Landscaping resources and information on selecting Russian River-Friendly Plants.

Minimize Turf Areas

Historically, lawns have been areas of recreation and socialization between friends and family, however, turf areas require a significant amount of water to stay healthy through long dry seasons. Furthermore, many lawns are often treated with toxic herbicides and contribute towards greenhouse gas emissions when maintained with a gas-powered lawn mower. Replacing some (or all) of your existing lawn with mulch and native plants will increase water use efficiency, promote onsite water infiltration, and reduce your overall water consumption.

Utilize Alternative Sources for Water

Given a little ingenuity, potable water from your hose or faucet doesn’t have to be the only source of irrigation for your garden or landscape. Rainwater and graywater are both excellent sources of irrigation that can be applied to replace potable water consumption. Water that normally falls on your roof is routed away from your property and towards your local stormwater collection system, however, this water can be rerouted to on-site storage tanks which can be later drawn from as a source of irrigation. Graywater from sinks, showers, and washing machines, albeit non-potable, also serves as an excellent source of irrigation so long as your graywater system meets local regulations.

Audit your Irrigation Methods

The last piece of advice is to audit your own irrigation methods. This means critically analyzing how and when you water your landscape to determine the most significant areas that can be improved upon in terms of water efficiency. Do you water your landscape manually with a hose? Consider using a hose nozzle with a built-in shut-off trigger to prevent wasting water when moving between plants. Do you water your landscape with a drip system? Periodically check for leaks, especially near places of erosion or overgrowth. Taking a closer look at your average watering methods will undoubtedly reveal some areas where water efficiency can be improved!

According to the American Water Works Association, 85% of all landscape problems are caused by overwatering. Next time your home garden isn’t giving you the results you were expecting, it might be advantageous to take some time out of your day to analyze how you normally water. You might find that when you irrigate to meet your landscape’s needs, not only will your plants remain healthy and thrive throughout the year, but you will save on utility costs and reduce your carbon footprint all at the same time!


This article was authored by Josh Steiner, 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.


Water Smart, Water Trees

As we enter our third consecutive dry summer and water storage levels are well below average it is important to use water wisely. You may want to consider prioritizing water use in your landscape by letting your lawn go dry and instead focus on deep and infrequent watering of your trees. Grasses and shrubs can grow back relatively quickly after periods of no rainfall. However, prolonged drought can cause severe stress to trees which can lead to disease and death.

Trees can take ten years or more to reach maturity and are a vital resource for our community. Trees store carbon dioxide, improve air and water quality, and provide much needed shade in our yards. Since trees are slow growing it is important to take care of them to ensure a healthy and resilient ecosystem.

Tips for maintaining healthy trees during a drought:

Mature tree watering diagram drip-line Sac Tree

  • Add mulch around the base of your trees. Mulch will help soil retain moisture and protect roots from extreme temperatures. Maintain a layer of 3-6 inches of mulch around the base of the tree but be sure to keep mulch away from the trunk of the tree. (Image courtesy of Sacramento Tree Foundation.)
  • Check the soil moisture. Use a long screwdriver and push it into the soil around the roots below the canopy. If you can push the screwdriver in at least 6 inches and the soil is moist, then no need to water. If the soil is dry or it becomes difficult to probe before 6 inches, then it’s a good time to water.
  • Water deeply but infrequently. Apply water through a drip irrigation system or a soaker hose. Apply water at the outer edge of the tree canopy. Be sure to follow your local jurisdiction’s watering restrictions. The best time to water is between 12am-6am to minimize water lost due to evaporation.
  • Wait to water until the soil has completely dried out before applying more water. Newly planted tress (0-3 years old) will need more frequent irrigation than established trees.

To learn more about maintaining a low water use landscape, including irrigating trees, check out the Water Smart Gardens Maintenance Manual: https://www.savingwaterpartnership.org/programs_list/water-smart-gardens-maintenance-manual/

Developed by the Sonoma-Marin Saving Water Partnership and Ann Baker Landscape Architecture. The Water Smart Gardens Maintenance Manual provides a step-by-step guide to planting, watering and seasonal maintenance required for low water use landscapes.

This article was authored by Lauren Lum, 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.
Defensible Space graphic shown with permission from Cal Fire https://www.readyforwildfire.org/

Living With and Preparing For Wildfires

Living with and preparing for wildfires is essential for communities in Northern California.  The Russian River Watershed has learned this lesson intimately during the Tubbs Fire (2017), Pocket Fire (2017), Kincade Fire (2019), and Walbridge Fire (2020).

As the tradition of spring cleaning and planting begins, our community should consider fire preparedness. Fire preparedness is most successful as a layered approach between individual residents and the larger community.  This article will focus on individual preparedness for fire, focusing on yard and landscape preparation.  Through scientific and practical study, yard preparation has come to be called Defensible Space.

Defensible Space refers to the buffer area around a structure that can be maintained to decrease the spread of fire.  This buffer area can stop or slow the spread of fire and protect the structure from catching fire – either from embers, direct flame contact or radiant heat. The latest information published by the state legislator (Assembly Bill 3074) categorizes Defensible Space into three zones for proximity to the structure:

Defensible Space graphic shown with permission from Cal Fire https://www.readyforwildfire.org/

Defensible Space graphic shown with permission from Cal Fire https://www.readyforwildfire.org/

  • Zone 0 – “Ember resistant zone” located 0 to 5-feet away from the structure and wooden decks. The ember-resistant zone should be maintained to keep fire or embers from igniting materials that can spread to the structure. Cal Fire suggests the following maintenance measures:
    • Use hardscape like gravel, pavers, concrete and other noncombustible mulch materials. No combustible bark or mulch
    • Remove all dead and dying weeds, grass, plants, shrubs, trees, branches, and vegetative debris from yard and on structures (roofs and decks)
    • Remove all branches within 10 feet of any chimney or stovepipe outlet
    • Limit plants in this area to low growing, nonwoody, properly watered and maintained plants
    • Limit combustible items such as outdoor furniture, planters, and fences
    • Relocate firewood and lumber to Zone 2
    • Consider relocating garbage, recycling containers, boats, RVs, vehicles, and other combustible items outside this zone
  • Zone 1 – “Lean, Clean, and Green” located 0 to 30-feet away from the structure. Cal Fire suggests the following maintenance measures:
    • Remove all dead plants, grass, and weeds (vegetation).
    • Remove dead or dry leaves and pine needles from your yard, roof, and rain gutters.
    • Trim trees regularly to keep branches a minimum of 10 feet from other trees and structures.
    • Relocate wood piles to Zone 2.
    • Create a separation between trees, shrubs and items that could catch fire, such as patio furniture, wood piles, swing sets, etc.
  • Zone 2 – “Reduce Fuel” located 30 – 100 feet away from the structure to the property line, whichever is closer. Cal Fire suggests the following maintenance measures:
    • Cut or mow annual grass down to a maximum height of 4 inches.
    • Create horizontal space between shrubs and trees.
    • Create vertical space between grass, shrubs, and trees.
    • Remove fallen leaves, needles, twigs, and branches to a depth of 3 inches.
    • All exposed wood piles must have a minimum of 10 feet of clearance, down to bare mineral soil, in all directions.

Planting and maintaining firewise landscaping can seem like an impossible balance in the arid west.  The aim for water conservation pushes our communities to maintain a hardy and seasonal garden which can seem counter to water flush fire-resistant plants. Fortunately, there is some overlap between drought tolerant and fire-resistant plants for the Northern California climate.  Cal Fire and Fire-resistant planting resources suggest the following plant recommendations:

  • Select high-moisture plants that grow close to the ground and have a low sap or resin content.
  • Select plants that have little dead wood and tend not to accumulate dry, dead material within the plant.
  • Select fire-resistant shrubs such as California Fuchsia, Sage, California Lilac, Ornamental Strawberry, California Red Bud, succulents, and Society Garlic.
  • Select trees like maple, poplar, and low water fruit trees (Pomegranate, Strawberry Tree, and Pineapple Guava) that are less flammable than pine, fir, and other conifers.
  • Hydrate plants with a water-wise irrigation system.
  • Use noncombustible mulches near to the house.
  • Maintenance is key, fire resistant doesn’t mean fireproof.

Additional recommendations include using plants that are native and support the local climate needs such as those recommended by the California Invasive Plant Council (https://www.cal-ipc.org/), and the CalPoly Tree Selection Guide (https://selectree.calpoly.edu/). The Russian River Watershed Association wishes you a productive and safe spring season.

This article was authored by Michele Miller, West Yost Associates, for 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.


Carbon Gardening: A Dirt Simple Solution to Climate Change

Picture this: you’re standing in the bathroom, watching the faucet gushing water into the bathtub. Suddenly, the bathtub is overflowing, and water is starting to flood your bathroom. Naturally, you turn off the faucet, the water stops flowing, and the floodwater stops rising. Phew! One problem down – but there’s still the issue of your flooded bathroom. Every time you use the bathtub faucet, the flooding will get worse, unless you figure out a way to deal with all that excess water and the problem that created it.

Graphic provided by StopWaste.org

So, what does this have to do with climate change? You may have heard the word “sequestration” before. Sequestration is part of the carbon cycle (here’s a refresher on the carbon cycle) during which plants store carbon atoms in their biomass – their roots, trunks, stems, branches and leaves – as well as in the ground.

Activities that emit carbon – like burning fossil fuels, deforestation and land degradation – are like the faucet flooding our bathroom (the atmosphere) with water (or in this case, carbon dioxide or CO2). The plants and soil organisms that drive carbon sequestration are like the mop and bucket that can safely remove the excess. With mop in hand, we can get that water back to a manageable level. The Rodale Institute, an early champion of agricultural carbon sequestration, claims, “If we can increase the amount of carbon we have stored in our soils around the world by 0.4% per year, we could absorb all the excess carbon we currently emit.”

Much of the conversation around carbon sequestration involves restoring forests, wetlands, ranchlands, mangrove and kelp forests, and so on. Where does that leave those of us who live and tend landscapes in urban, suburban and semi-rural communities?

Enter carbon gardens. A carbon garden is a landscape that draws down and stores more carbon from the air than it releases into the air. Here is a simple explanation: when you build healthy soil, you’re sequestering carbon, but it also involves the materials you bring into your garden from outside and the way you maintain it. Building healthy soil has immense benefits beyond slowing down climate change, of course. Having more organic matter – that is, more carbon – in soil means healthier soil. Healthier soil means healthier, more productive and disease resistant plants. Healthier plants make for better habitat for wildlife, and for more beautiful gardens. Healthy, carbon-rich soil can store more water, helping to minimize drought impacts. It also needs fewer inputs like harmful synthetic fertilizers, which not only saves you time, money and energy, but also helps to protect the Russian River Watershed!

Okay, on to the big question: how do you grow a carbon garden? Here are 8 easy steps to get you growing…

  1. Minimize soil disturbances – there are trillions of soil organisms living in healthy soil. When we disturb them, CO2 is released. Let them thrive in peace by minimizing tilling and digging
  2. Cover your soil – leaving exposed soil allows it to dry out and be eroded by wind and water. Instead, cover it with living plants AND
  3. Apply compost and mulch – Mulch and compost protect soil, and they add more organic matter and nutrients to it as they decompose!
  4. Plant biodiversity – plants thrive in diverse communities, just like people! You want a diversity of regionally appropriate species, but also of plant types — trees, shrubs, grasses and so on. Here is a flyer for help with selecting Russian River-friendly plants https://www.rrwatershed.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/RRWA_River-Friendly-Plants_FINAL.pdf
  5. Plant CA natives – native species have a deep relationship with local soils. Bonus points for native trees, shrubs and woody perennials
  6. Water properly – just like us, plants and soil are at their best when properly hydrated. Be sure to use plants that thrive in our climate and group them by water needs to make watering easier and to avoid overwatering.
  7. Avoid synthetic chemicals and fertilizers – these inputs will deteriorate your soil’s health and make soils more dependent on their use in the future.  They can also cause pollution of nearby waterways and habitat downstream from your garden during storm events. Garden pests can be controlled through less toxic integrated pest management.  Our Water, Our World is an integrated pest management program available in many local hardware stores and nurseries.
  8. Avoid external inputs – ideally, a carbon garden is what we call a closed-loop system. Everything it needs to survive and thrive comes from within! Make your own compost! Use all those fallen leaves and plant trimmings as mulch! Get creative!
This article was authored by Connor DeVane, of 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.


A thirsty burglar or a dripping faucet? Either way you may be losing precious resources

Since 2013, when our most recent series of droughts began, Sonoma and Mendocino County residents have become experts at water conservation. But even pros can learn new tricks, so today’s column will focus on one of the easiest and most effective ways that you can save water: fixing leaks.

Let’s start with a quick quiz to test your leak-ability.

The average U.S. home wastes how many gallons of water annually due to leaks?
a) 365 gallons
b) 2,000 gallons
c) 10,000 gallons

10 percent of U.S. homes are super-leakers, wasting how much water daily?
a) 25 gallons
b) 50 gallons
c) 90 gallons

For a family of four, ____ of water used during colder months (January or February) is an indication that there are serious leaks.
a) 10,000 gallons a month
b) 20,000 gallons a month
c) 50,000 gallons a month

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the answers are (1) c; (2) c; and (3) a. In fact, the EPA estimates that nationwide, more than 1 trillion gallons of water are wasted annually through leaks. That’s enough water to fill Lake Sonoma more than eight times.

While drought-conscious Californians shudder at the thought of such a precious resource literally going down the drain, leaks create other issues.  Water leaking from a faucet inside the home usually goes down a drain into sewer or septic systems, but a leaking pipe or connection fitting can cause interior damage. Water leaking outside the home can weaken foundations and hardscaping over time. Larger leaks can lead to higher water and sewer bills.

The problem is so acute that the EPA has designated March 14 through March 20 “Fix a Leak Week.” Locally, the Sonoma Marin Water Saving Partnership, and cities and water districts throughout the region provide helpful information on how to detect leaks by using your water meter and – for some cities – water-smart apps that allow you to see water use hour-by-hour. Hint: If you are using 10 gallons of water at 2 a.m. when no one is home, you either have a thirsty burglar or a large leak.

While your utility bill and water meter are great starting points, everyone (including rural residents who rely on wells) can check for leaks by listening for dripping faucets and for toilets that refill without being flushed, and by doing a simple toilet dye test (dye tabs are available for free at most city water departments and can be inexpensively purchased at hardware stores). Don’t forget to check garage and laundry room sinks and washing machine fittings. Outdoor leaks can sometimes be more difficult to detect but have the potential to save large amounts of water (and money) when fixed. Take advantage of the spring weather to check and repair irrigation systems.

If you have children at home, engage them in a game of leak detective. Their great ears and eyes often find leaks that adults miss. The EPA website, epa.gov/watersense/fix-leak-week, includes tips, links to how-to videos, and resources for kids. Take a look – and then fix a leak.

This article was authored by Ann DuBay, 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.


Dog Doo Dilemma

There is nothing quite like taking a pleasant stroll and then you look down to see… yuck! A pile of dog doo, or commonly, many piles of dog doo.

Dog waste is a common sight on creeks and trails throughout the Russian River Watershed. Not only is it an eyesore, but it is also a health concern for people and the environment. To protect our water quality and quality of life on trails, please pick up after your dog and dispose the waste in the nearest trash bin on your next walk.

Many dog owners assume dog waste is harmless because it will naturally break down into the soil. However, there are thousands of dogs living within the watershed, which means a lot of dog doo! The Russian River Watershed can’t handle this amount of waste through natural processes. Even though the solids may decompose, harmful pathogens will remain in the soil for months or even years, and the excess nutrients will run off into waterways.

Unfortunately, water quality testing in many populated areas of our watershed reveals elevated levels of fecal bacteria in local creeks and waterways, and dog waste is a primary contributor to these elevated levels. Runoff from rain carries the bacteria and other pathogens found in dog waste, such as salmonella, toxocara, giardia, and tapeworm into these waterways. High concentrations of these harmful bacteria can make waters unhealthy for people and pets who recreate in or near the contaminated streams.

Photo note: The red flags mark dog waste in a 20‑foot stretch of the Windsor Creek Trail near Natalie Drive in Windsor.

Dog waste is harmful to aquatic life. Nutrient runoff from the waste washes into creeks and rivers and acts like a fertilizer for algae, causing algal blooms. When the algae die, decomposers in the water use oxygen as they eat the algae. If the decomposers use up too much oxygen, fish and other aquatic life suffocate. Excess algae growth also causes the clear waters of the Russian River to turn a murky green, and some of these algal blooms can be harmful to pets and wildlife. For all of these reasons, it is important that you pick up after your dog!

Dog waste is an issue in neighborhoods. Some dog owners leave their dog’s doo on sidewalks or neighbors’ lawns, leaving neighbors to clean up the mess. Remember, if your dog left it behind, it’s your duty to pick up the doo.

The Russian River is the main source of drinking water and a prized natural resource for over 600,000 people in Sonoma, Mendocino, and Marin Counties. The watershed is home to countless wildlife species, including Coho Salmon, river otters, turtles, birds and salamanders. The health of the River is influenced by the health of the creeks feeding into it, and the health of these creeks reflects how we care for the land.

We can prevent this pollution! Please be a good neighbor and community member:

  • Carry baggies with you. It’s a great idea to carry a few extra bags for your dog and for fellow dog owners who may have forgotten theirs.
  • Pick up your dog’s waste and throw it in the trash, even if you have to walk a little further to carry it to the nearest trash bin.

Remember: if your dog poops, please scoop (even when nobody is watching)!

This article was authored by Cristina Goulart, Town of Windsor Storm Water Quality Program, 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.


Stormwater Runoff

As the winter rains continue to fall, and hopefully bring relief to our watershed communities mired in a historic drought, the rainwater will begin to soak into our gardens and fields and run down the streets into our storm drains, which are not linked to the sewer. Storm drains are specifically designed to capture excess stormwater from streets and divert the flows through culverts and drainage channels into creeks, rivers, and eventually the Pacific Ocean. Stormwater drainage systems are not limited to just the drains on our streets; they can also include engineered systems which help reduce flooding, increase groundwater recharge, and improve overall resilience of the ecosystem. These engineered systems are called Low Impact Development (LID).

You may have seen examples of LID around your neighborhood. They are often designed to be subtle and look commonplace but play an important role in protecting our water resources. LID projects include tree boxes, pervious sidewalks, curb extensions, bio retention areas and rain gardens. They all operate under a similar principle of slowing runoff from impervious surfaces such as roadways, sidewalks, roofs, and driveways by diverting the runoff to LIDs which provide catchment areas for the water allowing it to filter through vegetation, soils, sand and gravel to slow the runoff, reduce flooding, and capture the stormwater in reservoirs, creating natural, green spaces. These retention areas can take the forms of rain gardens that capture excess runoff from your roof or tree wells at low points in your garden that increase infiltration. Unfortunately, stormwater runoff contains many pollutants, but there are steps you can take to protect these retention ponds to keep them functioning for years to come. Many of these projects can be easily implemented into your own home, and the Russian River Watershed Association has some fantastic resources found here: (www.rrwatershed.org/resource-library).

Stormwater systems were originally intended to route rainwater quickly off the streets during heavy storms. Unfortunately, these systems can carry pollutants such as pesticides, harmful bacteria, and chemicals from city streets straight into our creeks—of particular concern are used motor oil, pet waste, and sharps.

Used oil from a single oil change can pollute up to one million gallons of freshwater. Improper disposal of used oil, which includes oil leaking from cars, contributes significantly to stormwater pollution. The EPA estimates that American households improperly dump approximately 193 million gallons of used oil every year, or roughly the equivalent of 17 industrial oil spills. Properly recycling your used motor oil reduces this pollution threat. When you take your used oil to a certified center for recycling, you are protecting the environment, conserving a valuable resource, and getting paid for it! If you have containers of used oil, you can take them to a certified collection center (CCC). Additionally, many communities have curbside recycling programs that allow you to leave your oil at the curb (if properly packaged). Or you can have your oil changed by a service station that recycles the oil for you. Visit the CalRecycle page for more information.

Like used oil, pet waste is one of the many contributors of stormwater pollution that can degrade water quality. During rainfall, pet waste left on lawns, beaches, trails, and sidewalks washes into storm drains where the waste and the pathogens it contains end up flowing directly into streams where they can harm human health and the environment. It has been estimated that a single gram of dog waste can contain 23 million fecal coliform bacteria, which are known to cause cramps, diarrhea, intestinal illness, and serious kidney disorders in humans. So picking up after your pet is a simple thing you can do to help keep harmful bacteria out of your local waterways!

Another particular concern is needles and other sharp objects left near waterways and in the gutters or on streets. Prescription medicines in our storm drains can have serious effects on the wildlife that inhabit the Russian River, such as disrupting natural reproduction patterns. Sharps left on the streets can endanger those who clean the drains.  Any person accidentally stuck or cut must undergo medical testing for exposure to harmful or deadly diseases such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV. Proper disposal of sharps can keep you, your family, your community, and the environment safe. Sharps containers may be obtained from your doctor, hospital, health insurance provider, medical supplier, pharmacist, or online. In some case they can be obtained free of charge. If you are unable to obtain an approved sharps container you may make your own using the following steps: place sharps in an empty hard plastic laundry detergent or bleach bottle, screw the lid shut and secure it with strong tape, and clearly label the bottle “SHARPS” with a permanent marker. After you have collected your sharps in the container you can deposit them at designated pickup points as they should never go in your regular trash. More information can be found here and here on how to properly dispose of sharps in Mendocino and Sonoma Counties.

Storm drains and other LID features are valuable design features for diverting rain flow from impervious surfaces back into the ground and our waterways. Yet these systems are prone to pollution and must be protected with everyone doing their part to reduce their impact.


This article was authored by Michael Harrigan, Environmental Compliance Specialist, Mendocino County Water Agency, on behalf of RRWA. RRWA (www.rrwarshed.org) is an association of local public agencies in the Russian River Watershed that have come together to coordinate regional programs for clean water, habitat restoration, and watershed enhancement.