Russian River-Friendly Landscaping Practices for Watershed Health

Gardening and landscaping allow us to beautify our properties and give us something fun to do on weekends, but it can also help improve the watershed ecosystem we live in. Russian River-Friendly Landscaping, a set of guidelines developed by the Russian River Watershed Association (RRWA), is a systematic approach to designing, constructing, and maintaining landscapes based on basic principles of natural systems. When we incorporate these guidelines into our landscaping, there are multiple benefits: we protect and conserve our local waterways by reducing plant debris and pesticide use, decreasing runoff by allowing more water to infiltrate into the soil, and more Working to mimic natural systems can support the integrity of one of California’s richest and most diverse ecosystems: the Russian River Watershed. When we set out to plan our garden or open space, we create an opportunity to become a steward of the Russian River Watershed and our community ecosystems.

Soil

Did you know soil stores roughly twice as much carbon as the atmosphere?

Healthy soil is established by planting native perennial plants, or plants that live longer than 2 years, that can establish deep roots. Tilling the soil less allows microbes (bugs) and mycorrhizae (symbiotic fungi) to remain intact and give plant roots access to more nutrients. Healthy soil creates an excellent ecosystem for an entire food chain of bacteria, nematodes, insects and worms that protect plants, neutralize pollutants and move water through the soil. When plants convert sunlight into food, they also move carbon dioxide in the atmosphere into the soil. When carbon is taken out of the air and stored in soil, also known as ‘carbon sequestration,’ the carbon remains locked in the soil below. This approach to gardening increases the soil’s health and sustainability and supports the relationship between organisms and their environment – both above and below the ground.

Natives

When you incorporate plants native to the region and compatible with the climate into your gardening and landscaping, it helps to establish a diverse and strong local ecosystem that improves the sustainability of our watershed. Native plants are generally more drought and fire resistant than non-native species, grow deeper roots since they do not need to be replanted annually, and require minimal tilling. They generally need less water because they evolved in Mediterranean climate of the Russian River watershed, which fluctuates between dry summers and rainy winters. Native species can also be more resistant to local pests, requiring fewer to no fertilizers, and need to be maintained less frequently.

Curious about native plants that are local? A great tool to help you get started is the California Native Plant Society: https://www.cnps.org/gardening

A particularly important characteristic of landscaping with California native plants are their ability to contribute to the defensible space of your home garden. Some plant communities are more fire-resistant than others. For example, chaparral is highly prone to fire. It is best to avoid plants that are native to chaparral, such as chemise and ceanothus. Instead, choose flowering herbaceous perennials over woody trees and shrubs. Groundcover – such as coyote brush can slow down the pace of fire, and the deep roots of the Toyon shrub supports slope stability, helping to prevent mudslides after a fire.

Check out a few specific examples of Russian River watershed-friendly plants below! California natives are noted with a poppy symbol.

 

For more assistance selecting Russian River-Friendly Plants, download our full flyer at https://www.rrwatershed.org/project/rrflg

Implementing these landscaping practices will allow your garden and landscaping to mimic natural processes and encourage your garden to imitate the ecosystems that have evolved in the Russian River Watershed for thousands of years. Russian River-Friendly Landscaping and Carbon Gardening can transform your yard into a beautiful and thriving ecosystem that contributes to a healthy Russian River Watershed ecology. Enjoy this season of planting by designing your garden to support the health of our creeks and river while sustaining soil health now and into the future!

If you are interested in learning more about the RRFL Guidelines, check out the full guide here. For more information about Carbon Gardening, check out our YouTube page here.

This article was authored by Sarah Faraola of West Yost on behalf of the Russian River Watershed Association. 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 2024 – List of Events

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

Earth Day is a great opportunity to take part in activities that connect you with your community and environmental practices! We compiled a list of local activities for you to enjoy with friends and family.

 Any event updates will be posted as soon as they are available. Please check with the below event organizers or this blog regularly.

What is Earth Day?

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

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

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

Events around the Russian River Watershed:

 

City of Healdsburg

Sunday, April 21 at 9:00 AM. Part of Healdsburg’s Climate Fest, gather for a pre-fest 5k run for all ages and abilities on the Foss Creek Trail starting at City Hall.

Sunday, April 21 from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM Healdsburg’s Climate Fest. Join in to learn about the climate crisis and to get inspired to make changes that will allow the City to reach its goal of net carbon neutrality by 2030.  This gathering is for all ages. Over60 educational, interactive & inspiring booths, street transit fair, E-bikes for demo, free and for sale food, watch for the launch of an Aerocene balloon, activities for kids, give-aways and raffle. Free bike parking.

English flyer

City of Santa Rosa

Saturday, April 20, 2024 from 9:30am-11:30am at Olive Park Footbridge near 1698 Hazel Street | Join the City’s Earth Day Creek Cleanup. After the cleanup, walk over to the Earth Day Onstage Festival at Courthouse Square from noon to 4pm.

Saturday, April 20 from noon to 4:00 PM Santa Rosa’s annual Earth Day Festival at Courthouse Square in downtown. This FREE, family-friendly, zero waste festival brings the community together through fun activities, live performing arts, great food, and inspiring exhibits that raise environmental awareness. Don’t miss this opportunity to celebrate our vibrant city and get involved by learning about solutions to address drought, climate change, and environmental concerns in our community. View event website

  • 50+ Exhibitors
  • Outdoor Showcase of Santa Rosa’s Performing Arts Scene
  • Food & Drink
  • Kids’ Activities & Crafts courtesy of Santa Rosa Recreation & Parks
  • Local & Earth-friendly Products
  • Hydration Station
  • Zero Waste Event
  • Giveaways
  • Free Bike Parking courtesy of Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition
  • Beer & Wine Garden
  • Fare-Free Transit on Santa Rosa CityBus, Petaluma Transit, and Sonoma County Transit

City of Sebastopol

Saturday, April 22 from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM FREE family fun at the Luther Burbank Experiment Farm. The Luther Burbank Experiment Farm in Sebastopol is celebrating Earth Day 2024 with free activities on Saturday, April 20, from 10 AM to 2 PM. Earth Day at the farm will feature garden tours, displays, demonstrations, and plant sales. Nursery sales will include garden plants and heirloom fruit trees, available only during our Earth Day celebration! Our gardening and fruit tree experts will be on-hand to discuss fruit tree planting and care and show our fruit tree nursery and 20+ year old apple espalier of 10+ different varieties. Learn how to build soil health and reduce waste at home through our composting and vermiculture talk at 1 PM. The sun will hopefully be shining as we celebrate and help build our green future together. Earth Day at Luther Burbank Experiment Farm is a project by the Western Sonoma County Historical Society, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. View flyer.

City of Ukiah

Saturday, April 20 from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM at Todd Grove Park. There will be educational booths, performances, and family friendly activities. At the same time and location, the Ukiah Community Yard Sale will also occur.

Earth Day Ukiah was created to be a day of celebration, education, and showcase of sustainable programs, projects, and services from the Ukiah Valley. This event will feature educational booths, arts and crafts, musical performances from the Instilling Goodness School, and an Electric Vehicle Showcase organized by Climate Action Mendocino.

If you would like to sponsor, table, or volunteer, please e-mail mdavison@cityofukiah.com

Town of Windsor

Saturday, April 20 from 9:00 AM to 11:30 AM Earth-Day Clean-Up. In honor of Earth Day 2024, the Town of Windsor Storm Water Quality Program is organizing a community trash cleanup event.

For more information about the event visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/earth-day-trash-cleanup-town-of-windsor-ca-tickets-856547656097

Sonoma County Regional Parks

Saturday, April 20 from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM Earth Day Creek Clean Up: Larson Park. Let’s roll up our sleeves, tidy up our waterways, and create ripples of positive change!

Join park staff and our fellow community members as we spend time removing trash from Larson Park. Sonoma Creek will be the focus of our efforts. This year round creek is home to beavers, coho salmon and freshwater shrimp. Keeping it clean not only protects the environment, but also makes for a better visitor experience. All tools, gloves and materials will be supplied by Regional Parks. Coffee, snacks, water and cold drinks will be on hand for volunteers. Registration is required. For more information contact John Ryan at ParkPrograms@sonoma-county.org. https://secure.sonomacountyparks.org/registration/earth-day-creek-clean-up-larson-park/

We recommend participants dress in layers, wear comfortable, closed toed hiking shoes and bring a hat and sunscreen. Most programs will happen rain or shine, but may be canceled during heavy rains, heavy smoke, or extreme temperatures. Accommodations will be made for visitors with disabilities upon advance request. Parking fees are waived for volunteers.

 

 

bottle with yellow pills spilling out

Safe Medicine Disposal Stewardship Programs

Have you ever opened your medicine cabinet, picked up a bottle, and realized it has been expired for years or that you had more than you would ever need? Have you wondered how you can properly dispose of your expired or leftover medicine?

California now has an industry-run statewide stewardship program that provides safe and convenient disposal options for pharmaceutical waste at no cost to the consumer. The public is encouraged to take advantage of pharmaceutical take-back collection programs that accept prescription or over-the-counter drugs, as these programs offer a safe and environmentally conscious way to dispose of unwanted medicines. When flushed down the drain, some medications are not completely removed by certain kinds of wastewater treatment plants. Proper disposal of unused medications helps protect the environment and keeps them out of the wrong hands.

Safe medicine disposal program logoFor the past fifteen years, RRWA provided safe medicine disposal to Sonoma and Mendocino County residents, free of charge through the Safe Medicine Disposal Program. Since 2003, RRWA and local government partners have managed numerous medicine drop-off locations for residents across the two counties, and developed education and outreach campaigns to make sure everyone knew of this safe and free way to clear out their medicine cabinets. Since 2012 alone, RRWA’s efforts helped collect over one million pounds of pharmaceuticals! These efforts helped our community and environment, but locations and reach were limited by available local funding and site participation.

Now, thanks to the implementation of statewide legislation that significantly moved forward in 2023, Sonoma and Mendocino County residents have many more opportunities to safely dispose of their expired or unwanted medications. California’s Pharmaceutical and Sharps Waste Stewardship Law, Senate Bill 212, mandated that pharmaceutical manufacturers and producers pay for the collection, transportation, and disposal of their products at the end of their lifecycle. SB 212 created Pharmaceutical Stewardship Organizations that partner with pharmacies, hospitals and clinics to provide free and convenient medication collection bins and medication mail-back envelopes across California. SB 212 lifts the financial burden and time needed from local agencies, like RRWA, to manage safe disposal drop-offs, saving taxpayer money and local resources. SB 212 also promotes the circular economy by mandating that manufacturers consider end-of-life disposal in the design and management of their products.

With the rollout of SB 212, safe and free medicine disposal options are available at the same place where you get your medicines – your neighborhood pharmacy! Large chain stores like CVS, Safeway, Lucky Pharmacy, and Rite Aid are participating in this new stewardship program along with local pharmacies to provide safe drop-off of medications at the same place you pick up prescriptions. There are also more mail-back options available.

Some local law enforcement agencies also provide medication collection bins and mail-back envelopes for residents. Residents can also dispose of medications, including controlled substances, at special one-day collection events sponsored by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in partnership with local law enforcement agencies. The next National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is Saturday, April 27, 2024 from 10am-2pm. Visit DEA Take Back Day in April for location information on the upcoming event.

SB 212 also includes provisions for the collection and disposal of home-generated sharps and needles. California residents can order free sharps mail-back kits with containers through the participating stewardship organizations.

MED-Project and The Drug Takeback Solutions Foundation, the program operators for California’s Pharmaceutical and Sharps Waste Stewardship Programs, have worked together to create coordinated websites to provide ultimate users with access to statewide pharmaceutical and home-generated sharps waste disposal options. Each website provides ultimate users with disposal information, including links for ordering free mail-back materials and identifying drop-off locations for unwanted medicine.

Visit MedTakeBackCalifornia.org or call (844) 4-TAKE-BACK
Visit SharpsTakeBackCalifornia.org or call (844) 4-TAKE-BACK

In Sonoma County, Sharps can also be collected as Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) at local HHW collection facilities and collection events.

RRWA and the local Safe Medicine Disposal Program government partners will continue to educate the general public regarding the importance of properly disposing of unwanted medicines and will direct residents to properly dispose of their medicines and sharps through California’s Pharmaceutical and Sharps Waste Stewardship Program’s medications bins and free mail-back envelope services. For local safe medicine disposal related information visit: Safe Medicine Disposal Program.

This article was authored by the County of Sonoma Department of Health Services, Environmental Health and the RRWA Safe Medicine Disposal Subcommittee – Operations Group, 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.

Fix a Leak Week – March 18 through March 24

Sonoma and Mendocino County residents have become experts at water conservation during our most recent three-year drought. But even pros can learn new tricks, so this month we 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 see if you can outsmart a leaky faucet in a splash!

Most household leaks can add up to ___ gallons of water wasted per week.

  1. 50 gallons
  2. 200 gallons
  3. 500 gallons

One leaking toilet can account for 3 to 5 gallons of water lost each____.

  1. Minute
  2. Hour
  3. Day

For a family of four, ____ of water used during colder months (January or February) is an indication that there are serious leaks.

  1. 12,000 gallons a month
  2. 25,000 gallons a month
  3. 60,000 gallons a month

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the answers are (1) b; (2) a; and (4) 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 18 through March 24 “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 Andrea Rodriguez, 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.

 

trash pile of bottles

Take Your Litter Home

Fast Food is often served through car windows at the drive-through window at fast-food restaurants. Unfortunately, the packaging for that food often exits the car windows too.

Our roads and highways are littered with all kinds of trash that is tossed out of a car window. On one highway on‑ramp in Santa Rosa, a visual inventory of trash on the road included: empty fast-food bags and burger boxes, fast food soda cups with lids, a single use coffee cup, a dozen aluminum cans, dozens of cigarette butts, and random items like shoes and a single empty liquor bottle. These are all items that came out of cars!

During a trash clean-up event in Windsor, a roadway was lined with empty liquor bottles, empty nitrous oxide canisters, fast food cup lids, and lots of Styrofoam pieces, and large items that fly out of the backs of trucks. During the Windsor trash clean-up event in September, volunteers collected a rain gutter, a metal pipe, and a garden hose, all likely from the bed of an uncovered truck.

Obviously, all of this litter on our roadsides is ugly. What may not be obvious is that it can end up in our creeks with the next heavy rain. Heavy rains can carry trash from the road into storm drains or ditches that flow straight into our creeks and can even make it to the Laguna de Santa Rosa and the Russian River. The trash that is carried into our streams degrades into microplastics, clogs the streams, and literally chokes the wildlife that tries to eat it.

Roadside litter is also a hazard to bicyclists and to the workers and volunteers who pick it up. Large items flying out of your truck bed are a hazard to everyone driving on the road with you.

MAKE A CHANGE – Please, NEVER toss litter out of your car. Keep your trash in your car until you reach a waste bin. ALWAYS cover your pickup truck loads and securely tie down large objects. Also, don’t drink and drive. Our creeks and river thank you, and everyone else on the road thanks you.

This article was authored by Cristina Goulart, Environmental Program Manager, of 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.

 

Eight Ideas to Make Your New Year’s Resolutions Green

It’s that time of year again for you to set your New Year’s resolutions, which will serve as goals for you to implement over the next year and will hopefully turn into lifelong healthy habits. This year, go green! Incorporate into your goals for 2024 some small changes that will play a part in creating a greener earth for future generations. Even some small easy tasks can m

Bring your own water bottle

Buy a nice reusable water bottle and pledge to stop buying bottled water. According to Earthday.org, Americans purchase about 50 billion water bottles per year. Much of this plastic ends up in landfills and our oceans and waterways. By trading in your disposables for a refillable water bottle, you can do your part to reduce the approximately 17 million barrels of oil used to make plastic bottles annually in the U.S. Additionally, you could save your household hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars every year. If you don’t like the taste of your home tap water, purchase a reusable filter pitcher or add a water filter to your tap and you’ll have unlimited access to healthy, cheap, and good-tasting water.

Be water-smart

Just changing some simple things at home can help to reduce your water use drastically. Some ways to be water‑smart at home include simply minimizing water usage during routine household tasks. Make sure you have a modern energy and water-efficient washing machine and dishwasher, and only wash full loads. Some other easy home adjustments include turning the water off while you wash your hair or brush your teeth, setting your toilet water tanks to fill to a lower level, and reducing the flow rate on your shower. You could also try collecting rainwater or installing a rain garden. Install a rain barrel to capture water from your roof to use for watering the lawn or plants during the dry season. Plant native plants and trees that are more resilient and able to withstand drought, diseases and pests. That means less maintenance and water use for you!

Reduce your carbon footprint

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, approximately 28 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are caused by transportation. Even if it’s not realistic for you to permanently give up your car for a bike or public transportation, there are many ways you still can cut down on your use of a car and therefore reduce your carbon footprint: Carpool to work, ride your bike to the grocery store, take public transportation or walk to complete nearby errands. Minimize the carbon footprint of your shopping trips by shopping at local stores. Not only will you support local businesses you’ll also lessen the environmental impact of your purchases through reduced vehicle travel time. Also, reduce your home energy use through the following energy-saving strategies: unplug electronic devices while not in use, switch to smart power strips and modern appliances, replace your incandescent lightbulbs with efficient LEDs, purchase a drying rack and air-dry your clothing, or get a home energy audit to improve the energy efficiency of your home.

Ditch the chemicals

Eliminate or minimize the use of cleaning products with harmful ingredients and transform your home and yard into a space that’s healthy for people, wildlife, and the planet. Many of our everyday cleaning products contain chemicals that can remain toxic in the earth’s soil, water, and environment for generations. Instead, use green remedies for cleaning, choose all natural self-care products, and combat pests while feeding your plants with natural fertilizers and soil amendments. Try buying eco-friendly cleaning supplies or making your own. Find stores in your area that carry less toxic solutions for your garden problems by visiting www.rrwatershed.org/project/our-water-our-world. You can also visit ZeroWasteSonoma.gov or MendoRecycle.org to learn where to dispose of unwanted chemicals.

Use reusable shopping bags

Plastic bags are convenient; however, the environment pays a price for their convenience. They are difficult to recycle and are usually thrown away. Plastic bags can be caught by the wind and end up littering our forests, rivers, lakes, and oceans. Reusable bags are a great alternative to plastic bags. They are cheap, last a long time, and help preserve the planet.

Recycle more and recycle right

When done right, recycling is an effective tool for repurposing unwanted plastic, metal, and other materials. Before you recycle any item make sure you’re recycling properly to avoid contamination of recyclables. Check with your local solid waste service provider to obtain recycling guides and find out which items are eligible for recycling. Not everyone knows that most household electronics can be recycled. When electronic devices end up in landfill, it adds to plastic waste, and many harmful chemicals can be released into the environment. Many local transfer stations and recycling centers will accept electronics for recycling at no charge, along with other items such as mattresses. Before throwing something out, check to see if it can be recycled, or if it is something that could be donated or sold.  Visit ZeroWasteSonoma.gov or MendoRecycle.org to learn more about the services in your area.

Change your eating habits

Look at how your diet and eating habits are impacting the environment. Start working on this goal with small steps such as purchasing local meat and produce at the farmer’s market or planting a small vegetable garden. Eat more seasonal fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Avoid the “boxed” processed foods and lean towards foods that come from the earth. Local organic foods will be free of pesticides and also don’t take so much energy to get to you. Lastly, instead of throwing away uneaten food, store, freeze, or re-purpose food for future meals. If food is spoiled, compost it rather than throwing it in the trash.

Lead by example and take action!

One last suggestion for a green New Year’s resolution is to resolve to lead by example and take action. Start by learning something new about the environment, sustainability, or climate change. Then use your knowledge to help inform and educate those around you. It could be as simple as encouraging friends and neighbors to join you in pledging to reduce the use of single-use disposable items this year.

Show youth how to recycle or get them involved in volunteer opportunities at a young age. Volunteer by yourself or as a family for a cause to help the environment. Start locally and join a community-based environmental group or volunteer for an annual cleanup event. During election season, educate yourself and vote for climate-friendly candidates and ballot measures. The planet needs you!

This article was authored by Amber Fisette, 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.

Low impact design rock bed

Taking the Dirty Out of Stormwater

After the first few rains, our Sonoma County landscape transforms from parched golden brown to rich hues that host a world of vibrant new growth. A celebration is not only warranted for us seeing all this glorious new growth but also creating distance through time from another record setting drought. Water reservoirs this year have been full even before the beginning of our rainy season, and help us usher in the cool green of winter and reassure us there will be more time for wonderment before the risk of another wildfire season creeps in.

As we notice the abundance of stormwater filling the creeks and rivers and appreciate the beauty we are immersed in, we don’t typically delight in the thought of stormwater or the infrastructure that is needed to treat or hold it so that we have less flooding and clean healthy water pulsing through these precious local waterways.

What is the meaning of stormwater infrastructure to you? Does it bring to mind giant unseen concrete pipes, outfalls flowing under roadways dropping turbid water into nearby creeks? Does it look like uninhabitable surface water, or just plain dirty runoff?

What is Stormwater 

Stormwater essentially is water that flows over impervious surfaces during a rain event. Typically, it does not easily soak into the ground but rushes off our urban hardscape such as rooftops, parking lots and paved roads. It moves with such force that oftentimes it picks up and conveys pollutants like trash, chemicals, leaves, oil, and fine sediment which all have the potential to harm our waterways and the wildlife that depend on healthy water quality as their habitat.

Stormwater Meets LID

Stormwater infrastructure is not just the typical concrete pipes, outfalls and storm drains seen around towns and cities. This infrastructure has developed over time into an integrated and even attractive part of our urban landscape. You may often pass by a stormwater feature and think it is just landscaping. These features, known as Low Impact Development (LID) treat stormwater but blend in with the natural landscape.

Since its inception, in the mid-1980s, LID has become much more than just detention ponds. In 2005, Low Impact Development emerged in Sonoma County when rain gardens and rainwater harvesting began infiltrating residential areas. The catchy phrase that encouraged the use of these systems, hearkens back to the early 2000’s when water saving partnerships encouraged us to Slow It, Spread It, Sink It. This reference to stormwater was our first taste of LID and how to manage stormwater in our urban environment.

LID Throughout the Watershed

Now LID, which was created to develop more sustainable methods for managing and treating stormwater for growing urban areas, is required for any development that creates or replaces an impermeable surface over 10,000 square feet. As the Russian River Watershed continues to grow and develop, we encounter the requirement for more Low Impact Development features.

Some newer and more common LID features we see in big development areas like shopping centers and high-density housing developments are Roadside Bioretention, Porous Pavement and Vegetated Swales. Let’s take a closer look into these so you may be able to identify them while you are out and about.

Roadside Bioretention and Porous Concrete

Roadside Bioretention often looks like a planter strip between the sidewalk and curb and gutter of a street or in a median of a parking lot. However, when you see a bioretention feature, there is always a way for stormwater to enter the feature. Sometimes a Roadside Bioretention feature has an opening in the curb which slopes into the feature and has cobble at the entrance of the otherwise vegetated area. The cobble dissipates the velocity of the water and allows it to slow before entering the feature. Cobble also captures larger contaminants like trash or leaves from compacting the soils of the feature. A narrow strip of porous concrete along the gutter pan of the road next to the feature can also be the entry point. The water that flows off the pavement spreads and infiltrates in the permeable area of the concrete. As it permeates through the concrete it flows subsurface to the feature and interacts with the soils and roots to treat potential contaminants.

The vegetation and soils in this area are engineered and play an important role in treating pollution. These specialized soils work together with plant roots to bind with the array of pollutants they encounter. As they infiltrate into the ground, contaminants magnetize to the soil and are taken up by the roots of the plants, thereby filtering the stormwater and freeing it of contamination before it enters the stormwater pipes below the surface. Once this water infiltrates through the feature it enters stormwater pipes to get carried to a nearby outfall or waterway.

Vegetated Swales

Vegetated swales or rain gardens are another common type of LID found throughout the watershed. These consist of a built-in depression where water enters the feature from rooftop downspouts, parking lots or roadways. As the water spreads across the vegetated basin, it interacts with the soils and plants in a similar way. As with all LID, these swales are designed to mimic the natural landscape. Water can pond in them but is meant to infiltrate within 72 hours of the rain event. In swales and most LID, during large rain events, there is a high flow drain that can move water more readily into the storm drain system to prevent localized flooding. Since vegetated swales may hold water, it is important that they are planted with appropriate vegetation that can thrive in various conditions. There are zones where the plants need to survive under water for a short time but other zones which do not have such intense water requirements.

Stormwater throughout the Russian River falls to the waterways with no other treatment which is why it is so important to be able to identify and maintain these specialized LID features in our watershed. If you live in a housing development that was built after 2005 you may very likely see LID in the areas around the development. Property owners are required to maintain these features so take note and be sure they are being maintained if you have one on your property.

LID and stormwater infrastructure, like most all water infrastructure, goes unnoticed to the public and is usually taken for granted. We typically only think of this essential infrastructure when we need it most, during intense rain events. As you get outside this holiday season, whether in a parking lot gathering supplies for your upcoming celebrations or out at the nearest newly developed park with loved ones, take a moment to notice the stormwater infrastructure that might be around you. Capturing all that stormwater is a fantastic feat of human ingenuity, and those LID features are magnificent as well. What other infrastructure can you think of that treats pollution before it enters the stormwater system while looking like a green space, fitting into the natural landscape like a gnome hiding in the garden?

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

From Runoff to Renewal: Green Strategies for a Cleaner Environment

The Russian River Watershed is a delicate tapestry of ecosystems and human habitats. However, it is silently being woven with threads of stormwater runoff pollution, affecting the serenity of its waters and the lives it sustains.

Understanding Runoff Pollution

Runoff pollution typically originates in urban and suburban settings, where rainwater picks up various pollutants while flowing over diverse surfaces. If not absorbed by the ground or evaporated, it eventually contaminates local creeks and the rivers, impacting aquatic life and water quality.

Russian River, Healdsburg

The Unseen Journey of Rain

In untouched areas like forests and fields, only a small portion of rain becomes runoff, the majority being absorbed by the flora and the soil. However, impermeable surfaces like concrete almost exclusively produce runoff, with one inch of rain on one acre creating approximately 27,000 gallons of runoff!

Agricultural Contributions

Agricultural lands also contribute significantly to runoff pollution, with nutrients from fertilizers and animal waste making their way into water bodies, disrupting the delicate balance of the aquatic ecosystem in the watershed.

Examples of Runoff Pollution:

Stormwater runoff accumulates a hazardous concoction of pollutants such as:

  • Oil and petroleum products
  • Soil and sediment
  • Pathogens including fecal bacteria and viruses
  • Nitrogen and phosphorus sourced from fertilizers and atmospheric pollution
  • Road salt
  • Harmful metals, including copper, lead, and zinc

A Growing Concern

With the continual expansion of impermeable structures like roads and buildings, coupled with the diminishing presence of natural filters such as meadows and forests, runoff pollution is on the rise. The existing man-made filtration mechanisms have been unable to compensate for the loss adequately.

Impacts of Runoff Pollution

The repercussions of runoff pollution are multifaceted, affecting both the landscape of our watershed and its inhabitants. It alters waterways, degrades recreational areas, contaminates drinking water, and leads to enhanced flood damage in areas laden with hard surfaces. Residents of the Russian River Watershed face reduced water quality and property damages, particularly after substantial rainfall.

Green Infrastructure: A Ray of Hope

An effective and promising approach to curbing runoff pollution involves implementing Low Impact Development (LID) features, aimed at slowing and absorbing polluted runoff. Strategies include:

  • Establishing rain gardens and additional natural spaces in depressed areas near downspouts;
  • Connecting downspouts to rain barrels for rainwater harvesting, allowing the collected water to be utilized for garden irrigation later;
  • Substituting existing pavement with permeable surfaces where feasible;
  • Switching out lawns with native plants;
  • Installing trees in residential yards, beside streets, and adjacent to water bodies; and
  • Cultivating rooftop gardens.

These and other sustainable solutions are cost-effective, contribute to community aesthetics, and aid in the creation of wildlife habitats. This approach, known as the “green filter approach,” is vital for managing runoff. In adherence to this, the City of Healdsburg, along with most development projects within its scope, is mandated to align with regulations to reduce stormwater pollution, protect the quality of local water bodies, and foster groundwater replenishment. The City of Santa Rosa has been providing design guidelines for permanent stormwater structures, as outlined in a series of manuals since July 13, 2005, to which the City of Healdsburg conforms. The latest approved manual, updated in 2017, establishes the required design guidelines for all upcoming developments.

Sustainable Agricultural Practices

On agricultural lands, farmers have the option to adopt regenerative agricultural strategies to mitigate polluted runoff. Such strategies encompass:

  • Establishing forested buffers adjacent to streams;
  • Integrating tree planting within grazing lands;
  • Implementing rotational grazing, continuous no-till, and diversified crop rotation;
  • Cultivating cover crops;
  • Optimizing fertilizer application; and
  • Installing fences to restrict livestock access to streams.”

Conclusion: A Gentle Step Forward

The Russian River Watershed is a repository of life and tranquility. By adopting Low Impact Development features and sustainable agricultural practices, we can safeguard its pristine nature and ensure the prosperity of its ecosystems and communities.

This article was authored by Michael Harrigan, of City of Healdsburg, 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.

Small Actions, Big Impact – Simple Ways to Keep Your Water Clean

Picking up trash and sweeping pavement before it rains can help keep our rivers and creeks clean.

Fall is officially here which means we are moving from the heat of the summer and heading into cooler weather. Putting away shorts and swimsuits in exchange for sweaters and boots. For me and my family, fall signifies a time to make comfort food, like soups and stews, watch football, and maybe even read a book by the fireplace. Maybe you have different traditions. However, as we transition from summer to fall, one thing is true for all of us: fall is the start of our rainy season. This means, in addition to transitioning to cooler weather, we must also prepare for the rain.

During the summer months, several types of pollutants accumulate on our hardscape. Common debris and pollutants include cigarette butts, litter, oil and grease from cars, paint, fertilizers, pesticides, lawn clippings and leaves, pet waste, soapy water, sediment, and construction materials. If not managed properly, these pollutants and solid wastes can accumulate during the summer. Then, during the first large rain event, the rain will mobilize these materials and polluting compounds and send them into our local rivers and creeks. It is known as the “first flush,” a term applied due to the elevated levels of pollutants that enter rivers and creeks after the first big rain event of the year.

As we enter the rainy season, there are some easy things you can do to help minimize pollutants from entering our local rivers and creeks. Get rain ready with the following practices:

Sweep and pick up leaves, sediment, and other debris in paved areas.
  • Clear leaves out of roof gutters, downspouts, and paved areas.
  • Sweep paved areas.
  • Mulch or seed bare soil to avoid erosion during rainstorms.
  • Do not use fertilizers or pesticides within 24 hours of forecasted rain.
  • Pick up pet waste. Pick up trash.
  • Store chemicals, garden products, and gas-powered equipment indoors, or under cover if stored outside.
  • Turn down irrigation system run times during fall months and turn off once the rains begin.
  • Repair vehicle and equipment leaks. Use absorbent products to absorb any oil that may have leaked onto paved areas.

In addition to helping to keep our natural waterways clean, these practices also can reduce the risk of flooding. Now let’s brush off those coats and umbrellas and get the hot chocolate ready for the cooler days ahead!

This article was authored by Colleen Hunt, Stone Creek Environmental Consulting LLC, and 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.

Save Our Creeks – Dispose of Yard Waste Properly

Throughout the United States, the week starting on the third Monday of September is recognized as National Pollution Prevention Week. In much of California, including the Russian River watershed, cities, counties, and other stewardship organizations are recognizing the fourth week of September as Creek Week.  Russian River Watershed Stewards can participate in events September 16-23, 2023! Visit www.rrwatershed.org/project/creek-week for event opportunities in your area.

Each of us can do our part to maintain clean and healthy waterways all year-round.  If you live adjacent to a creek or waterway you may have additional responsibilities.

Why is it important to keep yard waste out of creeks, waterways, and storm drains? 

Yard waste (lawn clippings, leaves, and branches) that is intentionally thrown into the creek can smother and kill the existing vegetation protecting the creek bank. Over time, as vegetation on creek banks is lost, erosion of the creek bank may occur. Creek bank erosion is never a good thing for an adjacent property owner since permitted repairs are more often than not costly. Tree branches which are thrown into creeks have the potential to cause blockages at bridges and culverts along the creek channel.

Yard waste, such as lawn clippings and leaves, which is intentionally thrown into a flowing creek will decompose thereby reducing the amount of dissolved oxygen in the creek. A creek with decreased levels of dissolved oxygen will have a difficult time supporting aquatic life such as fish and amphibians. Yard waste which may contain fertilizer and/or pesticides should never be thrown in a creek since the chemicals in the fertilizer/pesticides would have a direct connection to aquatic life supported by the creek.

Yard waste such as lawn clippings and leaves should never be intentionally placed on the street. Anything left on the street has the potential to enter the storm drain system which is connected directly to creeks and waterways. Yard debris on streets may clog drainage grates and cause localized flooding requiring extra maintenance efforts.

What can you do to keep our creeks clean?

The first and most important step you can take is to never throw anything into a creek (unless it’s a fishing line in season!)  Yard waste (lawn clippings, leaves, and branches) should be placed in your green yard waste bin and placed at the street on your regular collection day. You can reduce the amount of yard waste by composting lawn clippings and leaves. An added benefit will be compost to use in your garden. An alternative to composting is to use a mulching mower and mulch the lawn clippings in place for a healthier lawn.  Lastly, never place yard waste on the street since it has the potential to enter the creek/waterway through a storm drain.

Who maintains the creeks?

In most locations, property lines extend to the center line of the creek. When this is the case, the adjacent property owner shares responsibility for maintaining the creek bank. In some cases, the City, or respective governing agency, may have a maintenance easement along sections of the creek.  When a maintenance easement is in place, then the respective agency bears the responsibility for maintaining the creek or waterway in accordance with the maintenance easement.  Where creeks or waterways cross public streets and roads, the agency responsible for maintaining the street or road is also responsible for maintaining the area around the bridge and or culvert.

Remember, the ultimate responsibility for creeks starts with the adjacent landowner. Please do your part to keep our creeks clean so that we can all enjoy clean and healthy waterways.

This article was authored by Andrew Stricklin, 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.