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.


Do you know how to spot Low Impact Development?

We are fortunate to enjoy the picturesque landscapes and bountiful natural resources that Sonoma County has to offer all that live here. However, as land in Sonoma County is developed to support our growing communities and businesses, it can pose significant challenges to preserving our region’s water quality. In response, Sonoma County and its towns and cities have adopted Low Impact Development (LID) requirements as a sustainable approach to urban planning and stormwater management.

Many of us pass by LID as we go about our daily lives and don’t realize that these features are more than just pretty landscaping- they are expertly designed and engineered, efficient, living water quality improvement systems. These features are so good at blending in that oftentimes they are littered with trash, built over, vandalized, or tampered with because of a general lack of understanding about their purpose. Do you know the importance of LID, and how to spot it? Let’s explore the concept of LID, delve into its benefits for water quality, and learn how to spot and admire these features throughout Sonoma County.

Environmental benefits from land are lost once natural landscapes are replaced by pavement and buildings. This is especially true for stormwater. When water falls from the sky in the form of rain, it collects on hard pavement and rooftops, pooling and flowing across hard surfaces instead of absorbing into the ground. As water is diverted to a storm drain, it picks up and transports pollutants such as trash, sediment, chemicals, and even bacteria. Unlike water that flows into sewer systems, water that flows into storm drains is not treated nor cleaned before it enters a waterway. Understandably, this pollutant-laden water is a threat to both human and environmental health, so protecting stormwater quality while still supporting sustainable urban development is a balance that our local government continuously strives to achieve.

Simply put, LID is a tool that developers can use to try to mimic natural hydrological processes and retain some environmental benefits of the land once it is paved and built over. Specifically, here are some of the benefits of Low Impact Development for water quality:

  • Enhanced Water Filtration: The natural processes of infiltration and filtration in LID systems help remove sediment, trash, heavy metals, and other pollutants and contaminants, resulting in cleaner water that eventually enters our local waterways
  • Nutrient Reduction: Vegetated LID features are great at absorbing excess nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus from stormwater runoff. These nutrients, if left unmanaged, can lead to harmful algal blooms, and impair water quality. LID systems act as nature-based filters for nutrients- just like how our kidneys filter toxins from our bodies, LID helps filter excess pollutants from stormwater.
  • Groundwater Recharge: Through the promotion of infiltration, LID practices help recharge groundwater aquifers, which are vital sources of freshwater for our region. By replenishing these underground reservoirs, LID can help sustain groundwater supply.
  • Flood Prevention: The implementation of LID techniques can greatly reduce the amount of stormwater runoff. By managing runoff at its source, LID mitigates the risk of flooding, safeguarding communities and infrastructure from potential damage. Additionally, LID systems can help reduce the burden on existing stormwater infrastructure, minimizing the need for costly expansion projects.

So now that we know LID is extremely important for water quality protection, here are some different types of LID features that you might recognize in the areas where you live:

  • Rain Gardens and Bioretention: Landscaped depressions designed to capture and treat stormwater runoff. These features utilize native plants and specially engineered soil mixes that facilitate water absorption and filtration, effectively reducing pollutants and contaminants. Look for them in subdivisions, apartment complexes, parks, and parking lots.
  • Vegetated Swales: Gently sloping channels with dense vegetation, to divert stormwater and encourage infiltration. These swales slow down the flow of water, allowing sediments and pollutants to settle, while the vegetation absorbs excess nutrients, promoting cleaner water. Look for these along sidewalks and walking paths- even some wineries have them!
  • Permeable Pavement: One of the fundamental principles of LID is reducing impervious surfaces, such as concrete and asphalt, that prevent water infiltration. Permeable pavement materials, including permeable concrete, pavers, and porous asphalt, allow rainwater to percolate into the ground, replenishing groundwater and filtering pollutants in the process. Permeable pavement can be tricky to spot but is common in parking lots and driveways.
  • Green Roofs: Green roofs are vegetated surfaces installed on the tops of buildings. They provide multiple benefits, including stormwater management by retaining rainfall and reducing runoff. Green roofs also enhance energy efficiency and provide habitat for birds and insects. These are probably the easiest type of LID to spot since it’s not typical to see a lawn growing on top of a building!

The adoption of Low Impact Development has been a commendable stride towards sustainable urban planning and improved water quality. By integrating LID techniques such as bioretention, rain gardens, vegetated swales, permeable pavement, and green roofs, our watershed effectively manages stormwater runoff while safeguarding precious water resources.

So, the next time you are walking through a parking lot pushing a shopping cart full of groceries, or taking a stroll through downtown, don’t forget to be kind to the LID features you may encounter!

This article was authored by Alisa Keenan, Sr. Environmental Specialist – Stormwater Coordinator, of the County of Sonoma, 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.


Gardening for the Good Bugs

Supporting beneficial insects is one of the best ways to effectively reduce the number of pests in your garden. I for one get pretty excited when I begin to see the aphids arrive each spring, because this means that the beneficials are on their way too. Here are 3 of the most common good bugs we will find out in the garden.

Soldier Beetles – The first to appear is the solder beetle. Soldier beetles are about ½” long, are commonly reddish orange with dark brown or black wings and are related to the firefly but lack the light producing organ. They enjoy flower nectar and pollen as well as eating soft-bodied insects, such as aphids and small caterpillars. Not only are Soldier beetle great predators, but they also help pollinate garden flowers as they travel among them. Large populations of Soldier Beetles are commonly seen cruising throughout plum trees in the early spring, since the new flush of spring growth on the plum trees are often favored by aphids. Unfortunately, the Soldier Beetles are often misidentified then targeted as the pest and eliminated by insecticides.

Though Soldier Beetles are quite noticeable, their larvae are rarely seen. The larvae look like a worm-like, tiny alligator and are usually dark in color, about ¾” in length. While the adult beetle eats the pest insects above ground, their larva lives in the soil, feeding on the eggs and larvae of beetles, moths, and other common garden pests.

Ladybug Beetles – It is always a treat to see the first Ladybug Beetles of the season. They are the star of the beneficial insects. Ladybugs are known to consume a wide variety of garden pests, such as aphids, asparagus beetle larvae, whitefly nymphs, mealybugs, and spider mites, eating upwards of 5000 during their lifespan. There are about 11 species of ladybugs that live in California, over 450 species throughout North America and vairy in color from red, orange, or grey with black spots, and black with two red spots just to list a few.

The ladybug larvae look like a tiny alligator, vary in color as the adult do, will feed on aphids and other soft-bodied pests, consuming hundreds during its 2–4-week larval stage before pupating, emerging a few days later as the adult ladybug beetle. Unlike the adult, the ladybug larvae are not as well-known and often targeted as the pest.


Syrphid Fly – Though it’s hard to pick a favorite, if I had to, the Syrphid Fly would be my pick. Also known as Hover Fly or Flower Fly, these garden allies are not a bee or a wasp though they have stripes. They do not sting or bite, nor will they swarm. As their common name suggests, they ‘hover’ above flowers. They enjoy the nectar and pollen making them an important pollinator. They’re rather small, ranging from 1/8” to ¾” depending on the species.

Syrphid fly larvae are legless and worm-like shaped, will vary in color from pale green to khaki-tan, all with a distinct stripe down it’s back. Larvae will vary in length from 1/32” to ½” depending on their species and developmental stage. These larvae provide a tremendous service eating hundreds of pest insects as they prey on aphids, scale insects, thrips, spider mites, and mealybugs during their 2-4 weeks before pupating.

Tips for attracting beneficials and keeping them around

Provide healthy garden practices by maintaining your garden in natural ways to ensure the soil, air and water stays healthy, clean, and free from poisons. Choose flowering plants that are regionally appropriate, favoring CA natives. Plant a variety of plant species that have flowers that grow in clusters of tiny flowers, like yarrow and ceanothus, or flowers that look like a daisy, like asters, sunflowers, and zinnias. Let culinary herbs, like cilantro, parsley and dill go to flower, which are favored among many of our garden friends. Reduce and avoid pesticide usage. Even ‘Organic Pesticides’ will impact the beneficials. Keep in mind that some pests, like aphids, are seasonal and to be expected. Pests are food for the beneficials which keep a healthy balance. Keep in mind that an infestation of a pest can be a clue that something is not working or that the plant is stressed. You will then need to address the cause.

For more information about beneficial insects, check out these brochures:

Learn how to dispose of your unwanted pesticides here:

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


Russian River-friendly landscaping logo

It’s National River Month!

Show your neighbors your support of the Russian River ecosystem by making your landscaping Russian River–friendly!

In addition to supporting the the health of our ecosystem, following the RRFLG can also help decrease maintenance and water usage in your garden.

What does the RRFLG Sign imply?

The RRFLG identification sign is a symbol for landscapes constructed and maintained following RRFLG in order to support of one of California’s most diverse ecosystems, the Russian River Watershed.

RRFLG’s 7 Practices and Principles include:

  1. Landscape Locally. Choose locally adapted low water-use plants that will thrive without excess water or fertilizers.
  2. Landscape for Less to the Landfill. Reduce landfill use by keeping green waste on site to be used as mulch or compost.
  3. Nurture the Soil. Foster a fertile, diverse living soil by applying compost and mulch.
  4. Conserve Water. Repair leaks and manage irrigation to reflect your plants’ seasonal needs.
  5. Conserve Energy. Plant native trees to increase shading and reduce wind disturbances.
  6. Protect Water and Air Quality. Minimize impervious surfaces, choose and maintain your gardening equipment, and more.
  7. Create and Protect Wildlife Habitat. Diversify your garden with California native plants and manage it organically to conserve wildlife habitat.

To landscape locally, plant Russian River-Friendly Plants (https://www.rrwatershed.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/RRWA_River-Friendly-Plants_FINAL.pdf)! Add texture or color to your

landscape with  beautiful alternatives like Dwarf Coyote Brush, California Lilac, California Fuchsia, or a LID feature, like a rain garden or bioswale, which can be designed to protect the rivers by treating stormwater before it goes into the creeks. These are only a few of the many plants that are native to California, non‑invasive, require little to no water or fertilizer, and are well-suited to thrive in the conditions of the Russian River Watershed.

To manage pests while protecting our watershed, purchase low-toxicity products from an identified OWOW location, where Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is encouraged to consumers in nurseries and hardware stores. Find a store near you on the RRWA Watershed Atlas (https://westyost.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=892add5f0f2c4ecab1ecfe98d4cc13b8. )

More information on healthy gardens on the RRWA website:  https://www.rrwatershed.org/project/rrflg/

Have you taken steps for your garden to become a Russian River-Friendly Landscape?

Apply for a sign in 4 Easy Steps:

  1. Review the RRFL Guidelines to ensure you incorporated all, or most, of the RRFLG Best Practices.
  2. Take pictures of your finished landscapes showing how they represent RRFLG Best Practices. (These will be used in the web application.)
  3. Visit the Russian River Watershed Association’s (RRWA) RRFLG Webpage to apply for a sign: rrwatershed.org/project/rrflg
  4. A RRWA staff member will reach out to you about your application. Along with your free sign, your landscape will be showcased on the Russian River Watershed Association’s online interactive map and webpage.

This article was authored by Emma Erickson, RRWA Staff, 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.


hand washing a car

Vehicle Cleaning Effects on Storm Water


With spring in full swing and spring-cleaning projects under way, this is a popular time for residents to pull out the hose and bucket of soapy water to wash their cars. Did you know that washing your car at home can be harmful to the environment? One important thing to consider when washing your car is the potential for pollutants and chemicals to enter storm drains.

Brake dust may contain microscopic fragments of iron/steel particles, carbon, copper, brass, graphite, glass, rubber and other harmful materials.

Storm drains are designed to carry rainwater and melted snow away from roads and other paved surfaces, and they often flow directly into nearby streams, rivers, or other bodies of water. This means that anything that goes down a storm drain can have a direct impact on water quality and the health of aquatic life and their ecosystems.

When washing your car, many people use soap, wax, and other cleaning products that contain chemicals like phosphates and surfactants. These chemicals can be harmful to aquatic life if they enter waterways in high enough concentrations. Not only can the chemicals used to clean your vehicle be harmful but carbon dust, oil, grease, micro plastics and other contaminants from your car’s engine, brakes and undercarriage can also be washed into storm drains, further polluting the water.

What you can do to minimize the impact that washing your vehicle has on the environment

One option is to use a commercial car wash that recycles its water and uses environmentally friendly cleaning products. These car washes are designed to capture and treat the water that is used, preventing it from entering storm drains and nearby waterways.

If you prefer to wash your car at home, there are a few steps you can take to reduce your environmental impact. First, choose a location that is away from storm drains or other bodies of water. This could be a grassy area that allows for the natural filtration of the water being used or a driveway that allows the water to soak into the ground rather than running off into the street.

Next, use a bucket instead of a hose to wash your car. This will help conserve water and prevent excess runoff. You can also use environmentally friendly cleaning products, which are formulated to be safer for aquatic life and the environment.

Finally, consider disposing of any wastewater properly. You can pour it onto your lawn or garden, down the proper household drain or you can take it to a local wastewater treatment facility. By taking these steps, you can help keep our waterways clean and healthy while still enjoying the benefits of a clean vehicle.

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

Earth Day 2023 – List of Events

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

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 Cotati

Saturday, April 22 from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM Sweet Spring Festival. The Sweet Spring Festival will celebrate the beautiful and new things the earth provides us each and every year, from bees to butterflies, birds to blooms. Come out for crafts, games, animals, music and dancing, yummy treats and plant flower seeds to take home.

Location: Veronda-Falletti Ranch, 175 West Sierra Ave, Cotati

Fee: $5 per person. Children 2 and under are free. Please register for each person in your party and include any 2 and under children in the notes.

Registration is encouraged, and drop-ins are welcome. All ages are welcome. Please wear closed-toe shoes. View flyer here

City of Healdsburg

Saturday, April 22 from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM Healdsburg’s 1st 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.  Corazon, North Bay Jobs with Justice and Generation Housing will be there, along with over 40 booths/tables, a bike rodeo for kids, an electric vehicle show, an Earth Protectors Parade featuring students of all ages in costumes and masks, a crafts table and a fire truck for kids to climb on, music and speakers! Bicycle helmets, popcorn, and cookies will be given away (while supplies last).  The City of Healdsburg will be giving away an electric bike.

Saturday, April 22 at 2:00 PM Earth Protectors Parade. Part of Healdsburg’s 1st Climate Fest, gather on the NW corner of the Plaza at 2:00. Dress up as earth, wind, fire, water, plants, animals, protectors of our planet! Co-created by West Side, HHS, HJH, THS art students and their teachers (and you!)

English flyer

Spanish flyer

City of Santa Rosa

Saturday, April 22 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
  • Workshops
  • Hydration Station
  • Zero Waste Event
  • Giveaways
  • Free Bike Parking courtesy of Sports Basement
  • Free & Family Friendly
  • Beer & Wine Garden

City of Sebastopol

Saturday, April 22 from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM FREE family fun at the Luther Burbank Experiment Farm. The Luther Burbank Experiment Farm in Sebastopol is celebrating Earth Day 2023 with free activities on Saturday, April 22, from 9 AM to 3 PM. This family-friendly event will feature docent-led walks through the historic garden and farmstead; scavenger hunts with prizes; a tree planting demonstration; nursery and plant sales; carnival photo stand; and many many photo opportunities. The nursery sales will include rare Burbank plants, and a tree planting demonstration by our farm curator, Jamie Self. The garden will be in bloom, and the sun will hopefully be shining as we celebrate and help protect our Earth together. Location: Luther Burbank Experiment Farm, 7777 Bodega Ave, Sebastopol, CA 95472. Questions? Contact wschscommunications@gmail.com. Visit www.wschs.org/events/earth-day-2023 for more information. Download flyer

City of Ukiah

Saturday, April 22 from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM FREE admission to the Grace Hudson Museum. Join this Earth Day Ukiah celebration at the Grace Hudson Museum presented by the City of Ukiah, Russian River Watershed Association, and Ukiah Waste Solutions.

There will be educational booths, arts & crafts, and FREE admission to the Grace Hudson Museum.

Interested in volunteering?
Meet in front of the museum at 9:00 AM for community projects such as garbage pick-up, painting, and more!

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

Town of Windsor

Saturday, April 22 from 9:00 AM to 11:30 AM Earth-Day Clean-Up. In honor of Earth Day 2023, the Town of Windsor Storm Water Quality Program is organizing a community trash cleanup event.  Meet at the end of Victory Lane to pick up safety vests, pickers, gloves and bags. Volunteers will be dispatched to one of three in-Town locations to pick up trash. All participants will receive a free gift and snacks.

Please register on Eventbrite prior to the event: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/earth-day-trash-cleanup-town-of-windsor-ca-tickets-588298766447

For more information, call (707) 838-5385 or email stormwater@townofwindsor.com.

Russian Riverkeeper events year-round

Step 1: Sign Your Safety Waiver- Here.


Step 2: Sign Up For A Cleanup

Contact Russian Riverkeeper with any questions.


You Deserve a Cleaner Life, but so do our Creeks

Power washing (or pressure washing) can be an important tool for achieving quick and satisfying results when cleaning and maintaining hard surfaces, buildings, or large equipment which can otherwise be difficult to clean. But did you know that if you’re not careful, that dirty wash water can end up in our creeks? Before pulling out your power washer this spring, remember that fish and wildlife deserve a clean place to live too. There are a few simple precautions you can take that will help you be environmentally responsible and protect the water in our creeks while using your power washer.

When using a power washer, just because you wash it out of sight, doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. If not properly contained, your washed-away debris will flow down the streets and end up in our creeks and waterways through the storm drains. Storm drains are for rainwater and rainwater only! That means no soap or cleaning products, no paint scrapings, and no other sediment or debris that could be washed away by your power washer. When these unwanted pollutants enter storm drains, they go directly into our waterways and can contaminate wildlife habitats and the water in our creeks.

We all want to enjoy a clean and healthy Russian River so let’s not pollute it with our runoff.

That brings us to the question of how to power wash responsibly. Before deciding to use a power washer, make sure you are aware of drought restrictions in your area. Despite the much-needed rainstorms that filled our reservoirs in January, conserving water continues to be an important tool to protect our future water supply. According to the California State Water Resources Control Board, emergency drought restrictions are still in place for all California residents through January 2024. This includes the following restriction on power washing: “The use of potable water for washing sidewalks, driveways, buildings, structures, patios, parking lots, or other hard surfaced areas, [is prohibited] except in cases where health and safety are at risk.”

This means that the use of a power washer or pressure washer is only allowed for the purposes of maintaining health and safety and cannot be used solely for aesthetic purposes. This restriction helps prevent wasteful and unreasonable potable water use.

Keeping this restriction in mind, if power washing is necessary to maintain health and safety or if you are using recycled water in your power washer, please remember to protect our creeks and rivers from harmful and potentially toxic runoff, by following these important precautions:

  • Block storm drains near your site with waterproof sandbags to prevent unwanted runoff.
  • Always clean the area first using a dry method like sweeping or using a blower and place all sediment and debris in the garbage.
  • If oil is present, be sure to clean with water-free methods prior to power washing and place an oil-absorbent boom around the storm drain inlet during power washing.
  • Use plain, cold high-pressure water, and avoid using chemicals, cleaning solutions, or hot water.
  • Capture and direct dirty water to landscaped areas or to sanitary sewer systems, (i.e., indoor sinks, showers, bathtubs, floor drains, toilets, and outside building cleanouts). Be sure your landscaping does not have a storm drain inlet that the discharge could potentially flow into.
  • Remember to check local ordinances and follow all regulatory procedures.
  • Whether you’re using a power washer or not, it is important to remember “Only rain down the storm drain!” Do your part to conserve water, reduce runoff, and keep our watershed happy and healthy for all.
This article was authored by Sierra Parkhurst, Town of Windsor -Public Works Department, Division of Water and Environmental Management, 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.