Russian River near healdsburg bridge

Love it and Leave it Clean: Responsible Russian River Recreation

It is the peak of summer and the Russian River is teeming with people enjoying the weather and the water. There are swimmers and boaters, fishers and party goers. Whether you are enjoying the sunrise alone with a fishing pole or out with your family or friends at a BBQ picnic, being responsible on the river will protect the river’s water quality, human health, and the wildlife that calls it home.

Pick up your Trash

We keep saying it, and it is still true. Every year, tons of garbage are pulled out of the Russian River by volunteers and clean-up crews. That’s thousands of pounds![1] Garbage is ugly. Trash can also harm wildlife. As trash is generated, gather it and toss it in a trash bin. If there isn’t a nearby trash can, bag your trash and carry it out with you to dispose at home.

Remember, cigarettes are litter too! There are thousands of cigarette butts littered each year. Cigarette butts are a problem because they leach toxic chemicals as they degrade in the environment and because wildlife mistakes them for food. Don’t flick your cigarette butts into the water or onto the beach. Put out the flame and dump your butts with the rest of your trash.

Responsible Fishing

Your fishing line and hooks are tools when you use them, but can become a dangerous tangle if you leave them by the river. Fishing line and hooks can be lethal to small animals and can cause injury to people who come across them swimming or wading. Gather your line and hooks and reuse them if you can, or discard them with your trash if you can’t.

When Nature Calls

It happens. You are on the beach or in the river and you have to use the bathroom – and it’s number two. Even if it means a walk up the beach or back to the parking lot, use a bathroom or pit toilet. If you must answer nature’s call without facilities use a shovel to dig a hole at least 200 feet from the river’s edge, relieve yourself into the hole and cover it up when you are done. Be sure to bury used toilet paper too.

Never, ever defecate in the river. And do not throw dirty diapers into the river or leave them on the shore. Human waste has bacteria in it that can be harmful to the health of others that come into contact with it. True, the river flows with a large volume of water in the winter, but thousands of people recreate in the Russian River on summer days. Occasionally, there are sections of river that have bacteria at levels higher than is safe to come into contact with it. [2]

Dog poop is a health hazard too. If you bring your dog with you to the river, be sure to bag the dog poop and dispose of it in a trash can.

If you would like to volunteer with clean-ups along the river contact the Russian River Watershed Cleanup at or Russian River Keepers at to sign up for a clean-up event.

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

[1] Russian River Watershed Cleanup up website – 2013 data.

[2] NCRWQCB Russian River pathogen Indicator Bacteria TMDL fact sheet. January 2015.


UPDATE August 4, 2016: Low-level blue-green algae toxins were present in certain areas of the river.  There are no restrictions on human recreational use of the Russian River. However, the public should be advised that potentially harmful algae may be present. Keep your family and pets safe by taking precautions posted by Sonoma County Dept. of Health Services. For more information regarding the status of the Russian River, call the beach hotline at (707) 565-6552.