Kayakers on the river

Our Watershed, Our Home, Our Future

“A watershed is a marvelous thing to consider: This process of rain falling, streams flowing and oceans evaporating causes every molecule of water on Earth to make the complete trip once every two million years. The surface is carved into watersheds – kind of a familial branching, a chart of relationship, and a definition of place. …. The watershed gives us a home and a place to go upstream, downstream and across in.” Gary Snyder, 1993

Using any measure, our “home,” the Russian River watershed, is spectacularly diverse. From the headwaters north of Ukiah to the rugged coast at Jenner, the 1,485 square miles that comprise the Russian River watershed includes species ranging from steelhead to bald eagles; from pygmy oaks to giant redwoods. It includes two counties, eight incorporated cities and towns plus multiple hamlets (Hopland, Geyserville, and Occidental to name a few). The watershed includes dairy farms, vineyards, marijuana gardens, food processors, breweries, high-tech businesses, forever-preserved open spaces, artist studios, classrooms, acres of parks and thousands of miles of streets, roads and highways.

Living in such an ecologically and economically prosperous community, it’s easy to pat ourselves on the back for enjoying what people in other watersheds wish they had. But even paradise isn’t perfect:  There are pockets of poverty in our communities. Some of our most iconic species, like the coho salmon, are on the endangered species list. The Russian River itself is listed for water quality problems, and the upper and middle reaches of the river have only a few places where people can swim and recreate.

Critically, the watershed faces new challenges in light of climate change. More frequent droughts will require planning to ensure there is reliable, resilient sources of water for nature, people and farms. Larger, wetter storms require planning to reduce flood risk.

Organizations like the Russian River Watershed Association (RRWA) are working to address current water quality problems and prepare for the future. But the cities, counties and special districts that comprise RRWA can’t do it alone. The challenges far exceed the resources and purview of local government.

To help meet these challenges, a group of non-profit organizations, tribes, and government agencies have joined together to create a vision for the future of the Russian River watershed: the Sonoma, Gold Ridge and Mendocino County Resource Conservation Districts, LandPaths, Russian River Keeper, Pepperwood Preserve, Ya-Ka-Ama, the Mendocino and Sonoma County Farm Bureaus, multiple County agencies, and others. Additionally, many of the individuals involved in this effort spent 10 days last summer and fall paddling the Russian River from its headwaters to the ocean in order to better understand the river.

The vision developed by this group will be shared on Friday, March 24 at the Russian River Confluence. Creating a vision is easy.  Developing – and carrying out – an action plan to achieve the vision will require hard work and commitment from people and organizations throughout the watershed. Envisioned to culminate and inspire a series of “beyond sustainability” conversations, the Russian River Confluence intends to tap the collective capacity of the Russian River watershed community. Join us in making our “home” a welcoming place for future generations. Go to russianriverconfluence.org if you are interested in learning more about this unique event.

This article was authored by James Gore, Sonoma County Supervisor and Dan Hamburg, Mendocino County Supervisor, on behalf of RRWA. RRWA (rrwatershed.org) is an association of local public agencies in the Russian River Watershed that have come together to coordinate regional programs for clean water, habitat restoration, and watershed enhancement.