Russian River Healdsburg Bridge

Opportunity for river and creek cleanups

Every year during Creek Week communities throughout Sonoma County come together to try to prevent an environmental disaster from occurring by removing thousands of pounds of refuse from the Russian River watershed. This year’s Creek Week takes place from Sept. 21 to Sept. 28. 

The cleanup involves management and collaboration by multiple organizations, including Russian River Watershed Cleanup, Russian Riverkeeper, Coastwalk, The Laguna Foundation, the cities of Santa Rosa and Healdsburg and Daily Acts.

According to Russian River Watershed Cleanup, the Russian River watershed encompasses 1,500 square miles of forests, agricultural lands and urban areas within Sonoma and Mendocino counties; 95% of the watershed is in private ownership. The Russian River is about 110 miles long and flows from its headwaters near Redwood and Potter Valleys into the Pacific Ocean near the town of Jenner on the Sonoma Coast. 

The Russian River is a vital resource in Northern California, providing water for residential and agricultural use (the river supplies drinking water to over 500,000 area residents in Marin, Sonoma and Mendocino counties), a popular summer vacation destination, one of the most heavily used rivers for canoeing in the nation during summer months and habitat for 34 species of fish including three endangered salmonid species.

Its popularity and its fragility often come into conflict as garbage and refuse pile up, causing issues not only for the watershed itself, but ultimately ending up in the fragile oceans. 

The beaches and sandbars along the river are popular picnic and party spots, and with the onset of summer, quickly become littered with cans and bottles, food wrappers, plastic bags, campfires, discarded pool toys and beach chairs and lost or discarded clothing. Canoeists add a steady stream of chip bags, sunscreen tubes, drink bottles and sandals to the river. Fishermen discard plastic foam bait containers and packaging from their tackle.

According to Russian River Watershed Cleanup, the river is also used by some as an alternative to paying dump fees, especially along the more isolated reaches where there is a minimal risk of being caught. Household garbage, broken TVs, microwaves, mattresses, easy chairs, construction and remodeling debris and automobile parts and tires are thrown down the banks, to be ultimately washed downstream.

Other sources of pollution include flooding and agriculture as well as homeless and migrant camps. In the summer, the riparian forest along the banks of the river becomes an attractive place for people who have nowhere else to live. Without public service, garbage and other refuse simply piles up.

Agricultural debris, such as plastic sheeting and netting, pipe, hose, buckets and other containers, often find their way into creeks and then into the river itself. During heavy rains, flood waters sweep through fields and riverside houses, taking away everything not fastened down and some things that were.  

In 2018, the Russian River Watershed Cleanup had 242 volunteers that removed 15,500 pounds of garbage from the watershed. This breaks out to 64 pounds of trash per person, and in addition volunteers also collected 51 tires in need of proper disposal. 

Creek Week is also a great time to work with neighbors, family, schools, businesses, churches and other community members to pick up trash that would otherwise find its way into local creeks.

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