The crowds that have been playing all summer along our Russian River are now dwindling which makes room for this weekend’s crowd of river workers and volunteers who will be bagging beach garbage, hauling flood debris and checking on the condition of our primary waterway and watershed.
Clean River Alliance and Russian Riverkeeper will be holding cleanups at six locations — Forestville, Guerneville, Monte Rio, Healdsburg, Cloverdale and Ukiah — from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 21. Volunteers still have time to register to help and sign their safety waiver at russianrivercleanup.org. The California Coastal Cleanup will take place on the same day.
We welcome all the summer visitors, campers, kayakers, picnickers and swimmers. They support our local economy and for the most part they respect our river and its cleanliness. The sunny scenes are certainly a refreshing sight that helps us forget the remnants of last winter’s flood disaster. We use the river, too, and we try to be good caretakers but someone left 15,500 pounds of garbage behind last year that 250 cleanup day volunteers removed. Following last winter’s record floods, we don’t know what this weekend’s volunteer crews might encounter. Will you be one of them?
Our Russian River gets a lot of use. We drink from it and we also discharge our treated wastewater into it. Local farmers use it a lot and have special rules they must follow for erosion control, frost patrol and riparian habitat protection.
The Russian River is 110 miles long, beginning north of Ukiah and flowing south and west to its end at Jenner, where it flows into the Pacific Ocean. More than a half million people live in the river’s 1,500 square miles of watershed and 600,000 people source their clean drinking water from the river via transmission by Sonoma County Water Agency. There are reams of local, state and federal regulations that control our interactions with the river. Depending on some individual’s viewpoints, these government rules are too restrictive in places or too lax in others. It is a constant debate and a big portion of the county government’s work to update its General Plan (GP 2020).
Last week the Trump Administration’s EPA threw a bombshell at watershed protection policy by declaring it was reversing Obama-era protections of all inland waterways. Trump’s EPA seeks to end protections of two-thirds of all of California’s rivers, streams and wetlands. Some farmers and landowners are welcoming this EPA rollback of the Clean Water Act because they have believed the Obama version was over-protective and equaled a land grab. Sonoma County Farm Bureau leadership has been critical of the Obama restrictions but also has said, “We are very concerned about the environmental destruction that is occurring without the interest by regulatory agencies to help solve these problems.” Prior to the EPA announcement last week, local farmers were watching the GP 2020 process carefully, especially the riparian setback maps and zoning. The 1,600 farming members of Sonoma Winegrowers are pledged to be 100% sustainable in their environmental and other business practices, last week announcing they are now at 99% of that goal. But almost all of their 60,000 acres of vineyards contain tributaries and habitat of the Russian River watershed.
Next week, Sept. 21 to 28, is also Creek Week. The event has taken place for 35 years, telling us that protecting our river is a permanent job. Since 2015, the volunteers of Clean River Alliance (CRA) have helped remove over 300,000 pounds of trash from the Russian River watershed. CRA was started that year by Chris Brokate in partnership with several other organizations such as Russian Riverkeeper and the various local government agencies and municipalities.
Whether we are farmers, city dwellers, rural landowners or summer visitors, we are reminded that we all live upstream from someone. When we paddle, plough or flush, we are either being mindful of our watershed stewardship or creating more reasons why each year’s cleanup day can never have enough volunteers.
Rollie Atkinson is the owner of Sonoma West Publishers and the publisher of Sonoma West Times & News, The Healdsburg Tribune, The Windsor Times and the Cloverdale Reveille.