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Low water level threatens Russian River businesses

  • Bob Behrman, joined by his wife Tatiana, pulls his canoe after it got stuck on rocks in a shallow area of the Russian River at Del Rio Woods Beach. (BETH SCHLANKER / Press Democrat)

Wayne Koniuk was back Sunday for a canoe ride on the Russian River, the seventh time this year the San Francisco man has paddled the waterway above Healdsburg.

“It's still good. There are only two parts where you have to get out of the boat and push the canoe through,” he said.

“We haven't found it too disruptive,” his wife Karen said of the lower than average water level in the river. “We still have a great trip.”

Fun On The Russian River

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A dry spring resulted last month in some of the lowest river levels seen in decades. Although releases from Lake Mendocino have since increased and brought the river up, there are ongoing concerns about the impact to recreation.

“I don't tell people it's business as usual,” said Lollie Mercer, owner of River's Edge Kayak and Canoe Trips in Healdsburg. “There's less river to paddle in, and in the river channels under the trees our clients have to duck a lot. And they hit sandbars. They have to get out more often.”

“In June, the river was absolutely at the lowest we've seen it ... since the 1976 drought. Luckily it's come up since then,” said Don McEnhill, director of Russian Riverkeeper, a conservation group that advocates for clean water and healthy rivers.

He said that 25 percent more water has been released from the dam since late June, which “has made a positive difference.”

Releases from Coyote Dam at Lake Mendocino, near Ukiah, are controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Sonoma County Water Agency.

Officials have a number of things to weigh that include providing water for domestic use, agriculture, fish migration, as well recreation.

The river is a main source of potable water for more than 600,000 residents in the North Bay who are served by the water agency.

Both McEnhill, Mercer and others who depend on the Russian River for their livelihood said the Army Corps released too much water into the river last winter and early spring, trying to make sure there was enough capacity at Lake Mendocino to provide for flood control.

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